Elaine Aron, Ph.D., has conducted research for twenty years investigating this genetically based personality trait characterized by high sensitivity to stimuli and deep emotion. The measure for high sensitivity is a collection of 27 statements such as, “Other people’s moods affect me” and “I am bothered by intense stimuli, like loud noises or chaotic scenes”. You simply check each statement that you feel applies to you, and if you select more than 14 you are likely highly sensitive. On any given day I might check between 20 and 25. (If you think you might be an HSP, take the quiz here.)
When I first learned about the Highly Sensitive Person, it was like a lightbulb went off over my head, or something clicked, or some other metaphor for my BIG AHA MOMENT. I know I shouldn’t need a test to tell me anything new about myself, but it was a revelation to read a personality profile that captures why I find the world so overwhelming.
Seeing myself as an HSP has shed new light on all areas of my life, such as relationships and career, but the resources I have found for the highly sensitive parent have truly deepened my understanding of my life as a mother.
For instance, this article from Dr. Aron's Comfort Zone Newsletter highlights why HSPs make wonderful parents, and also reminds us that we may have different needs than other parents.
And there is so much to be learned about self-care as a highly sensitive parent from Megan Tietz at Sorta Crunchy, Anne Bogel at Simple Homeschool, Shawn Fink at Abundant Mama, Jenna Avery at The Art of Sensitive Living, Deborah Ward at Psychology Today, and Dr. Patricia Harteneck at The Selini Institute.
When I minimize my daily exposure to sensational news stories, eat well, prioritize sleep (as much as possible), invest my energy in positive and supportive relationships with friends and family, and set clear limits to prevent sensory overload with the kids, I am often able to live in the zen "enjoy every moment" frame of mind that we HSPs strive for.
Yet there is something that I still struggle with, and that has to do with my deepest desires for my children.
I want my kids to feel so secure in unconditional love that they have a sense of responsibility to share that love with others. I want them to use their talents and gifts to create and connect. I want them to reach out to people who are lonely or sad or weak. I want them to notice when others are being bullied and to say something against it. I want them to be allies for those with the least power in this world.
I want all of this, but I know that children learn by what we do, not what we say. How can I expect my children to do these things if I don't practice in front of them every day? The truth is that I am afraid to keep my heart open. The world is full of people in need and as an HSP I can be moved to tears in nearly any interaction with someone in need.
I can’t carry all the hurts of the world so my turtle instinct, to hide in my shell where I'll feel safe, is to focus on my family. I try to give my children what they need and keep our little world peaceful and loving. Yet every time I avoid eye contact with someone asking for money, every time I choose the less compassionate path out of self-preservation, every time I'm paralyzed by perfectionism and choose not to act at all, I teach my children that those most in need in our world are invisible and not worthy of our investment.
With the Highly Sensitive Parent website and Facebook page, I hope to support the evolution of a community of highly sensitive parents and caregivers trying to stay connected and engaged with social and environmental justice work in an overwhelming world. I need help, and maybe you do too.
With these platforms, I hope to accomplish three things -
- Provide highly sensitive parents and caregivers with access to resources and media that support thoughtful engagement with the difficult questions that need to be answered to make the world more just and equitable for our children.
- Build bridges of understanding and opportunities for authentic connection and support between people who may or may not identify as highly sensitive but who struggle with parenthood in an overwhelming world.
- Speak my truth as a highly sensitive parent, because to share and be heard is what makes life beautiful and in sharing my stories I may help you realize that you aren't alone.
Thank you for joining me on this journey.