The Everyday Girl Guide to: Being Ultra-Sensitive (in a World of Suck-It-Up)

August 22, 2013

I’m in the middle of a book on introversion (more on that in a later post, after I’ve finished the book).  I just finished a great chapter on being ultra-sensitive.  You know, that kid whose dad tells him to “man up” and wipe off his sissy tears.  That woman whose best friend tells her to get a thicker skin or she’ll  never survive the world of dating.

Or me.

Until 2010, being an introvert was listed as a pathology; like  a fear of public speaking, it was considered a disease in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (the psychiatrists’ book of mental disorders).  Recent studies, however, show that introverts, and especially introverts who are also highly sensitive, just happen to be born that way.

People who are highly sensitive tend to be highly reactive; it takes very little stimulus to overpower them.  Crowds, new environments, even caffeine or alcohol, all affect highly sensitive people more than the average person.  I can attest to this.  Although I’ve developed a little bit of a tolerance for caffeine, I can still get a “bounce off the walls” buzz off very little.  A single drink is my alcohol limit.  First dates, job interviews, and new surroundings exhaust me.  Some of this I’ve come to just accept about myself.  Other parts, though, I try to change.  After all, you can’t get through life without going to a few job interviews.  If you end up newly single at the age of 40, you either settle for being alone or you figure out how to deal with dating again.

I get the added bonus, of course, of having stress affect my ulcerative colitis.  When I go through too many stimulating activities in the same time period, I get sick.  Period.  I can eat perfectly, sleep more than enough, and do everything else right.  If I, say, have a job interview, a wedding with a bunch of strangers, and an extended family gathering all in the same week, though, I’ll get sick.  (This happened last year around the Fourth of July.)  I’ve learned to pretty much put the rest of my life on hold if I have to go to a job interview; my body can’t handle more than that.

To an outside observer, especially one who is an extrovert who is often bored, someone like me may not seem to be making any progress.

I’m supposed to be finding a new place to live.  I can only do it in steps, because more than that overwhelms me.  Unfortunately, that makes it look like I’m not trying at all, which generates comments, which makes me try harder… which makes me ill.  Then I have to start all over.

A lot of people can’t tell, from the outside, that I have problems like this.  Apparently my frontal cortex is well enough trained that I can override my amygdala (that part of you that tells you when to panic) and appear relaxed among strangers.  I can deal with stress (outwardly).  But, just like my sensitive #2 son, I don’t like scary movies.  I’m more attuned to noises, smells, and textures.  I hate big crowds… or smaller crowds of strangers.

There are some strengths to being like this (strengths wrapped up in curses, as it turns out).  I’m very empathetic.  I literally feel other people’s pain, whether I want to or not.  When I went through my divorce, I experienced far more pain for hurting my ex-husband and my kids than for anything I was going through.  When I watch a sad movie, I cry because I feel what the actor is portraying.  I ache for those in need, especially children.

The curse of that, of course, is that I have to be able to deal with life.  I don’t have the luxury of closing myself off from pain.  I also can’t just “suck it up”.  Instead, I’ve learned to distance myself when I can’t deal anymore (or sometimes before I can’t deal).  I have an amazing set of emotional walls– not because I don’t like people or don’t care, but because I care too much.  I retreat behind my walls so I can function in everyday life.

Before you think, “Oh, cue the violins!  Someone’s having a pity party!”… I’m not.  I like who I am.  Being sensitive means that something as simple as sunset can bring me as much pleasure as  $2000 cruise brings someone else.  Seeing someone hurt causes me pain, yes, but if I can do anything to relieve that pain, it brings me a lot of joy, too.  I experience very low lows (I have been suicidal at times), but I’ve also been absolutely giddy with joy (without ever once being drunk).

I guess my only real issue with being sensitive is that it’s undervalued in our society.  It’s mocked.  Even though I can deal with a root canal with only a local, was a female flatbed trucker, and am about as far from a “girly-girl” as you’re likely to meet, I’m not ever going to be able to just shrug off the little things in life.  I can act like I do… but the reactions and the effect on my nervous system will still be the same.  For that, I get misunderstanding, ridicule, or even well-intentioned advice on how to change.

The biggest upside to being ultra-sensitive?  I bounce back from pretty much anything if you give me enough time.  Better yet… I’ll be there to help my friends (or even my “enemies”) bounce back when something overwhelms them, because I know how it feels.

You can man up if you want to.  I’ll be here when you need a shoulder to cry on later.

 

 

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3 Responses to “The Everyday Girl Guide to: Being Ultra-Sensitive (in a World of Suck-It-Up)”

  1. graydarling Says:

    I am ultra sensitive, it is a strength. We understand all sides of a situation, because we have been there, or at least can put ourselves in that position. We are blessed.


  2. I completely relate to your post. I am an INFP, HSP with an anxiety disorder. To say I am easily overwhlemed really doesn’t even cut it. Like you said though, I love my sensitivity, I embrace it, I understand it, I would be crushed if I ever lost it.

    I read this book, http://www.hsperson.com/pages/hsp.htm, a while ago and it helped me better understand myself. You might also enjoy this Ted Talk about the Power of Introverts, http://www.ted.com/talks/susan_cain_the_power_of_introverts.html.


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