Recently in counseling, my therapist asked if I thought I was a Highly Sensitive Person. I said, “No” right away. ‘Of course not,’ I thought. I’m hyper logical, not very emotional at all. I rarely cry, I struggle to empathize. I’m not easily offended, tend to be pretty stable.
So I asked, “Do you think I am?” He said he did, and wanted to ask me some questions to find out. I pridefully thought, ‘he just doesn’t really know me well enough yet,’ that this test would come up negative. I’m the most un-sensitive person I know! But I played along anyways.
He began to ask me these questions and one by one, as I answered yes, yes, yes… I felt like I wanted to cry. It was completely mind-blowing. I had no idea all of these things about me were connected and that there was a reason for them! When the test was finished and I had answered yes to almost all of the questions, I felt like I just needed to go be by myself and process this bomb that was dropped on me. Can you see my sensitivity yet?
I am an HSP, a Highly Sensitive Person (also known as sensory processing sensitivity – not to be confused with the disorder). Basically, this sensitivity is a neutral trait that about 15-20% of the population possesses. It is something that makes us process information more deeply than most people. This causes us to be more easily overstimulated or overwhelmed. We tend to notice subtleties that others don’t and feel things more strongly.
Living in a society that most definitely does not value sensitivity, many of these things are seen as negative and as something that needs to be overcome. This is why I couldn’t see myself as being sensitive. I equated being sensitive with being overly emotional and irrational in a bad way. I’ve been taught that feelings are impractical and weakness, and that we need to toughen up because the real world is a harsh and rough place. We are so quick to put up walls to protect ourselves from feeling hurt, that we don’t even know what it looks like to feel any more.
Since becoming a parent, I have slowly chipped away at these things that were so ingrained in me. I have seen myself become softer. This has led me to what is known as “gentle parenting,” which is the practice of treating our kids with respect, gently discipling them, showing them compassion and grace, teaching with love, and not punishing or treating them as less than human.
So all of this has put me in the perfect position to receive the news that I have high sensitivity. And since that counseling session, I keep making more and more connections, seeing how this trait is interwoven into everything that I am. I got the books, The Highly Sensitive Person and The Highly Sensitive Person’s Workbook, and have been trying to learn everything I can about myself in this new light.
The biggest step I’ve taken is to intentionally let myself feel my feelings. So once, while playing a game on my phone, I noticed I was really enjoying playing it. And that voice in my head started to say, “That’s silly, it’s just a dumb game, it’s just a waste of time, I can’t feel joy like this about a game that doesn’t mean anything.” And I quickly pushed those thoughts away, telling myself that it’s ok to enjoy this, that it’s ok to like playing this game, that I CAN find joy in the little things that may seem silly to some.
Another time recently, I was working on going through all the clothes my 14-month-old has outgrown. We were wanting to get rid of most of them, but I didn’t realize how hard it would be to do that. As I was going through these tiny baby clothes, thinking about each of my biological and foster babies that wore them, I began to feel very sad at the thought of giving away these outfits. Then came that voice again, telling me that they’re just clothes, that it’s pointless to hold on to them when we may never use them again, that I shouldn’t cry over clothes, that it doesn’t mean I’m giving up my babies. My logic trying to talk me out of my emotions…
I then purposely let my feelings take control and I quickly started to cry so so hard. I allowed myself to feel the pain of my children growing up so fast, the hurt of my foster babies leaving me, the heartache of not likely having more biological kids, and every other thought and emotion that came to my mind. I poured out my heart to my husband and we ended up watching videos of our kids when they were smaller, crying and laughing and “awwwww”ing.
Because I allowed myself to feel my feelings… the pain, the hurt, and the sadness ended up leading to joy, healing, and connection. It reminds me of the discovery made in the movie Inside Out, the idea that embracing sadness can lead to intimacy and a greater joy.
In retraining my mind to make room for emotion, wouldn’t you know it, I found that I am actually a pretty emotional being. I feel very deeply. And I am finally ok with that. God created us with feelings and it is normal to express those feelings. They are an important part of who we are.
So if you’ve ever found yourself holding back… If you have ever felt like you couldn’t get excited about something because you have to maintain some level of “cool…” If you’ve ever felt like you shouldn’t be hurt by something or like you weren’t allowed to cry… You are not alone. Literally everyone feels stuff, HSP or not. And for some reason, we think that’s not ok. But it is. It is ok to feel. It is ok to be happy or sad or angry or excited or any other emotion.
I will talk more about HSP in the future, but for today, I am here, giving you permission to feel your feelings. Let them out. It’s ok. And if you don’t have a lot of experience with that, it can feel overwhelming. If the only thing you’ve ever done is try to stuff them away, you won’t know how to handle them when the floodgates open. You don’t have to yet. The first step is to just allow yourself to feel. And it is so freeing!