By: J.A, Writer for Hope Instilled
I sometimes lived in this tragically deep emotional place as a child, feeling this deep ocean of loneliness. I would sometimes just get lost in those feelings. I knew there was something different about me and quite possibly something wrong with me. I had really low self-esteem for most of my childhood, and no sense of who I was. I felt or wished I was invisible at times, and have also felt like an alien at times. Everything about me confused me.
I used to think that maybe I wasn’t meant for this world. Maybe I’m not meant to live a full life and there isn’t a place for me in this world. I couldn’t imagine living inside my own mind forever, and that’s before I became chronically sick.
Right before I was chronically sick, things were finally going in the right direction for me (my self-esteem was pretty decent and I was starting my dream of owning my own business), and then it all changed… When I became chronically sick, I faced a whole new battle of living inside a body in pain and dealing with full-on depression. And for the first time in my life, I became transfixed on wanting it to end. I had hoped I was dying. I also went back into that same frame of mind: “maybe I’m not meant to live a full life, maybe I will just disappear from this earth. But, will I have made a significant impact?”
What is profoundly weird about feeling so defective is ever since I can remember I had this recurring thought that I had some greater purpose, and I was meant to do something big. But, I would usually shut those instinctual feelings down reminding myself that I was broken and unfixable.
I still to this day find it odd, why would I have this feeling of doing something huge and meaningful when I felt broken and defective? It’s just this message that’s always been inside of me that I didn’t put there. This message has pulled me in certain directions throughout my life, and I do and don’t believe in it at the same time if that makes any sense. But, I do know I’m not fulfilling it yet.
It was approximately 8 years ago I learned about the “Highly Sensitive Person” and realized I was one. That changed a lot for me. Also around that same time frame, I learned what it meant to be an INFJ - less than 1-2% of the population the most misunderstood personality type (Myers-Briggs 16 Personality Types). That changed a lot for me, as well.
Note: The term “Highly Sensitive Person” is rather new being established in 1991 by psychologist Dr. Elaine Aron who has written a book and created a documentary about it.
Being Highly Sensitive in a country where it’s a rejected, misunderstood quality is a struggle for many, and quite possibly more people with this attribute become chronically sick. Many people who are highly sensitive have no idea. However, if surrounded by the right people they might get by just fine without knowing. However, the majority of people likely grow up feeling broken or out of place. But the ones who discover they're highly sensitive can often find their way.
It is not a defect or a flaw since 15-20% of people are highly sensitive and animals of different species also have this trait. In some countries, it is actually a celebrated quality and is seeing as a gift.
It’s important for everyone to know about highly sensitive people so they can support them. Sensitives can have a deeper more meaningful impact on the world when they are supported, and given what they need. Because of this unique trait, they have the capabilities to do truly life-changing works in the world.
Let me clear up some misconceptions about what people think it means, which are completely inaccurate. Highly sensitive does not mean a person whose feelings are easily hurt by others. Sensitives could be easily hurt by others, but this is more so a trait of low self-esteem not being highly sensitive. To further explain, a highly sensitive person with good self-esteem will likely not be easily hurt by what anyone says about them. However, if they are hurt by something a person says or does, a highly sensitive person will often feel the pain on a much deeper level than the average person.
Being a highly sensitive person also doesn’t mean that you cry more! Some highly sensitive people do cry easier, but not all of them. Some may cry more easily because we do feel (physical, mental, and emotional) pain on a deeper level than other people, and get overwhelmed easier, or stressed easier. However, some cry easier not because they are highly sensitive, but because of the way the world treats them.
We feel these things more intensely than others. I’m specifically sensitive to noise. High pitched sounds can make my stomach jump or get this anxious feeling inside. For example, I walked into this bar and this lady was singing with a gorgeous voice, but when her voice hit a certain note my stomach would do a flip, and I couldn’t stand it so I had to leave. This can also happen when kids and babies cry or scream and hit certain high-pitched frequencies.
There is your typical stress, and then there is full-on fatigue, loss of “life energy” that can occur. For me personally, I have very negative feelings toward life scenarios that cause me to lose “life energy,” that makes me feel super weak. I also must explain, it is not the same feeling as when normal people have energy drains from too much mental or physical strain – I get those drained feelings too, and that’s not what this is. Being drained of life energy is like full-body fatigue on every level: mental, physical, emotional, environmental and spiritual.
When I feel myself being drained I won’t be able to concentrate on things. I may get irritable, spacy, or when it gets really bad I will lose my ability to speak. It has been a very long time since I have reached the point of losing my ability to speak because I lacked the energy. I don’t ever let it get this far. Once that point has been reached, I have found the only thing I can do is retreat to a dark room alone and just close my eyes for a while, and sort of meditating. I never sleep. I just sit in silence. Usually, after 30 minutes to an hour of alone time, I will be refueled and regain my voice and energy.
Sometimes, I don’t get fatigued but just get irritable and need time alone and it can literally come out of nowhere (this rarely happens since I get tons of time alone working from home). I won’t even be sick of my husband mentally, but my body will just physically say that’s enough. So I get cranky, and I often won’t realize right away that I need to be alone. After I realize it, I will go do my own thing alone for an hour or so and I’ll be re-centered again. Luckily, my husband has some highly sensitive traits. He is not nearly as sensitive as I am, but he is pretty understanding.
There are many things that can cause the overwhelmed feelings and drain the energy from my body. Things that can cause the overwhelmed feelings include being surrounded by certain people with really big, obnoxious, or fake personalities, too much time around people in general, and lots of small-talk (also a struggle for introverts in general though), too many tasks and responsibilities, too many loud noises and things happening around a person, absorbing too many emotions of other people, repetition, and even boredom. Yes, I find it weird too, but if I’m bored for a long period of time I start to feel exhausted and can even become fatigued. This one took me some time to figure out.
The world we live in today moves so incredibly fast, and it is considered a good thing to be busy. But this is causing just the average person to struggle with anxiety and stress. Being aware of this, I have created a life that keeps me from easily getting overwhelmed, stressed, or anxious. And I have done an amazing job at that.
There are other traits of being Highly Sensitive, but the above are the primary characteristics. No highly sensitive person is the same. There are many traits to being highly sensitive and not every person has all the traits. Some have a higher degree of one trait vs another. Some are also more sensitive than others, just like some people are more introverted or extroverted.
Many highly sensitive people are introverts, but there are extroverts who are highly sensitive, as well. I can’t speak on what it is like to be an extrovert and be highly sensitive. Obviously, there are some contradictions there, so I can imagine that isn’t really easy.
Understanding that being highly sensitive is not a weakness, and is actually something special about me, helps me to protect my trait and use it to my advantage. But, that doesn’t mean there are not days where I think the world is heartless, and I feel emotions so deeply I curse having to live with this trait. See it is not like a piece of my personality I can just alter or ignore when I want to, it is literally a part of me every moment I’m breathing. Every aspect of who I am, how I feel, the things I do, are all intermingled in the fact that I am a highly sensitive person. There is no escaping that, even when I’ve wanted to shove it into a dark closet and throw away the key.
My only choice has been to embrace being highly sensitive. I used to fantasize about what it would like to be normal. I’ve wondered what it is like to not feel so much, to not care so much about certain things, to be able to juggle so many activities without turning into a stressed mess. I’m not sure I really have any clue what normal feels like because I’m so far from it. But, I no longer concern myself with those thoughts anymore because I am the way I am for a reason. So I design my life to prevent that feeling as if the world is suffocating me.
Over the years, I have instinctively become so used to designing my life around protecting this trait that I no longer feel a sense of not fitting in, standing out, or even concern myself with it. I feel pretty normal, and the key to that is surrounding myself with the right people. That is the only way to thrive as a highly sensitive person. I won’t let anyone into my life that makes me feel weak or defective because of it.
Being a highly sensitive person is not a weakness, it is a strength. Highly sensitive people often have greater compassion and passion than those who do not possess this trait. When a highly sensitive person is supported and can protect themselves, they can make a profound impact on this world. Some do miraculous things that others couldn’t imagine or even see as possible. Everyone who is a highly sensitive person was given this gift for a reason. Not one component of being highly sensitive is a bad thing or something we need to feel bad about.
It is often other people that are the problem, and that destroy or hurt the beautiful souls of the highly sensitive people. The most dangerous thing for a highly sensitive person is people who don’t respect when they need time alone, and/or don’t listen when they express their feelings. If this is someone you know, tell them to stop damaging these beautiful souls, the world needs them!
When you care for someone who is a highly sensitive person, you will have a friend unlike any other. Sensitives love and care for people on often a deeper more profound level. Having a highly sensitive person in your life is awesome. I know this because my best friend is also a highly sensitive person. They can sense when you are feeling down or not yourself, they listen to your feelings, have greater empathy, and are great and providing a sense of comfort. However, sensitives might not be able to physically be there for someone in the way others can, simply because they need to preserve their energies. This is another huge problem with being highly sensitive in a world that rejects it.
A highly sensitive person may want to be physically present for someone going through a life hardship. For example, if an elderly parent or a friend needs someone to help take care of them, a sensitive may sacrifice all their energy to be there for that person. They may sacrifice too much out of caring more deeply, or tragically because they feel people expect them to.
Sensitives don’t want to be seen as heartless or uncaring. This is a huge problem because the highly sensitive person is more vulnerable to sickness and depression from becoming too overwhelmed. Which can also lead to feelings of being utterly broken or defective.
Although some people might think so, we are not defective for being sensitive souls. However, even with healthy self-esteem and self-love, many of us will never talk about being highly sensitive even if we are aware of it and accept it. Most of us don’t want to be seen as weird or different, and it is just too hard to explain. However, due to a healthy degree of self-love, I won’t put up with anyone making me feel defective for my trait.
Being highly sensitive can make someone feel incredibly lonely, broken, or create feelings of the rest of the world being very heartless. People don’t get why we're different and may see us as strange, but we don’t get sometimes how the rest of the world can be so unfeeling. Like what the heck are some of you people robots?
Often the world tramples over these beautiful souls expecting too much from them. So instead of a sensitive pouring all their compassion and empathy out into the world, their gifts become suppressed.
When these souls’ needs are not met, they can actually be quite selfish, self-involved, continuously anxious, chronically stressed, chronically angry, fall into a deep depression, or even become chronically sick. Then the world continues to wonder what is wrong with them, and they sink deeper into feeling broken and defective. Many non-sensitive people can grow up in difficult situations, deal with challenging life scenarios and end up unscarred. However, a highly sensitive person no matter how hard they try to resist, will likely go through similar scenarios and come out deeply damaged because of it.
Even growing up in a household where a highly sensitive person’s needs are well met, many still feel the harshness of the world and end up becoming chronically stressed, anxious, or depressed. The key to staying healthy for a highly sensitive person is to truly understand this complicated trait and to plan a life with a large focus on self-care.
INFJ is also referred to as the Counselor and Advocate. Although not all people feel they match their given personality type, INFJ definitely describes me in a lot of ways. It has helped me to really understand some of the confusing parts of my personality. Being an INFJ overlaps a lot with being a Highly Sensitive Person. Overlapping qualities include needing to find meaning in everything, being easily overwhelmed by sights, sounds, smells, being easily overwhelmed in general, being creative, and having empath qualities.
Some things that really resonate with me that are qualities of the INFJ is the need to help others as a purpose in life, and need to get to the root cause of an issue to prevent it from even happening. INFJ’s see the world very differently and are considered the best-suited personality type for making real changes as we see the inequity in the world.
Just like a highly sensitive person is more likely to struggle with stress, anxiety, and depression, an INFJ type is also more prone to mental health battles, as well. Being both is more complicated. I think becoming overwhelmed is often a bigger struggle as an INFJ and a Highly Sensitive Person.
However, due to my understanding of myself through all the time I’ve spent exploring who I am, I have become very mindful of all my thoughts and feelings. I also know now how I fit into this world. Other people can’t understand all the complexities of being me (INFJ & Sensitive). So due to the nature of my personality and my past, I’m usually my own mentor and driving force to accomplish more and continue to grow.
Now I’m not fragile and I’m not easily breakable. I don’t need others to approve of who I am to feel good about myself.
If you struggle with self-love or self-esteem, check out my other blogs where I share some actual strategies I used to understand myself and accept myself:
The Importance of Self Love When Chronically Sick
Managing Poor Self-Esteem with Chronic Illness
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