Saturday, May 21, 2016

Highly sensitive person

Where to Begin?
Back in October last year (2015) I read a book in French called "Je pense trop" (I think too much) by Cristel Petitcollin. I found it by complete chance.

This book completely changed my inner world. For as long as I lived, I've always felt out of place. I found out why. There was a word to explain this feeling, three words in fact for how i was: i was apparently a highly sensitive person.

The Signs:
If you have felt out of place all your life, chances are that you may be a highly sensitive person.
In fact, every time i heard someone say "I've always felt out of place all my life", 9 out of 10 when i asked this person a few questions about them, they looked at me as if I was reading their mind.
I am not.

Since I found that i am a highly sensitive person, I've started to recognise the signs in others too.
And often enough than not, this person doesn't know that he or she is a highly sensitive person.

Actually let me scratch that, they are aware that they have been called "sensitive" by others but they do not fully understand to which extent they are sensitive and what it means daily for them to be this sensitive.

I certainly didn't.

Reads on Being a highly sensitive person:
To find more about the signs of being a highly sensitive person, i recommend a book by Elaine Aron called "the highly sensitive person"  and to have a look at her website.
Another blog here lists the sure signs that you are a highly sensitive: lonerwolf.

When i look back, I certainly didn't know what was wrong with me.
But I knew something had to be wrong.
For every time I tried to be myself, people comments, behaviours and reactions were the opposite of what i felt.
If there was a noise nearby that bothered me and i dare to mention it, they were okay. I wasn't.
If there was a comment I heard from someone who shocked me, they were not.
If there was a situation of bad mood around a room, they didn't see it.
If there was a conflict that i had lived in a group, i was still re-ashing it five days later while everyone else had moved on.
Twenty odd years feeling this way had a profound impact on me.
I could see i wasn't reacting like anyone but i couldn't see why.

A little bit of history on human beings:
As human beings, we have learned to survive by copying our parents and others people around us.
It goes like this: "They are big. You are small. If they are big and strong, follow what they do to become big and strong."
We replicate. to survive.
We replicate also to fit in.
Again it goes back to prehistorical times. It is a survival skill: basically, if you didn't fit in, or followed the rules, you would have jeopardized the well being of the tribe, and you would have been thrown out.
So we fit in. To stay alive.
So I fitted in. Or so I tried. I compared myself repeatedly to others and tried to replicate them.
This was hard.
I constantly pushed down my feelings. I can see now only in retrospect how soul-destroying it has been for me.
If i was feeling stressed in a situation, i tried to remain calm. But i was overwhelmed inside.
If i was feeling sad, i pretended i wasn't.
If i was feeling worried, i bottled it up and pretended i wasn't.
I lived completely denying how i really felt inside. I was living besides myself.
Frankly looking back on it, I don't know how i managed to keep it this long.

Imagine being a non smoker in a world of smokers?
You cough all the time and people wonder why you're coughing. Hell, you even wonder why you're coughing yourself. You are not even aware you're coughing. You are not even aware that at heart you are a non smoker. Because unlike smoke, being a highly sensitive person isn't visible on the surface.
Not even to yourself.
Imagine that wherever you go, everywhere you look, you see, you work, it is smoke everywhere. It is the norm. Everyone smokes. Take it or leave it. So what do you do? What CAN you do?
You pretend to smoke.
But it isn't natural for you.
It takes all your energy to learn to be this way. It isn't good for your mental or physical health but you don't even know this.

In psychology it is called building the False Self. Now imagine a book that was telling you that everything that you thought wrong about yourself, was actually "normal"?  "okay" even.
What happens next is this: your inner walls collapse.

Imagine All your life you built a house made of bricks?  But let's say your core values were made out of "straw". It is as good a metaphor for Highly sensitive people may have been told they were "too kind" and "too soft".
"You're a softie! Tough it up!"  or "You're too kind for your own good."
So even though the brick walls of this house looked solid, when someone pushed the walls a bit too much, it didn't take too much for those walls to collapse. Because the Inner and Outer walls didn't match.
Now comes the tricky part:
Even though some of the walls may have collapsed in our past, with a little help or no help at all, this is what you may have done- for i did that too: I built it back as quick as I could. I wanted my house to look exactly like the other brick houses. Too scary to be different.
Don't know how to be this other person or build this other house.
How much I tried because I didn't know.
One result of this was the more I tried, the hardest and longest it took for me to build back the walls of my house. I started to dislike this house more and more. I ressented my House. I ressented the neighboorhood who made me want to build a brick house. Maybe I wanted a different house.
But i didn't know what type of house I wanted. I didn't know what this new house of mine should be made of.

In the end, what this book did for me is this: it allowed me to accept that it was okay to undo the bricks of my house. The foundations were all wrong to begin with.
At first i wanted to remove all the bricks. I hated everything about this brick house. I hated it. I wanted it gone completely. But the truth was, it had some good points. It made me survive for a start. Badly I grant you. But I survived. I built skills that I wouldn't have if i had brought a different house. I am still trying to learn to appreciate those skills.
Having to fake to build a house created a real vulnerability within me. Because this brick house never seemed as good as the other brick houses.
As a result, Highly sensitive people would tend to have a very very low self esteem of themselves. This may be why a lot of sensitive people may experience depression. Because there is an inner conflict between how they feel and the outside world. But this may depend how supportive or un-supportive your childhood environment was with your hyper sensitivity.

Coming to know this now and as much as I would like to quickly undo this brick house, I can't. It took me 40 years to build it. So considering undo it and build a house, say made out of straw is going to take me some time.

I just come to realise this now. It will take time. I don't like to hear it. But there it is.
It will take time. 
I may have thought before and still think that straw is less resistant than brick. But if this matches my core values, I am hoping that I will have a beautiful straw house that lasts the distance far longer than the brick house. I am only starting to build my foundations now.
This is my first post on the subject. Maybe it will be my first. Maybe it will be my last. Who knows.

I hope it helps other realize that your house doesn't have to be made of bricks.  Because maybe I'd like to see other straw houses flourish out there too.

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