A very dear midwife and therapist that I was blessed to have crossed paths with recently suggested I read the book "The Highly Sensitive Child". She is an amazingly astute person, so that very day I went to purchase the book and began to read it. Now, a few chapters in, I realize she was a messenger angel, meant to bring this book into my life. Not only did I discover that my little one is a highly sensitive person, but I am one too. One that grew up in an environment that desensitized her sensitivity. What is a highly sensitive child? Here is the description written by the author Elaine Aron:
"A highly sensitive child is one of the fifteen to twenty percent of children born with a nervous system that is highly aware and quick to react to everything. This makes them quick to grasp subtle changes, prefer to reflect deeply before acting, and generally behave conscientiously. They are also easily overwhelmed by high levels of stimulation, sudden changes, and the emotional distress of others. Because children are a blend of a number of temperament traits, some HSCs are fairly difficult--active, emotionally intense, demanding, and persistent--while others are calm, turned inward, and almost too easy to raise except when they are expected to join a group of children they do not know. But outspoken and fussy or reserved and obedient, all HSC's are sensitive to their emotional and physical environment."
Recently I had the pleasure of speaking to a great healer- also a highly sensitive person- who was telling me that growing up sensitive was difficult in her little, God-fearing town in Middle America. She felt disconnected from everything and everyone most of her life because she felt she was so different. After a near death experience that brought her to a direct contact with the soul of universal love, she became even more sensitive and felt even more "different". She felt everything in her life so strongly. She became very psychic. She left her town to find a place where she could feel more understood and more comfort.
I completely empathized with her. My whole life, i have needed my space to retreat to. I share a lot of traits that HSC's (highly sensitive children) are said to share. For one, I was always very aroused and over-stimulated if I had to perform in any way. I always felt low afterwards and needed time to myself to collect my thoughts and feelings. The pressure was overwhelming to me. I feel a certain level of stress in new situations and environments- particularly traveling. If I enter a room, I can leave it and tell you where everything was, what it smelled like, how many people were in there, and if there was a frame out of alignment on a wall. This has had major implications in my life. And I certainly feel like I live my life against the grain. Especially now that I have taken time to fine-tune my temple through yoga, meditation, cleansing (giving up processed foods, alcohol, and any sort of stimulants). I have to think twice about being in a large crowd- concerts, festivals, and things of the like- and being in situations of high-stress.
Now that I recognize a sensitivity in my little one, I am eager to learn how to be a sensitive parent for her because I realize the importance of understanding, accepting, enjoying and nurturing this. I realize it because of the experiences I had growing up that have stayed with me because of how deeply they affected me. For example, In 5th grade, I still clearly remember the feeling of losing my very best friend in 5th grade because her mom told her not to be friends with me anymore b/c I didn't have enough money to be her friend. She told me this when she unfriended me. I was devastated.
In the summer after 8th grade, before I entered my new high school, my mom thought it would be a good idea to register me for rowing club camp so I could meet girls that were going to the same high school I was. Um, I had never rowed or been in a row boat even. And all the girls in that camp were snobby and from another school where they were all cheerleaders and whose parents drove Mercedes Benzes. I expressed a deep desire to spend my summer at another camp or just spending time with friends or family, but my mom insisted. Once I started, I begged her everyday to take me out. I spent every day at that camp in a corner by myself, listening to all the girls talk about things I had not yet experienced nor even wanted to. I was sad and felt strange and disoriented. After two weeks, the other quiet girl who spent some time in the corner too and I became friends. She was my saving grace until the day my mom finally took me out of camp because she got tired of the constant begging and crying. In what other way could I have communicated to her I didn't want to row or spend time with insensitive and unfriendly people?
In high school, I uncharacteristically auditioned for a lead in the school play as Jasmine in Aladdin. I got the part and had to sing in front of the whole school. I was overwrought with stage fright, even though I knew my lines and songs well and knew I could perform well. Afterwards, I went home and went over the performance in my head a thousand times. I criticized everything about it and myself. I curled up in bed, anxious and exhausted.
I don't know why these in particular stand out. I suppose that they are ones that made me understand that I wasn't like everyone else. Sometimes, though, I desperately wanted to be. I wanted to be free of thinking things through so much. I wanted to not be so cautious. I wanted to be a lemming sometimes. I thought "how much easier that must be" so it seemed very appealing. Even in college, where I was part of a homogenize-yourself sorority, I never really fit in. And when I was doing the things everyone else was doing- smoking, drinking to oblivion, hooking up and just being generally senseless and irresponsible- I had to shut off that part of my brain (and usually drank to do it) to be able to partake in all of that mindless activity with people who weren't thinking twice about it. And if they were, it wasn't nearly as much as I was.
I was a souffle that wanted to be jello. The Stradivarius that wanted to be a cheap fiddle. You get the point. So, I would love to keep an open heart and hold a space in our environment for my little one to thrive. They say 20% of the population is highly sensitive. That leaves a whopping 80% of the population full of brash bulls in a china shop. I remember being overwhelmed by others many times and I sense my little one will experience the same. But at least at home she will have a sanctuary. My little fine tuned Stradivarius will freely play her beautiful music to an appreciative audience there.