Several years ago, I wrote an article entitled The Pain of Knowing. It chronicled a small part of my personal experience as a mature Black woman who had a temperament of extreme high sensitivity. For most people, that would indicate that I was thin-skinned, and that my feelings were easily hurt – but most people couldn’t be more wrong.
The definition of being highly sensitive as defined by Dr. Elaine Aron speaks of a person who is more acutely aware of their environment, senses more powerfully the emotions and climate around them; reacts more intensely to stimuli, etc. A much more in-depth, complex and hard to understand definition than most would consider. To quote Dr. Aron, “Having a sensitive nervous system is normal, a basically neutral trait. It occurs in about 15 to 20 percent of the population. It means you are aware of subtleties in your surroundings, a great advantage in many situations. It also means you are more easily overwhelmed when you have been out in a highly stimulating environment for too long, bombarded by sights and sounds until you are exhausted in a nervous-system sort of way. Thus, being sensitive has both advantages and disadvantages.”
I read Dr. Aron’s book as eagerly and hungrily as I would a good meal. I drank of it, and savored its meaningful words – because it gave a name and meaning to a temperament that had me baffled for so many years. Being a young Black woman and being so aware and affected by my environment was a difficult, oftentimes nearly unbearable life for me. I sensed that I was not taken seriously – and even more sadly, it appeared that the people of my culture, Black people, thought me odd, nervous, scared and timid. But I wasn’t. I was simply immersed in an uncomfortable world (for me) that was loud, harsh, unfair, and scary and I didn’t have the ability, at that time, to understand why I felt the way I did.
I was so aware of the emotions of others around me that I seldom wanted to be around a lot of people because of the stress it caused me. I was always so aware of so much, that I often shut myself off, and isolated myself as much as a small child could – because being a part of that, which I found so unsettling, was unbearable. I felt trapped, powerless and more importantly – I didn’t know why.
When I read The Highly Sensitive Person, by Dr. Elaine Aron it opened my eyes to feeling that I belonged to a group of people that were indeed different – but not broken, mentally ill or sick. A group that by her statistics is comprised by some 15% of our population (and those statistics were made up of what I believe to be primarily those of the White population). I wonder today just how many Black highly sensitive people there are in small towns, large cities, etc., and if they have any clue to the explanation of their disproportionate awareness of life and it’s trials and tribulations.
My first article, which was published on Dr. Aron’s website was entitled The Pain of Knowing. It spoke of my unhappy, unremitting awareness of racism; in it’s covert, overt, subtle and obtuse forms, yet, always there. As an HSP (highly sensitive person) I cannot, pretend to not feel the smug smirk, the overly quick retort, the rude and unwanted familiarity, and the oh so many different faces of mean-spirited, bigoted, intentional slights. It is impossible for me to lie to myself about what I can intuit so skillfully. And to make matters worse, I wasn’t exactly raised in a family that helped me feel good about myself; I had no family reinforced positive resources to fall back on when I encountered an ignorant person who didn’t like me simply because of the color of my skin. I hadn’t been given the knowledge that I was rightfully here, and owned as much of this world as others did.
But, more importantly today I will speak of overcoming the self-imposed prison I had been languishing in, and hope, no – believe, that my words will impel those of us who are highly sensitive to think about our temperaments in a way that honors our style, our way, our being. In doing so, we are freeing ourselves to glory in our sensitivity – that which makes us cry when we see a child laugh out of sheer joy – that which enables us to feel the warmth of the sun and at the same time the pain in the eyes of a lost soul, and yet know that their journey must be met, even as we empathize with them. I love being able to feel as much as I do – and I wouldn’t want it any other way. Feeling the world as deeply as I do is no longer a burden – it is a privilege, a joy. I have since written many articles, and one, which you may want to read, is entitled The Wisdom of Knowing. Simply Google my name, Anita Marie Colbert, and you’ll find my article. This article speaks of my finally coming to terms with my highly sensitive personality. It doesn’t soft-soap it, but it cradles it as one would a newborn baby and cares for it, and learns to let it grow, become wiser and in turn, enlightened. Accepting my temperament has meant accepting myself, and learning to love myself. Learning that feeling the way I do, and being acutely aware, keenly insightful and sensitive to almost everything in my environment is not something to be ashamed of. It is a gift to feel deeply, and it is a difficult lesson learn to enjoy it and use it properly. Learning to be less egotistically driven, and more consciously driven has been a saving grace for me. Yes, I am aware of my keen senses. But, I observe through them – rather than feel through them. This is one of the tools that I have learned to embrace and emulate so that I can function as one with the world, and not feel different or ill at ease within it. After all, am I really different, or unique? If you are highly sensitive, and you are reading this article now – you know the answer to that question. Revel in your uniqueness. Raise your arms and thank God for giving you the sight, the knowing – the joy of being highly sensitive
The Highly Sensitive Person by Dr. Elaine N. Aron-Preface, ix