Friday, June 21, 2013

The Highly Sensitive Person

Funny, I Googled "highly sensitive personality type" and there were no fewer than 10 pages of reference material.  There was even a sensitivity questionnaire which was developed by a husband and wife team of psych researchers.  I scored 24/27.  Uh, I think I must be missing a few layers of epidermis or something.

I don't know about you, but I actually feel bad about myself because I cannot watch violent or suspenseful movies without crying and becoming physically ill.  I thought I had a wiring problem. Apparently it's not just a wiring problem.  There is an actual clinical term for it: "Highly Sensitive." Now why they couldn't come up with something with more teeth or like a nice acronym or something, I have no idea. They need to work on it. Because if I'm going to be something, I want it to be at least cool sounding.  Hey If they can take Irritable Bowel Syndrome and turn it into IBS, then they can surely do something with Highly Sensitive. IBS sounds like it could be a multistage rocket. HS sounds like High School.   Anyway, moving on....I just thought it was "wimpy" or "lame" because I just could not watch zombies eat brains or Dexter's blood spatters or The Wire.  Ech. The mention of them just creeps me out. We Sensies don't understand why on earth people find the depiction of the degradation of other human beings "entertaining."   Hell, I can barely get through the early rounds of American Idol! 

For those similarly afflicted, it's just like watching it happen to us or somebody we love. Fo REALZ.

I've been like this as far back as I can remember.  My sister is even more sensitive, I think.  People like us (and apparently between 15-20% of the general population) have the same set of qualifying characteristics: sensitivity to noise, bright or flashing lights, strong smells, odd textures, other peoples' moods, general atmospheric or barometric shifts, vibes coming off people and even seismic activity:

I kid you not. Seismic activity. That is bad-ass.

The world and all of its blinky input seems overwhelming to the lot of us. The constant cold, wet, gray days here in Michigan sure don't help me.  This winter I actually experienced cold as pain.  It made me wince in visible agony.  I had never experienced that before.  It appears the older I get, the more sensitive to cold I get.  No big surprise when you look at the demographics of the state of Florida, right?  Perhaps I'm just getting comfortable with myself and not constantly trying to change myself into something I'm just not ever gonna be: Molly Mason, Tough Business Woman, Feeler of No Pain, Bearer of all discomfort. Nope. Doesn't fit. I'll never be able to just "suck it up and tough it out" unless that was a directive from God, on high, himself.  In fact, the mere mention of those two exclamations makes me bristle with a low grade rage.   To be honest, as any parent will tell you, there are those middle of the night "mom I threw up in my bed" calls that require that response. We suck it up and tough it out a lot around here lately.

In 1999 when I was going through a divorce from my first husband, I was painfully thin and experiencing the normal stress response from divorce: generalized anxiety, weight loss, stomach upset,  inability to sleep, etc. (It was NOT his fault....just for the record. Divorce just sucks the life out of you. Period).  I was working as an insurance salesperson in Miami, FL at the time. I went to my primary care doctor and he wrote me a slip for some anxiety stuff and bed rest but I was to go home to Michigan to be with my family.  I didn't want to go on bed rest or any other kind of rest. I wanted to get better.  He insisted that I needed to get out of the office and get home to my parents for a few days of relaxation before I could hit the reset button on my life.  I was painfully skinny from 2 months of chronic diarrhea (of idiopathic origin, yeah that just means stress), that I needed to go somewhere to put on some weight.  So anyway, I had to go talk to my boss with my suit pants tied up with a small bit of rope because no belt I owned had enough holes. People asked me if I had cancer. It was awful.  I mustered up the strength to go into his office, doctor's slip in hand, and just lay it on the line.  That's when he said,

"Oh, no, you can't do that, you just have to suck it up and tough it out!"

I don't think I weighed 100lbs. at that point and I'm 5'5 1/2" tall. 

My then therapist (and now friend) Gilza said to me, "Where is your indignation?!!" That and a few cuss words come in handy every now and again.  Because sometimes the people in charge of us just don't know what the friggin' hell they are doing or talking about.  It's not personal and they're not bad people. They're just projectile barfing their own insufficiency rather than actually seeing, listening or hearing anything. I quietly removed myself from his office and drove to the airport.  I sent an email to the HR director outlining my conversation with my boss and why I wouldn't be returning to work there (I had been offered another job already).  I got calls from the President and Vice President of the company while I was resting.  They were solicitous and apologetic.  Shortly thereafter, my boss was relieved of his position.  It wasn't because of me--entirely.  The guy never sold one policy the entire year he worked there and cleared $120k, basically for golfing (as well as telling people to suck it up and tough it out).  I think they even sent me a severance check and I was the one who quit.  I'm sure it was because they were afraid I would sue on the grounds of having been subjected to an insensitive boob for a boss.

According to the married psychologists that I mentioned above, the Drs. Aron,  sensitive people are generally more introverted and even neurotic. Hmm. Bet you didn't see that coming!  They may comprise only 20% of the general population but they make up way more of the clinical population.   According to the article I posted above, we looney/sensitive people do bring to the table an evolutionary advantage along with our hosts of other kookiness.  Apparently,  it's good to think, feel, consider others' feelings, and mull things over before rushing off half-cocked,  I mean, generally speaking.  Suspend that in case of kitchen fires, hand grenades and tornado sirens.

Take heart all you Sensies, my "friend" incredibly successful blogger Glennon Melton posted this a few days ago.  We are not alone!  It's hysterical.  I think I was born without a few layers of skin, but she thinks she may have been born without a left brain.  Scroll half way down.  The title is "Dharma and Craig."

Anyway, I posted this today, yes, for 1) the sensitive folks but more importantly for 2) those with normal nervous systems who have to interact or worse LIVE with us.  We can't help it.


God Bless you All.  We really do wish we could watch Dark Knight Returns past the opening credits without having nightmares.

We really do.

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