You’re Too Sensitive

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.

13 replies
  1. Elaine Hirn
    Elaine Hirn says:

    A great piece of writing. I too am a HSP. A book called “Highly Sensitive People” helped me to understand why I get so overwhelmed with “stimulation overload”. Yoga has been the best therapy as it encourages the mind to go inside and connect with the breath and shut out all external stuff. Just reading a great book called “the untethered soul” the journey beyond yourself, by Michael A. Singer.
    It certainly helps to be aware of who we are and how we perceive our world and sadly one can rarely depend on others to recognize our struggles. Thanks Peta-Gaye for shedding light on this subject.

  2. B.Ellis
    B.Ellis says:

    Sometimes I start bawling for the littlest thing: the right song lyric, something someone says, a certain smell in the backyard. The initial spark causes a cascade effect, I’ll be hunched over, or try to refuse it, standing and pacing in circles. If I’m around others or in a crowd I bury as best I can, but usually a single tear will fall and I’ll wipe it away quickly. To me, this is normal.

    I believe each human being has an unlimited power and potential–it merely needs to be tapped into. This is why mothers can lift cars off people, vegans can somehow run marathons, and elderly people can somehow scale Everest (and return). It’s literally a skill. All skills, require practice to make whatever your desired intent second nature. In this way, I don’t completely buy the genetic reasoning that you can’t change yourself–you can change your reaction with practice, but it takes work. It’s what the Buddhist call “practicing mindfulness.” It’s the only way to control your anger, your frustration, to bury your tears–but you’re right, it doesn’t make them go away…it’s just you working around what you have.

    And you should most certainly, without-a-doubt, learn to embrace and love the gift that is YOU !! Because there’s no one like you in the entirety of this Universe, either known or unknown. “Know thyself,” is truly the MOST important–> because no one else can!! Literally, you’re the only person who can completely know you. You mentioned being married to an HSI person, he may know your quirks, your intricacies, the feelings you say or don’t, but deep down in there…it’s just you.

    Heaven and hell are the scales that exist within us–“it’s all in your head, you just have no idea how big your head is.” Lon Milo Duquette.

    So hang in there! Gnosis, The Path, The Way, once you recognize the infinite within yourself, there’s no turning back–it’s overwhelming at times!! Hold on to what you have, the love of the people around you, your art. Your son will forgive you for wanting him to be strong. Kudos for recognizing his approach is as sensitive as yours and shifting your engagement (parenting is $#@ing hard, ain’t it!). And you’re certainly not alone in hating to shop on the weekends–I always shoot for Monday or Tuesday for this very reason.

    Most indubitably, you’re not alone in demanding that MUCH needed peace and quiet–a necessity for any artist. This is where we sit down and go to work…or catch 15 minutes to close our eyes and breath (which I highly recommend).

    There’s only one way to get this time in my household, it’s waking up at 5am (or earlier) –which is my most favorite and cherished daily ritual. It only took a little practice but now it’s a necessity. If I didn’t make this happen the creative flames would engulf and spontaneously combust me.

  3. Jacqueline.
    Jacqueline. says:

    *clappinggggg*

    This is so real!

    Son, You are destined to be an intelligent loving respectful open intuitive etc……….. man husband friend.
    your parents are not highly sensitive, there highly blessed and highly real. Sensitive is somehow sounding like a negative thing, a set back. NO! sensitivity is the key to getting the fullness there is in all life has to offer.. I think 🙂

    Love You P

    -Jacqueline

  4. Beverly
    Beverly says:

    Love article and extra love for the talent of my niece. HSPs feel more and therefore enjoy more. We appreciate more and can empathize better in all situations. We may cry more, but we laugh more and our memory banks get filled up more. Maybe our sensitivity is alerted more, but so are our joyful and appreciative moments. We also need time to appreciate ourselves too,

    Love you
    Bev

  5. Julia Budahazy
    Julia Budahazy says:

    HSP… why I find my tears welling up reading sad or touching or beautiful stories, watching anything from King Fu Panda to Precious…but experience navigating this life is cumulative and in sharing we grow and grow stronger together. Thank you for this post Peta-Gaye! I see you writing more frequently, finding your voice again!!

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