How do you feel when someone tells you they are fine but you see signs they have been crying? What message do you take away watching someone say they are happy with a decision whilst their facial expressions tell you something different? It’s confusing right? This is often the reality of life as a highly sensitive person (HSP).
For a HSP it’s almost a full-time job to decipher the mixed messages that come in.
High Awareness of Emotions
Highly sensitive people are, generally, clued up on emotions around them. They can sense a negative atmosphere in a room and are able to pick up subtle unconscious social cues. They are adept at reading facial expressions and body language.They are empathic and intuitive.
In fact, a HSP can be aware of how someone is feeling before that person realises it themselves.
It’s difficult having that kind of information, being aware of listening to words that don’t match the real feelings of a person. It’s even harder for a highly sensitive child (HSC) to deal with and make sense of.
Think about these situations through the eyes of a HSC:
- A mother insists she is not cross about something but a HSC sees in their mother’s eyes that she is. The child senses that she is trying to contain her anger for the child’s sake. The words do not match the message that the child can read on their mother’s face. What should the HSC believe – what they sense and see or what they are told?
- Two people have been exchanging cross words before a HSC enters a room, but a cease fire has been called because the child walks in. What does the child feel? Uncomfortable and awkward for sure.
- A teacher is behaving a little differently and talking to her class in a clipped tone. A HSC senses that all is not well with their teacher and carries this around with them.
Why Are Highly Sensitives So Emotionally Intuitive?
It’s not voodoo or psychic abilities. It’s much simpler than that; highly sensitive people notice the details, and then process those details deeply. So facial expressions, crossed arms, shrugs of shoulders, the slight wince, the tone that isn’t quite right – these are all things a HSP notices and then processes to determine the meaning.
But it can create problems.
The Down Side
Besides from being confusing it can evoke trust issues. It can shake a child’s confidence.
It can make a HSC self-concious and earn them a shy label. Their line of thinking can be that if they are able to notice so much and ‘read’ emotions surely that means that everyone else is also watching them intensely and noticing everything about them – including the mistakes they make! Worrying about what others think of you and what you do is a hallmark of a HSP.
This skill of reading emotions can mean that a HSC chooses not to be wholly open and honest about what they want or need in order to spare the feelings of others, or not disappoint someone.
It’s why it’s important to find the balance between overloading your HSC with your own emotions and issues, whilst at the same time remaining honest and open with your child so that they know they can trust you implicitly.
A HSC is prone to taking someone else’s problems on their shoulders and, as parents, we need to be careful to protect them from that. We need to stop them taking on someone’s problems as if they are their own. But we also need to ensure that our HSCs are raised in the real world with the tools to deal with real emotions and genuine problems.
How do we do that?
How to Help Your Highly Sensitive Child
It’s not always easy. And we have to find our own way through. Discover what works for your child. What works for your family.
If you are a HSP then you are likely to share the same ability to pick up on the emotions of others. You can use that to your advantage and share your observations with your HSC so they do not feel like they are the only one who noticed, for example, the sadness of a family member, or the ‘hidden’ anger of a friend. You could talk about ways to help. You can reassure.
You could choose to share some information, but not all.
When I saw the media reports of the washed up body of Alan Kurdi I sobbed. My children were home and when they came into the room they were immediately concerned about why I was upset. We talked about refugees. We talked about why they were fleeing war torn countries. We talked about what they were trying to do and the danger they faced trying to get to safety. I told them that some refugees, even children, were losing their lives. I didn’t show pictures. I didn’t go into the specifics. And they chose to take action to help local refugee families.
We found a balance, a manner of explaining my emotion, without sentencing them to the depths of despair. Something positive even came out of the conversation. (This is the beautiful positive side of raising HSCs – the desire to help, to make the world a better place).
If you hide things from your HSC, they, in general, will know. Intuition will tell them that something isn’t right with the picture you are painting. However, sharing all your problems (or allowing those around you to do the same) with your HSC is overwhelming for them. As parents, we need to find a middle road through the two extremes…..
Over to You: How emotionally honest are you with your HSC? Is your HSC able to read the unspoken emotions of others? What helps prevent your HSC becoming overloaded with the emotions of others?