When I became a parent I didn’t know about the trait of High Sensitivity. I certainly didn’t know that I was a Highly Sensitive Person. But I wish that I had known because it would have changed my experience as a parent. It would have explained and validated all those ‘gut feelings’ I had about things, and why I seemed to find being a mum so much more difficult than all the other new mum’s around me.
During the first 6 months after my child (who is a HSC) was born, my Health Visitor was convinced I was suffering from Post Natal Depression, because I was so ‘flat’. I knew I wasn’t depressed, I just felt permanently and utterly exhausted, both physically (mainly from lack of sleep), and so very much emotionally. The first year or two for me is a haze of complete exhaustion and total overwhelm – emotionally, physically and mentally. This only got worse when I went back to work to a job that was in itself emotionally and psychologically demanding. I was in a constant state of feeling that I was running on empty and felt totally burnt-out. Consequently I was irritable to be around, and I felt I had nothing left in my tank when I got home from work for my family, or to give to my job.
I gradually came to realise that lack of ‘down time’ together with the constant worry and guilt about whether I was getting it ‘right’ as a parent and the perpetual blaming of myself for the fact that I just seemed to be finding it so much more difficult than other people (and therefore that there must be something wrong with me!), were the main issues. But I still couldn’t understand why this was. Then, 5 years on, I read Elaine Aron’s Highly Sensitive Child book, which lead to me reading her book The Highly Sensitive Person, and everything suddenly made sense. From there-on, things got a little easier, because I understood myself better.
It has still taken me some time, though, to really get to the root of what it was I really needed all those years ago, and what I continue to need.
By far the biggest lesson I have learned is Self Acceptance.
Accepting that I am Highly Sensitive means that I can not only understand and appreciate how parenting is likely to lead to over-stimulation, intense feelings & emotions (and, resulting from all of this, irritability and short-temper more often than I’d like to admit), but also it enables me to openly recognise and acknowledge where these feelings and emotions come from. It gives me permission to stop blaming myself for how I’m feeling. It also enables me to put in place appropriate prevention and coping strategies. Moreover, I can now see the great advantages my sensitivity has to my parenting.
It’s still a work in progress, and there is some way to go, but having this Self Acceptance gave me the courage (with the support of my husband who thankfully ‘gets it’) to leave a job in a career that just wasn’t working for me when I had the additional demands of a young child, and which meant it no longer worked for us as a family. This has not been without is sacrifices, but I believe it has created a path that will lead to a better ending. Self Acceptance has given me more confidence to set realistic boundaries for myself, saying ‘No’ more often to ‘non-essential’ demands on my time, and to say ‘Yes’ more often to things that re-charge and replenish me. It allows me to feel OK about seeking total silence sometimes (many people find it odd that I rarely put the radio or music on in the car) and it has prompted me to be more open to asking for help, because I know I need to, even though it doesn’t come naturally.
I am also just beginning to appreciate that my High Sensitivity is what allows me, among other things, to connect deeply with my HSC; to be able to recognise when things are not ‘right’, when others may miss the signs; to share imaginary worlds through books; to have deep conversations and to instill in my HSC the wonder and importance of nature as I share my love and appreciation of its beauty and fragility.
As I continue on my journey of discovery I’d love to hear your stories too, so please get in touch!
If you’d like more tips on how to look after yourself as a Highly Sensitive Parent take a look at Nina’s post about Extreme Self Care.