Last week I shared a video in which I talk about the Highly Sensitive Personality (HSP for short). I thought it would be a good idea to follow up with a personal story of what it’s like to be an HSP and how someone with this personality has learned to navigate the world and situate themselves successfully into a non-HSP culture.
I asked an HSP client of mine if she would do this and she kindly said yes. A quick side note: she uses the term “introvert” instead of “HSP” and I believe they are basically the same thing. She also references another fantastic book I recommend to HSP’s all the time: “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain. Here’s her eloquent writing on the subject:
Esther asked if I wanted to write something about being an introvert (or HSP) living in an extrovert-dominated world for her blog.
My first response was “No way; no how”. But then a little voice rose up and said, “YES!”.
Somehow, that voice won.
Since that initial request there has been much writing, and deleting, and long periods of staring at a blank screen. I’ve made notes. I’ve reflected. I’ve sifted through old report cards and photos.
I’ve felt all the feelings.
Until Esther asked me to write about it, I’d never really taken the time to reflect on my life as an introvert. Sure, Esther and I often talk about my introversion, but most often in relation to a particular incident. Reflecting upon, and writing about, my overall experience as an introvert has been uncomfortable and messy and yet, so worth it.
I’d suspected for years that, in spite of my attempts to pretend otherwise, I am an introvert. With the release of Susan Cain’s book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”, I realized, not only am I an introvert, but that being an introvert is OK.
(There will be a short intermission while I dance around singing “I’m an introvert and I’m OK” to the tune of Monty Python’s “Lumberjack Song”.)
Cain’s book was such a source of relief. Things that made me feel like an outsider – my dislike of small talk, my discomfort with team activities, my need for downtime rather than social time – weren’t flaws. They were characteristics of introverts. I finally had permission to be myself. It was w-o-n-d-e-r-f-u-l.
Working with Esther has helped me to stand more firmly in my still-new belief that my introversion is not in any way a shortcoming. It’s difficult sometimes, as extroversion is so often held up as the ideal. Sometimes I’m envious of those who fit in so easily. Sometimes I’m resentful that people still treat introverts – me included – like there is something wrong with them.
For example, I regularly get asked by coworkers how I spent my weekend only to be told by how bored the asker would be if they’d spent their days the same way. A small thing, but insulting none the less. They might as well tell me I am boring and save me from having to endure their small talk.
I suppose it’s not surprising that my emotions are wide-ranging. I’m still learning to accept my introversion and everything that goes with it. It’s normal to have these feelings, and with Esther’s help, I’m learning to accept that too. I don’t have to beat myself up if I feel resentful or envious.
I can treat myself with compassion. Self-compassion – is another new idea, but I’m beginning to see that it is key if I’m going to embrace my fabulous, introverted self.
Strategies I Use to Function in Our Extrovert-Oriented (or non-HSP) World
Self-compassion is a long-term project, so, in the meantime, I’ve found strategies that help me to cope in our extrovert-oriented world. I work in a customer service position, which I find particularly draining. I regularly eat my lunch on my coffee break, and then I go for a walk on my hour-long lunch break. When the weather is too miserable for a walk, I drive to a local beach and watch the waves before returning to work. In other words- I carve out part of my work day to be alone and re-charge my batteries.
I don’t schedule much after work. I’m fortunate that our one-car life and our ridiculously early mornings give me a built-in excuse. It’s hard though, because I haven’t quite let go of my fear of missing out. I’m also concerned that I will be judged and found lacking for respecting my true nature.
On the occasions when I do go out, I take my own car. That way I can leave when I choose, which is often earlier than anyone else. Again, it’s handy to have a prepared excuse. “Oh, I’m having a lovely time, but I really need to get going. The alarm goes off at 4:30 am tomorrow, you know.”
I work part-time, so there are times when I have the house to myself. During those times the house is very quiet. The television is never on. Sometimes I listen to music, or podcasts, but not often. I putter around, write, or go for walks. I have developed regular yoga and meditation practices as well.
When I do watch television, usually in the evenings with my husband, we choose what we watch carefully. I know I have limited tolerance for certain things. I’m mindful of that, though, when it comes to news, it does mean that I am often out of touch. Fortunately, there are so many options for news it’s easy to catch up on the stories that interest me.
For instance, I can check the latest news updates on my phone every morning on a world news app and be done with it for the day. I also connect with my small circle of friends on a regular basis, but I usually arrange it so our meeting has a built-in end-time. I meet them for a coffee on their lunch break or a walk before their work shift starts. I set a time so we have an hour or so to visit before I have to pick up my husband at work. I find it easier to focus my attention on my friends when I’m not also wondering if it’s too early to leave. I find that finite visits are invigorating, but visits of unknown duration drain me.
When I read over what I’ve shared with you and see these strategies laid out on the screen, it looks like a lot of work. Sometimes it is. More often, it’s a matter of listening to that little voice that says, “YES”! That little voice is now my number one guide to taking good care of myself as an HSP.