Last week, after a receptionist told me that the clinic I had so desperately wanted to visit before closing time, had, indeed, closed, I cried. I cried until she said, “Let me see what I can do,” and I was brought in.
I should point out that I didn’t cry to get my own way. I just cry. A lot. I’m a big cry baby. So much so that “Cry Baby” was my nickname growing up. Of course it would have been hella cooler to be called “Cry Baby” if it was in reference to that Johnny Depp movie, but it wasn’t. It was because I would burst into tears at the drop of a hat. All children cry when they’re being teased, but I would cry if I was in a large crowd, or while I watched Benji stranded on top of that mountain or when words wouldn’t convey all THESE EMOTIONS.
I didn’t really know why I was the way I was until I was 22 and my acting teacher recommended I read a book called The Highly Sensitive Person by Dr. Elaine N. Aron.
It changed my life.
For the first time I realized why I find myself crying for no reason. Why I can pick up on other people’s energy and feel it as if it were my own. Why the stimuli around me can affect me so deeply. It’s because I am a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) – an empath – and I am not alone. In fact, there are as many as one in five people possessing the trait.
If this sounds familiar, here are some other traits of an HSP:
1. Noise is super annoying. No one likes to hear a jackhammer pounding away outside, but to a HSP, annoying noises are super duper annoying. For me, especially when I was younger, it was going to clubs. I hated clubbing. HATED IT. The noise (OK, “music”), the people, all the touching (OK, the grinding). Within an hour of arriving, I was always like, “Get me outta here!” Of course my friends weren’t too impressed, but I couldn’t help it. HSPs are very sensitive to noise and general chaos because we tend to be overwhelmed and overstimulated by too much activity.
2. Violent movies are painful. I consider myself a movie buff, but there are certain movies I refuse to see (any gruesome war pics, excessively gratuitious horror flicks) because the violence becomes too visceral for me to handle. Ask my movie buds: anytime we watch a movie with even a little ol’ stabbing scene (you know, low-key stuff), I am in a ball, closing my eyes, because I FEEL too much.
3. We’re all cry babies. This was a relief for me to learn because I didn’t feel like I was the only one who cried over the “little things.” It became less embarrassing for me to cry over not getting that parking spot, or if I was in a confrontation with someone. Over time, through the support of friends and family, and just accepting who I am, I’ve been able to either control the tears, or let them flow – depending on the circumstances – shame-free.
4. Alone time – yes please! We HSPs loooove our alone time. We crave it and we need it to digest our day. We’re also more likely to work from home (um, hello!) and it’s also why we prefer exercising alone to joining team sports. It also explains why you might hate the gym. I used to belong to a gym, and though I would work out regularly, I hated the fact that there were people around me, and that, in a sense, my every move could be watched. Even when my friend asks me to go for a jog, we actually don’t jog together because it’s like, this is my time, I need my space. I work out from home now, and I just feel way more comfortable.
5. HSPs are really DEEP. I’m called “deep” a lot, and I used to think that was a bit of an insult. Like, I was either really serious or this hippie-dippie navel-gazer. But now I own it. As a HSP, I can’t help if I process things on a deeper level, or that I’m highly intuitive. Also, as a HSP, we are way more empathetic creatures. We take things on when reacting to an external event or even when a friend is relating their grief to us. If your friend has a problem, you most likely feel that problem before they even say a word, or feel their pain as they’re experiencing it. That’s probably why you’re the friend who everyone comes to for advice.
If any of the above sounds familiar, and you think you’re a HSP, you should definitely take Aron’s test to find out.
There’s a ton of info on how to handle being a HSP (besides her book, of course). I recommend smudging ‘cause it’s meditative (and smells therapeutic), forgiveness ‘cause you need to let go and let love in, being around animals ‘cause what better reason is there to snuggle your cat (again), and just fucking crying it out, you big cry baby.