You’re Too Sensitive”
How we are taught to hide our light.
Growing up, my parents and my mother’s brother co-owned a cabin in northwestern Wisconsin. We spent most of the summer on the lake, swimming, boating, and fishing.
We would pack up the car early on a Saturday morning and arrive before noon with the whole day to enjoy.
In contrast, my uncle’s family often arrived unannounced in the middle of the night.
As children, my cousins were incredibly obnoxious and spoiled. They would inevitably wake us as they shuffled luggage into the cabin from their ginormous SUV.
There was an unspoken agreement that my mother would get the back bedroom to herself. My father always chose to sleep on the porch; my brother and I could be found in one of the smaller bedrooms or on the couch in the living room.
I have struggled with insomnia since childhood. Most of the time, I would still be awake when they came, reading in the ratty blue recliner next to the fireplace.
Hearing their car pull into the driveway, I would fill with rage at how inconsiderate they were. I felt imposed upon and appalled at their total disregard for others.
It seemed I alone was affected to such a degree by this regular occurrence. I would discuss it with my parents, whose response always involved blame because I was “too sensitive.”
“Ah, who cares,” my father would say and continue threading the line on his fly rod. “They’re jerks.”
Pop’s assessment was correct, but it didn’t change the feelings I had about my feelings. Why was I the only one so bothered by this rudeness?
Just another example of how I always felt separate from my family. Like I didn’t belong. Like I was defective at the core of my being.
I’m not crazy.
It took me decades to unpack situations like these. When I started graduate school for counseling, I was introduced to Elaine Aron’s work on sensitivity, which changed my life.
Highly sensitive people have nervous systems that are wired differently than other people. Affecting around 20% of the population, high sensitivity is more common than you would think.
HSPs finely attuned systems pick up energetic signatures that others don’t. This attunement to the environment is often subconscious and can be extremely confusing. When I read about the exaggerated response to bright lights, noise, rushed schedules, and violence, I felt something click into place.
That’s me! I thought. Finally, someone gets it!
Discovering the research on HSPs and reading about others' experiences, I was able to reframe my perceived “defects” into strengths, and I began nurturing and respecting my high sensitivity.
Against the Grain
Society has yet to value high sensitivity. Sensitive people are shunned and told to “buck up” and other hurtful crap.
However, HSPs across the globe are finding each other and learning to lean into their sensitivity. This is soul work. It requires a willingness to take an honest look at yourself and an openness to learn to love the parts that make you different. Not an easy task in our zombified, money-driven culture.
Women have it the worst. And the best. Not surprisingly, women make up a much larger percentage of HSPs than men. I believe that is one of the reasons sensitivity is shunned, another way for the patriarchy to reject the divine feminine and keep women quiet.
But high sensitivity is actually a superpower. I’m learning how to wield it.