Many of us grew up with the sense that we had something different.
Many of us kept a lot inside.
We have known all along that our inside worlds are rich and abundant, but that some 80% of the population regards us as introverted, closed off, or timid. We might have struggled to find our voice amidst a larger culture that is constantly demanding that we are too anxious, too “in our heads,” and too easily exhausted by large social gatherings. Here’s a list of just a few of the things I’ve kept inside that I want you to know:
1.I’ve experienced a lot of guilt over the fact that my family is entirely too much for me.
I arrived on this planet as an HSP to a wonderful family who happens to be very loud, very nosey, and very indifferent to alone time. I have made peace with the fact that I can love them exactly as they are, accepting that their idea of fun and comfort might not be the same as mine. However, there were many years during which my sensitivity to their natural tendencies made me feel cruel and ungrateful because it has been always been difficult for me to spend long periods of time with them (cough, also an empath). As an HSP, there has been nothing more unifying and settling to learn to embrace our differences and understand that our variation does not mean I love them any less.
2. My anxiety is never higher than when you’re watching me perform a task.
By the time the task begins, I have already internalized what I believe your judgments about me might be (because I’ve been preparing diligently). Work observations are torture and I’m likely sweating profusely and stumbling over my words in a way that is generally atypical for me. It’s not that I am nervous because I feel I am incompetent, more that I am hyper-aware of your attention and I can feel it throughout my body. As a former collegiate athlete, I took on-the-field personal failures so hard that I often let perceived criticism become a symbol of my self-worth. Striking out in front of a crowd, for example, was devastating for me – and my inner critic (influenced by what I thought you believed about me) was often abusive. Looking back, what my coaches called “playing scared” or making mistakes out of the tension that comes from the fear of making the mistake before it happens – pretty much defines my athletic career.
3. I have had issues with my relationship with food (and sugar especially) for as long as I can remember because excess food and excess exercise numb my internal experience.
For many years before I understood why my system was so easily frazzled (which I know identify as a trademark HSP / Empath quality), quieting the world with food (always alone), was the only way I understood how to cope. I knew the behaviors were unhealthy as I was practicing them, but the need to escape from the constant stimulation has a mind of its own.
4. When I am neglecting my creative outlets, you can tell.
Those who are close to me describe it as a hollowed out version of the person they know. My inner world is so very much alive and I’m working hard to keep up with it nonstop. If I haven’t gotten the words, the ideas, the feelings, out of me somehow, I clam up and become emotionally blocked. During these times, I’m even more likely to retreat from a social obligation, call out sick from work to spend a day alone, or becoming highly irritable in my relationships. Long story short – I’m far from my best self.
5. If possible, I nearly always reach for a drink when I walk into a social gathering.
I’m not proud of this habit, but If there are more than a few people that I’ll be forced to socialize with in the same space, I find an adult beverage as soon as possible. I am painfully in tune with the energy in the gathering space buzzing with electric noise, smells, sounds and a glass of wine (or two) lowers my threshold to the environment. There’s also a great chance you’ll find me outside with the dog thirty minutes into the party.
6. I am prone to anxiety and depression.
While being an HSP comes with many gifts and strengths, it also comes with its apparent difficulties. In my case, my constantly overworking mind and sensitivity to the outside world means that I feel anxious often. When left unresolved, my anxiety can spiral into depression. As I am gaining awareness around the attributes of Introverts, Highly Sensitive People, and Empaths and the ways in which they impact my everyday life, my propensity to seek ways to take care of myself grows. Today, I use tools that have not always lived in my repertoire to identify my triggers as they arise. I let myself rest and work backwards when I catch my inner critic wanting to inflict shame that I require more down time than others. I am diligent about sharing my internal state with a few loved ones whom I trust greatly, even though it is painfully difficult for me to do.
7. As a kid, I took more books to slumber parties than anything else because I knew I’d need to escape somehow.
I am not necessarily anti-social and in all likelihood, I was looking forward to the sleepover. There’s an even greater chance that by 8pm, I would be completely overwhelmed with the screaming girls, the new surroundings, and another family’s foods and I would have regret coming. I learned around age 7 that I could last a little longer before snapping into overdrive if let my mind escape into a story for awhile. Let’s also not pretend that I didn’t have 1-4 of my best imaginary friends there with me to diffuse my experience. Today, I practice yoga, mindfulness meditation, and work to be conscious of my breath in everyday situations in order to tap into stillness in a world that seems to be moving at warp speed. Without these practices, my daily life felt a lot more chaotic and unmanageable.
8. No, I don’t think my clothes are trendy or super flattering either. But if a shirt with a scratchy tag over a poky bra and a tight pair of jeans is my reality, I won’t hear a word you say all day.
I’m not joking here. As a softball player, I couldn’t wear batting gloves, despite the sand paper callouses that had formed on my hands because I would step up to the plate and the sensation of the gloves would take all my attention. In elementary and middle school, I wore soccer shorts and a crew neck sweatshirt literally everyday. My hair was permanently plastered back into a tight tight mid-pony because the baby curly hairs on my forehead tickled so very much. By high school, I realized that as a straight female, I was expected to dress a certain way. I marveled (often aloud) at how comfortable everyone else seemed to look when I could conjure hives just looking at a pair of low-cut jeans. Thankfully, it’s 2019 and not only have a gained tremendous insight about what my “red light fabrics” are and I avoid them with swine flu level caution, but athletic clothing somehow became married to casual clothing in a wonderful cataclysm of HSP bliss.
9. Finding someone you can share your alone time with (and hell, actually want to) is the greatest feeling in the world.