I recently came across an article titled “Why Don’t I Like My Own Child?” and thought the premise was interesting being a father of four myself. As I read the article and noted the descriptions of the child in question, a young girl who was the polar opposite of her extraverted, self-described “bull in a China shop” mother I began to sense that the child was very likely a highly sensitive person. I read the rest of the article with a sense of amazement at the ignorance of a simple personality trait and at how our expectations as parents are projected onto our children.
As the mother continued to describe her guilt at feeling disappointed by the child’s inability to meet her engaged, face to face style and her quest for a diagnosis I also began to feel the sense of differentness I experienced as a child creeping back into my psyche: a distinct sense of somehow being different than others that has never left me. The mother finally found that the child, who was incredibly creative and inventive, had a growth hormone deficiency and adopted a new attitude oriented toward fighting for her child instead of mere disappointment at failing to meet her standards. The mother displaced one for another in a sense and seems to have failed to value her daughter’s giftedness as an HSP, which was recognized by others when she created a graphic for her own birthday invitations.
Given that a high number of highly sensitive people report not being accepted for their sensitivity, creativity, or deep emotional life by parents or caregivers the need to educate parents and educators seems more urgent than ever. The child in question, according to the article, is doing “better,” if you consider holding her to a standard of social behaviors appropriate to extraverts as better. I would not. Interestingly, the article mentioned that the father has always accepted the girl for who she was and bonded deeply with her, even reveling in her eccentric behaviors. Thumbs up for the father!
HSPs in our extremely extraverted, loud, obnoxious society are often squashed in the undertow and experience real emotional trauma as others demand conformity to the prevailing social standard of outgoingness-all-the-time. The depth of emotional trauma, for an HSP, can be deep and significant and require many years to move beyond for the individual as she searches for awareness about who she really is and learns to accept her own eccentric, quirky self. This all contributes to many HSPs not being truly in touch with themselves until midlife many times. The resulting loss of realized potential is staggering! We inherently limit those who are the creative individuals in our society as our social programming tells us our children should fit a specific mold of behaviors.
Anyone who has been a parent of multiple children knows that each child is different with variations in personality, energy levels, and interests. It is likely you will be able to connect better with one child than with another at different times, but each child will change as they grow and develop. You may find that the quiet child is the most interesting in the long run as he begins to show up in the world from a stance of having internalized his observations about people and life. There is a joy to participating in the development of any person, but none as personal as one’s children.
Three of my children are now over the legal age, except the youngest who is 15. I admit to feeling differently with each of my children, but never have considered that any have not met my expectations. Perhaps because I am an HSP who knows that each person has to become someone who is uniquely individual in order to be whole and I did not wish to contribute to the miseries of the world by turning out more half people who deny who they are or are somehow ashamed. My children are all likely HSPs, though they do not necessarily understand the concept. One, however, is beginning to ask questions and I am only too happy to help her better understand her personality traits, which include not only sensory processing sensitivity, but also high sensation seeking.
We, as a society, need to ensure HSPs are commonly known and understood as a unique, large minority of the population. We are about one fifth of the overall population, which means one in five individuals are HSPs. If we were one tenth or some much smaller percentage it might be more difficult to say that we need this level of integration and respect for uniqueness, but we are over a billion individuals worldwide! That’s a not inconsequential segment of the population and we need to work to raise awareness of sensory processing sensitivity and what it truly means. And just what does it truly mean?
Being an HSP means that we think and feel more deeply than others, are typically creative and innovative, have a deep connection to nature and animals, have deep empathy whereby we feel the way other people are instantly, tend to be annoyed or irritated by loud noises, strong smells or other irritants in the sensory world, and have a keen eye for noticing subtleties others miss. Being an HSP means we are thorough planners, deeply conscientious workers, big picture thinkers who intuitively connect the dots, caregivers who often feel the needs of others and will move to help them, nurturers and educators who experience great joy at contributing in meaningful ways to the development of others, and whom you will find the deepest conversational potential. Do not expect an HSP to be weak, passive, or boring. To the contrary what is bubbling beneath the surface is quite deceptively passionate and lively and if activated you will experience that passion whether it be love, anger, or hurt. HSPs often know what it is to not be accepted by others, to feel different, and to know rejection by the mass herd of humanity that goes along busily, continually, maddeningly chatting away at superficiality and minutia. HSPs count among our ranks some of the greatest thinkers, leaders, inventors, artists, and creators that have ever lived.
Love and support your HSP because it is very possible great things may come from that eccentric, quirky, imaginative, passionate little person!