(This is a Guest Post, written by a lovely lady, Nicola McDonald, that Nicole & I met on a Highly Sensitive Training Day. Nicola is Highly Sensitive herself, and writes about her journey with her Highly Sensitive son. I think she manages to capture beautifully the emotions and thoughts that run through your mind as a Highly Sensitive parent. Enjoy!)
My son walked into the living room sometime around 4pm his face drained of colour, his lips a lighter shade of pink. “Those boys just came straight into the garden and they were pulling our plants.” He couldn’t help the tears that started building. His older brother, 21, stood up from the seat uttering, “Are they still in the garden?” He didn’t wait for the response but continued walking through the kitchen and out of the front door to see what the commotion was. The kerfuffle in front of the house had past and all he could see were some teenage boys on their bikes in the distance. The coast was clear.
“But they have destroyed our plants and kicked over the mushrooms, I saw them!” exclaimed my 9 year old.
The mushrooms he referred to were those growing on the roadside curb and our garden plants while disturbed were not badly damaged.
Inwardly I was annoyed at this kind of pointless, destructive behaviour, but externally, I remained calm. Learned behaviour! A lifetime of coping and not wishing to project or fuel the distress of those around me! Usually he is consolable, but on this occasion he was so emotional. I suggested he come and see us if anything like that happens again, but he walked away dissatisfied with our seemingly meagre response.
We love his sensitivity, his empathy, his sense of right and wrong, but even that reaction took us all by surprise.
It was almost 20:25, we were alll about to sit down and watch Doctor Who, and my son walked towards me. I was lying on the sofa full of cold and lethargy. “You said you needed a cuddle earlier, I don’t know why but…” He didn’t finish the sentence but slipped under the blanket beside me and cuddled in. I watched him for a short while. He wrapped the top of the blanket around his finger. The blanket was gifted to me some years earlier and he loved the softness of the woollen fabric. “Are you ok?” I asked. “I knew those boys. They used to go to my school and pick on me when I was in Year 1.”
“Why didn’t you say?” My husband and I knew immediately then that the distress was about crossing the boundaries. These aggressive children had invaded his safe space. He was of course upset about the damage, but he was also suddenly a scared 7 year old and they had taken something most precious from him at that moment. I also have learned some time ago that as he gets older he becomes more embarrassed in front of his siblings; he didn’t want to cry in front of his big brother.
It was to be 11pm before he eventually settled down to sleep. I left him with the words “You can call on any of us and your brother and sister at any time.” Sat on the stairs, his sister, most definitely a non-HSP, left him with the reassuring words of “Just tell me, I’ll sort it out.” As he climbed the ladder to his bed I reassured him “You are safe in here. Sleep tight.”
The time is now 9.39am and he still sleeps soundly.
While my husband and I sat there questionning why we didn’t know about these boys, it occurred to him and me, that in Year 1 we were unaware of the extent of our son’s high sensitivity. In fact the awareness of what the three little words mean are still in the infant stages for us; barely a year old. Highly Sensitive Boy (HSB) or Highly Sensitive Child (HSC) or Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) – a burden or a blessing?
In a world built for non-HSPs where do we fit? In the importance of equality are we inferior or superior? Well the answer is we are the minority, but we are relevant. We are the risk assessors, we take our time, we eat or get eaten so we want to do things once and do them right. But we are neither inferior nor are we superior! However, as within the animal Kingdom we do have purpose. I personally never understood where I fit in before this time. However, for as long as I can remember I have tried to understand what my purpose in life is. Surely life isn’t just about being born and dying, it’s not about being defined by what you do in the work place or how much money you earn, there has to be purpose? I began to understand what this is and empowering my son with information early this year.
When I first heard that we, as HSPs, can take longer to ‘get it’ whatever ‘it’ is, the metaphor that springs to mind is ‘fools rush in where angels fear to tread’. It made me smile and feel better for a minute, but then that would imply that being an HSP puts you on a higher plain and that’s not true. I prefer to think of HSPs as the early warning systems and we send the warriors in when the ground work is done and it is safe to do so.
For a person that grew up being constantly told that she is sensitive, I felt the scars of that branding in my heart and soul. Sensitivity for me was something to dislike, to be repressed. It was a slight on my character. That is until now. On my discovery to help my son, I am learning about myself.
The only question I have not been able to answer of myself is why my best friends are seemingly non-HSP. I suppose if you play the percentage game, considering 15-20% of the population is HSP, maybe it is inevitable. Or is it because opposites attract? I really don’t know.
As I sat in the salon, my hairdresser and friend sat explaining about her daughter’s sensitivities. How she won’t eat certain foods, or foods that are bruised or less than perfect, then completed the sentence with “How can I stop it?” I contemplated her words for – gosh, all of 3 seconds – and followed it up by “Why would you want to? Sensitive children are wonderfully empathetic. I personally wouldn’t change mine for anything.” I have learned for all of the screaming that goes on inside of my head, I prefer to step outside of myself and look at the world as it is; acknowledging our differences.
I have experienced my son not eating because the food wasn’t right, because a child ate with his mouth open, they burped at the table or sometime during the day, spat food over his sealed sandwich box, which in his mind contaminated the content. And worse, much worse than that, we have all experienced such complete and utter anxiety within him, resulting in 4 years of fainting or fitting, 3 years of doctors and specialist appointments, counselling.
So when you eventually discover that your son is simply Highly Sensitive, we think how lucky are we!
Over a short period we have seen our son open up like the buds of a flower. We listen to his woes and worries and we listen to his philosophy and theories of life. As HSPs we get it, we so very definitely get him.
I think about this article and how long it has taken me to put keyboard to paper. It’s a huge responsibility speaking about this subject and I wanted to get it right. Then, it triggers another thought. I think of the homework my son does – it has to be right. He spent over a week on a project recently and he produced photographs to back up his reasoning and explanations. On page 4, the printer printed his work a little skewed. That was it for him – the whole thing was ruined. He was upset, went on strike. If I equate that to how I feel, it’s quite simple; when we HSPs do something, we want to do it right first time. It’s as simple as that.