To balance all of this praise of ourselves, what about the shadow side of being highly sensitive? I raise the question not so much because I think reading about your good points might make you start to feel superior, but because you are probably starting to think that the other article was too one sided, unfair to non-HSPs, or unrealistic. You want to know the rest of the story, the shadow to all of this. By shadow I do not refer to the problems we are all familiar with, but rather those that might be stuffed out of sight--as if seeing them would be too painful. It won't be. You'll see.
WE CAN SURE BE CRITICAL!
Just because I enjoy thinking deeply about things, "processing," I inevitably find holes in an argument. The exceptions. My family added to this natural tendency, as everyone was encouraged to be "objective" and criticize or question everything. That led to long arguments, of course, which I stayed out of as a child. My feelings would be hurt. But I certainly heard how it was done.
With my husband I can have long intellectual discussions that always involve "improving" each other's ideas and there's no conflict (after years of practice). But very often in public I do upset a lecturer or teacher with my comments that tend to sound like an attack. So I have to remember to think about the speaker's feelings--that I really do affect that person up there at the podium. I try now to couch my "suggestions" within much praise for what is good about the work, and there's always plenty or I would not even bother to speak up. The point is, those who know me as an exceptionally kind person are always surprised to see this other side of me, which I don't like to be aware of myself. That's what I mean by shadow aspects.
ON BEING A SENSITIVE DOORMAT
Just becoming aware of this particular shadow aspect is not if it arose in childhood because of having been bullied, dominated, ostracized, criticized, used, abused, or ignored, by siblings, friends, or parents. But often it is the result of other people's opinions that we can learn to ignore. Maybe others see our thorough processing as a sign of weakness--when we pause before acting, they imagine this hesitation is due to whatever they dislike about themselves or were taught to reject. They think we're afraid, indecisiveness, withdrawn, shy, not expecting to succeed, or a push over. Or if we have a strong emotional reaction, again thanks to our thorough processing of the meaning of an event, they see our tears, trembling, anger, and so forth as weakness, cowardice, lack of control, and so forth. No wonder we begin to feel it's all true.
I know many of you are getting over this sense of weakness, feeling more "empowered," just by understanding your worth. You are dragging that shadow of I'm-weak into the light and perhaps transforming it into something more useful--humility, for example, and a knowing-from-experience how hard it is for others who are being a doormat and need some support.
I'M NOT EVER WEAK
Or we resolve our sense of weakness by calling it something nicer, like devotion to social justice or choosing service as a spiritual path--being Christ-like or Buddha-like or living in strict accord with God's laws or nature's laws. But it can also be yucky old codependence, if you give up your entire self for someone because you fear their anger or that they'll reject and abandon you. Neither Christ nor Buddha did that. There's no eleventh commandment that calls for becoming another's slave. One reason is that it isn't a true spiritual path, but one that could easily lead to immoral acts if you obey someone mindlessly.
So there's being selfless as a choice and selfless as no choice, because it's the only way to feel save and to be loved. It can be hard to distinguish between them sometimes. I would say that embarking on a spiritual path of service ought to be done under the wise guidance of someone who does not stand to gain personally. Or at least think about whether a wise person would look at your life and ask, "Why are you demeaning yourself for these ungrateful jerks? You do them moral harm by allowing them to mistreat you."
Another shadow side of this weakness is that we can begin to expect to be treated as one-down even when it's not happening. For example, we start out generously offering to help our friend move on our day off. But halfway through, having been ordered around for hours, we may begin to feel we're being used. We've been too generous, "once again." Now you have to ask your imaginary wise person if you really are being mistreated, in the big picture of things? Has this person done or would this person do the same service for you? And since you did offer and now you wish you hadn't, whose fault is that? Shouldn't you keep your promise to help and make another promise not to promise next time unless you are very sure you want to do it? However you handle it, it's part of the inevitable shadow possibilities of being highly sensitive.
And it is a risk because we almost never can know for sure the outcome. What's healthy this year turns out to be bad for you next year. Or take buying a car. Every consumer rating organization says this is the best car for the money. You know it because you spent days at the library, then you talked to the people who service these cars, then you took test drives until the dealer mumbled something about not operating a car rental service. But it still could be a lemon, or you could find after a few months that the seats are not that comfortable, or next year a different car will surpass this one in every way that matters to you. You just have to buy one. You can't buy them all.
And that's a relatively small decision. Most important, it can be undone. And it's only money you lose. What if you decide to have a baby and it has a serious birth defect that will require full time nursing for the rest of its life? What if you finally decide your despairing friend is not really suicidal, and you can go home and get some sleep, and you're wrong. No wonder we can't decide what to do sometimes! But it's still a shadow side if we don't wake up to our fear, don't find the courage to trust the universe or accept our fate. Then we never have babies. Or we would never accept our intuition that we can leave a friend alone to face his or her moment of truth. A shadow indeed.
What to do? Become a bit of a fatalist. And try trusting, irrationally perhaps, that things will probably turn out okay. Figure out just how bad it will be if things go badly. Then go for it.
Sometimes we just lose it when we don't want anything from anyone except maybe to be left alone. Do we try to control ourselves for just a little longer, until we can get into bed and pull the covers over our head? Or do we secretly enjoy dumping a little. Do we take responsibility for anything we did to allow this overarousal to happen? Or do we blame it on the person who delivered the last straw?
How about the times that we confidently declare that some stimulation-some music, scent, decor, or food-is "just horrible." "Unbearable." "How can you stand it?" "Let's get out of here." Well, that's your opinion. What about the others? It's difficult for anyone to understand that others don't feel and think exactly the same as one's self. But there's the very problem we have with non-HSPs-they don't understand how sensitive we are. We can be just as shocked and unforgiving when we find they are so Insensitive. Lacking in good taste. Or whatever.
In a similar vein, if you want to avoid irritability at home, learn to tolerate a little bit of messiness and discomfort for the sake of those around you, or just so that you can relax and enjoy yourself. Put the right value on your most prized possessions if you let others near them: "People are more important than things." Decreasing your fussiness will make you more human, in that most humans are not going to be as tidy, organized, and careful as you are.
By the way, the best cure is to have a child. Your closets will be a mess for the next twenty years and there will probably always be Cheerios under the couch. Or you can borrow a child. Or let yourself be a bit more of a child. That would be nice, wouldn't it?
BEING TOO TRUSTING, THEN TOO SHOCKED
We have to remember that non-HSPs do not notice subtleties! They do not respond to hints! And they can mistake conscientiousness for all sorts of things. So use your deeper processing to notice if you are not being noticed, and see that you are.
BEING ECCENTRIC AND FUSSY
That was not so bad, was it? And becoming more aware of even one aspect of one's shadow makes us a broader person, as well as one less judgmental of others.
August 2005 Articles: