Perhaps it was a matter of time. You can only wear a mask and keep up the façade for so long, and through so many painful experiences.
I was sensitive. Very sensitive. I cried through every Kodak commercial on TV. I cried when songs touched me deeply. I cried when other people hurt, because the energy of their pain would flow over and through me. And I loved everyone – intent on finding the good in all living creatures. I was empathic and perceptive, with an internal guidance system running on felt sense that I did not even begin to understand. I was met with strange looks, misunderstanding, and less than compassionate comments. At times, my sensitivity was pathologized, and I was told there was something wrong with me.
“You’re too emotional.”
“You take things too personally.”
“You wear your heart on your sleeve.”
“It’s no big deal!”
“Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”
“Get your shit together!”
“What is wrong with you?!”
The words were hard to take. The looks were harder. People kept their distance. Maybe they were confused. Maybe they didn’t know what to say. Maybe the depth of connection I felt overwhelmed them. Maybe I didn’t know what to say, or how to express how deeply I felt everything, and how overwhelming that felt to me, too.
No one reflected feeling back to me, or validated my emotion. No one defined what I was feeling – much less helped me to figure out what to do with those feelings. I wasn’t supposed to have those, and certainly not so intensely! At least that’s the message I internalized as a young person. That’s the message many young children internalize when they experience emotional neglect or high emotional sensitivity.
Then one day, it was like a switch flipped it all off, and suddenly I couldn’t feel anything. Where my heart had held so much emotion, overflowing with empathy, concern, love, and connection (and often pain) – abruptly there was nothingness. Emptiness. Darkness. I couldn’t take the misunderstanding, the rejection, or the judgements any longer. I got it! I was not okay. I was weak. I was broken. There was something wrong with me.
I shut down. And I stayed that way for years.
As time progressed, I continued to do what I thought, and had been told, I was supposed to do. Feel less, connect less, sense less (senseless?). I went through the motions. I lived as a shell, in a body I could no longer feel or connect with, with a heart that no longer radiated compassion and warmth. I felt beyond empty. I could remember how I had felt in the past, and I could wish to feel again, but I couldn’t reconnect to that empathic, perceptive sensitivity. I couldn’t connect with myself, which meant that I couldn’t connect with others. Without that internal guidance system, I was lost and alone in darkness. It’s extraordinarily difficult to find a light switch in total darkness.
Sometimes, we get lucky… or (depending on your belief system) a greater power or the universe leads us where we need to go, and to someone who can help us find the switch.
I’m grateful I was led by whatever force, at first by just a shimmer of the faintest light, back to feeling and relationship. I’m grateful I was taught how to be discerning in who I chose to share my gifts of sensitivity and deep connection. I’m grateful as I continue to learn how to harness my own emotional energy, protect myself from an overwhelmingly insensitive world, and share my light with those who won’t attempt to extinguish it. I’m grateful for my deeply emotional experiences, empathy, and intuition.
No matter what you’ve been told, or how often people have tried to define you as weak, overly-emotional, too sensitive, or broken – I want to challenge those beliefs that you have likely now internalized. I want to share the hope that you can reconnect with your sensitivity and internal guidance system, learn to pay attention, and discern what it’s trying desperately to tell you. I want to encourage you –
You are not weak. You are actually amazingly powerful.
You are not broken. You are remarkable.
There is nothing wrong with you. Those were lies that people told you who just didn’t understand, because they didn’t share that amazingly beautiful ability to feel deeply, sense, and intuit. You are way more than okay!
You do not have to remain feeling shut down, numb, or empty. And you do not have to remain in a constant state of overwhelm either!
You can gain mastery over your highly sensitive and highly intuitive abilities, and learn to understand what your internal guidance system is trying to tell you. You can learn to navigate through the cacophony of sensory and emotive overload that comes with every day in the highly sensitive life. You do not have to sacrifice yourself for the sake of the comfort of others. You can be freely yourself, and enjoy the experience!
Kristen Henshaw, an HSP and Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), specializes in counseling and EMDR therapy for the highly sensitive person, the highly intuitive person, and those wanting to recover and heal from painful childhood, life, and relationship experiences. For a gentle, respectful approach to healing, feel free to schedule your free 30-minute consultation to learn more.