I don’t want this to be a look-at-me-I’m-special-post. At least, I don’t intend it to be. It is going to be about how different people can be wired differently and the problems this can pose. By using this approach, I hope it will be interesting to people with another perspective as well, my own sensitivity just being an example I have personal experience with, and nothing more.
I have always been a sensitive person. I experience emotions in a heavy way and have trouble letting go of them. This has its downsides: for example, bad news can really devastate me and I cry extremely easily (no matter if I’m in public or not). It also has its positive sides: I can easily become passionate about a subject, and when I’m happy for someone, I’M REALLY HAPPY FOR SOMEONE.
I’m okay with my own sensitivity. I have learned how to handle the bad parts and I appreciate the good parts. It makes me the kind of person I am, with flaws and everything. In therapy, I learned how to cope healthy with the moments my emotions overwhelm me, and I have supportive parents who understand me.
However, many people are wired another way. Which is good, because honestly, if everybody was like me, the world could not function. There would be no doctors, no police, no psychologists, and so many other people that we need, because those are jobs that require you to cope with stress – and with other people’s stress -, something I’m not that good at. We would all have collective sick days whenever something bad would happen – the kind of days we actually really need people to act.
However, even though I’m very thankful for our less sensitive and normatively sensitive fellow humans, I still encounter problems communicating with them in daily life. I notice there’s quite some misunderstandings. For example, my high sensitivity makes it hard for me to filter whom emotions are directed at. So whenever a teacher would scold a fellow classmate, I would get really nervous, because it felt like that angriness was pointed at me. I learned to put up walls so I’d not be bothered by it in normal life, but when something like that happens unexpectantly it can still cost me a lot of energy.
Being so much more effected by emotions made me a real pleaser. I avoid conflict like hell, because conflict has a lot bigger impact on me. This makes it hard for me to set boundaries, which is difficult for my surroundings: they want to respect my boundaries, but how can they if I’m afraid to talk about it? My husband puts a lot of energy in making sure I tell him what I actually need and want, which is wonderful, but I wish it wasn’t necessary.
Friends keep telling me, “if something bothers you, just say it.” Which works pretty fine, as long as you’re able to equally cope with all responses. I can’t always do that. That doesn’t mean I don’t respect the responses, or that I’m not able to do some self-reflection when I encounter criticism: I can do all those things. What I can’t do, is immediately filter someone’s disappointment about a situation from their disappointment in me. For example, if I would ask someone if they can stop playing the guitar because I’m getting a bit misophonic, I can’t immediately filter their “Oh, bummer, I was enjoying playing this, but I respect her request and will stop” from a possible “Oh, bummer, and she’s a horrible person for asking me to stop something I enjoy.” I only pick up the disappointment, and I need it to be said explicitly that everything is fine to actually know everything is fine. This is a huge inconvenience, because human interaction just doesn’t work that way. I can already hear some lovely people saying: “No, people should be considerate of those needs!” but no. I can’t expect an angry teacher to always explain who they are angry at – especially when rationally, it’s super clear. I can’t expect my husband to stop playing his videogames because his excitement can make me nervous. I can’t expect my friends to not set their own boundaries because it might take me an hour of meditation to realise it was just them setting a boundary – not them distancing themselves from me.
So no, this is not me saying: “look at me, I’m special!” This is an acknowledgement of all the times we miscommunicate. The times we say someone is a cold person because they are able to carry on with their day – because that’s just how they work. The times we say someone is weak because they start crying – but still face whatever makes them cry. The times we feel hurt because a former lover seems to be moving on so quickly – they might still think of you a lot. And this is a celebration of all the different ways we deal. Those wonderful people who keep their heads cool in a crisis and thus make sure everyone gets the care they need – aren’t they maybe the most empathic ones? The friends who find a balance between supporting you and telling you the truth. And of me – the friend who is so happy you’re doing better she’s actually crying.