This is the second in a series of posts exploring Sensory Processing Sensitivity. In the series, we are discussing what SPS is, some common struggles for highly sensitive people, and some coping techniques. I have found it challenging to give my senses time and space to recharge, and some of that challenge is born from a (self) criticism about my sensitivity and being different to the perceived ‘norm’ . So, I’ve prepared this list of 4 ways to respond to your senses as a Highly Sensitive Person:
- Try to accept that this is challenging for you. This is really important. If your inner voice is compassionate, and understands that this situation is hard (because it is), you will perceive the difficulties to be a noise/input sensitivity. However, if you begin to judge yourself harshly, you will perceive the difficulties as something quite different.
Once a should (e.g. “I should be fine with this. Everyone else seems fine.”) creeps in, you’ll begin to become anxious that you’re somehow made wrongly, at which point your emotions will also begin to overwhelm. It is easy to say and hard to do; but developing your compassionate voice is worth the practice it will take. This happens as part of a process, and a good friend or partner, a trusted counsellor or someone else who shows us love can help us to develop it.
(If you can) try to take a breath, and hear the words, “This is hard for me and I can survive this.” Likely, there are others in the crowd that are feeling the same (given that 20% of the population are HSPs). Sometimes, I have thought to myself, “This is hard for us and we’ll survive” – it helps me to feel less alone and wrong in the world, and in the crowd.
- Avoid the stuff that is not important to you. Weigh up how much you want something and the energy it will take. If you do choose to do something (or have to do it), then look after your needs within and around that. For example, I enjoy parties. And, the following couple of days I will be flashing back to moments and will need quiet space around that event to feel ok. There is nothing you can’t do (except the impossible things), and every decision has its consequences. Plan to take care of the consequences. You do have limited resources. We all do. Someone wrote that life is often about choosing between the things you really, really want to do and the things you really want to do. Life is finite, which means you will have to choose between things. Decisions mean that we experience loss: loss of the other options. This is ok. You’re not doing life wrong, it just is this way.
- Find an alternative. Dedicate yourself to giving your sensitive body what it likes. If the noise on your commute bothers you, find different routes. Run or walk to work the quiet way, even if it takes a bit longer – use it as an opportunity to reflect. If you are exhausted by work/social engagements/[insert draining activity here] is there any possibility you could do it less? If you are completely honest with yourself how often do you really need to do it? Ask yourself this:
- “If I were to reduce my hours doing X how might I feel? What space would it give me?”
- “If I were to reduce my hours doing X what would be the first thing I would do to make that happen?”
- “If I were to reduce my hours doing X what would be the second thing I would do to make that happen?”
Do this until you can see a real plan develop of how change is possible and then go do it, step by step.
- Change your life. This is a difficult one to talk about in some ways, as may of us carry the idea that we shouldn’t have to compromise or be different to ‘norm’. That if we just try hard enough, just face all our challenges, just change how we view the world, just embrace the all the difficult feeling, then we’ll be living in the ’right’ way.
Standing outside the ‘norm’ is really, really difficult, as is forcing yourself to play a role you don’t fit. Life is full of compromise and loss, as well as a way back to yourself. The scary thing is you won’t be able to do everything you hoped for without trading in some of yourself. You’ll have to choose. Perhaps it isn’t you that needs to change, but how you live your life. Are you pushing your body beyond its limits? Ask it.
I can’t work full time, because I work in an intense way which takes the whole of me. As a HSP it’s how I’ve always been. Other people are more relaxed about work, while I need space on my own to decompress. I can’t live a rich life and stay well if I work the ‘norm’ amount of hours in a week. This means I have to face up to the consequences of how I, the real me, needs to live my life. I have to allow myself to feel the disapproval of others who want to maintain this norm. I have to say “No, not for me,” hear others’ focus on earning a certain amount, and know that if I worked enough hours to earn that I wouldn’t survive. So, I need to live my life frugally, which keeps me free to choose a life that feels possible to live for a lifetime.
Is there something you need to face, with its gains and its losses? To live in a way which allows you, as a sensitive person, to flourish will require you to go against the norm. That will be hard, because you’ll be aware of the resistance, the disappointment of others and society’s/ loved one’s expectations. I hope, in the end, it’ll feel worth it. I’ve noticed that, when I’m true to myself, some people will be eventually see the wisdom in my moves. They have even followed suit a number of times. You being free may scare people at first, but then it may give them the confidence to change too. It’s ok to choose how you live your life.
Acceptance of how I really am and what I really need is a constant spiral of learning and listening; and I know that the above has helped me to exist in a more authentic way and in a way that gives me the space to see and appreciate the world around me. As well as these grand ideas of acceptance and change, there are also some sense specific ideas I’d like to share with you, the first being sound…