Has someone ever said something to you that hurt so much that you’ve never forgotten it? Or maybe there was truth to it but you didn’t want it to be true because that’s not the person you wanted to be. You see, I’ve always admired those rough and tough females who were witty, had comebacks to every insult, could punch a boy out if bullied, who never cried in private much less public. I was never that person.
It was the late eighties. I was a teenager. I remember the house I lived in on Norbrook Acres Drive, standing near the living room in some argument with my father. My sister and mother were there. I don’t remember what the argument was about or what we said to my dad that made him so angry. He stormed off shouting, “All of you are too sensitive.”
Those are the words that cut like a knife. Did he mean all females are too sensitive? Just us, the women in his family? He was angry, so being sensitive must be really bad, so I must make sure I’m the opposite of sensitive. I don’t think my dad’s words bothered my middle sister. She’s more rough and tough or at least she appears to be. But I was deeply bothered. He must have wanted a boy. Boys are not sensitive. And on and on through my brain these thoughts flew.
As an adult when I’m supposed to know myself, I’ve often wondered why I get so overwhelmed by life. I see mothers rushing around with their children, doing all these activities and they seem so happy. I on the other hand, want to get it out of the way and do what I want to do: play with the kids, relax, write, read, be alone. I simply can’t handle rushing around in a frenzied state all afternoon long. And why do I cry when someone tells me a sad story? Can’t I merely nod and empathize like other people without tears trailing down my cheeks? And why do I get so annoyed, so cranky when surrounded by streams of people, say at a parade or Costco on a weekend? I discovered why one day when I went to You Tube, Ted Talks and something interesting caught my eye: a talk called “The Gentle Power of Highly Sensitive People.”
I am not alone. I’m simply an HSP – a Highly Sensitive Person. Not to be confused with an introvert (many HSPs are extroverts), a wallflower or a doormat. In simple terms, an HSP experiences life in a vivid way: sadness is deep sorrow and joy is high ecstasy. I may be emotional but still confrontational. I may not like crowds but I have the ability to easily and deeply connect with others. This is genetic. I can’t change it anymore than I can change my eye colour. I can’t toughen up. Even more surprising, fifty percent of males are HSPs. It is not a feminine trait. It doesn’t mean males are weak. I know this as a fact. I’m married to an HSP. I’ve seen him take on situations and people that more aggressive types have shied away from. Being married to an HSP is great. I feel cherished and understood.
What’s not so great? Realizing my ten year old son is an HSP and that I’ve spent the entire baseball season telling him to toughen up, to not take things personally, to stop thinking so deeply about everything. I should know better because it takes one to know one. But I, like everyone else, have fallen into the trap of thinking that only aggressive people win, that sensitivity is a weakness, and that my son will not be able to handle life. Now that I’m aware of this, I hope I’ll be more helpful to him instead of trying to mould him into something he isn’t and will never be. What I think I was really trying to do is to shield him from the pain of life, from the pain of his own emotions and to protect him from all that hurt. But I can’t, not anymore than I can change his eye colour. He’ll go through life as I do, feeling everything deeply, from the happiness that lifts us into heaven, to the sorrow that carries us to the depths of hell.