The Highly Sensitive Person

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Back to Comfort ZoneAugust 2006: Comfort Zone ONLINE
Coping Corner:
Thoughts on Vacations and Travel

HSPs and Approach/Avoidance or "Getting Cold Feet" An HSP was complaining to me recently that she once again had made plans for a trip, to Europe this time, and then at the last minute was wishing she were not going. All sorts of fears were coming up. Home seemed so nice, so secure. Ah, it is a familiar feeling for all of us.

I always think of Frodo in The Hobbit, not wanting to leave his little hobbit hole in the Shire to go off on his great, life-defining adventure. It's natural for anyone to worry a little as a big event approaches, even a positive one, but HSPs do it even more. It's natural because "negative" emotions like fear and regret are very strong, but only when we are near in time or space to a threat. Otherwise we would be troubled by these emotions all the time. But when we need to have them, we need them to be strong. So they have a sharp acceleration to them. Positive feelings accelerate less strongly because they are powerful at a distance from the event. That is a natural consequence of our need to approach it and plan to make it happen.

These two "gradients" or relative steepness or rate of acceleration were first noticed in hungry laboratory animals being given a shock as they took food. Leaving aside your wonder that anyone could do this to animals, you can imagine what does happen. They come up to the food eagerly and then stop. They don't just look at the food from a distance and do nothing, or take one look and run, or plunge ahead and eat in spite of the pain. They approach and then at the last minute avoid. After avoiding, they may still go ahead. But there's always that highly visible ambivalence when they are close to the food.

Your ambivalence is inner, but just as strong. You can certainly think it out and "avoid" for awhile. That is part of the nature of HSPs, remember--to imagine, consciously or unconsciously, all the possible consequences of any undertaking before they begin. They may even have a last minute intuition--that is, an idea based on unconscious processing--that they should not do something.

The trouble is, intuitions are not always right. The plane might take off without us and land everyone else in Paris, ready to enjoy France. We do not want to cancel every trip that we worry about taking. I find the trick is to realize that I always feel this way to some degree and is there something different about this trip? If there is, could I still take but alter some particular difficulty I foresee? Also, in planning trips try to foresee what usually starts to bother you as the time gets closer and try to avoid planning that particular thing, even though it seems okay at the time. For example, I find it so much easier to do the traveling itself with someone, so I try to avoid any of those clever, time and money saving ideas about meeting at the destination.

By the way, the saying "getting cold feet" comes from soldiers in the nineteenth century who were excused from battle in winter if their feet were frozen. It was thought that some exposed their feet to the freezing cold on purpose, out of cowardice. (Or maybe they were just smart.)

Pearl Buck, Creativity, and Your Next Trip. Remember the quote by Pearl Buck in the letter? She was saying all creative people are highly sensitive. I don't know about that, but I know ALL HSPs are creative, by definition. Many have squashed their creativity because of their low self-esteem; many more had it squashed for them, before they could ever know about. But we all have it, as I will explain.

One of the best ways to make life meaningful for an HSP is to use that creativity. This is why the gatherings include creative opportunities or chances to share previous creativity. What does this have to do with trips? When you are traveling or on vacation, (or as you plan a trip), you might want to allow some time to be creative. After you have rested up enough, of course--creativity does require fresh mental energy.

The simplest definition of creativity is the putting together of two or more things that no one (but YOU) would think to put together. That is, something creative is something original. Usually we add that it is creative if it expresses a new meaning, provides a fresh insight, or proves useful. And we usually think of something creative as planned rather than chance, a conscious act, although that is not as important, because very little is chance. Usually it is the result of the unconscious or "serendipity" after a person has worked on it awhile.

HSPs are all creative by definition because we process things so thoroughly and notice so many subtleties and emotional meanings that we can easily put two unusual things together. If nowhere else, we do this in our dreams--HSPs have more vivid, unusual dreams. That is the product of nighttime creativity. And on a trip we are especially likely to have our creativity stimulated, if we make time for it, because we are being exposed to so much that is new.

Creativity is not talent. Talent is the skill you develop, or may in part be born with, to express your creative idea more exactly the way you want it or to be able to see more ideas because you are familiar with nuances. I would love to compose music, but I do not have the skill or knowledge of those nuances.

So you say you have not developed any talents? Then I suggest making a collage on your next trip. Or right now. No, not some sticky, wrinkly thing for the refrigerator door--unless you want it to be. Collages are actually a real art form now, and they do not require anything from you but imagination. No "talent" like being able to draw or carry a tune. Anyone can cut and paste. The photos, graphics, drawings, printed word, even colors can all be taken from magazines or anywhere else you like.

This is truly portable art, too. All you need to pack are scissors with blunted tips--these are allowed even in carry on baggage now--and a glue stick. And maybe slip a pad of paper into the bottom of your bag (or use a piece of cardboard scrounged up at your destination). You could add some photos of your own if you already have an inclination of what you would like to use. You're all set. Moving a lot from place to place? Slip your collage into the bottom of your suitcase. No paint to dry.

The only bulky materials are the magazines, and they can be bought when you arrive, almost anywhere, including airports. Then you take along to your next stop only what you clipped out sitting under a tree, by a pool, on in a sidewalk cafe. When choosing magazines, browse through photography, nature, travel and interior decorating magazines, plus National Geographic. The ones with the best images are often expensive, but you only need a few. Maybe add some local post cards. By the way, if you are more intellectual and verbal, make a collage of words/ideas, all or in part. The point is that there are no rules.

What should you make? Ah, that is the best part. It's entirely up to you--this is your trip.

August 2006 Articles:
A Letter from Elaine
Looking Back: How the Concept of HSP (Quietly) Entered the Public Consciousness
Coping Corner: Thoughts on Vacations and Travel
Book Review : The Temperament Perspective by Jan Kristal

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