By Andrea Charpentier
“I was thinking that I might fly today, just to disprove all the things you say…”
There are many burdens that come with being a Highly Sensitive Person, and one of the most burdensome is the constant under-estimation.
Because we are perceived as being so delicate and tender in our feelings and interactions with the world, it is believed that we are unable to handle the hardships in life. This couldn’t be further from the truth. We probably handle them better than anybody else—with empathy and understanding.
Countless times, I have heard phrases like, “You could never handle that kind of job, you’re too sensitive” and “There’s a lot of criticism involved in that line of work, you’d take things too personally and would hate it” or “You’re too sensitive, you would never last in that field.”
In being sensitive, we are actually quite open to constructive criticism and supportive feedback—in fact, a lot of us crave it. We are not, however, at all open to condescension and hate-speech. We take great personal measures to treat others with dignity and respect, and strive to build a rapport with the people around us; reciprocation from others is greatly appreciated and highly cherished.
Do not make the too often made mistake of telling us we can’t do all the things just because we were born a little different from—with our hearts on our sleeves. That’s just plain ignorant. We most certainly can do all the things, and with intense dedication and sincerity, simply because we are so sensitive and wish to see a job done well and done right. These traits should be utilized, valued, and appreciated rather than scorned and ridiculed.
“It doesn’t take a talent to be mean, your words can crush things that are unseen…”
Negative people with ugly hearts are a huge challenge. They live for opportunities to lift themselves up by bringing others down, knocking the wind out of sails with harsh words, callous statements and unwarranted criticisms. They relish in hurting feelings, causing others to question themselves and who they are as a person. Many an HSP has been left to torture themselves over what they can do to to bring resolution to a conflict. It is some of the worst mental and emotional abuse one can inflict on another.
How many times was someone unnecessarily mean to another, causing this thought to manifest in their current victim: “What did I do wrong and how do I fix this?”
It can literally drive a person crazy and trigger a deep depression.
Dear HSP, we did nothing wrong. And since we did nothing wrong, there is nothing we need to fix. These people are in our lives to teach us but one thing—how to walk away with our head held high. Remember the sweet, simple definition of patience: calm endurance. Maintain your dignity, recall your inner strength, and remember our knees do not bend that easily.
Dear Insensitive Apathy, we challenge you to attempt to wrap your head around the concept of putting yourself in another’s shoes: this does not mean, “What would I do in the other person’s position?” but rather “What would I do if I were the other person experiencing this now?” So many people confuse this idea, getting it completely backwards. It’s not about you! It’s about the other person! Get it? We truly hope one day you do.
“You always tell me that it’s impossible to be respected and be a girl…”
I honestly don’t know which HSP has it harder: the males or the females. I think they both have a difficult time of it, by the pure default of their given sex. When women cry, it’s not because they’re a caring, feeling creature, but because they’re being “manipulative.” When a man cries, it’s even worse—they aren’t taken seriously at all and are immediately dismissed as being weak.
That isn’t to say there’s no such thing as too much crying. Drink too much water, and you’ll get sick. Breathe too much air, and you’ll pass out. But this idea that crying is merely weak, manipulative game-play truly needs to stop. A woman isn’t crying because she’s “just trying to make me feel bad,” it’s because she feels bad! And a man crying is not a man displaying weakness.
“Why’s it gotta be so complicated? Why you gotta tell me if I’m hated?”
I and other HSPs would really appreciate it if people could figure out there is an astronomical difference between constructive criticism and hate-speech. How a parent talks to a child, how a teacher addresses a student, how a boss communicates with their employees—these are all things that can either strengthen or destroy relationships, important relationships our very society is built upon. Words should be chosen wisely, not rashly.
Telling someone they’re stupid won’t get anyone very far and will build nothing but resentment, fear, and doubt. However, telling someone calmly, patiently, and most of all, respectfully, how they did something wrong and how they can fix it will benefit all. It really isn’t that difficult. To quote Neil Gaiman’s Death, “It’s easier to be nice, and way more fun.” Indeed.
“I was thinking that it might do some good if we robbed the cynics and took all their food. That way what they believe will have taken place, and we’ll give it to anybody who has some faith…”
This goes back to flying after being told we don’t have wings, and taking it a step further. I have learned over time that it’s true: people really do project their own internalized negativity on to others. I used to struggle with the toxic despair people would hoist on me, leaving me to feel like there was something wrong with me, while at the same time friends would say in a consoling way, “They don’t really mean it; it’s just how they feel about themselves.” This made absolutely no sense to me at all.
But it really is true. I can’t point out a specific moment of understanding—a sudden epiphany that made me realize this truth. It happened gradually, as more and more I began connecting the dots, cross-referencing speech and behavioral patterns between people in my life who were prone to say negative, hopeless things, and people in my life who were nothing but encouraging.
The Negative Nancy’s, so to speak, were all walking mental and emotional train wrecks with huge chips on their shoulders, had zero accountability for the problems in their lives, and blamed everyone but themselves for all their faults, whereas the up-lifting, helpful friends possessed self-respect in spades, were full of love, and truly wanted nothing but success for those around them.
Be careful, very careful, who you surround yourself with, gentle HSP. If you constantly fraternize with cynics who cling to a pessimistic outlook, you will soon find yourself also saying, “Of course this happened to me, bad things always happen to me.” However, if you associate yourself with positive beings, you will instead find yourself resolving the inevitable problems that will arise in life and becoming all the stronger for it, helping others who are also in need along the way, rather than wallowing in the muck of despair.
Do not buy into the belief that you can’t fly because a troll stuck under a bridge said you can’t. You can fly. You really can.
“I have this theory that if we’re told we’re bad, then that’s the only idea we’ll ever have. But maybe if we are surrounded in beauty, someday we will become what we see…”
At the end of the day, we are only human. Being an HSP, it’s basically impossible not to take to heart the awful things we hear and see and it is all too easy to find ourselves spinning wheels over and over again regarding a wretched experience that we can’t seem to shake. This is another huge burden an HSP must bear.
There will always be some grump who wants nothing more than to steal away our smile and confidence. And it’ll work, too. Our smile will drop. A tear will form either right there in the moment, or later on in private. We will doubt and question ourselves. We will hurt. And we may find ourselves stuck in a rut of depression, sadness, and despair. But it is important to realize we do not need to take up residence there and buy furniture for it.
We can’t continue with our story if we keep reading the same page over and over again, and it is senseless to waste our today crying about yesterday and thereby destroying our tomorrow.
The flip side of the coin shows that we are also just as capable of being lost in the wonder and beauty of things that occur in our daily existence. We possess the ability to be tickled and delighted over miraculous things that others wouldn’t bat an eyelash at. We are awe-inspired, humbled, and ecstatic over the spectacular greatness of the world and all the magnificent creatures that traverse it and all the plant and insect life that adorn it. We see it, we absorb it, we are dazzled by it, we are grateful for it. We are a tender part of a great whole.
Attempt to adopt a practice I call the Rock and the Sponge. When times are difficult, whether it’s being confronted with an ugly heart, a toxic mind-set, or just a rough time in general, imagine yourself as a rock. Visualize the negativity pouring over you like water—only instead of drowning in it, allow it to simply roll off you.
When times are good, imagine yourself as a sponge. Absorb the richness, permitting yourself to become fat and heavy with the wonderful experience until you can’t contain another drop and you’re overflowing with positivity and wellness (you will note that pessimistic people are the exact of this concept—they seep and seethe in negativity, and allow anything that’s positive to roll right off them, completely unaffected and unwilling to acknowledge anything good. Don’t be like this!).
“’Cause anyone can start a conflict, it’s harder yet to disregard it…”
This is so important to remember, dear HSPs: pick and choose your battles. Every day, we will be faced with conflict, whether mundane or insane. If we allow ourselves to engage in every skirmish, we will stress ourselves out to death (literally!). It isn’t easy to disregard these seemingly insignificant things, like that impolite person who cut you in line, or a program taking seemingly forever to load. But simple ground rules to try to live by will go a long way in managing how you react to situations like these, and will allow you to have both the energy and the fortitude when you will need it most to take on bigger, more meaningful obstacles later.
For instance, it helps tremendously to remember that everyone is fighting a battle and their poor attitude is not a reflection of you. This doesn’t mean we should allow the world to treat us like a doormat, but it does mean that we can permit ourselves to not take things personally and make ourselves crazy wondering all day why that person snapped at us. This is a good opportunity to go into rock-mode. Just let it roll off and move on.
Food for thought: if you unsuspectingly eat something rotten, don’t you immediately spit it out? Same with negative experiences: just spit it out. Don’t let it hang out in your mouth, and don’t swallow it, making yourself sick with it! It’s toxic! Get rid of it!
If it’s an inanimate object that’s testing our patience, I myself have a 30-second rule. I realized one day that I was enraging myself because my desktop at work was “taking forever” to open or load anything. So I started counting down from 30. Very rarely did I have to do it twice, essentially counting down from 60. I realized that if I couldn’t wait a mere 30-60 seconds for something to happen on my computer, the problem wasn’t the computer—the problem was me. Now, I never again lose my cool over devices (this simple rule goes a long way in this day and age of constant technological use!).
“I’d rather see the world from another angle. We are everyday angels…”
We have all heard it countless times: life is all about perspective. For better or worse, we can view it through a hundred facets, a thousand facets, a million facets, countless facets. But whether we view the facets against a shining light or patch of darkness is a personal decision. A mindful balance between the two must be cultivated. And it is truly a work of a lifetime.
We are all works in progress. We are all cut from a different cloth. We all require love and care. And some of us require a little more than others—whether because we are sensitive, or even because we are not.
The sensitive people are not to be mocked, bullied, or humiliated. We are the ones who are there for someone first when they are suffering. We are the ones who will sing a person’s praises the loudest when success and triumphs are achieved.
We are the ones who will laugh with you, cry with you, hold you up when you are down, fly with you when are up, in the most sincere way possible and in the most genuine way imaginable.
So please be careful with us. We’re sensitive, and we’d like to stay that way.
I’m Sensitive, lyrics by Jewel, 1995
Andrea Charpentier is a lover of literature, self-proclaimed Queen of Felines, pursuer of dreams, seeker of spectacular flavors of ice cream, and would rather drive than fly any day; often wonders what a conversation between Arthur C. Clarke, Robert E. Howard, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., and H. P. Lovecraft would have been like: clever and inspiring, or uncomfortable and awkward? The world will never know. A gypsy at heart, she has a collection of Change of Address forms, and always manages to stay close to the sea.
Editor: Dana Gornall