Outside stimuli, which are seemingly innocuous to other folks, assault and quickly overwhelm the senses of those of us who are highly sensitive. I am particularly vulnerable to sound (loud noises) and emotional turmoil; however, I also respond adversely to chemicals, (cleaning solutions, pesticides, perfumes, etc.) visually cluttered environments, strong odors and tastes, and certain textures. My personal negative reactions vary from slight annoyance to “get me to hell out of here, NOW!” Those who spend their days with me, have come to recognize my triggers.
I recently read an article that described highly sensitive people as “canaries in the coal mine” - the ones who sense danger before anyone else. We, quite simply, experience life without filters – everything we encounter is observed (seen, heard, smelled, tasted, felt, and intuited) and then flows through without obstruction. Some set off all the internal alarm bells and others induce moments of pure wonder and awe. We, literally, have a visceral experience to the things most folks will walk by without a second glance.
I firmly believe that every single person is born highly sensitive; however, most, over a fairly short period of time, build up emotional callouses (thick skin) in direct response to the abrasive pressures and expectations of living in this world.
Picture the infant who stares intently at your face, the one who will only settle down when swaddled tightly, or the one who kicks off anything that encumbers their natural movement. Imagine the three-year-old who dances through a crowd - weaving in and out seemingly, unintentionally, avoiding certain people and embracing others. Or, think about the five-year-old who is walking through the woods darting from one amazing wonder to the next, ignoring the well-worn path, to first stare up into the tree tops to notice the tiny little nest made from sticks, mud, and fluff, and, in another moment crouching down to peek through a hollow log, and then quickly bouncing to the other end to peer from the other end to watch the line of ants march through.
Young children notice everything, especially those things that cannot be physically observed - nuances within a conversation or the emotional “temperature” of a room. They are inherently open-minded little sponges who absorb all the good of the world, as well as everything toxic.
As children enter formal society, usually through daycare and nursery school, they are given subtle (or not) cues about how to “be” in western culture. They are encouraged to remain stoic, unemotional, competitive, independent, and to “behave,” with rewards and adult approval. For those of us who "fail" to desensitize or “tune-out” by the time we are school-age, we are told to “buck-up,” “stop being so emotional,” “sit still,” “follow the directions,” and “for goodness sake, please, stay (color, walk) within the lines.” And, when those verbal admonitions are not effective, and we begin to act out, further, are soon labeled, “troubled” or “oppositional,” and ultimately punished.
Whether intentional, or not, these designations come with a lifetime of hurt and toxicity, which often translate into anxiety, depression, and low self-worth or esteem. This attempt to create conformity and obedience is all carried out in the name of education. The irony confounds!
I will argue, till the end of my days, that humans were designed in a way that life-long knowledge is innately driven by curiosity, and can only be acquired through off-trail and outside the box exploration, while we are following our interests and aspirations, and only when we are allowed to respond with all of that naturally, intense, and overwhelming emotion that springs up to engulf our very being.
I will be taking some much needed time away for most of the month of June, visiting my own children in Chicago and Portland, attending the Liberated Learners conference in Amherst, MA, and then visiting my siblings in MA and VT. I will be checking email and messages regularly and will respond as quickly as possible.