A great TEDx Talk on the gentle power of HSPs:
Like many folks in the U.S. last year, I quickly jumped on the The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up bandwagon. I found myself watching YouTuber after YouTuber talking about how they’d reorganized their life after reading the book.
I’ve always had a bit of split personality on these matters.
On one hand, as a child, I was so messy that you often couldn’t find the floor (I once read and agreed with a quote from Shia Labeouf stating that the floor is the single largest shelf in a home). On the other hand, when my mom came into my room, put all of my clothes in a pile and told me that whatever was on the floor when she came back would be donated I suddenly created a space fit for HGTV. I was always very good at cleaning. And I love a good purge. It’s my favorite means of catharsis. Continue reading
As a highly sensitive person, perhaps the greatest bane and boon in life is maintaining boundaries.
On one hand, the empathy of HSPs is one of their greatest strengths, permitting them to connect with and understand people. HSPs can often break past people’s walls. Many are capable of drawing out those who might normally be ignored or marginalized in ways that others cannot not.
On the other hand, to be an HSP is to be constantly inundated with unwanted stimuli that it’s nearly impossible to shut out: coworkers, partners, strangers at Dunkin’ Donuts. Further, empathy often leads to compassion and can create considerable confusion for the HSP who may be hurt or offended by someone while simultaneously understanding the motivation or the misfortune that led the offender down such a path.
The stimulation can be endless and crippling, resulting in the draining of all of an HSP’s emotional resources. If an HSP reaches a breaking point they may resort to creating physical boundaries to stand in for emotional ones. When that happens, the only option is to shut oneself up in a dark room and avoid the world until recovery.
The Secret to Building Healthy Boundaries
Step #1: know yourself.
Step #2: embrace yourself.
These two steps don’t cure all ills, but they do give you the tools to create the space you need to survive and thrive. It is far too common for many HSPs to internalize the message that their sensitivity is some sort of defect or disability. They may feel that the best thing for them to do is to try to fix themselves, which involves permitting others to trample the boundaries that they need for health and wellbeing.
When HSPs know and embrace themselves, they can see when they need time away from the world and take it. They can turn their compassion and sensitivity inward to realize that those who don’t accept, respect or understand them — or worse who take advantage of them — don’t add to their lives and so seek to limit or eliminate the stimulus.
Knowing oneself can help an HSP understand when connecting with others will actually help them. Many HSPs feel both the good and the bad far more deeply. In light of this, an HSP who tunes their sensitivity in to their inner self can grow as a person by learning when and how to connect with others in meaningful ways. They can learn when it is safe to open up.
The importance of erecting proper boundaries for anyone is quite great, but for the HSP, it simply cannot be overstated. Although it would do no good for an HSP to completely isolate him- or herself from the world, the inner life of an HSP is an intricate and beautiful thing and so it is in their interest to create a gatekeeper to let in those things and people that add life, to guard against attacks and to usher out those things that have worn out their welcome.
Let’s talk about decision fatigue.
Deciding what to wear is stressful. Especially if an important event is involved.
I used to say heaven help you if you wanted me to attend a cocktail hour and hoped to come back to my place and relax afterward. Invariably, I would end up pulling just about every piece of clothing out of the closet and throwing it everywhere while deciding. When I returned home from the event, it was as if Hurricane Fabian just hit.
To pare things down a bit, I’ve always been a fan of the closet purge. I like to do it at least twice a year when I’m changing over from fall/winter to spring/summer. This has served to keep things from overflowing in my closet. But the purge was still leaving me with too many options.
It all started with a TED Talk.
I have been obsessed with personality typing for years without really “finding” myself. It wasn’t until I picked up Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, however, that I started to feel like just maybe there was something to all of this after all. The book has been discussed many, many times and so I won’t go into much detail. What I do want to address is what Susan Cain gave to me.
The beginnings of self-acceptance.
When Your Mask Is More Natural Than Your Face
I grew up in a household that was very extraverted. I was always expected to be “on” and socializing. The immediate family was one collective personality at times. I also have a huge extended family. Although it is a wonderful blessing to have such a huge support system, I remember feeling so claustrophobic at times and not understanding why. Most days I just fantasized about getting home from school to find the house empty.
Sometime around the beginning of college I made up my mind that I would put aside my “quirky” introverted tendencies and go all out extravert. In fact, I did such a good job that by the time I graduated from college, I couldn’t go anywhere on campus without someone recognizing and speaking to me. At one point I was up to nearly 1000 Facebook friends. Talk about cool. I put on this persona because I wanted to get ahead, be liked, be seen and be recognized rather than being ignored and talked over. So I joined clubs, went to parties, got a blackberry, got on listservs and just got out there.
You Cannot Escape Who You Are
I was wildly successful!! But at the core, some parts of me refused to change. After days of being “on” at school I would hole myself up in my bedroom for entire weekends, downward spiraling and wanting nothing more than for life to slow down, speaking to no one.
I would “forget” my cell phone some days so that I didn’t have to hear it ring. Some of this goes back to being HSP (not to mention boundary issues). But some of it was simply a typical introvert’s need to just find myself, recharge and recenter somewhere off alone, which I denied myself because then people might think I wasn’t normal or gregarious.
And Maybe Who You Are Is Wonderful
But reading Quiet last year just showed me how exhausted I have been. How I had been trying to be loud enough, alpha enough, cool enough, outgoing enough, energetic enough. I have been desperately trying to be good enough.
Quiet was one of a few books that I read in 2013 that showed me that I already am enough.
So I am more than ready to join the “Quiet Revolution” (not to be confused with this Quiet Revolution). Some of the greatest gifts and innovations come from those who spend time in deep, quiet reflection. Those who are louder and more extraverted have great qualities and give us so much.
But for some of us it pays to remember that, as Ghandi said, “in a gentle way, you can shake the world.”