“It’s just so fucking intense” – on the ups and downs of being a Highly Sensitive Person
The world we live in doesn’t favour the sensitive. Masc4masc here, toughen up, get a full-time job, go out, get wasted in a bar. Or as Lady Gaga puts it: Club. Club. Another Club. No sleep. But what if I just can’t process all that input?
I’m a Highly Sensitive Person and so is approximately 15-20% of the population worldwide – regardless of gender, duh. Elaine Aron, a psychologist and HSP herself, provides these numbers in her research, to remind us of how widespread this phenomenon is (wondering if you fit into this category? Take a test on Elaine Aron’s website). As a white gay cis-man, I don’t know what it’s like to be HSP in another identity constellation – but it’s a factor that comes into play for how we participate in our communities. As a HSP friend told me in a really loud bar: We try to keep up with the others even when sometimes we just really need to be on our couch and process everything that’s happened. It’s just so fucking intense.
Proud to be sensitive
When I get to know someone, after the first few times meeting up, I feel like I need to give this new person in my life a little booklet about how to deal with me. Instead, I usually show them this TED talk where a woman in beautiful dress and a cute German accent lobbies for my cause and explains a lot of the stuff that I feel like people around me need to know when growing closer to me. Besides which, I hope my accent is as cute as hers. Her coming out on stage inspired me to come out as a HSP in my social circles as well.
Being highly sensitive affects how I deal with friends in a lot of different ways. I went on holiday this summer with a pal who also identifies as HSP and there was no pushback when we needed to take a short breather away from each other. Also, we both noticed when we started reaching a point where we were overstimulated. We also got to enjoy the advantages of our sensitivity together — like drinking in the environment around us and how we savoured even the most minute experiences like eating olives with bread, for example.
When it comes to dating or relationships, it gets even trickier. While my sensitivity can be sexy for others, it can also be hard for those dating me to understand why I react in a certain way or, when I get attached, for partners to deal with my need for me-time. Of course it’s nice spending a whole weekend in bed together but for me, true relaxation means being alone in my bed (or crashing on the couch when the bed still smells like my partner, which, again, I find stimulating).
Self-care is more than a buzzword for us
I don’t need to delegate my needs to someone else. You don’t need to take care of me. Sure, I can go out and dance to loud music. Overall, yep, I can lead a totally normal life. But nevertheless, when I’m overstimulated, it severely impacts my well-being. Let’s say I need new jeans and go shopping. The first shop will be fine but after a while in the second shop, I’ll start feeling dizzy and if I’m there with someone else, I can become totally unbearable. All the people, the horrible music, the limited oxygen: why do brands bother shelling out so much money on marketing when the shopping experience itself still manages to be so shit? No wonder e-commerce is flourishing. When shopping IRL, my mood ranges from getting excited about stuff to suddenly turning grumpy and even to the point of suffering from anxiety attacks. In the long run, this impacts both my physical and my mental health. So when HSPs say “sorry, this is too much, I have to sit down or even head home”, they’re not exaggerating. No worries, up until now I’ve always managed to locate the perfect pair of brand new jeans. That’s probably not a coincidence since they say that HSPs have good intuition and a great sense for aesthetics.
We have superpowers!
On the other hand, we’re blessed with vast quantities of empathy. We can feel other people’s feelings with the same intensity as if they were our own. We’re often very creative. And we’re damn good listeners, which makes us incredible friends. This is our superpower: we might not feel what it’s like to be you but we possess an in-depth understanding of other people’s moods, emotions and even traumas. Our empathy is so all-encompassing, it even transgresses the limitations of our own identity. A HSP cis man might not know what it’s like to be non-binary, trans*, bi, gender-non-conforming, straight or whatever another person identifies as but thanks to their high sensitivity, an HSP can be a very strong ally.
HSPs are here to help and heal! Just every now and then, we’ll need to recharge and take a nap.