"Even as a little boy, I was so sensitive", one of my clients quietly slipped into our conversation.

"So was Gandhi", I told him.

"Really? How did he manage to achieve so much? I should share this news with my dad."

Why did we make such a mess in understanding ourselves, our sensitivity?"

Well first, we have not known about our trait as such. It's only after the research and work of Dr Elaine Aron that we are now beginning to get it. Now we understand our trait as package deal.

Secondly, for many HSPs, our confusions start from a very early age when we don't have the faculties of language, rationality and development. What is the barometer for our experiences? Feelings. How our body feels when we are in a situation.

How were you raised in your childhood with regard to your sensitivity and over-stimulation that comes from your high awareness of the subtleties?

For many HSPs, as children, when we presented ourselves as we truly are - highly sensitive and highly over-stimulated - we got a painful message.

"This sensitivity is a flaw. Shake it off. You're too weak to handle life."

Was it said in those words? For many, yes. For many others, no, but the signs were all over the place.

This advice, claim or strategy (whatever you want to call it), may have been well-intentioned, but it made things worse. It opened up a can of worms.

Taking the message that feeling too much is a flaw, an HSP child unconsciously (and eventually consciously) launches into a set of actions intended to fix the "defect".

Stop feeling. Stop noticing. Hide. Power through. Cope. Pretend. Ignore.

These were the distortions. How so? Because they assumed that our foundation was flawed. It wasn’t. We were just highly sensitive and over-stimulated because we came with a temperament that made us so. The temperament is normal, but the message to alter it was abnormal.

The reason these distortions did not work (and do not work) is because they are brutally invalidating to our authentic processes. They demand that we stop our automatic, innate awareness from taking place. THIS is impossible . It's like asking me not to feel pain when someone steps on my toe. How can I stop awareness and over-stimulation? You can teach me to work with it, and learn ways to express it, but I cannot tweak or manipulate my innate temperment. And why should I?

Unfortunately, as children, we are not just dependent on our parents for showing us the world outside of us , but we also depend on them for explaining our world inside of us.

High awareness and over-stimulation can be difficult in childhood, because 1) they are outside of conscious control, and 2) they are new to us. We don't have experience with them. As children, we don't know what, why and whether we feel - it's all too confusing - but we know that something is going on. We are seeking an understanding. And the one given by our primary caretakers is the one we accept.

What was that for you? "Don't feel" or "Go ahead. You must feel and witness how everything will be okay"?

As an HSP, the over-stimulation is more, because awareness is more. All this means that an HSP child needs

  • even more proof and reminders that he is normal
  • tools and support in helping him identify and operate in his optimal range of stimulation and arousal, and
  • he needs encouragement to dig into his trait to find the qualities (not run away from them)

This doesn't have to mean that parents have to drive themselves insane FORMALLY studying the trait (but it can help). After all, aren't there many well-adjusted thriving "adult" HSPs (not anxious or depressed) who were raised by parents in a time and generation when the world was far away from knowing about the trait?

So what's the difference between an HSP who thrived and an HSP who fell into anxiety and depression? It's the message the two groups received about their sensitivity in their formative years.

Were you (your trait) accepted, supported and encouraged? Or was the message clear that your sensitivity and emotional intensity are a problem?

Many HSPs fall into the latter group.

As an adult I am in position to say with objectivity that my parents misunderstood me, and that created a real mess in childhood. But as a child, the concept of objectivity simply does not exist when it comes to the people who raise you and who you are entirely dependent on.

In childhood, when you're not armed with maturity, age, language, experience, autonomy, rationality, brain development AND Dr Elain Aron’s work, HSP children raised in environments that did not support their trait, internalize the flawed message about their sensitivity.

After some time, it's no longer an outside message that sensitivity is a problem. It becomes our own voice.

So we break our backs trying to fix this flaw.

How did that go?

Despite our exhausting efforts, schemes and carefully crafted plans, our sensitivity never really disappeared. How could it? Sensitivity is a trait and all traits our innate.

When we try to erase a perceived flaw and when we can't, what comes about is a cocktail of anger, fear, fatigue and helplessness. "As hard as I try, I fail."

Clinically, we can say this kind of cognitive interpretation is anxiety ("Stop feelings") or depression ("Something is wrong with me").

Unfortunately quite a few clinical studies of the relationship between being highly sensitive and, for example, being anxious, stressed, or having communication phobias have not taken the role of “nurture” into account, making it seem that all HSPs have these problems.

How do we undo the effects our childhood misunderstandings?

We do this by starting the steps to our recovery.

  1. We understand our sensitivity
  2. We understand our childhood
  3. We reframe our childhood in light of our trait
  4. We learn emotional regulation skills to express our sensitivity
  5. We align ourselves with our trait. We figure out what changes we will make in our relationships, work, recreation, hobbies and lifestyle that will finally take us closer to our innate temperament. We've done enough of running away from it.


More like this