My entire life, I’ve been told the same things: “Stop worrying what people think of you.” “Learn to get a thicker skin.” “Don’t take things so personally.”
It all seems so simple, but I’ve never been able to master these suggestions. By age thirty, I assumed I would learn to effectively navigate certain nuances in my psyche. After all, I’m comfortable with who I am as a person. True, there are things I would change about myself: past decisions I would alter, personality characteristics I might adjust; Certainly there are physical attributes I would refine if I could snap my fingers. But overall, I’m a happy and confident individual. So why do I still care what people think? Why do I lay awake some nights, dwelling on something I said 3 years ago? Why does the silence of some individuals (sometimes inaccurately) translate into their utter distaste for me? Over the years, I’ve learned all this points to the fact that I am an HSP—a Highly Sensitive Person. And frankly, it’s kind of a drag.
HSPs have many traits and characteristics, some of which include:
• oversensitivity to conflict or negativity
• emotionally sensitive and intense
• feeling overwhelmed when there are too many tasks to accomplish
• the need to be in control of schedules/environments
• affected by the moods of others
• the need to avoid negative media stories and images
• incredibly sensitive to subtleties in the environment
• overcome by bright lights or extremely loud sounds
• the overwhelming need for acceptance by others
I want the same things that most people want out of life. I want to be accepted. I want to be loved. I want fellowship—to feel I’m a small part of something much, much bigger. Put simply, I want to be liked. However, psychologists—and anyone, really—will tell you it’s impossible to make everyone like you. Ben Michaelis, PhD states that 15% of people you meet on a regular basis will simply not like you for various reasons. This bothers me immensely. I’ve heard it said that if someone doesn’t like you, they’re not worth the energy anyway. Sounds simple enough, but I end up obsessing. What could I have done differently? Why did I say that? I didn’t try hard enough. When it comes to letting go of what others think—I understand the logic, but my emotions won’t cooperate.
Over the years, I’ve noticed a pattern in the way I cope with being a HSP. I withdraw. I’m cautious. Walls go up. I want to be an open individual, but many times it hurts too much. I know I’m missing out, but it’s easier to not take risks than to become vulnerable. Many times, I assume the worst about what people think, which doesn’t do any favors to others or to myself. And really, that’s the unattractive irony: I don’t like it when others assume my thoughts or intentions. But when I push others away—even indirectly or unintentionally—that’s precisely what I’m doing to them.
l honestly don’t know how to get past these obstacles. I suspect these things will always be a part of me, because they always have been. All I know to do is avoid my common triggers, and simply remember most of the time, people aren’t as focused on my negative qualities as I feel like they are. Eleanor Roosevelt said it best:
“You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.”
So friends, bear with me. If I’m a little sensitive, overwhelmed, or too fixated on some meaningless thing, gently remind me things aren’t ever as bad as they seem. Remind me that I should never try to change others, but seek to change myself. Tell me to do all I can to extend peace: Peace for the people I’ve hurt. Peace for the things I’ve done that I shouldn’t have. Peace for the past.
Know that when I seem a little off, I have my own weird reasons for it that even I can’t fully explain. Know that sometimes, my internal dialogue is keeping me from fully appreciating the present moment. Know that I occasionally need a moment alone to recharge, regroup, or re-prioritize my thoughts. And above all, know that if I confide in you, then I hold you very close to my heart.
Are you an HSP? Take this quiz and find out. Leave your results in the comments section. I’m interested to know how many of us there are, and how we can be present for one another in this big, scary world. In the meantime, you can find me in a cozily lit room, rife with soft music, positive thoughts, and predictability.