If you have ever wondered about how much you seem to follow an apparently unpredictable up and down cycle, maybe this piece is for you….
HSPs have been described in various ways over the years, comments can vary in extreme from ‘rather neurotic’ to ‘so sane but intense’, ‘healthy’ to ‘unwell’, ‘eccentrically delightful’ to ‘weird’, ‘so chattery’ to ‘silent and withholding’, ‘emotionally unpredictable’ to ‘hardly expressing a thing’. I hasten to add, these descriptions have as often been from HSPs about themselves in my therapy room or at meetings, as from those who know or observe them. Some of us will bristle at such generalisations or interpretations, others will recognise people’s reactions or comments on our state of being, others will not recognise themselves at all. But when all is said and done, what are we, really, when it comes to those ups and downs that people notice, that we notice, even if we don’t show the effects – that propensity to seem emotionally very high one minute and very low the next, to seem apparently contradictory? Does it mean we aren’t normal, or there’s something deeply wrong with us? Should we immediately run off and find a therapist to ‘fix’ what’s wrong with our brain? Get a BPD diagnosis!? Or is it normal for highly sensible people to experience this level of changing emotion?
Let’s not forget, before we explore this a little further, to reference what actually defines us as highly sensitive people, having Sensory Processing Sensitivity (as defined by Dr Elaine Aron). We have:
- Depth of processing and everything that comes with that.
- A propensity to become easily Over-stimulated.
- Emotional intensity.
- Sensory sensitivity (including sensitivity to subtleties).
Remember these things? Did you read Dr Aron’s book on highly sensitive people or have you bypassed one of the most empowering books ever written in favour of websites that generalise and capitalise on something they often know very little about and can leave readers feeling disempowered or victims somehow? When you are thinking about your development out there in the world, remember to refer back to the source of the research on our trait. This really does help.
Of course we have ups and downs and of course they are noticeable. If we have intense emotions, are they not going to show, somehow? If we get easily over-stimulated is that not going to become apparent? If we think deeply about all sorts of things, or notice every little change or sensation around us, is that really not going to colour how we engage with everything and everyone around us? But is the simple fact of intensity, or moving from one emotionally intense feeling to another logically an indicator that something is wrong? Does it mean there is no rationale, or thinking process gong on? I don’t think so, which is why I wanted to bring ‘strong feelings’ to your attention. Strong feelings, for us, often don’t limit themselves to singular emotions – one of the reasons we can be quite exhausted at times. One day we might be feeling very sad. The next perhaps feeling angry. The next joyful? Are any of those feelings wrong? What if we experience all of them in one day, is that wrong too?
So, why am I talking about all these things? How does it help to think about ourselves as prone to surges of joy and depths of despair? In particular, if you come from the UK like me, how does it help to normalise this in the face of a culture where the ‘stiff upper lip’ is part of the national character? It’s because it really does matter how YOU colour your normal behaviour. It really does matter how YOU assimilate experiences and respond to your environment. It really does matter what YOU think. And importantly, it matters what values you use to screen everything you perceive about you, your purpose, our purpose, what’s happening ‘out there’, as a part of that species called human.
Why? Why does it matter, that you continue to be intense, affected, a depth processor, aware of little things?
Well, if you haven’t already worked it out, your human tribe needs you to be just as you are. So much of what we see matters. If no-one is noticing, it’s our job to bring it to their attention, sometimes by just feeling things. It’s not always comfortable for people to see us in tears at witnessing something that is obviously cruel, especially if they haven’t noticed. However, if we don’t show it how will anyone learn? If we don’t think carefully and in a complex way about long-term plans and effects, how will anyone who is busy under a workload of empire-building or drudgery ever know there is another way of doing things? And how do we know that any of these things need thinking about if we are not moved by our feelings, our sensitive nervous system, to notice, to consider at depth and hopefully, to communicate a question or an idea for alternatives? Feelings are a neutral thing – they simply indicate there is something to notice (and potentially, to act on). They are neither right nor wrong.
There is such a lot going on around us. In the bigger picture, some people are screaming about the dangers facing us through our environmental negligence, others are concerned about walking backwards from hard-won human rights, greed run wild, building the rights of women, children, whole races and species. Does this mean we all have to be standing on soap-boxes? No, it doesn’t. We are empowered in different and varied ways. Let’s remember however that change can happen in the tiny increments of life – a little word, a little change, maybe just a little respect for the way in which our awareness and response to things outside ourselves can be intense. Giving ourselves respect for the deep, deep way in which we respond to what is going on around us, what is engaging with us, can empower us to have a voice or an idea that will make sense. Sometimes our very intensity is what what stops others in their tracks and gives them pause for thought.
Having feelings that are intense, and easily moved, gives us a very finely tuned view of what’s going on around us. We are responding to what is happening. If we can accept our feelings as normal, give them space and respect as signals to observe something, it gives us power. Just because our feelings can seem to change, it doesn’t mean any of those responses are wrong. If we disregard strong feelings, we do so at our peril. The ‘up and down’ is simply an indication of response to a tide that is sometimes inspired by negative experiences, or sometimes by the positive. Negative and positive things happen all day long, we have no idea what is going to happen, therefore we don’t know how we will feel. It’s not a fault, it’s not a weakness, it’s just a response. No feelings are wrong, they just are. The only wrong thing would be to count them as of no importance or to fail to act on them when the time is right.
And what about over-stimulation and the anxiety or fatigue that this can bring on? Often that fatigue or overwhelm will lead to feelings – are those feelings wrong, or are they simply indicators that something needs adjustment? As sensitive people, we need to make adjustments more often, we are affected more quickly. It’s all normal, unless someone else or we ourselves decide our response should match the unresponsive majority. So often I have heard HSPs talk about how they over-reacted to something perceived as disrespect, or felt embarrassed by tears of joy at something as simple as the first blossoming flower of spring. But when you look more deeply into these things, we don’t always ‘over-react’ – sometimes something did happen, it’s just no one else noticed. Sometimes assumptions from the dominant culture do curtail our freedom to do and act as is natural for us. Sometimes our sensitive systems and creative abilities do perceive new or wonderful ways to benefit ourselves or others, giving us overwhelming feelings of joy and expectation – imagine how hard it is when no one else realises how wondrous it is. Do allow yourself time to experience the disappointment and sadness when you are the only one who notices.
What might it be like, to truly respect your responses, to check them out for meaning, to accept those intense feelings neutrally as information rather than a fault? What part might that play in furthering your own empowerment?
Next time you feel your ups and downs are unwelcome, think about how they inform our intelligence, how they inform us if we are on the right path, how they enable us to finely tune our destiny and that of others. Find other HSPs, even for a few minutes, to hear how you feel, what you are thinking, what matters. You will be surprised how one other HSP can help you to manage the helter skelter of feelings that one minute seem to be troubling, the next minute seem to be nicely settled away, having been heard and made sense of. Sometimes only another HSP will be able to see the sanity in your distress, the numinous in your joy. And let’s be honest, if you really do have an issue related to your feelings, something that needs work, who better to advise you and help you seek a safe space to learn and grow, than a fellow HSP?
Enjoy those ups and downs as signs you are alive and well and ‘sensitive’ to everything around you. Don’t abandon your innate and natural wisdom – there is a reason for your response. You just need to realise you are the one to interpret these feelings, not the dominant culture who whilst needing our sensitivity, might mistakenly seek to suppress or negate it.
And then – this is the hard part – we do have to learn to ride the disappointment of knowing something that others are slow to realise. We are first aware, that means we witness the thing that needs to change over and over whilst others have no idea. That’s ok, but we do need to grieve and then accept that we, the first responders, will always need to wait for others to catch up to where we are. There are still ways in which we can use our feelings and awareness to bring about meaningful conclusions – just not all the things, all the time.
But that’s ok. It’s the life of a sensitive person to be up and down in truthful response to what is going on around us. We will survive, but let’s not add to our distress by putting ourselves down for our up and down experiences. They are normal and signs that there is hope.
|Article written by Barbara Allen (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)|