I didn’t always know I was a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP). In fact, I first recognized myself as an Empath and an Intuitive and they felt “right”, but also not encompassing enough.
Both of these are types of Highly Sensitive People: An “Empath” being someone who can very easily pick up on the emotional states of others, and “Intuitive” being someone who perceives (and trusts) invisible energetic guidance.
I was beginning my certification to become a Coach for Spiritual Emergence (how typical HSP to certify in that, BTW!) when I was introduced to Dr. Elaine Aron’s work on HSPs.
The simple description of D.O.E.S (Depth of Processing, easily Overstimulated, Emotional responsiveness, and Sensitive to Subtleties) resonated immediately, but it was the rabbit holes of videos, films and articles that offered deeper, more thorough descriptions of HSPs that could have read like a biography. But that said, to the uninitiated they present as contradictions or paradoxes.
I think HSPs are familiar with paradoxes because some of our D.O.E.S qualities complement each other, while others really amplify each other. We don’t necessarily need to choose one or the other, but simply embrace living the paradox.
I've chosen three of my "favorites", but I am sure I could go on and on! Let me know in the comments if any of these resonate!
Paradox: Those you admire most overwhelm you, but those you love most bore you
I look at my collection of friends and I see two common themes: I am either friends with: 1) Very weird, eccentric people or 2) Very calm, deep, and dare I say it -- boring people. They each scratch a specific itch in me, but I need to rotate my time with them often or I will go a bit nuts!
I think friendships with eccentrics scratch the HSP itch of always wanting stimulating, exciting experiences that represent all parts of human experience. In fact I used to host weekly dinner parties with the most outrageous characters you can imagine: a magician, preacher, film-maker, musician, artist, comedian, ballerina--you name it, I somehow met these people and was instantly attracted to their larger-than-life personalities. I would invite them all to the same dinner and watch what was a more-real-than-real reality show ensued.
But eventually these dinners got… you guessed it: overwhelming.
I began having anxiety the hours before the event wondering: who was going to upset who, what time everyone would leave so I could go to bed, and even if I would be able to talk to enough people so they’d feel welcome.
Then after everyone left, I was shocked that my partner could just fall asleep with no troubles, but I would be up ALL NIGHT buzzing from the adrenaline of being with such intense characters.
Extroverted HSPs love a good party, but we are also known to just go from 0 to 100 and be DONE once our nervous system “overheats”! We had our fun, and then we’re ready to go home, zone out, and snack in silence.
In order to refrain from overheating too much, we tend to pick close friends or partners who are calming, stable, and scratch the HSP itch of needing relaxation (to avoid overstimulation).
I do this as well: my absolute BEST friends and life-partner are what I would describe as super-CHILL. They are developmentally mature, self-aware, no-drama characters who prefer a quiet night at home talking deeply over a night out of theatrical drinking or partying.
And my nervous system LOVES these friends (and the yummy snacks they share as we chat all night long!) because they scratch my HSP itch of wanting deep, meaningful conversations often. I even married my best friend who fits this exact description. (If you are reading this honey--I love you!)
And sometimes--as paradoxes go--these stable people bore me to death.
It’s not that I want drama out of these characters--no way, I can’t handle that emotional turmoil! I am usually escaping the drama of the world to be with them! It’s that I want them to ALSO embrace the depth and weirdness of life like the eccentrics do… but without the overstimulation!
Is that too much to ask out of people!?
To be equally eccentric and boring?
Yes. Yes, Katie it is.
So I have come to embrace that paradox of liking both kinds of people and to mix them up just enough to keep me on my toes!
Paradox: The world you love so deeply will endlessly disappoint you.
Highly Sensitive People fall so deeply in love with all parts of the natural world and the diverse humanity within it. There is a magical quality to Earth that touches us not only emotionally, but within our souls.
We love to travel, explore, and engage with the world in gritty, authentic ways that go beyond what you can find in a travel guide. We want the behind-the-scenes tours of real people, real stories, and real places. We love absorbing the energy of a culture, trying a country on for size, and becoming a new person in every new city we visit.
HSPs get a ticklish excitement when somewhere they see or someone they meet represents the archetypal version of what they thought it could be. I remember the first time I saw a red, double-decker bus in London and thought, “OMG! They do exist!” Or my first time in India seeing cows in the street, I giggled at the living-stereotype in front of me!
But these same archetypal characters/images can deeply disappoint us.
We know we are capable of polluting our planet, but the first time we see the seas covered in plastic, we cry inside recognizing we’ve done this to ourselves.
We know there are bigots around every corner, but every time we hear a racist rant, we are saddened that “these people still exist”. Interestingly, instead of ignoring them, we let these images and people in because we really do want a taste of the whole, real world, but each time we do, we are left with a sour, bad taste in our mouths.
I have mentioned before that “weltschermtz” is one of my most common maladies. It is the German term for “world-pain”, meaning you feel the world so strongly, it hurts you. I tend to get this once a month (and yes it does coincide with pre-menstruation--as my “forgiveness goggles” disappear the lower my estrogen gets) and I tend to cry with sadness first, then anger at how disappointing we can be as humans.
So, can HSPs just ignore these sad truths and live forever in the romanticized, idealistic world?
(Which is not always true for some non-HSPs who enjoy living in their bubbles).
Our paradox is that the same lust for life that drives Highly Sensitive People to explore is the lust for truth that exposes us to some deep, dark realities.
We must embrace the dark to have the light.
Yet, I like to think that it is HSP’s quest for the big picture-- warts and all-- that makes us really understand the complexities of this world.
We don’t ONLY see through rose-colored glasses, but we do put them on enough to cure the hangover we get from seeing the world for how dark it can be.
Paradox: You feel misunderstood, but it also feels impossible to show the REAL you.
There are so many things I want to say about this paradox I don’t even know where to start! (Which proves this point already!) Honestly, I feel like I could talk ONLY about this (FOR HOURS!), but let me be brief with two angles here: hurtful childhood memories and being just too inarticulate.
Do you remember the first few times you tried to share your REAL self with the world and got a less than ideal response? And then you shrink inside and begin avoiding sharing too much.
I remember mine too--and if you are like me, the reaction you got to something so “normal” to you made you question how normal you really were.
One time was in seventh grade when our teacher started explaining the concept of Platonic Ideals and Innatism (the concept that there is a “realm” where all forms exist in a perfect state and we are merely attempting to remember them (not learn them for the first time)) and I mentioned with sincere confidence that “Yes that is how it is”--as if I could remember this realm. Her look of disapproval was all I needed to think hard before sharing what I KNEW to be true.
Another time at a similar age was when I was with a group of kids who were bullying another kid (who I used to bully too sadly, I wasn’t perfect!). Because I could feel his energy, I could tell he hated this group of kids, so I said “Leave him alone, that really bothers him!” but because that kid was so desperate to be liked he pretended it was fine saying, “I am not bothered! Leave me alone, Katie!”
This made me so conflicted because I KNEW he wasn’t fine AND I didn’t want to say how I knew. But of course I said, “I know you are not fine, I can feel it!” and then the whole group turned around and bullied me for the ridiculous comment I just made.
Lesson learned. :(
Back to the Platonic Ideals… for some reason this concept mesmerizes me and interestingly some of the more mystical, metaphysical experiences of my life (past-life memories, hypnotic experiences in the Akashic Realm, psychedelic/altered consciousness) have reinforced that there actually are other realms that we not only have access to, but have likely experienced and we maintain memories of in our unconscious/soul. (PS-Stay tuned for a Podcast on this coming soon!)
My fascination with this idea has woven itself deeply into almost everything I study personally and professionally. I have a storehouse of knowledge on metaphysical topics like this (and many more weird things!) and it’s really influenced who I am (and work!), and some days all I want to do is talk about it.
BUT I am almost incapable of articulating it.
When I try to share this inner-world with others, it all just feels so...flat. Like I open my mouth and start trying to share my excitement but I can't quite capture the complex details of ALL I think/feel.
I am disappointed in my inability to share this rich layer of ME in a verbal, sensical way and in many ways I feel like it is my life’s purpose to be able to communicate about myself accurately!
I’ve gravitated towards creative arts the past few years because they have the ability to “say” so much, without the pain of words diluting the truth. Last year, I even created a 4-part workshop series (Vision-Quest) to help others get in touch with the deep, unconscious, non-verbal wisdom within them using art.
But funny enough, even this grand pursuit didn’t feel representative ENOUGH of how I REALLY think and feel and I was even disappointed in my ability to communicate my intent to my workshop attendees. (HSPs can be disappointed in themselves a lot).
So herein lies the paradox: as much as HSPs desire to be known, we inherently feel that we cannot be--whether it is through fear of being misunderstood, or our own inability to articulate the depth of our inner-world.
So, we either give up, or we try and try and try… but always fall short.
HSPs as Bridges to the 21st Century Paradox
So, what is the nice, clean take-away lesson that you have come to expect out of a blog in the 21st century? :)
I believe that we are entering an age when we ALL must embrace paradox. Collectively, we have been shoehorned into these impossible “parties”, “sides” and “teams” during the 20th century that don’t serve us anymore and many of us have woken up to this fact we must embrace paradox now more than ever.
It seems we have been led to believe that we are all playing a game of checkers, and it is best to get onto a “winning” side, but I am more convinced we’re like pawns in a long running game of chess with players at the top with motives we don’t even know. While that can feel overwhelmingly nihilistic in some ways, it is also empowering that we don’t HAVE to choose sides if we don’t agree with them.
It’s OK to understand the opposing energies and how each has their time and place.
In fact, any human development expert will tell you that one of the key phases of adult maturity is your ability to hold paradoxical ideas about yourself and the world. It can be torturous to a less mature person, but the more comfortable you are with paradox, the more you understand the complex nature of reality (in fact, our sense of humor is often based on paradox--making comedy rich with these contradictions!)
And because HSPs confront paradoxes often in our daily lives, we have the opportunity to learn how to embrace them, and then bridge the gap for others to do the same. And before you get too excited about evangelizing this to your friends, we don’t often need to TEACH this, but can simply live it and lead by example.
And then we can embrace a messy, transitional world that we are collectively entering.
So embrace those paradoxes, HSPs! And I am curious, I only shared 3 of my “favorite” paradoxes (is that a thing?), what are yours?!
PS: Why am I writing so much about Highly Sensitive People lately?
As I continue to certify as a Spiritual Emergence coach, I recognize that my specialty may be working with Highly Sensitive People. As one myself, I resonate so deeply with the superpowers and challenges we share.
While I am still devoted to working with people who have or are going through a spiritual awakening through altered states of consciousness, paranormal event, past-life memories, and mystical experiences (and more!) I recognize that many of the people who ARE experiencing these are actually HSPs.
Are you a newly discovered HSP who is longer to go deeper into your self-discovery? Are you experiencing a Spiritual Emergence? Reach out for a Depth-Quest!
XX Dr. KTL