Are you sick of being told you are too sensitive? I hear you. I was told this lie for most of my life!
I always believed that there was something terribly wrong with me. Why couldn’t I stop crying? Why was I so sensitive? Why couldn’t I just be happy? One day, I had enough. With just a tent and a sleeping bag, I set off into the wilderness on the ultimate journey of healing. I learned to embrace my sensitivity with open arms, and now I wouldn’t change it for the world.
Someone Like Me
There are many different names for someone like me.
The scientists call us HSP and the spiritualists call us Empaths. Frustrated acquaintances call us too sensitive and giggling classmates call us cry-babies. Our parents might call us passionate, but our colleagues are more likely to call us hysterical. The curators of art museums call us creative (albeit rather troubled). We call ourselves stupid, broken and crazy.
We feel things deeply.
Be it the emotions of people around us or the suffering in the world. Be it joy or despair, we suck it up like a sponge. Lights are brighter, sounds are louder, and every emotion is fiercer. We live our lives in high definition.
People like me feel deeply connected to nature and the land. It breaks our hearts to see the trees getting torn down, the ocean getting poisoned with plastic waste and the skies turning black with toxic fumes. The sound of whirring insects isn’t irritating, but beautiful. Little dormice snoozing in the hay bales aren’t filthy vermin, but welcome friends.
The Curse of Sensitivity
Sensitivity is generally frowned upon in the West, which has all kinds of names and labels to discredit the experience of the sensitive person.
A few of us manage to accept ourselves for who we are and find a whole ocean of joy comes flowing out of our vulnerable places. Call it a gift or a curse, our sensitivity is not something that we can ever change. You cannot change the essence of who you are.
I have spent so many years wishing I was different. I begged counsellors to cure me and doctors to medicate me. I begged lovers to fix me and life to leave me. I was convinced that I I was doomed for a life of confusion and darkness interspersed with fleeting moments of joy and clarity.
I did not realise that the reason I was suffering was not because I was sensitive, but because I was fighting against my sensitivity. It was not because I was different but because I rejected my differences.
Discovering the Personality trait ‘HSP’ or ‘Highly Sensitive Person’ was a real turning point for me. About 20% of the population live with the HSP personality trait. It was first identified by Dr Elaine Aaron in 1991 whose ground-breaking research has completely turned my relationship with myself on its head. HSPs process information deeply and feel the emotions of both themselves and those around them deeply. They are naturally empathetic, creative and intuitive, picking up on extremely subtle stimuli like light, sound and social cues. They are no better or worse than Non-HSPs, but they are different.
Canary in the Coal Mine
Like the canary in the coal mine, the HSP will be the first to notice danger and therefore suffers the destructive behaviours of modern human society on a very personal level.
The threats of climate change, air pollution and deforestation are not abstract or hard for us to relate to. We feel the damage that human beings perpetrate against mother nature with an overwhelming clarity and intensity. It can be really hard to cope with. However, there is a great deal to be learned from the insight of the HSP.
That poor canary was brought down into the coal mines for good reason. Being so much more sensitive to carbon monoxide, they would get sick before the coal miners did and give them a head start to wrestle a respirator over their coal-blackened faces and evacuate the mines before the toxic fumes could kill them.
To try to crush the sensitivity out of a HSP is to try and put a respirator on a canary. It might well reduce some of the immediate suffering of the canary, but it would also completely defeat the object of having a sensitive being on hand who can warn the rest of the community about the impending dangers.
Sensitive people are a vital resource of insight if we want to steer our societies away from their self destructive course which they have been ruthlessly sailing along in the name of profit, job security or GDP. At the same time, I advocate the right of the canary to breathe clean air outside of a cage in the belly of the earth. If you are reading this, you are probably a sensitive person, and so you probably agree.
A Journey to Healing
Your life is a precious gift from the universe and you deserve to find your purpose even in a world that can be heartbreakingly unfair. Know that there is hope, that all around the world people are waking up.
I found my peace by leaving a mainstream lifestyle behind me. I have intentionally distanced myself from the toxic inputs of a society that puts profit before people, instant pleasure before the health of the earth and cheap meat before animal welfare.
For any sensitive people who feel they can’t take it anymore, I would like to formally give you permission to set out on a journey of your own. You don’t need anyone’s permission, but on the off chance you were waiting for it, there it is.
I give you permission to seek a life of joy and peace, to chase your dreams and say to hell with social expectations telling you how you should or should not feel and who you should or should not be.
The journey to peace will look different for everyone, and that’s OK. Some people will find it whilst living in a van with their children and homeschooling on the road. Some people could think of nothing worse than being trapped in a van conversion with the ear shattering tantrums of the terrible twos.
Some people are quite content to live their lives on a budget of £3 a day, cooking rice on a gas stove and camping in the hills. Some people would see this as an excruciating form of torture especially designed to pick apart their sanity at the seams.
There is no one right way to set out for a life of meaning, but there are plenty of ways to waste your life in a job you hate, with a partner doesn’t understand you, in an overpriced flat and vaguely hope that something better might come along. Years of your life can be frittered away chasing job promotions in a career that doesn’t satisfy you just so you can buy more stuff or feel more important.
Only you can decide how you want to live your life, but you need to decide it now. Spend every day in the pursuit of what brings you joy and shrug off the endless expectations about who you should be, what you should be doing and how you should be doing it. Allow yourself the ultimate freedom of saying ‘I would have done it all the same in a heartbeat.’
If this article resonated, you might like to check out The Highly Sensitive Nomad book.
Alternatively, here are some more blog posts you might be interested in:
- The Truth About Love from a HSP
- Talking To Your Family About Being HSP
- Making Deeper Connection When You Live On The Road
With thanks to my long suffering partner Florian Roquais for the images.
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