Kirk, Spock, and The Best You
Highly sensitive people (HSPs) are precious stones in a monolithic world. They experience the world more vibrantly, and often are the most perceptive folks among us. Many famous artists, musicians, and actors are HSPs.
If you’re a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) who has survived abuse, then the struggle with self-esteem possibly pre-existed your abuse. HSPs are overly perceptive to social and environmental stimuli. They zone in on the most minute of details, catching each sound, movement, and (in social circumstances) eye roll. They feel other people’s pain, and they take on empathetic guilt.
That’s without trauma.
Highly Sensitive People are born into an overwhelming world. Worse, folks who don’t understand HSPs (about 80-85% of the population) will see them in extremes, finding HSPs either overly emotional or detached and devoid of feeling. Basically, they see HSPs as either Captain Kirk or Spock. HSPs are illogically levied to extreme ends of a spectrum between sentimental softy and self-serving narcissist. (Read “16 Habits of Highly Sensitive People.”)
Obviously, a person overwrought with emotion cannot also be emotionally indifferent. HSPs feel more deeply than others. They feel so intensely that they may have to detach for self-preservation. It’s science, not histrionics unchecked egos.
HSPs have higher activity in the right hemispheres of their brain. Science has found this may be encoded in the DNA, and it affects how they perceive and interact with the world. Because they have rich perceptions in the moment, they store more lucid memories of events. They vividly recall sounds, smells, textures, sights, and tastes.
HSPs are prone to giving the key to their happiness to those around them. It’s hard for them to drown out the cacophony chorus insistent on telling them who they are (or aren’t), what they should do (or should not do), how they should act (or should not act), and what they should say (or should not say). They may preemptively avoid disappointing others by becoming people pleasers.
Abusers who know this about HSPs will keenly manipulate their sensitivities. They may take advantage of HSPs empathetic guilt and, depending on how their culture values or devalues sensitivity, determine them vulnerable targets. Abusers likely know HSPs are highly critical of themselves, and they may use that susceptibility to shame their targets into silence and erode their confidence.
Following abuse, HSPs are more likely to suffer post-traumatic stress. HSPs are born on high-alert, so they may be especially anxious or alert following trauma. Also, HSPs may experience vivid flashbacks of traumatic events because of their heightened senses.
If you’re an HSP and a survivor, the first step to your recovery is taking your key out of other people’s pockets.
- Keep a Journal. Get in tune with the melody within you, and then you’ll find harmony with the world around you. Listen to yourself (and, for those of faith, God). Find the “still, small voice” within. Write down thoughts, feelings, experiences.
- Try Two-Voice Writing. Make a two-column chart. On one side, write descriptions of yourself as others perceive you–positive and negative. On the other side, write the authentic description of yourself–positive and negative. Be honest with yourself, but also be gentle with yourself.
- Find your strengths (and weaknesses). As you get to know yourself better, your strengths will reveal themselves. Strength-finding assessments are also good tools to help you home in on your assets. Gallup’s Strengths Finder ($15) is one that many businesses use and one I recommend. For a free personality and strengths assessment, check out 16 Personalities.
- Connect with your “best self.” Because focusing on our own success makes us uncomfortable, we allow memories of failures to occupy more mind space. Instead of viewing yourself through a negative lens, check yourself out in a positive light. Reflect when you were at your best, times when you contributed your unique gifts to others or the world. Yale University’s Advanced Emerging Leaders Program uses such “Reflected Best Self” exercises (here). Building a profile of your “best self” will give you confidence and clarity on your strengths, and it will help you analyze whether you’re effectively using those strengths in your daily life.
- Unleash your strengths to the world. Use your strengths in your spiritual life, your professional life, and your personal life. Create art. Draw, paint, sculpt. Learn a new instrument. Write. Wrong songs. Write poems. Write comic books. Write novels. Write and create. Create a blog. Create a new recipe. Create a new design. Create a new business. Start a nonprofit organization and give back to your community. Volunteer. Travel. See the country. See the world. Need more ideas? Read “101 Ways to Live Your Life to the Fullest.”
To all Highly Sensitive Survivors, your abundance of heart, compassion, and empathy do not make you weak. You are strong. You not only bear your own pain, but you bear the pain of those around you, too. No weak person could withstand such weight. Embrace your strength and beauty. There’s nothing high-minded about having both a mind and a heart. There’s no shame in owning your strengths and sharing them with the world. This indifferent world needs your empathy–it needs you.
Learn more about Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) at these links.