The Gifts and Challenges of Being Highly Sensitive

There were so many things I wanted to write about tonight, like the way things feel really intense on a global scale right now (as I’m sure you’ve noticed). But when I step back and look at the threads of all my experiences woven together, there is something that runs through all of them like a creek – cool, clear and penetrable. The creek is my sensitivity.

I’ve been a sensitive being since the day I was born. What that means is I notice EVERYTHING. I notice scents and subtle changes in my environment, like a siren outside or the dimming of lights. I notice changes in people’s facial expressions and can read their shifting moods instantly. When I walk into a crowded room, I not only hear all the words people are saying, but I feel their energy, the good and the bad. I’m aware of tiny details all the time, like a ladybug on a leaf, or the way the grass moves in the wind, or the birds that fly overhead at the exact same time I cross the Columbia River on my way to work. I feel a whole lot. Another way of saying that is I’m an empath. That means that when people are hurting (whether they are loved ones or complete strangers), I often feel as if I’m hurting too. That’s in part why I avoid violent movies and media. I’m constantly aware of the needs of those around me and have zero tolerance for watching others suffer (i.e. bullying, excluding, etc.)

Interestingly, 20% of the human population is highly sensitive, which is the term used to describe an inherited trait that affects the sensitivity of the nervous system. If you happen to be one of these highly sensitive individuals, like myself, then this blog post is for you.

An open letter to the sensitive ones among us:

It’s true that the world can feel overwhelming, and love can feel daunting (if only because it enhances the immense amount of emotions you already feel). It can sometimes appear like you are the only one who feels as much as you do. But you aren’t alone. There are many of us out there.

Ups and downs happen to all people, but for you, those ups and downs might feel exaggerated. There will be moments of sheer exhaustion, fear, grief, and heightened vulnerability. But there will also be elation, joy, heart-opening bliss, deep connection with others, empowering self-awareness and humor. Your sensitivity can be challenging, but ultimately, it is a gift. No one on this planet feels as much as you do. You are truly alive, and you get to experience the widest range of emotions that some individuals never get to access.

Being highly sensitive comes with some responsibilities to take extra good care of yourself. Why? Because being over-stimulated regularly taxes the body, mind and spirit. You need to take time-outs to rest and rejuvenate, cry, write, run, process and whatever else makes you feel grounded. Sleep is of utmost importance.

When you do fall in love, don’t fear your emotions. Let them exist. It’s a beautiful thing to be moved so deeply, and if you are with the right person, they will see your sensitivity as a strength, not a weakness.

Know that your vulnerability in expressing your inner complexity to others is what makes you so strong and admirable. Communicating is also the only way to build intimacy and help others understand you, so learn how to do it, and do it passionately. There will probably be lots of questions you have, and processing, in general, that you want to do with the people you’re closest with. Sometimes, this makes you wonder if you’re worth the patience afforded to you. Believe me when I say, you are!

Highly sensitive people make wonderful friends, partners and leaders. You are big-hearted, but you can also be fragile, because things impact you on a larger scale than they do others. That’s okay. I believe there is strength in letting others see you for who you are. Be true to yourself, and learn your eccentricities. Try not to worry so much about how others perceive your unique traits. At the end of the day, the amount of love you afford yourself equals the amount of love you are able to give and receive, so in that department, go big!

Love,
A Highly Sensitive Friend You Haven’t Met Yet

Shells

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Why You Should Picture Yourself Through Your Best Friend’s Eyes

What if you could see yourself through the eyes of someone who loves you?

That “someone who loves you” would notice the particular way you gaze out the window when you’re pondering something big and heavy, or the adorable way you furrow your eyebrows when you’re concerned.

They would notice how the light catches the ring of color around your iris, momentarily causing it to glint like a candle being lit by a match.

They would fall a little bit more in love with you each time they saw that smile you get when you’re really excited about something, and little wrinkles crinkle like origami art at the corner of your eyes.

Your mistakes would just be a part of the beautiful whole that makes up the essence of you; they wouldn’t be seen as nearly as ugly as you imagine them to be.

Now, what do you see when you look at you?

How many of us miss the details that are undeniably lovable about ourselves because we’re too busy picking at our flaws, ignoring all the rest that is valuable and good and worthy?

“It doesn’t make sense to call ourselves ugly, because we don’t really see ourselves. We don’t watch ourselves sleeping in bed, curled up and silent with chests rising and falling with our own rhythm.

We don’t see ourselves reading a book, eyes fluttering and glowing. You don’t see yourself looking at someone with love and care inside your heart.

There’s no mirror in your way when you’re laughing and smiling and happiness is leaking out of you. You would know exactly how bright and beautiful you are if you saw yourself in the moments where you are truly yourself.

-Author unknown

You are more lovely than you know.

You are lovelier than you know.

In Honor of Valentine’s Day: The Road to Compassion & How Being Bullied Turned Out to be a Blessing

This is a special post for Valentine’s Day, centered on the theme of compassion, one of the most powerful and transformational forms of love in this world. It’s not necessarily an emotion we’re born with, but instead something we develop through the breaking open of ourselves and our hearts. Just like the lotus that unfurls gorgeous petals from the mud, compassion is an alchemical force that expands the heart to encompass others. It’s a healing agent that only multiplies when acted upon.

COMPASSION: the feeling of empathy for others; the emotion that we feel in response to the suffering of others that motivates a desire to help. (Wikipedia)

Something you may not know about me is that I was badly bullied for more than a year when I was a little girl in elementary school. My experience recently came up in a conversation with a friend when I shared with her the story of Colin, a boy who told his mother he didn’t have any friends. Colin struggles socially, in part due to a disability. He eats lunch alone in the office every day because the other kids don’t like him and won’t let him sit nearby. His mother had wanted to organize a birthday party for him next month and was heartbroken when she heard the truth about Colin’s experiences at school. In response his mother started a Facebook page with the intention to show Colin that he is loved. In a matter of weeks, the page has gained over one million followers and his story has gone viral. Colin’s mother plans to surprise him on his birthday with all the wonderful comments people have left him from across the globe.

When I read about Colin’s story, two things struck me: we happen to have the same birthday and he is about to turn 11, just two years older than I was when I suffered significant anxiety and sadness each day at school due to the teasing and bullying of some of my peers. My heart dropped at the thought of his loneliness and teetering self-worth. So I wrote to him on the Facebook page and told him a shorter version of the story I’m going to share with you.

“But why did they pick on you?” my friend asked. It was such a direct question and one I hadn’t thought about in many years; I was caught off guard and paused to take a breath. A sharp pang shot through my torso as an image appeared of my 9-year-old self crying each day after school as my bewildered mother looked on, wanting nothing more than to protect her daughter from social humiliation and emotional pain at such a fragile stage of life – a stage when self-esteem either buds or shrinks due to the direct impact of external forces, such as peer approval.

There is no clear answer to my friend’s question, because bullying is rarely about the victim, and almost always about the power the victimizer gains from minimizing another person. In other words, it wasn’t as if I had done something to warrant the attacks. I was just a sensitive and kind girl who was an easy target because I let the taunting affect me. And could anyone blame me? I was in the valley of girlhood, awkward in my skin, feeling the societal pressures of fitting in, the high expectations of beauty, and just barely beginning to know myself. As soon as peers criticized me and my appearance, my self-worth plummeted. Since I’ve always been someone who wears my emotions on my face, my perpetrators could see the instant result of their efforts and they got an ego-boost from that.

Thankfully, my parents, although distressed about the situation, were incredibly supportive (which is more than I can say about my teachers and the school’s administration). Ultimately, they decided to move me to a new school to turn a page and get me into a safer space. Although I was apprehensive at first, it turned out to be the fresh start I needed, and the wounds of the bullying gradually dissipated, replaced by normal coming-of-age joys like sleepover parties, getting my ears pierced, going on my first movie date and buying my first music album. The following year, I purposefully went to a middle school where I knew my elementary tormentors wouldn’t be. And something amazing happened. I made friends – lots of them. I played team sports, I joined choir, and I thrived in my classes. Over time, I grew into a stronger person with a deep sense of justice, individuality and awareness for the wellbeing of those around me.

I began feeling what I now know is compassion. As a result, I actively stood up to peers who treated others poorly, and comforted their victims. I regularly befriended the underdog in school, offering words of encouragement and kindness to those I knew felt left out. After all, I had been through what they went through and I knew it wasn’t right, and moreover, that no one deserved to feel like they’re worth less than they are.

Through Colin’s story and revisiting my own, I’ve come to the conclusion that being bullied as a kid actually turned out to be a great blessing. I am so thankful that I feel for others and know that my heart is big enough to hold so many. Although it is at times painful to feel empathy because a little of another’s pain then becomes my own, I choose to stay open-hearted, or compassionate, because it enriches life and feels right. The truth is, I believe in love. Not just the romantic, gushy kind you might have with a significant other, but the heart-opening, spirit-uplifting, moving-humanity-forward kind that we can have with a perfect stranger. Moments of love like this make life worth living. And they’re contagious, that’s the best part! Compassion shared just grows and grows and grows and grows until it has reached farther than you can ever calculate, moving from person to person, touching lives.

Keep in mind that any kindness you show others will be returned to you ten-fold. I believe this because I’ve witnessed it. Just tonight I received a beautiful letter out of the blue from a friend across the country who I haven’t seen in over a year. In her letter, she described how I’m making a difference in her life through writing on this very blog. Wow. There are several words to describe how that feels to hear, but here’s the first that comes to mind: affirming.

Whatever you do this Valentine’s Day, I hope it involves loving. That’s what it’s all about after all, and not just the holiday, but life in general!

I’ll leave you with a photo of a few Valentines cards I made for friends and family during my lunch break today at work 🙂 Love is in the air — I can feel it! Can you??

A few of my Handmade Valentines Day Cards

A few of my Handmade Valentines Day Cards