“All virtues have a shadow.”
― Elaine N. Aron
For those of us who are highly sensitive (or HSPs as Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D. calls us in her book The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You), a discussion of the senses is often complex. The threads of our sensitivity run deep — and the sensitivity we experience is not only emotional in nature because we also feel physical sensitivity. We can be overwhelmed by our environment, by noise, by social situations, and our very skin can be sensitive to the touch. A headache can appear with bright lights or because we smile so much at a party.
What ways are you sensitive? Write in your journal. Describe the emotional and psychological ways as well as the physical ways you are sensitive in this world. What senses do you feel you most engage? Which senses tend to get tired the fastest? Which dominate and make up for the exhaustion of the others? And most importantly, find a way to see a strength in your sensitivity. What are you able to do, accomplish, or experience that is brilliant, beautiful, or deep because of your gift?
In the meantime, I leave you with a piece I wrote several years ago….
I pictured her wearing padded clothes, even on hot days. Her bedroom furniture covered with batting, pillows duct-taped to sharp edges. Her name was Jenny, a friend of my best friend, but to me Jenny was the story of a glass girl, a girl easily shattered. Once, dropping six inches from the monkey bars, Jenny broke both ankles. She had fractured many bones in her body—fingers, arms, feet, hips. How do you move knowing the weight of your own body may split you into pieces? How do you play with a glass girl?
It’s called osteogenesis imperfecta, brittle bone disease. At times I wanted to be Jenny so my encounters with the world would have physical consequences: a crack in my collar bone for the girl with the brain tumor; a fracture of my shin bone for the death of my dog; a break in my hip for boys who taunted my brother for being gay; a million hairline cracks in my fingers for everything else. If I crumbled, if I just crumbled into a heap of chipped bones, my sensitivity would be named, and in naming, legitimized. If it were only genetic, physical, medical. Osteogenesis imperfecta. What do you call thin skin disease? How do you name a glass girl?
A sound can shatter glass if the vibration and pitch match exactly and with enough power. It’s called resonance. If I scream loud enough will all the bones in my body break?
Jenny’s body revealed what it means to be affected by everything you touch—a total awareness of the decibels, textures, and weight of the world. It is the same with emotions. When one wavelength meets another, like an encounter between two resonant beings, both must shatter. It is impossible to feel deeply without breaking apart.