Walking Naked Down the Road

Rochester Municipal Park bench and creek w sigI find myself feeling ambivalent lately about how I live with my high sensory processing trait, my HSP-ness, so to speak. Fifteen years ago, when I first read Elaine Aron’s book, The Highly-Sensitive Person, it was comforting to discover a label for what I’d experienced my entire life, and it opened my eyes to some ways to adjust my life for the better. I found other HSPs to talk with, signed up for HSP newsletters, and generally spent a lot of time pondering this newly-understood aspect of myself. In recent years, I even made it a big focus of my blog, which drew me into conversations with people who told me they were grateful I’d written about it because it helped them understand themselves or someone they loved. (If you want to read more about what it means to be an HSP, just click that link in the first sentence above.)

With my new knowledge came a boost in my self-confidence. I became more likely to stand up for my needs at home and in social situations, and felt better knowing there are other people in the world who experience life the way I do. I wasn’t alone anymore! For a while it was empowering to embrace the label.

Rural road in Lapeer county with fall foliage w sigBut now I’m struggling with the idea that, perhaps, by spending so much energy reading and writing about high sensitivity I’m actually enabling myself to be more sensitive. If I wear a label on my forehead that says “Hi, I’m an HSP,” that sort of gives me permission to withdraw from social interactions because, well, “everyone knows I’m so sensitive,” so they’ll understand. They won’t question why I rarely join in the birding field trips. They’ll forgive me for skipping the party at the loud restaurant because, you know, “she’s sensitive.”

But sometimes I also think to myself, “Oh, I’m so sick of talking and writing about my sensitivities!” I get occasional glimpses of how I imagine other people see me and I suddenly wish I’d never started writing publicly about such an intimate part of my life. Because putting my heart out here in the world like this has made me incredibly vulnerable. Some days it feels like I’m walking down the road naked, just asking for people to throw (literal and figurative) rocks at me. And, frankly, some people are more than happy to do that.

Leaves floating on water with dappled sunlight and rocksSo how do I draw the line between too much focus on this trait and too little? I can’t deny or ignore such an important part of myself. It impacts every moment of every day, and every interaction I have with another human being. It enriches my life in many ways, but it also means that I feel everything more intensely than most other people do, and therefore I experience more emotional ups and downs during each day than 80% of the population does. Honestly, it’s exhausting just trying to maintain the “invisible shield” that helps protect me from being overwhelmed by the intensity of all the things I see, hear, smell, or feel during each day.

I think all of this internal conflict has resurfaced because of my recent relocation and re-entry into the workforce. I no longer have the luxury of “hiding out” for a few days when I need extra down time, because now I have more responsibilities to other people. And I’m struggling to adjust to lots of things that I thought I’d never have to deal with again, like working in an office with ringing phones and people coming in and out all day long.

So I’m often being pushed beyond my tolerance levels and finding myself unable to get away fast enough. More than once I’ve found myself crying on my drive home just because of the pent-up emotion from a chaotic day. But I’m getting better at it. Lately I’ve been taking short breaks to walk on the nature trail behind our office, and that seems to make a big difference in my ability to cope when things are stressful.

So why am I writing this now? Well, for one thing, writing helps me think things through. But also because, like everyone, one of my deepest longings is for people to see me for who I really am, and to understand me, and to accept me.  I know it’s not realistic to hope that everyone will like me (because I don’t like everyone I meet either), but I think it’s human nature to reach out and try to form meaningful connections with other people. And as difficult as that is for me, I can’t give up trying. It’s essential for my own well-being, and I also feel I owe it to other HSPs to continue my efforts to help our society begin to understand us better. We’re only 20% of the population, but we deserve to be accepted just like any other minority. And we won’t be fully accepted until we’re more widely understood.

And because we HSPs can play a valuable role in the world if we are nurtured rather than scorned, if we are appreciated for our insight and our ability to see things that go unnoticed by a less-attentive majority in this loud-and-busy culture. Did you know that some of the most celebrated leaders in the world were highly-sensitive people? And artists and creative people are often HSPs too. All of these people are or were thought to be highly-sensitive: the Dalai Lama, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Princess Diana, Abraham Lincoln, John Lennon, Alanis Morissette, Barbra Streisand, and, for you Star Wars fans, even George Lucas and Steven Spielberg.

If I’m even partially like those amazing people, that’s pretty darn good. I feel better now. Even if I am walking naked down the road. 🙂

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13 Responses to Walking Naked Down the Road

  1. Kim I see a beautiful intelligent woman with a passion for nature. I get the sensitive stuff because I can be a bit like that some days and others I cope well. Thanks for being honest you will set yourself free and who cares what people think as long as you are happy. I always enjoy what you have to share, especially your birds. have a wonderful day walking any way you please.

  2. Donna Madrid-Simonetti says:

    Put some clothes on! 🙂 You showing your vulnerability is a very brave thing. I applaud you! Plus you are helping so many others. Coming out of your comfort zone is also a brave thing. I applaud you here as well. I could easily say to grow thicker skin when people start throwing rocks, so to speak. I won’t. Let them! That’s their issue. BTW- you mentioned Alanis Morissette. It has been 20 years since her album Jagged Little Pill was released. Kim, I guarantee you will find at least 03 songs on that album that you can relate to. Give it a listen sometime. You have my respect Kim! Peace. Enjoy your break & thanks for the b-day wishes.

    • Donna, thank you for understanding me instead of telling me to grow thicker skin! That’s one of the most painful things that people have said to me during my life, because it implies (1) that there’s something wrong with me, and (2) that I can change something that is part of my genes, the basic functioning of my body. So thanks for resisting that impulse. 🙂

      And you’re very right about Alanis Morissette’s music. In fact, she’s featured in the new movie with Dr. Elaine Aron about HSPs. It’s called “Sensitive: The Movie,” and was just released in the past couple of months. (http://sensitivethemovie.com/) This documentary was supposed to help educate the general public about highly-sensitive people, and I guess it does that, but I was disappointed in the “new-agey, woo-woo” way it was portrayed. I had planned to help them promote the heck out of the movie, but after I watched it I changed my mind. I really feel bad saying that, but it’s the truth. Missed opportunity for all of us.

      Anyway, thanks for taking the time to read what I write here. It means a great deal to me when someone honestly tries to see me for who I really am.

  3. Love_writing creatively says:

    I totally get what you are saying, I’m not sure if I am a Hsp but I can be shy, introverted and need my own space. I feel like I ‘merge’ with people, what I mean by that is I loose myself and find it hard to keep up boundaries- I people please, second guess what I think others are thinking, and I’m sensitive to others ‘energy’ and blame myself for saying / doing the wrong thing- guess I am sensitive! When I was younger a family friend said to my mum that I’m ‘sensitive’ as if ( I perceived it to be) a bad thing, so there in continued me trying to be more like my siblings…and less like me! I’m ever so grateful that you’ve shown your ‘vulnerability’ and opened up about it as it really helps others ! Lovely warm conversational style of writing – I agree you should write a book 🙂

    • Well, while shyness and introversion don’t necessarily make you an HSP, it definitely sounds like you might be one of us. And I see that you’ve experienced the same judgment from our society that there’s something “wrong” with you because you’re “overly” sensitive. That’s exactly why I think it’s important that I keep writing about this, especially for our American culture in which we are judged harshly so often. Thanks for letting me know that you’re enjoying my writing.

      By the way, I hope you realize that your sensitivity is one reason you’re able to write such lovely poetry. 🙂 That’s exactly what I meant when I wrote that high sensitivity can enrich our lives in some ways.

  4. Littlesundog says:

    I really do not question whether it’s a good thing to talk about being HSP or whether it can hinder me at all… it’s just who I am and I am fine with that. I’m comfortable knowing my limits and I am so much better than I used to be at handling the frustration of sometimes having to be in social situations that wear me out completely. I think it is just fine to do whatever it is that works for you. I spent most of my life thinking I needed to change – that something was just wrong with me being too emotional, always getting my feelings hurt. I was the oddball that thought everything was too loud, or the lights were too bright. I didn’t know about HSP until YOU wrote about it! I am glad you opened yourself up to talking about your feelings and experiences. Showing your vulnerable side has helped me… and I bet many others feel the same. You are an inspiration my friend! I love you just the way you are! 🙂

  5. WPC says:

    You are a lovely writer Kim. I wish you would try writing a book on HSP-ness which would help others to understand and I bet many writers write to help themselves also-a book validates a writer and they do not have to feel “naked”any longer. WPC

  6. Rob Weir says:

    While I can’t say for certain that I’m a highly sensitive person or not, I will say that I’m introverted and was voted the shyest boy in my high school senior class. Having gotten to know you on a personal level, albeit it briefly, I felt a real connection from the very start. Our love for nature draws us together, and through reading your wonderful posts…..I get you.
    Please know that you have a circle of friends, who although now distant, are there for you when you need us.
    Wishing you joy, peace and happy birding in your new occupation and home.
    You are missed.

    • Thank you Rob! I wish we’d gotten to spend more time together before I moved because I feel the same connection with you. Even though I’m trying not to spend much time on Facebook these days, I’ll continue to pop in there occasionally to see your new photos…I always smile when I click through your pics of the squirrels, chipmunks, deer, and birds. Thanks for so generously sharing your talents with the rest of us. You make a difference in my life. 🙂

  7. drbobsbirds says:

    Geez! Well, I hoped for pics! 🙂

    Indeed deserves a response from another HSP, but I am on cell.

    So… “Hug you” from me! ❤

    • Thanks, Dr. B! I WAS planning to put a tasteful picture of someone walking naked, seen from behind. But when I went googling for a picture…well, let’s just say I do NOT recommend doing an image search with the word “n*ked” in it, LOL.

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