The thing that most struck me, both then and now, as I revisited Elaine Aron’s work on being a Highly Sensitive Person, was the conclusion drawn about it, after many years of collating research related to more than just one species…being Highly Sensitive is an evolutionary trait, across the board!
It offers the evolutionary advantage of being curious and aware of subtle changes occurring, of not limiting oneself to what we think we know because its been decided by the majority, is “the way we’ve always done things” or by following the herd when they panic as-one but, rather, processing independently and listening to subtle cues using finely honed sensory abilities. When the predator comes, for instance, we don’t just run with the rest of them but are far more likely to have ducked into our own discrete hiding place or avoided the situation altogether because we felt it coming.
When I first read this, a few years ago, I found myself grabbing onto this information as the salve to the many years of deep hurt from being HSP in a family, a friendship or work context, a life, a whole world that usually doesn’t generally understand you or many of your responses to things (no less, yourself, sometimes for many decades) if you are HSP.
So, re-thinking this the other day, I gratefully plunged Aron’s film, which I last watched some time ago, “Sensitive the Untold Story” and then dived into some more interview material from Alanis Morissette (well-known HSP featured in the film), talking about how and why she had to become the writer and recording artist that she is, not in spite of but because of her sensitivities: “I was writing to get it out of my body”. I can relate!
I went on to hurl myself, feet first, into my own intense relationship with that particular music back in 1996 (a year after Jagged Little Pill was released), the year my mother died and I was in so much unfathomable emotional pain about that and everything (I felt like I was having to swallow my own fistful of jagged pills)… and how it seemed to speak for me and then how I could no longer listen to it, at all, for years, because of the associations it now had as it seemed to parcel up all that intense pain. So, recklessly (perhaps this was no coincidence with the fact Chiron, the wounded healer, was going retrograde at that very time, 11th July…planets are important “furniture” in my highly sensitive life) I listened…and I relistened…and it was cathartic and telling, bringing up for me “how I felt back then”, at what I now see as an important juncture in my life…the tentative beginning to embracing “the spiritual” or “etheric” and no longer allowing myself to be boxed up and labelled like everyone else…and how all that pain and awakening set me on a path to where I am now. But then, everything has meaning and connection in the life of a deeply processing HSP…
I then watched the newer film “Sensitive and in Love” and found myself in there again…and began on Aron’s other book, which I had bypassed until now, “Highly Sensitive in Love” (because I had naively assumed it was only about romantic love) and began the catharsis of why so many relationships, friendships in particular, have crashed and burned for me so dramatically over the years, especially given I invest so much into them. It must have unlocked something in me already because, as I write this, I am newly awake from a cathartic dream in which I made peace…at last…with the joined-at-the-hip university friend whose intimacy was torched in one explosive conversation, oh, 30 years ago and we never spoke again. I am on the journey to deeper understanding…but it doesn’t take away the sense of wanting to know “why me ?”and how to continue living with this thing, which can be soooo painful. Of needing to know how it is useful in these times (please tell me that it is or I am lost!); I need to hold onto its evolutionary value and, to do that, I’ve reached the point of wanting to find others who have my version of the trait and feel likewise, because I am so lonely in this place of oddity, trying to see the up-side, all on my own…and just talking about sensitivity in the context of small domestic matters isn’t enough to make me feel part of anything because I am still having to meet others on their territory. Why do I feel so very much more…why do I feel so very WIDE that its as though the whole universe is my sensory realm? Oh yes, because I’m an INFJ; its my processing type…perhaps I need to focus more on those people.
So, in this new flurry of self-discovery, I took the plunge and joined some forums on the HSP topic, one of which was the “official” Facebook group, and I bided my time with a growing list of questions I wanted to ask of other people like me.
I watched, and I waited…in typical HSP manner…reading and commenting where appropriate in other people threads and I made one good friend, though she doesn’t share my broader traits. It became clear, in short time, that the only resonant conversations were taking place in that one FB group; those other groups seemed to have attracted people who, much more arbitrarily, labelled themselves “sensitive” because they are prone to peaks and troughs of high emotion, which is not what Aron’s work is about. Hers, usefully, comes with some rules of thumb (I have nothing against those), made up into the acronym DOES (see full description here):
D – Depth of Processing
O – Overstimulated
E – Emotional Reactivity and Empathy
S – Sensing the Subtle
Yes, I fit all of that…and then some…along with scoring full marks in the assessment in her book (also here on the website).
So, I waited and then, with a certain amount of nervousness, I took the plunge to ask my first question, which was going to have to be on one of the two main topics that are always top of my HS list – electrosensitvity and sensitivity to “space weather”, since these are the hardest, and oddest, loneliest and most isolating, to live with…always, the ones that make me feel most weird in the company of others (whether I dare to bring them up or not) but, perhaps, not here. In fact, I have admitted to myself, a long running fantasy that one day I would find my HS “tribe” and would discover dozens of people who experience these versions of the trait to the degree and intensity that I do and so I would no longer feel so very alone in it all!
Hmmm…yet to happen.
Anyway, my mind was made up for me by an active day of the sun last week – a filament explosion on the sun’s surface leading to a CME that hurtled towards earth and brought in a GM storm early this week – YES I felt it all as it happened (as ever) and all the more so given we are only just coming out of solar minimum, so such events are still very rare, thus my body isn’t as used to them as before (not so at solar max which, for me, is a non-stop rollercoaster ride of sensations). To quote Elaine Aron, HSPs are often “sensitive to seasonal or weather-related changes in the amount of daylight” and I suspect this kind of sensitivity is related, since since subtle light quotas and other environmental exposures, including radiation and ionisation, alter hugely at different times of lunar and solar cycles.
So, with careful and tactful wording, I asked my question…and was greeted by silence, at first, for a day or so. Then a couple of responses, from people with whom I had already compared similarities before, who could relate somewhat, so I elaborated some more, but still relative silence, which disheartened me. And then a comment that began encouragingly, or so I thought, and so I relaxed and settled back to read it…but then the tone changed completely and it turned out to be one of the admin people that police the conversations in the forum and I was being ticked off, in a manner of speaking, for raising the topic that I did as “unrelated” to being HSP. I was told what I described was probably more appropriate for some other forum and that the rules I had agreed to meant I needed to be “focused on the research and the experiences around sensitivity”. It seems she had not allowed several replies to my thread because they were also not deemed related to HSP so I never got to see them, though I was invited to share with these people outside the forum (how, if I didn’t know who had replied to me?), so I had effectively been shut down….and slapped in the face, which sent searing emotional pain through my HS body, reverberating still a day later.
After swallowing back tears and that old-familiar sick feeling in my stomach, from so many other “little rejections” (thanks Alanis) and exclusions over the course of a lifetime, my poised reply included that, to me, these were the genuine “experiences around sensitivity” that I have and, regarding the present limits of research, unless we open our minds and discussions to the, as yet, unexplored territory of what being a Highly Sensitive Person might look like, in these far-from-static times onwards, how were we ever going to expand our understanding of it or grasp its evolutionary potential? Or, if I was to take her stance, is what it takes to be classed HSP already a closed book? Had “science” already made a meal of it, had the definition been carved in stone and no one else invited to the party, the gang plank pulled up ready to set sail on the good ship HSP (perhaps I wouldn’t so object to the sense of ownership of the label by others, like a patent pending, if I wasn’t one)? Had the usual trip-wire been triggered (no strangers with funny hairdos here); science serving as its own limitation factor, shutting down all future bets to rig its own results, now perpetually trimmed down to fit those ideas that have had the research funding and that have been published, thus accepted as the paradigm. How closed-ranks does science always get when people like me step up to it; like a clam at first tickle…as I sometimes feel on entry to a room, the air began to feel ice cold in there.
But wait a minute….being HSP is an evolutionary advantage trait, yes? So how can we presume to know what it will look like as our world changes around our ears?
By definition, this means those of us that are this way will, necessarily, be the first to pick up on environmental and other details that others miss and, being deep processors, we will make the specialism of these, becoming (in a sense) our own laboratories so that we are often the forerunners of what other people don’t know yet or, if they do, they are too inclined to ignore or “normalise” with their old thinking, rather than face what makes them uncomfortable (whereas, for us, there is no choice but to accept what is our undoubted experience; there can be no luxury of “pick and choose”).
So if us forerunners who cannot ignore what we notice (remember, this is not a pathology…we are wired to pick up on what others miss) are shut down before we open our mouths, things will always continue to be Under Rug Swept (quoting the title of Alanis Morisette’s second album…).
The softened response that came back to my spiel (which wasn’t as wordy or unleashed as this…I save this for my audience) made some headway into making it alright for me to continue to talk about this topic just so long as I accept that not every HSP will have those traits that I do (well I never…) and then the suggestion from another admin, after telling me they don’t encourage detailed posts on my kind of topic, that I sign up for her Myers Briggs course to help find myself. I am left feeling so pushed aside and rebuked, like a silly, over-imaginative, child that I don’t know whether or when I ever will engage there again and I may just leave the group before the day is out. I suspect I am still missing replies from other people on my topic, which means this is not so much of a conversation as an orchestrated, filtered, and highly frowned-upon, dance upon eggshells.
That’s the thing, us HSPs spend whole lifetimes feeling like we live on the fringe of all fringes, dancing someone else’s dance (carefully), with our families, in social settings, when we compare what are “normal” reactions to everyday situations, when we feel unable to join in because things get too much for us such as when life is too noisy or busy or triggering to be borne by our finely tuned wiring and we just can’t manage the loneliness of being, apparently, the only one who notices things…so to be pushed to the fringe of the fringe group, with a slap on my wrist (that’s an allowed trait in the forum…us HSPs do take chastisement very deeply, painfully and personally and take a long time to recover…) is to feel that I am out on a limb, all alone, again.
With comic pathos, as I write this, that song of 1970s popular radio just began playing in my head, as it often would when I was a child on the fringes at school…. “Alone again, naturally”. So, maybe I have a complex about being left out but any wonder after the life I’ve led, feeling so very different and largely unheard….its not that the one that led to the other but that the complex or touchiness is the natural outcome of years of repeated emotional pain.
By the way, its been so powerful to revisit the emotion pot of my mid 20s, courtesy of the music I wrapped up in storage from that mid-90s era…so powerful to re-own it all and reattach it to the me of now. Somehow, its helped me re-find some fire in my belly, for life-as-it-currently-is, to find some company, and more vigorous, less time-weary, parts of myself, left behind in song:
I can feel so unsexy for someone so beautiful
So unloved for someone so fine
I can feel so boring for someone so interesting
So ignorant for someone of sound mind (Alanis Morisette “So Unsexy”)
But all is not lost. Thankfully, on the tip of that fiery part of me (that I usually work to keep under control), being the part that always recovers quickest, rising up to way above my head (even as it sears my already bleeding innards with even more emotional pain…), I was quickly led off in search of backup materials to make me feel better. One quick search (how did I cope with this self-processing in the 90s with no internet to rely on…) and I was reminded that Dr Judith Orloff, author of The Empath’s Survival Guide, who also writes about being Highly Sensitive, talks openly about The Power of Being An Earth Empath (me!) which is someone who, in addition to all the usual HSP traits, may also feel volcanoes and tsunami on the other side of the planet, feels all the hurts and harms done to earth in their own body…and who may register solar flares as they happen!
Perhaps my topics will be allowed in her forum; I’m about to find out (the first thing I read on there is hopeful: “You can’t speak butterfly language with caterpillar people”).
Another thing to come out of this, that’s long overdue; I am newly embracing my “clairs”, a thing that has been on my “to spend time discovering” list for some time, newly prompted by listening to the audio recording of the London workshop with Lee Harris that I wanted to attend, but missed, last year just the other day.
Lee talks openly about the various clairs (see this slide from his workshop) and, reading the rather longer list than you usually hear, my attention landed straight onto clairsentience (and a couple of the others). Looking up what this entails, I find myself to a tee. Someone who feels sooo deeply, feels others emotions, picks up on even the most subtle changes in atmosphere and the environment, who can just tell straightaway whether they want to be in this place or that one (even remotely…I do this when planning holidays, by looking at images etc, and its a skillset that seldom lets me down and goes way beyond logical), reacts strongly to “the news”, sad or harrowing stories and the kind of things that others don’t seem to think is their business, sensory to frequencies and energy shifts, difficulty with crowds and experiences all this in their body as very-real and tangible physical experiences. Its much more than a gut-feeling, and certainly not to be swept under rug or laughed off as make-believe or exaggeration.
So it makes me laugh-groan to notice how my spell-check can’t even recognise those words beginning with “clair”…its long overdue that we got these attributes back into our vocabulary and everyday speak; we’re going to need them all the time, pretty soon.
Science is all “good and well” and all that; it will always have its place, but the era we are now entering is – necessarily – a time of opening and merger; as in, its time to open up what is “allowed” and to bring forth a mixture of different data-gathering skillets, with none of the old “you don’t belong here” or strict compartmentalisation mentality that quickly shuts out valid information before its been considered. To not not open up in this way (or to censor the boundary pushing so that it fits our preconceptions) is to cut off our evolutionary potential before it happens and languish in the limited ideas that once held us prisoner; trapped into all the short-sightedness we already know so well (and which only ever throws up the “evidence” we want to see and that keeps us in our comfort zone). In such a world, we cant even see that we are trapped because we are so bought into the paradigm…
Or, we dare to access our subtle senses (we all have them, even if they are more developed in some than in others) and, instead of shutting them down or making them “not welcome”, we listen…we really listen.
I guess you could say I’ve been doing that all my life…
Sorry for the fire in this week’s post…to quote Alanis Morissette, I had to write it to “get it out of my body”!
By the way, all the Highly Sensitive resources relating to Aron’s book and films are excellent and I very highly recommend them as a first port of call if you are exploring your HSP trait. However, forums where people bounce off one another randomly or seek to create perception boxes around each other…I’m still not so sure they work with the HSP-meets-INFJ in me!
However, I do believe there’s a reason the old emotional pain around this intrinsic part of me had to open-up right now via me hitting this particular wall; it was the only way I would bounce back to fully own ALL of myself, wired just the way I am…and I can feel that emerging, inside all the fire and pain of it, and I honour that phoenix arising, with as much gentleness as I can muster. From now on, I use science as a tool but I won’t ever let it box me in (I know I’ve said that before but this time I really mean it) and I open to exploring my off-the-grid gifts like never before. I won’t hang around where I have to apologise for them or make them small in any way. This is my undertaking to myself.