I am a highly sensitive person. And according to society, that’s not such a good thing.
Learning this about myself is a relatively new thing for me. I was often told I took things too seriously or personally. I thought I was just an overly emotional person who felt everything deeply and didn’t fit in. I thought my desire for privacy and quiet meant I just wasn’t good at dealing with distractions. I thought crying when I heard a sad story, or the amount of pain I felt when I saw a homeless man or a stray dog meant I was weak.
I was right that I do feel things deeply. I was wrong about being weak.
Earlier this year I left a job that was actually two positions in one. It had reached the point where in order for me to feel that I was successful at the job, I would need to work 80 hours a week. I also shared a cramped 8×8 windowless office with two coworkers, which we each ran our own departments from. We were so cramped that boxes of materials stacked 5 feet high covered any open floorspace, and it was so loud with our phone calls and meetings that you couldn’t hear yourself think.
When I was hired for that position, it was on the basis that after 6 months the company would split the position and hire me help, and that within the year their new office would be finished and I would have my own large office with a beautiful view. I left at 18 months without seeing any of those things come to fruition. In the meantime, the company continued it’s rapid expansion – we added 6 stores in 5 states, and hired over 100 employees in the time I was there, with additional stores on the horizon. But I couldn’t keep up with the growth of our now 20 stores, and do both of my jobs as well as I wanted. I was told to ‘suck it up’, ‘stick it out’. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t keep waking up crying every morning. I couldn’t sleep and could never turn my mind off – to do lists ran through my mind all hours of the day and night, and especially on weekends. I lost weight. I had full blown panic attacks in public places like restaurants.
My company tried to make things work, but they couldn’t keep the promises they had made. The company was (and is) growing so quickly, that they had more important things to focus on, and the new office was still a minimum of 8 months from completion (and that date was pushed back every month). I loved a lot of things about that company, and I still feel a deep loyalty to them, but I couldn’t stay.
Finally, one day I just couldn’t bring myself to go in. My health had to come first.
Some people understood. Some did not. Upon explaining the hours, stress, and office situation to a friend, he simply asked, ‘Well, you got paid overtime right?’ I mean, c’mon, that’s all that matters! Think of all the money you’d make working 80+ hours a week with overtime! Never mind the panic attacks, sleepless nights, or endless crying. Suck it up!
Society tells those of us who are highly sensitive to ‘suck it up’, and ‘don’t take things so seriously/personally’. We may cry easily. We don’t really feel like we fit in. We are sensitive and the saying ‘I feel your pain’ is almost literal to us. Society often tells us that we are ‘weak’.
But we’re not weak. We’re empathetic and compassionate. We are aware. We feel things deeply, and seek deep connections with others and our environment. We are creative. We see past what many don’t. Being highly sensitive is a gift.
Society may tell us that we don’t fit in, or that we can’t hack it. That’s okay.
Just because everyone else takes the path most traveled doesn’t mean it’s right for us.
What society is really telling us is that we must take the path less traveled by.
What’s weak about that?
The first step to taking the path less traveled? Stop resisting. Accept that this is who you are. See the beauty in being highly sensitive, and accept all that goes with it.
If you’d like to know more about highly sensitive people, I ‘d like to invite you to click these links for some of my favorite pieces on the subject: