A few months ago, I learned something revolutionary about myself. At first I thought, “Naw, is this true? Is this actually a thing? Like, other people out there feel the same and think the same as me?” It almost felt like an excuse for some of the ways I approach certain circumstances, or a cop-out for avoiding certain things. As I kept reading and researching, though, I’ve come to realize that it’s true:
I am a Highly Sensitive Person.
It’s not just a phrase. It’s an actual thing. I think it was this post that got my wheels turning, and then this one really hit home. I checked out the book (as well as this one, which I actually enjoyed more) and dove right in. I always knew I was an introvert, but slowly a whole new world opened up before me.
So what does it mean, to be a Highly Sensitive Person? According to Dr. Elaine Aron, who coined the term, the HSP “has a sensitive nervous system, is aware of subtleties in his/her surroundings, and is more easily overwhelmed when in a highly stimulating environment.”
Um, yes, yes, and YES.
If two people try to talk to me at the same time, I feel like my brain is going to explode. Any sort of visual or audio violence or suspense is a HUGE no-no for me. It’s become a part of my daily rhythm to head to my bedroom while the kids are napping and resting in the afternoons, pull the shades, turn on the fan, and lay in bed and read. I don’t usually fall asleep but those few moments of quite darkness are like gold. Here are few other statements that ring so true about me, taken from the online “Are you Highly Sensitive?” quiz:
I am particularly sensitive to the effects of caffeine.
My nervous system sometimes feels so frazzled that I just have to go off by myself.
I startle easily. (even my husband sneezing sends me through the roof!)
I am annoyed when people try to get me to do too many things at once.
I try hard to avoid making mistakes or forgetting things.
Changes in my life shake me up.
I find it unpleasant to have a lot going on at once.
I am bothered by intense stimuli, like loud noises or chaotic scenes.
When I must compete or be observed while performing a task, I become so nervous or shaky that I do much worse than I would otherwise.
While I don’t ‘score’ a perfect 100% on the quiz, some of these statement are so true at a gut level for me, it more than makes up for the few that I don’t relate to. As I read through this list for the first time, I could hardly believe that other people actually feel, act, and think this way, too. I’m not alone! I’m not weird! And hey, I may just actually be kind normal!
Here’s where things become a bit sticky.
I’m a mom of three young kids. Living in a country that is known for it’s social, loud, festive culture. As a missionary who serves in some really desperate areas with some heart-wrenching realities. In community, where we eat, work, pray, socialize, and meet in groups, all the time, and ‘doing things in team’ is one of our core values.
What does that mean? So often, so many days, on almost a constant basis, I feel like I’m battling the current, swimming upstream, pulling a heavy load behind me and can’t catch my breath. I know that God called me to live here, doing what we do, with the people around us. Not for one second do I doubt that truth. I love, truly and deeply, the mistiness that we serve with and would never dream of changing our life for a second.
…if you see me sneak out during that intercession time where we’re sharing photos of the refugee crisis?
…if I am quiet during the entire meeting?
…if I don’t leave my desk all morning and keep my headphones on?
….if I keep my eyes averted as I walk through the dining hall?
…if I don’t say hi, hug you, kiss your cheeks, and spend 10 minutes asking how you, your mom, your cousin, your gramma, and your teacher from third grade are doing?
…if I decline, once again, the trip to the movies that everyone is taking?
It’s not that I don’t care about you. I probably do, I promise. I’m learning that it’s okay to place healthy boundaries for my mind, heart, emotions, and eyes, so that I don’t exhaust myself at every turn. It may seem like I’m distant or withdrawn. Really, what I’m doing is preparing for the long-haul. Yes, I would love to sit and talk with you. Share what’s on my heart? Of course. Let’s just find a quieter place where our hearts can open softly and safely to one another. I don’t want to use this HSP ‘label’ as an excuse to be cold shouldered. I want to understand how God has made me, and how I am called to best serve as I remain true to how He’s made me to be.