“Nothing will disarm a friend more than the grace you grant them when you listen with palms up and walls down—inviting their hurt or their joy, their exhaustion or their delight, their fear or their fun, into your own self so you can understand it from the inside out.”
We’ve covered a good bit of ground so far in this month’s adventure of self-awareness, hiking through the forest of personality, along the shore of story, and up the rocky mountain of fear. Today’s path leads us down into the soft, rolling hills of highly sensitive people. Because I feel at home here in this country, I’m going to take off my shoes and go barefoot a while if you don’t mind. Boots are great, but the green grass is calling to my toes before the autumn sets in entirely.
Yes, being considered a highly sensitive person is indeed a thing. As an HSP myself, I count this trait as a benefit (though it has a dark side). The same inner tenderness that provides me a natural ability to feel intensely and to connect to the emotions of others often seems like a burden, bringing a heightened consciousness of every stimulus and a deep wound when I encounter evil or suffering. The weight of the world strikes me as personal, “too much too soon,” as the Grinch cries out in the infamous chair of cheer.
American culture as a whole rips away at sensitivity. “If you don’t quit crying, I’ll give you something to cry about!” it growls. In a society boasting bigger, better, faster, larger, louder, more, those of us who have been given a highly sensitive disposition can be easily inundated. (I had to shrink into my happy place once a couple of years ago while my family ate at a Hard Rock Cafe. They just let me color quietly while they enjoyed the sensory overload. How can anyone actually think in there??)
Along with the dark comes hope. I’m naturally attuned to beauty, noticing subtle shifts that occur in and around me. The capacity to feel sharp pain is also the capacity to experience fierce joy. Aesthetics are important to me, and I create order and safety in the middle of chaos. Palms cupped rather than fists balled is the HSP’s approach to life, offering and inviting softness. We delight in carefully thinking things through where others tend to rush in impulsively. And if you can find an HSP to process the hard stuff with, dollars to donuts you’ll walk away knowing you’ve been understood, your thoughts entrusted to a safe place.
Highly sensitive people apparently make up 15-20% of the population. Ready to find out if this includes you? Try the test.
If you do turn out to be highly sensitive, welcome! The world needs your beautiful soul in all its redeemed glory. If you didn’t score super high (or at all), there’s no less beauty in your soul—it just looks less like an emotional sensitivity and more like entertainment or power or faithfulness or whatever it is you’re geared to pour out. At the end of the day, we need each other. Can you imagine a world full of nothing but bleeding hearts? Very little would get accomplished. Or just as dangerous, in a world without even one person who cares and feels deeply, lots would get accomplished, but we would lose our humanity. God gives us as gifts to one another for our encouragement and protection.
So whether you’re tired of all the noise (noise! noise! noise!) or you’re perfectly at home in it, scoot up to the table. You’re crucial to this mission we share, and there’s plenty of work to go around. Be you in the fullest way possible. Let’s grab hands and move forward together, following the God who goes before us in all of His softness and strength.