There's this song, Sensitive, by Jewel (Hi! I'm a child of the 90's.)
She says, “It doesn't take a talent to be mean. Your words can crush things that are unseen. So, please be careful with me. I'm sensitive and I'd like to stay that way."
Those words resonated with me when I first heard the song, and resonate even more now raising kids, in an often scary world. We're sent messages that being successful in our culture requires a thick skin. The world is challenging, competitive and loud.
Yet, there are people many of us admire like Ellen Degeneres and Bill Gates known for their compassion and ability to improve situations others don't even see. Sensitivity, though criticized, has incredible power.
Expert on the topic of highly sensitive people, Elaine Aron explains, for twenty percent of the population, their sensitivity is a product of a uniquely designed nervous system. These individuals are more reflective, observant and conscientious of others and the world around them.
An article in Psychology Today delves into the inner workings of an HSP's nervous system, explained by psychiatrist Judith Orloff as, “It's like feeling something with 50 fingers as opposed to 10," and outlines some of the characteristics highly sensitive people tend to have in common.
Characteristics of highly sensitive people
- Emotionally drained by negativity
- Easily overwhelmed
- Intolerant of noisy environments
- In-tune to emotions of others
- Tendency to worry and overthink
- Especially observant and perceptive
Of course, people can possess these characteristics and not be an HSP and vice versa, but, the more of these traits someone demonstrates, the more likely they do so because they genuinely perceive reality differently than others.
Highly sensitive people have creative gifts, new perspectives and the potential for incredible innovation. But, as is often the case, a highly sensitive nature has distinct disadvantages as well.
Without loving, compassionate guidance in social skills and emotional management, highly sensitive kids get distracted by the chaos and noise that surround our busy lives. Ted Zeff, author of The Strong Sensitive Boy addresses the challenges of raising boys, in particular, who display highly sensitive characteristics:
“The sensitive boy who reacts deeply to stimuli and exhibits emotional sensitivity is perfectly normal. However, there's something wrong with a society that shames males who do not act in a tough, aggressive, and emotionally repressed manner – especially when such a significant portion of the population simply isn't cut out for, or comfortable with, these behaviors. When sensitive boys do not conform to the stereotypical 'boy code' and instead express compassion, gentleness, and vulnerability, they are frequently ostracized and humiliated."
Because highly sensitive kids are often misunderstood, they are susceptible to mistreatment from peers, which can lead to anxiety and low self-esteem.
The more I've learned about highly sensitive people, the more I've realized I definitely fall into that twenty percent of the population, as does my firstborn. So, I'm determined to nurture that sensitivity and cultivate the gift it can be, while safeguarding him from the anxiety it has the potential to bring with it.
Suggestions for highly sensitive kids
The difficult to define, Danish way of life, promoting comfort, warmth, relaxation and peace.
Crafting meaning into daily routines to encourage connection and purpose.
Being in touch with the environment has a distinct ability to calm the mind.
HSPs thrive on positivity and happiness of others.
Opportunity to express deeply-felt emotions brings stress-relief to an overactive mind.
The song by Jewel ends,
Maybe if we are surrounded by beauty, someday we will become what we see.
Anyone can start a conflict. It's harder yet to disregard it.
I'd rather see the world from another angle.
We are everyday angels. Be careful with me, 'cause I'd like to stay that way.