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The emotional tightrope walk that Highly Sensitive People face

Some HSP ( Highly Sensitive Person kids quickly learn to suppress their feelings when they hear, “you are so sensitive, you are too emotional or don’t exaggerate”, because they feel like they are too much and don’t fit in.
On the other hand, some of them go the other direction, the other extreme. In desperate attempts to have their feelings validated or understood, they do exaggerate their feelings. Hoping that when they magnify their feelings their family will finally understand them.

The habit of suppressing their feelings persists because it creates a false sense of belonging, by being like everyone else. The problem is that deep down they may feel like an emotional chameleon, always adjusting to the feelings of the person they are with. This could lead to a feeling of not knowing who they are. Another downside of constantly ignoring and repressing their strong emotions is that when the emotions can’t be held down any longer, they come out too strongly and HSP’s feel like they are too much. Thus the cycle continues.

By amplifying their feelings kids get negative attention. However any kind of attention or sense of belonging seems better than feeling like an outsider. Inflating their feelings at least gets them noticed and makes them feel seen.

As you are reading this you may have noticed that these habits sound familiar and that your tendency is either to suppress your feelings or exaggerate them. Many people swing from one to the other. As you observe yourself and become aware of when you use each tactic you may want to take action right away. Suppress your feelings when you want to exaggerate them or exaggerate them when you want to suppress them.
Can you instead simply start to be aware when and why you are doing either? When we understand behaviours we can find ways of improving, and fine tuning them in a more gentle and sustainable way.

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You should know what I need

Let’s be honest. We expect our partner to know how we feel.To always understand us. To accommodate our needs. Which is impossible. They can’t read our minds. We don’t even know how we feel or what we want many times.
Yet we try harder and harder to make our partner understand us. To see our point of view. We demand to be seen and heard. We feel they owe us. When they still don’t get us, we try to change them. They try to change us. We are stuck.
Do we insist to be understood because we don’t understand ourselves? What lies underneath this yearning to be understood?
We expect them to know what we want. No matter what they do it can never be the right thing, when we don’t even know what we want. We are disappointed in them. We set ourselves up for failure. We don’t even take the time to figure out what we need.
It’s scary to state clearly what you need . Your partner might not understand it at all. Fear of disapproval comes up. Fear of being different and being rejected. Yet we constantly keep rejecting our needs and wants by avoiding them at all cost. Ignore who we are. Pretend to be what we think our partner expects us to be.

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How we break promises we never made

It doesn’t make a difference for me which car you buy he said. She had really liked a black sports car. It surprised her just how much she wanted to drive that car. Tears suddenly welled up in her eyes. You never get excited about the things that I like she thought. You don’t care about me. Nothing I say or do interests you. Both were silent the rest of the drive home. He kept looking at her. She wondered why it was so important for her that he liked the same things she did.
She felt resentful. She was always excited and enthusiastic about the things he liked. It’s easy for her to like things. It dawned on her that she expected her partner to be as enthusiastic about everything as she is. She wanted him to do something he couldn’t. She wanted him to be someone he isn’t.
She remembered how he always patiently listened to all her ideas and projects. Never interrupting her. Giving her the space to be as excited and enthusiastic as she needed to be. She had always given him what she wanted. She had never actually asked him what he needed. Anything she was doing for him was really for her, hoping that she would get the same back. That’s where the resentment came from. She felt cheated. Like he didn’t hold up his end of a bargain that they never made.

Photo by Juan Pablo Arenas from Pexels

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Why can’t you ever take a joke?

He teased her. Ha, ha very funny, she thought but she couldn’t say it. She knew it was a joke. Yet she felt criticized. The opportunity to react differently, slipped through her tired fingers.

With anyone else she could have laughed. Not with him.
Every time he jokes or teases her, she reacts strongly. She feels hurt.
Something pulled her into the familiar steps of taking everything too personal. She watched herself as she physically and emotionally retreated . She couldn’t stop the sequence. She felt the cold coat of silence enveloping her and creating an invisible wall between them. She stepped into her cell of detachment to protect herself.

All evening long he asked her if she was okay. “Yeah, I am okay”, she responded, not looking at him. Both knew it wasn’t true. She wanted to step out of her self imposed prison. Her old patterns kept her trapped. She could have taken the hand he offered to pull her out. She wondered why she couldn’t, even though that’s all she wanted to do.

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When seeking love makes you blind

Most of my life I thought that my Dad doesn’t love me. Over the years I tried to impress him, show off my accomplishments in order to get him to say it. He never did.

I had been so convinced that he didn’t love me that I had missed so many signs.

He is a very quiet, gentle man, an HSP Highly sensitive person, like myself. He doesn’t wear his feelings on his sleeves. Yet he demonstrated his love for us every day, by the things he did for us. I was so caught up in my expectations, my wanting, my demanding that he would say it. I couldn’t see his love and adoration for me.

It has been a long process for me to let go of those expectations. I wouldn’t accept being loved, appreciated and acknowledged, unless it was my way.

I simply started to end each phone conversation with,”I like you”. Not expecting anything in return. For the longest time there was no answer, he either hung up or handed the phone to my mom. One day his answer was Thank you. Now, I knew he heard me.

We expect our parents and partners to love us the way we are, but we don’t love them the way they are. Are we just hypocrites until we accept them and love them the way they are? Maybe it is about accepting us first?
Maybe it is about accepting and allowing them to be who they are? Maybe it is about giving without expecting anything in return?

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Why are you always so sensitive about everything?

“What’s wrong with me”? whispers the familiar voice in her head. “I will never get this right. It will never change. I will always be too sensitive, too much.” She wants to run away but she can’t hide from herself. She is lying in bed, beating herself up. Her partner is in another room. Doesn’t want to talk with her. He can’t take another discussion about feelings.

Thoughts are tumbling in her mind. He just made an observation. She reacted strongly. Again. She retreated into her shell of silence. Automatically. She is caught in her silence. Paralyzed. Afraid to say the wrong thing. Again.

He comes back after a while,kisses her good night. She feels like she is made of glass. Scared. Certain that next time her partner says:” You are too sensitive,” she will shatter. She won’t be able to put the pieces together. She wants to cuddle up to him, but she can’t. It takes her forever to fall asleep.
I am sorry, I always react so strongly she whispers in the morning.

She knows, she needs to change something. She has tried everything. She needs help. It’s difficult to ask for or accept help. She desperately needs answers but other peoples answers never work for her. She knows, she can’t do this alone any longer.

I felt like that . I was ashamed for feeling and reacting so strongly all the time. For being different. Always defensive about it. I was at a loss. When I learned about High Sensitive People, I experienced a huge shift in how I perceived myself and my life. I realized I was not the only one. I still felt weird and different. I still felt everything strongly. I kept repeating the same thoughts and patterns of behavior.

Yet awareness was not enough.

I needed a way not only to work on the behavior, I had to get to the root of my behavior. I turned to EFT Emotional Freedom Techniques aka tapping and step by step my life started to change. I noticed why I overreacted. I saw patterns. I looked at my feelings and beliefs. I started to change beliefs about myself. Then, behaviors started to change.

Tapping helped me when I felt paralyzed. Hurt, pain and unexpected changes forced me to look at myself. In the process I discovered my strength, my determination and my tenacity and rediscovered my love for life, my curiosity and my joy. Through the use of EFT I am able to deal with the overwhelm and the strong feelings I still experience. Through tapping I find my own answers and I can help you find yours.

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Why would anyone ever cross this bridge?

We were standing in a public washroom. My hands and knees where shaking. I was close to tears. I was overtaken with fear. All I wanted to do was take off all the climbing gear and walk away. “Mama, you hiked up a mountain when you where three years old, you can do this” my ten year old son Alexander said. He believed that I could do this. I felt like throwing up, and my hands were shaking when I followed the rest of the group, but he believed. So, I went. He was the only reason I went. With a lot of focus, and encouragement from my son, I finished the tree top trekking experience. It felt like an eternity to me. My only motivation to do this, was his belief that I could do anything.

Once we were home again, I realized I had actually enjoyed the experience.I had this rush of emotion. I had done it, I was so proud of myself. I was feeling elated the next two days. I was so proud of my accomplishment.

As a highly Sensitive Person (HSP) it is very easy to step back from challenges, for the sake of feeling comfortable. Not realizing that our comfort zone shrinks every time we shy away from something that makes us nervous. It can come to a point where our comfort zone can feel like a cocoon or rather a sarcophagus. We don’t even notice that we buried ourselves alive. It isn’t easy to do things that are uncomfortable.

Just imagine how many opportunities you can miss. Take small steps and notice the fears that come up. Feel the fear and do it anyway. Don’t let your fears make your comfort zone smaller day by day. Stay outside of your comfort zone, until it becomes comfortable. Then, step outside again.

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Is it time to take off those old boots?

I have beautiful, brown, high heeled, lace up winter boots my sister gave me. In those boots I feel tall and elegant, I love the way I feel when I wear them. My knees and hips don’t. Yet, I keep wearing them. The pain prompted me to think about wanting to follow in someone’s footsteps. Why would I do that?

As a child I wanted to be like everyone else. I tried for years. I felt like a chameleon. Instead of taking on colours, I took on feelings and opinions. Since I was very perceptive of what was expected of me, it was easy for me to be what they wanted. I had no idea that I ignored who I was. I didn’t realize that this was the cause of my underlying unhappiness and sadness. I didn’t want to be myself. I didn’t want to be different. I only saw the painful aspects of feeling so strongly because I didn’t know about High Sensitivity.

As HSPs (highly sensitive person) we may have a tendency to overcompensate and totally lose who we are. We see only what we want in others and think we have to be a carbon copy. Life will be hard whether you walk your path or follow someone’s else’s footsteps. Might as well be authentic. Take the next step. And then another.

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Are you attaching labels to others or yourself?

Growing up in Austria, I often heard people making fun of the way people in the south of my province Styria, speak. In my mind, making fun of them separated us, believing that we Northerners are better and different. I never thought too much about it, until I moved to another province. Suddenly, I was the one with the weird accent, the one that was different, the one that stood out. During that time I became aware of how we Austrians make fun of how other Europeans spoke German.

Two years later I moved to Canada. Again I was the one who had a different accent. When I heard anyone who sounded like they spoke German, I would speak with them. This time I didn’t care if they were from Austria, Germany, Switzerland or Liechtenstein. I was just so happy to speak German. That got me thinking. First I had seen myself as someone from the North of my province, then as a Styrian, and Austrian and then a European.

Years later, I learned that I was a highly sensitive person. I suddenly felt like I had discovered a super power. I felt superior to non HSPs, I thought I was more sensitive, more aware of my environment, that I had a deeper understanding of the world, that I have a wider range of emotions. The funny thing is, that before I learned this and had a label for who I was, I always thought of those things as a negative. I felt too sensitive, too naive, too emotional. I had felt isolated, weird and different. Suddenly, I belonged to this exclusive group and that made me feel special, superior to people who were not as sensitive.

I had been made fun of, ridiculed and dismissed because I was very sensitive, emotional and opinionated. Later, I judged people who were different, who weren’t as sensitive. I couldn’t see that it was just a difference, that neither was better or worse. I separated myself in order to feel better about myself.

We artificially separate ourselves in our thinking from other people. We tend to put labels like HSP, extrovert or introvert on ourselves and others in order to name and understand who we are. There is nothing wrong with categorizing things in order to understand nuances and differences.

Learning more about being a highly sensitive person helps me to understand myself better. It explains why I react certain ways. It also helps me to understand my family and friends better. Sometimes I wish that I could shrug off things easily. However, when I experience overwhelming joy and delight, I am grateful for the depth of my feelings.

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Encouragement versus Feedback

Expectantly the seven year old girl showed the family friend, a visual artist her drawing. She felt great about her creation.“Nice, but look at those lines, they should all go into the same direction” he said and drew them differently. She was shocked and offended that he would draw on her piece.He offered two more suggestions and praise. She didn’t even hear them any more. She felt criticized and ashamed.

It isn’t easy for anyone to receive criticism but it is especially difficult for an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person) HSPs think about things very deeply, sometimes putting too much weight on a comment. This HSP is now my client. She noticed that she had a difficult time,whenever her husband offered suggestions for her business projects, reacting very angrily and resentful towards him. She wanted his professional expertise but could not accept it. This caused friction, hurt and pain in their relationship.

During an EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) Session she remembered the incident with the drawing. We tapped on feeling harshly criticized and discouraged. All she had wanted from the Artist was praise and encouragement. Little did the man know that his well intentioned feedback was received as severe criticism and would influence her until now.
During several sessions we looked at similar events where she had the same expectations, but had again perceived feedback as criticism. She could not even hear anymore when someone praised or encouraged her.This created a belief that she couldn’t do anything right.
After multiple sessions she has come to a point where she knows when she needs praise or feedback. Now she is able to ask for either or. Sometimes she still feels criticized but she doesn’t become defensive or go on the offensive. She is simply aware. The goal was never to avoid any feelings but to understand them, move through them and move on.
(Photo by Sarah Jane from Pexels)