I recently read an article on the Quiet Revolution website that prompted a cascade of reflection on my own highly sensitive nature. It brought up a lot of emotion as I recalled various experiences in my childhood.
For instance, I have a vivid memory of my first day at Kindergarten. I cried in the cloak room for hours, terrified to go into the classroom. My mum left me thinking I would adjust better on my own. The noise from the classroom froze me to the bench. Sometime after the first break, someone coaxed me into the classroom. I stayed by the door beside the wall for what seemed like a very long time before joining the story circle. I liked the story but I was utterly uncomfortable with all those other kids so close, all talking and smelling and invading my personal space.
I’ve always been affected by things that others didn’t even seem to notice. I was often overwhelmed emotionally. The noisier the environment, the harder it was for me. And I learned to interpret all this as meaning there was something wrong with me. And too often to count, I was instructed by my parents to be other than I am – “don’t be shy”, “be more assertive”, “you should have more friends”, “you just need more practice”. The end result was dozens of coping mechanisms including many ways to hide in plain sight. Once I was an adult, I would joke about being the canary in the coal mine. Except it was no joke.
As an adult, I’ve done a lot of personal work. For years I searched for ways to accept myself as I am. I tried many systems and methodologies, both ancient and modern. Until I found Level 1, I searched all the time. Then I was gifted with these beautiful energy tools and everything changed. It wasn’t like flipping a switch and all was perfect. It was more like someone showed me where the switch was so I could learn how to use it. The more I practiced the active meditation techniques and used my energy shielding system, the more I was able to move toward that self acceptance I was seeking. I learned to build my focus enough to protect myself without completely shutting off from the world. I could see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.
Now I see my experience in Kindergarten for what it was – the strong reaction of a highly sensitive child thrown into a noisy, crowded, strange smelling and bright environment without any boundaries or ability to protect myself. My mum tells the story quite differently – but then how could she know what it was really like for me? I wonder how my life would have been different if my mum and dad had recognized me as highly sensitive. What if they had accepted me as I am and provided me with more understanding and support? I realize I wouldn’t be the same person I’ve evolved into if I had not had those experiences. More importantly, I can now give to myself that understanding, acceptance and support.
So when I read the article that prompted all this reflection, the words spoke directly to my heart. Daisy Gumin, the author, has graciously permitted me to repost her words here. I share this in the hope that it will speak to you too. And I invite you to remember that each of us, no matter where we fall on the spectrum of sensitivity, has the right to be loved for who we are. Thank you Daisy for sharing.
~ Nancy Marsh, Level I Teacher
This article first appeared on January 23, 2016 on Quietrev.com
Advice for Parents of Highly Sensitive Children
By Daisy Gumin
Dear Parents of Highly Sensitive Children,
There is nothing wrong with your child. Both you and your child need to know that— really know that. Below are the six things I think a highly sensitive child might need from you the most.
1) Love us for who we are.
We actually feel things more deeply than most of the population. High sensitivity is a biological trait, not a choice.
Don’t assume that we’re just like you and that what worked for you will work for us. We can’t control how deeply we feel. We can’t decide when to stop feeling or which feelings not to have even when it appears as though we’ve got them under control.
When we try to suppress what makes us who we are, we risk losing the gifts that come with our temperaments.
Highly sensitive does not mean overly sensitive. What is normal, anyway? We know you want us to be happy, but trying to stop us from feeling badly is only a temporary solution. Where are all those feelings supposed to go?
If we’re fed the message that there’s an easier, better way to be, we’ll believe you and feel like something needs to be fixed. Help us embrace our “thin skin” and recognize that there’s nothing wrong with having it.
2) Listen to your intuition and not the “experts.”
Experts might tell you that we need therapy, or psychiatry, or that we’re bipolar, or have ADD, or need medication, or more medication. We are often misdiagnosed.
Consider that the experts may be wrong and that there’s nothing to cure. Experts are trained to psycho-pathologize. They look to label.
The experts we rely on to decipher our symptoms cannot possibly understand who we are in a one-hour consultation. See us with compassion, and then help us see what you see.
3) Teach us boundaries.
We are nurturers by nature.
We tend to the feelings of others while ignoring our own. We can give more than we have.
We need to hear that it’s okay to put ourselves first and that setting boundaries does not make us selfish.
4) School and group activities.
If we tell you we don’t want to go to school or to a group activity, try to find out why. Assume there is more to the story than what we’re telling you.
School is loud. Kids can be mean. They can betray, gossip, and exclude. School can be excruciatingly overstimulating. We are deeply affected by our surroundings and living in a culture that can be relentlessly aggressive.
Highly sensitive children sense the injustices and cruelties all around them. Trust that we must be experiencing something painful enough to ask you if we can stay home.
Consider that we may be the canaries in the coal mine.
5) Just listen.
Sometimes we don’t need advice, and we don’t need to hear why we shouldn’t feel the way we do. Sometimes, we just need you to listen.
6) Keep us close.
You are the North Star.