Until six years ago I had never heard of the term ‘highly sensitive’. I had, however, heard all about the term shy – a label that I have worn for the most part of my life.
When I became a mother I was suddenly cast into a world of the highly sensitive child (HSC) and it has been a real eye opener. Not only did I get to understand my eldest son but I also got to know myself better. More importantly I started accepting me for who I am instead of thinking I need to change to fit in with things that have never felt comfortable to me – a society geared towards extroverts. It’s an important lesson to carry with me.
1. I’m a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)
I’d been well aware for many years that I am an introvert. I am energized by being alone, by being in a haven of quiet. The energy is sucked out of me being in a crowd of people. I am unsure about going to new places, meeting new people and making small talk. I’m a real homebody and am more than content to stay at home rather than be out socialising every evening (even before motherhood!). Since becoming a parent and it being pointed out that my eldest is a HSC I am able to give my characteristics and how I feel a name. I’m a highly sensitive person. Learning about HSP traits meant everything suddenly fell into place for me. It was a good feeling!
2. It’s OK To Be Me
My vision board and goal setting for years included ambitions such as “be more extrovert”, “go to networking events”, “go out more regularly with friends” and “meet new people”. Whilst I will always strive to be a better me, I have recently learnt to accept myself and my limitations. I will never be more extrovert. I will never be comfortable being centre of attention in a large group. I will never be comfortable trying to network with new people. Now I understand why I know I need to adapt my goals and how I go about achieving them. I accept that it’s okay to be me – introvert and highly sensitive warts and all.
3. The Importance of Me Time
Highly sensitive people (including children) need down time, and lots of it. Peace, calm, silence, relaxation: these are not luxuries for sensitive souls. These are essentials.
When my first son was a baby I was alone at home with him all day. I became agitated if he wouldn’t sleep at nap time. If he cried incessantly during the day, which he did a lot, and I couldn’t get a minute to myself I was a big ball of knotted stress by the time my husband came home. I thought I was a terrible mother.
By the time my second son was born I had learnt that I need a moment to recharge during the day in order to cope with the noise and chaos that can ensue with a house filled with very small people.
When my children slept I made sure I used those precious minutes to create quiet to clear my head, to reset myself to zero. Sometimes I read, sometimes I wrote. Sometimes I just sat and closed my eyes. No music, no TV, no vacuum cleaners or clattering of pans or dishes.
More than four years on, with three little boys in our home, I still insist on quiet time in the middle of the day. My youngest sleeps but the eldest two play in their rooms alone, or together, and do something quiet like drawing, or puzzles or they create masterpieces with Lego. It does us all good. Without it our afternoons and evenings can be tense!
4. I’m a Sponge
Not in an annoying Sponge Bob kind of way but in a “soak up the emotions around me” sort of way.
When my eldest son was in the peuterspeelzaal (nursery school) his teachers told us that if others in the class were crying there would be tears in his eyes. If someone hurt themselves he would be upset. If someone was sad, he would be too. It’s a common trait of being a HSC. It’s a part of being highly sensitive and until I learnt this I never really got why others weren’t affected to the same extent as me by other people’s misfortune or sadness, by horror events reported on the news.
I am often upset, on the brink of tears even, about things that are really not my problem to deal with. Worse still, when I hear about someone else’s dilemmas I try desperately to think of how I could directly help them and I take their problem on as my own. Like I don’t have enough to worry about with three children…. so I end up feeling frazzled as I carry the weight of everyone’s problems on my shoulders.
My son has made me realise that I have to set boundaries. I have been busy helping him to learn what he can filter out from his school day, what he should let go of and it helps me in turn. I have learnt to think more objectively when someone is sharing an issue with me – a listening ear is often enough and people are not expecting me to sort our their personal lives and issues for them.
5. I’m a Lie Detector
My son quickly picks up on people who say one thing but actually mean something else. He knows when he hears half truths, an incomplete story or just plain old nonsense. He watches faces, he reads eyes and when the sentiment there doesn’t match the words he hears he knows it in a flash.
It’s hugely related to lesson number 4 and it’s hard to fob highly sensitive people off with mutterings of “I’m fine” whilst there are emotions in the eyes that tell a different story.
When I saw how tuned in my son is to the unspoken truth the penny dropped about myself. Some people make me feel very uncomfortable and I am very quick to cast judgement on whether I trust someone or a situation or not. My son helped me realise why that is.
6. I’m Creative For a Reason
My son needs an outlet to release his emotions and experiences on any given day. He loves making things and using his imagination. He likes to paint, draw, make things with play dough, tell stories and build his own little world with the help of his Lego. Creative activities help him empty his bucket.
That means Pinterest is my best friend and I have found that I really enjoy seeking out great projects to make with all three of my sons. It provides me with the creative outlet that I need too, on top of the writing that I don’t always get to do as much as I’d like. There has to be a place for all the energy that is swirling around my head to go. I can channel creative energy into making things with my children and that helps me on an emotional level. It helps empty my bucket.
7. Be True to Ourselves
My eldest has a particular affinity to nature and things that are growing. One day he came home from school very upset because his friends were trying to kill a worm they had found. He thought it was horrible that they could act in such a way.
As he’s got older he has struggled with the behaviour of his peers, trying to be the same as them whilst holding on to how he feels when he sees living things being killed. I see him start to bend to fit in, even though it doesn’t feel right to him. Later, when he is lying in bed talking about his day he is able to be open and honest about how something made him feel. He’s able to admit that something he or a friend did upset him. I hear him more and more talk about how good he was because he didn’t cry, even though he felt like he might. He’s already being conditioned to fit in better in a world not designed for highly sensitive people.
This is just one example of how HS boys don’t live up to society’s expectation of how males should behave. Many boys therefore suppress their natural instinct and feelings. Ted Zeff’s book “The Strong, Sensitive Boy” is a great resource to delve further into this topic.
I’ve learnt how important it is to help my son be true to himself and in turn be true to myself. Sometimes it takes more strength to follow your own heart and be true to your own feelings than it is to bend and to follow the crowd.
It’s a hard lesson for a child, particularly one that is so sensitive. It’s so important to find the balance between honouring how we feel but not constantly sticking our neck on the line. My son doesn’t want to stand out from all of his friends, he doesn’t want to be different, and I understand that so parenting him is all about guiding him to find the right balance between feeling comfortable but being true to himself.
8. Embrace Nature
As I said, my son has an affinity to nature. In fact all of my three boys love being out in nature. They love going for walks in the dunes, collecting leaves, twigs and acorns in the woods and spotting animals and birds when we’re outside. They relax in nature.
My eldest HSC is given a new lease of life being outdoors running amongst the trees and racing carefree along sandy beaches. He is at his happiest embracing all that nature has to offer. He’s taught me that nature is a powerful healer; nature refreshes me, gives me energy and allows me to see things through renewed eyes. It blows away the cobwebs and with life so busy with day to day things it’s good to take time out and walk in the woods, sit on the beach, paddle in a lake.
So there you have it, parenting a highly sensitive child has its ups and downs but what my eldest child has already taught me in eight short years is one of the highlights of parenting a sensitive soul. What greater gift is there than learning to love and accept yourself?