Saturday, January 11, 2020
Let's talk "over-emotional". Let's talk "over-reacting". Let's talk "over-thinking". Let's talk "too sensitive", "can't take a joke", and just plain "weird". Oooh or maybe let's not because this terrifies me.

No, I will, because it's come up a lot for me lately. And I've recently realised that this has been a theme for a lot of my life. 

I don't think I really identified myself as someone with 'too many' emotions until I was in high school, where I was told repeatedly that I had to stop 'over-reacting' or 'being so sensitive'. I was told by those close to me that I would never be able to 'make it in life' (whatever that means?) if I couldn't "take a joke"/"stop being so sensitive"/"insert slightly hurtful statement here". And, even now, I still feel like I am "overreacting" and "overthinking" things by even writing this post - some of you who are reading may agree, even. But, here's the thing, there's actually a reason why I am this way: I'm an HSP, or Highly Sensitive Person. 

Yeh, okay, I can see that some people think I am over-labelling (always 'over'-doing things, I see), or that that's not even a real thing (it is), or that I am just looking for excuses for being 'weak', perhaps. To which I answer - possibly. But also, possibly not. There has been so much research done into this, and it's still being researched. Those who are Highly Sensitive have a difficulty - and sometimes an inability - to switch off stimuli from entering into our brains. If we go out into public places, whilst others may be able to just focus on walking from point A to point B, only taking in stimuli as they need to, HSPs are being bombarded with everything. Where you have mostly been thinking about what bubble tea to order, we have been thinking of that, yes, but also what every other person is doing on the walkway, what those cars are doing, what that smell is, whether the sun is a bit too bright, what kind of tree that is, why is that light from that store flickering, etc., etc.. We are also pretty empathic, so if anyone around us is feeling some intense emotions, or, goodness, sharing those intense emotions in a loud voice, we are absorbing that, too. You may be able to see now how it's incredibly hard for HSPs to be relaxed and make decisions - we are literally receiving so many messages that it's difficult for us to even think straight. 

What bubble tea do I want? Uhhh....

The empathic part of being an HSP is because we have more active mirror neurons, which I don't really feel like going into, but if you're interested please have a read of this article which gives a more in-depth look at what mirror neurons are, and how they function. Suffice to say that I have a tendency to really internalise how other people are feeling, even if they haven't said anything to me or really acted that differently - I'm observant, I know when people are acting a little differently, I can pick up on the vibe. 

(I also just want to say that a lot of the time HSPs are just categorised as 'introverts', but there are quite a few extroverted HSPs (I am not one), and they have to learn to deal with all of this extra stimulus, too.)

Anyway, I actually don't really want to talk a lot about what an HSP is (I feel that I've done enough for now). What I want to talk about is my dislike of the words that I was using at the beginning of this post - particularly, "over-emotional", "over-thinking", and "over-reacting". I have been accused of being/doing all of these things so many times I can't even begin to count. I internalised it so much in high school that by the time I graduated and headed to University, I realised I had completely shut down all of my reactions - I wouldn't allow myself to really respond to things very much, for fear of being called out as "over-emotional". I stopped letting myself jump if something startled me, which was my main goal, but it meant that I also shut down reacting with excitement, happiness, or joy. I started not to feel those things, even, and so by my second year of Uni I was in a pretty deep depression. I had numbed everything. When I started to let things come back in, and started to let myself feel things again, the first thing that came through was anger. I was so. angry. Part of that anger was what I've come to realise is just part of my grieving process that comes around regularly because of being chronically ill (back then I definitely did not deal with it well, these days I am little more capable), but a lot of it was because I was angry at myself and at others for numbing myself in the first place.

It's taken many years to get myself back to a place where I let myself feel everything, and let myself react the way I want to. The way I need to, perhaps is the better way of putting it. I have introduced myself to Buddhist ideas of always choosing whether to act on these reactions, but it's no longer a knee-jerk reaction to immediately smother whatever feelings come up. (I will say this is still a work in progress. Sometimes I immediately smother a feeling because I am ashamed to be feeling that way. Compassion compassion...) I actually realised the other day that I am jumping when something startles me again - it feels so weird to have that reaction, and I am oddly proud to have my startle reflex back. 

Here's the thing - people still say that I over-think things. They still say that I over-react. I am beginning to care less if someone I'm not really that close to says that sort of stuff, but when someone I am close to says it, it really hurts. I want them to stop, yes, but I am also realising that, honestly, I am reacting, thinking, and emoting as much as feels right to me in the moment. It may be more than other people do in general (I know I feel things intensely), but it's part of who I am. And I refuse to keep smothering that. I'm not saying I'm going to start yelling when I'm angry, because I just don't like yelling at all (HSPs generally don't... loud noises or bright lights are just the worst), but if I feel worried about a relationship, I'm going to talk to the person about how I'm feeling and check in with them. If I want to react with glee to a new video posted by one of my favourite YouTubers, I'm going to do it!

A lot of my friends know just how emotional I am, and they love me. My partner knows that sometimes I get so overwhelmed with emotion that I need to take a minute by myself, and they love me. And you know what? I think I'm pretty rad, too. I'm glad I'm able to see that a little more, lately.

Love to all who read (and emote as much as they need to).

P.S. If you wanted to read more about what HSPs are, I would recommend Elaine Aron's work, as she has been studying sensitivity since 1991 and is basically the world expert on HSPs, and I'd also recommend an article like this for a light read. (Please keep in mind that the latter article is highly generalised, but a good introduction to some of the traits of HSPs. It may not apply to everyone.)

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