I happened upon a great talk on YouTube, given by a young woman who, I’m guessing, is in her early twenties called Laura Karasinskias as part of the TEDx program. It was great, so I bookmarked it to share, not just because of what she had to say but the fact she was obviously overcoming great personal discomfort to share it, which only added power to what she then had to say
This woman is highly sensitive, as am I, which accounts for 15 to 20 per cent of the population, split evenly between men and woman. Its title was “How to Make Sensitivity Your Superpower” and she describes how she has not only recognised, quite early in life (relative to me…) that she is highly sensitive but that she has, consequently, built her life around this trait rather than trying to fit her round peg into the square hole of life, as I did at her age. In ways that I can so relate to, fast-paced busy environments, big spaces, bright lights and lots of people really freak her out and suppress her creative gifts; and, even in a quiet space, she can “literally hear dust fall”.
So, as a designer, she has set her business up from home, whilst being mindful of how she must preserve the sense of that home being a sanctuary for her rest and recuperation. Then she meets all her potential clients in advance, to assess how she feels about them, and if she has any “off” feelings, regardless of whether she can pinpoint a reason why, she chooses not to work with them, knowing it is just not worth going against what her instincts tell her. She knows that she needs 10 to 12 hours sleep per day so she allows for that, without compromise. In all these very simple ways, all of which would have seemed utterly impossible to achieve when I was her age, she has made her life work, making room for her high-sensitivity which, as she says, is never going to change as it is a part of who she is.
It would be all to easy to say “if only” about my life at this point but I won’t go there as I notice all the places where doing other than this woman is doing didn’t go well for me. Those few times I tried to work in a conventional office only went well for me during the brief period that I was working beside just one other colleague in a very quiet location for a small business; all other attempts at office work correlate with significant issues with my health. Yes, I tried to run my own business from home for many years but this went badly wrong at times I went against my own instincts to work for clients that I knew, somehow at first meeting, were not a good match for me since I would only say “no” if there was a logical reason to do so. I struggled to create a clear distinction between work zone and the safe haven of my personal space, even conducting meetings in my private living areas and working long hours into what should have been my own time, turning my “down time” into what often felt like a constant niggle that I should be doing more. My rest time, of course, always took a hit as I refused to believe I could possibly need so much; not always to sleep but simply to pull back from “whatever was going on” for a while or be outside in nature to recharge my spirit. Like almost everyone else, I drove myself along relentlessly until, at the point when I was doing both office and home based work end-to-end, my health finally collapsed. It has only been since then that I have owned up to just how sensitive and even introverted I am (those two traits don’t always correspond); and have, since, unapologetically made my life fit to who I am, not the other way around.
Dr Elaine Aron’s work on this topic has been a life-changer for so many people with high sensitivity since the phrase was not even coined until she came along and gave it this label. Her book, film and website resources are some of the most useful tools I have every come across and she is cited by pretty-much everyone who speaks out about high senstivity which, thanks to her, people now; quite unheard of a couple of decades ago. More and more, high sensitivity has become a buzz-word and not because its trendy to jump onto its bandwagon but because many of us had very little concept of what made us so different until this point; which allowed everyone else’s opinion of us, that we are “wierd”, “weak”, “neurotic” highly-strung” and so on, to stick. With more interest garnered in it than ever, its now been shown by studies to be a genetic trait; something a fifth of us are born with…so, not an illness, wierdness, flaw, mental issue or handicap (as so often referred to in our families, schools and workplaces).
Part of this new understanding of high sensitivity is that it’s now been demonstrated that we process sensory data quite differently to other people; thus, we are often having a completely different and, often, far more profoundly overwhelming or even disharmonious experience of circumstances which the majority think of as “normal” and “tolerable”. They may be able to filter their experience to focus on processing data that tells them what is going on at face value, right here and now, whereas we seem to glean far deeper layers and subtleties even without trying to. Then we take all that complex sensory data much deeper into other areas of the brain where we cross-reference it with other experiences we have had, with intuition and subtle cues that reach back across vast spans of time; all of which is just the tip of the iceberg of what else is going on. That’s not to say that those who aren’t highly sensitive don’t ever use these other skills; but, for us, they are default mode and we don’t know how to switch it off. You could say, non sensitives concentrate on the main story line; we do that too, plus we also focus on all the subplots and there are just so many of them.
What we then experience is not just about us, by any means. As Laura says, we can get profoundly affected by the moods of other people, feeling what they feel as though it is us having their experiences (for more on this, look up mirror touch synaesthesia, which I have talked about before – follow that link; as an increased incidence of this is linked to the trait of high sensitivity). Imagine all that going on and then trying to do your job or conduct your life in the same busy spaces that don’t seem to bother other people. It makes us chronically exhausted and it does lasting damage to our energy bodies, which become weaker over time, thus ever more likely to let in even more sensory data, harmful energies, viruses, low moods and so on. No wonder many of us seem to crash around the 20 to 30 years point in our careers, if not sooner, depending on how harsh life has been. We burn out…and its as though we suddenly come know at that point, assuming we are still intact enough to make the change, that something has to give. This can often trigger the start of a wake-up process and getting to know ourselves better than ever before, having finally listened to what we really need the balance of life to look like.
Of course, high sensitivity is something our society requires from at least some of the people; who else, after all, would be the creatives, those who think outside the box or who serve as the moral litmus paper to call out when something feels off-track or downright destructive in our world. When we flip this thing to realise all the inherent gifts that come along with feeling and noticing more than others do, its easy to feel indignant about how the current paradigm is set heavily in favour of those who are not highly sensitive. It can be the light-bulb moment of a lifetime to understand how swimming against this tide has probably contributed towards chronic health issues, depression, loneliness and feelings of being a failure, of not fitting in and so much more. For me, this understanding came slowly, arriving in a piecemeal way, one realisation at a time and with many set-backs in my confidence and health over the years. Therefore, to hear this account from such a young woman, talking about what she has already realised about herself and how she already has such a great handle on how to live according to her personal traits, reaping the gift of them, was such a wonderful thing, giving me such hope for the future of those living with this particular type of blueprint. It’s a sign of a great shift coming and I’m so glad to have been alive at the right time to witness this occurring.
So, what do I mean by blueprint? Well, we all have one; think of it as the original design of who we are, with all our particular traits, like an architects drawing on a pristine sheet of paper. The trouble is, as often happens to the architect’s ideal, modifications get made, bureaucracy determines that this or that design feature “can’t” happen because of some ridiculous legislation, materials don’t meet the task and get substituted or corners cut to make do. In short, the real-life building of “you” may now look like a far cry from that original blueprint; you could say, “life happens”!
As we grow into our life circumstances, we are somewhat like the greenhouse shoot that breaks the soil so optimistically but can only, apparently, grow to fit the space it has been allocated. Much of what that space looks like, at any particular time in our history, is determined by a combination of key influencers wherever we happen to live; society, science, politics, corporate and religious ideals and so on. The current cultural mix, wherever that happens to be, does not look much like the blueprint of a highly sensitive person; therefore, those of us born with this trait are mostly forced to coerce and squeeze ourselves into some pretty uncomfortable situations, from our very early childhood within our families (where we may well have been the only highly sensitive family member) to our schooling and on into the world of work. We make ourselves, and society makes us, deeply uncomfortable for so many years that we hardly notice it is happening to us within a few decades; though persistent, chronic health issues or depression can be the biggest clue we are struggling. We lose track of our original blueprint; we may even forget we have one or assume that it must have been faulty since it looks so unlike what we are told to consider “the norm”.
As far as such misfitting experiences go, I don’t say that being highly sensitive is the only trait that stands people apart from the cultural norm; this just happens to be my least run-of-the-mill quality, causing deep disquietude and actual physical discomfort when I try to sync up with the way the outside world currently is. So, if you have ongoing health issues, you might want to explore ways in which you have never felt at home with the way life is currently set up, and the kind of expectations that life has of you; and then probe into ways that you could explore these differences as a gift, rather than a failing, in order to meet them half way or even adapt your ongoing life to accommodate them better, going forwards.
Because when we bring that blueprint version of ourselves more fully into our physical reality…well, that’s when we really start to take off; not in some societally determined way but according to priorities that are unique to us, as an individual; relishing all our quirks and those things which seem to shine out to us, though nobody else seems to notice. It’s as though, by making those things really matter in our lives, we start to matter more to ourselves, becoming more robust every day.
Working with your blueprint
It may help to make your pristine blueprint into a concept that you can actually visualise; perhaps in your meditation time. Done on a regular basis, this can start to have some profound effects upon you life by setting aside time that you allow yourself to deeply consider how you are perfectly designed, including all you particular traits, just the way you are. Listing those traits and considering all the ways they are positive, even if in some unconventional-seeming ways, or have been a profound gift to you and the experiences you have had, can also be very powerful.
A way to visualise your blueprint is to imagine it as the “perfect you”, exactly as you were designed, including all your foibles and traits, like a beautiful, glowing architects plan kept in the safe of an ivory tower in your heart. Imagine, rather than being a flaw, that the architect included each and every one of your foibles and sensitivities because they believed, quite fervently, that this trait enhanced the overall design in some way. Visit all of those traits and see them for the beautiful gift or future-gift-in-potential that they really are, even if you have as yet to realise such potential in your life (which is a sign of the times, not of you being flawed in any way).
If you can then imagine that the human version of you is like a photocopy of that; only, to produce that facsimile, the heart has to project the original blueprint through a lens. The trials and tribulations of life, the belief systems of other people around us, trauma and hard-knocks we experience and so on can damage, scratch and scar that lens until the facsimile of our physical self starts to show-up those wounds. Remember, we are not broken…it’s the misfitting reality we are trying to squeeze ourselves into that creates the rub.
Those parts of our lens that have sustained the most damage continue to beam down a version of us that is distorted in that one, or several, areas; correlating with where we experience our most persistent health issues. By making this visceral and then imagining yourself polishing that lens, perhaps with a magic cloth that removes all those scratches and smears, you can continue on to imaging how your blueprint is now beaming an ever more pristine version of you into everyday existence; in fact, the blueprint version of you is manifesting more clearly every day. If you support this with actual steps taken to tweak your life to fit that “real” you, not the person you were trying so hard to be for so long, the process will gather momentum, In fact, you may notice how the desire and inspiration to make changes that support the way you are and how you prefer to do things, and to cease compromising this to meet the expectations of others, increases the more often you play through this visualisation. You should, then, start to see some really positive improvements in all your experiences, including your health.
Elaine Aron’s website www.hsperson.com is the best single resource I can point you towards. There, you will find plenty of material to help you navigate the territory, starting with her questionnaire to deterine how sensitive you are. You will also find a link to her film Sensitive: the Untold Story, which can also be streamed via Amazon; I enthusiastically recommend this as a life changer.
Her book The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Surivive and Thrive When the World Overwhelms You is a must read if this is your trait or that of a close friend or family member.
Videos resources – I have now put together some of the videos that I have found helpful on this topic, including the one refered to in this post, into a YouTube playlist HERE.
For more resources, see my Highly Sensitive menu at the top of this page.