The Limitations of Being Highly Sensitive

One of the things that often shows up on lists of HSP characteristics is saying yes to things you don’t actually want to do. My theory is that we go into instant overwhelm when faced with a choice between displeasing ourselves or displeasing another person. Saying yes becomes a panic-stricken release valve to resolve the immediate stress. We feel good about ourselves, and the other person is also happy. Until we have to fulfill, or renege on, our promises, that is.

If you have a lot of trouble with this, here are a couple of videos you may find useful. The first one encourages us, among other things, to take a page from the introvert book (even if you’re an extrovert), and make our default answer “I’ll think about it,” rather than “yes.”

How To Back Out Gracefully: The Art Of Saying No After You’ve Said Yes

I’m paying close attention to my reactions and their progressions now that I know I’m a high sensory processor. Looking back, I’ve had a number of insights throughout my life that addressed one or another aspect of being HSP, though I didn’t know that at the time. These insights often had tremendous impact when I first realized them, but after awhile I stopped believing in them, because I was still trying to be something I’m not, and they felt like excuses, or in some other way were overruled by a concept of “normal” that never had, and never could, fit me.

One of these brilliant flashes was about the way boundaries and focus are two different views of the same thing. You can look at what you are attending to, or what you aren’t attending to, but either way, there’s a line between them, which is the important part.

This next video, Why Smart People Underperform And What To Do About It, discusses that. The boundaried goal-setting particularly attracted my attention (HSP list-love, no doubt).

I’m feeling much more centered in my understanding of myself these days, though I have a lot of unanswered questions. Financially, I’m squeaking by, but often feel there aren’t enough hours in the week – and it’s a 30-hour week! So what’s the problem? Is the work, though vastly more meaningful and reflective of my values than most of the jobs I’ve had, still not close enough to my passion to hold my interest?

I might be able to answer that question better if I had a clue about what my passion is. I don’t. Or at least, not a decisive one.

According to Marianne Cantwell of Free Range Humans, we all have one talent that’s so natural to us, we may have difficulty recognizing it in ourself. She recommends asking others to tell us what it is (which is all very well for extroverts like herself, but not much help to introverts who don’t socialize very much). My interests are many and varied, and I have to take turns giving them my attention, because I can’t do them all at once. I’ve tried to find one uniting factor in them that might illuminate the essence of me, but so far, obsessive pattern-searcher though I may be (could that be it?), I haven’t found one.

Barrie Jaeger, in her book Making Work Work for the Highly Sensitive Person, divides work into categories: “drudgery” (needs no explanation), “craft” (aligns with your values and/or practical needs, but you wouldn’t do it, or at least not as much, if you weren’t getting paid – describes my current job), and “calling,” which seems to be the fulfillment of the same core ability/inclination that Cantwell talks about.

So maybe my struggles with my job are a matter of insufficient “calling” content? But then again, maybe it has nothing to do with that, but is more about understanding and managing my HSP energy cycles and reaction to stimuli.

One thing that’s become obvious is that my stress level over an unpleasant stimulus can go from zero to unbearable in a matter of seconds. This is particularly noticeable with noise, temperature, and bad air. I’ve learned to jump up immediately as soon as I notice discomfort, and do whatever I can to reduce it, because in about 30 seconds, it’s going to be a PROBLEM. This causes a lot of interruptions to my HSP deep engagement, which is pretty jarring in itself, but it’s worse if I wait until it’s bothering me a LOT.

I’m slowly building my HSP survival kit. I’ve got quite a collection of ambient and nature noise mp3s, which can really help my mood while blocking out minor and distant noise. I use foam earplugs for near and intrusive noise, but they aren’t really up to the job. If anyone can recommend a better sound elimination tool that’s cheap (under $20), portable and comfortable, I’m all ears :)

I’ve also learned to keep no-prep food on hand – fruit, yogurt, sunflower seeds, hard boiled eggs, carrots, even beverages can take the edge off my hunger. I enjoy cooking a whole lot more if I eat something small first, so I don’t feel rushed to get the meal made NOW.

I’ve started discussing some of the new understandings I’ve reached about myself in a small, but public way. I don’t try to explain what it means to be an HSP – that’s a big topic. But I do say outloud that working 30 hours a week seems like a lot to me, because I know I’m not the only one, and someone out there who never heard of high sensory processing sensitivity needs to hear that from a person who is unapologetic about it.

That was a really HSP thing to say, wasn’t it :)

4 thoughts on “The Limitations of Being Highly Sensitive

  1. I had to smile when I read your post, because ever since I have discovered I am an HSP I have been doing exactly the same things! Preparing delicious food to keep my sudden hunger attacks from being a problem, or downloading nature noise mp3s to blend out the subway, but also starting to back out or decline a million party/brunch/dinner opportunities if I felt it’s simply too much (which is almost always, and I don’t know how I did it before – I usually tried to go to EVERYTHING).

    Lastly, I was relieved to read about your 30-hour week problem. I am a student and I have a parttime job with quite a lot of responsibility. But despite the two things I can tell that I do have much more time off than my husband (like… MUCH! MORE!), and STILL I feel like that’s barely enough to replenish my energy reserves. I have begun to seriously wonder if ever I could realistically survive a 9-to-5-job…. but I’ll definitely look into Jaeger’s book. Anyways, thanks for sharing – it’s good to see others are having similar experiences!

    • I’ve worked a 40-hour week, which makes me think I “should” be able to do it again – until I remember how extremely miserable and alienated from myself it caused me to feel (not to mention what the stress did to my health). Between that and commuting to and from via public transit, I was so exhausted I could barely manage the basics of buying groceries, doing laundry, and balancing the checkbook, much less having any kind of social life or pursuing personal interests.

      I’ve recently begun to think that I either need to do work which is exactly what I’d be doing with my time, exactly as I want to do it, even if I weren’t getting paid (which is what many people advocate for HSPs), or work that demands very low engagement from me so that I can reserve my energies for what I care about. Things I never loved but that I now realize I should avoid like the plague include seeing/being seen by a lot of people every day, deadlines, and micro-managers.

      Love your photos. If you enable a “like” button on the fog piece, I’d happily be the first to like it :)

      • hehe, thanks :) that would be marvelous indeed! i am VERY new here.

        did you mean you’d like the photos or the post in general? because there is a like button if you view the post by clicking on its title (you will then find the button at the very bottom of the post). in any case that would be wonderful :)

        as for your thoughts: absolutely!! i have at various times of my first degree studied 100% and then worked 60% (which is humanly impossible, but totally fine for some). i was a wreck. now, with the workload i have, i feel that i am ‘challenged’. the perfect load would either be less of this or full-time of what i truly love: writing. for a long time i have lamented that only few people get to be writing for a living. then (a few days ago, in fact) i realized i’ll simply take the first step and DO what i love most, even if it’s just keeping a little secret blog. it’s a first step.

      • Found it! Firefox did NOT want me to like your post for some reason, but I was able to do it in IE. I meant the whole post. Very neatly encapsulates how much people miss, even when it’s right in front of them, and being admired by someone else.

        I can easily spend hours (or days) on blog ideas – I always have many more ideas than I have time for, and it’s frustrating not to be able to strike while the inspirational iron is hot so much of the time. It’s not that I don’t get tired when I spend hours on a blog project – I get stiff, and my eyes blur, and I have to grab myself by the scruff of the neck, cover my mare’s nest hair with a hat, and kick me out the door to remind myself of that other world of people and events. But it’s the tiredness of completion, not depletion. Huge difference.

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