This is an extremely long post I made to a Facebook group for HSPs (highly sensitive person). It was very well received so I’m posting here in case any of my friends identify as HSPs.
Hello HSP friends. I’ve only been a part of this group for a short time but I am seeing a pattern, with so many of us experiencing grief for “why so and so isn’t there for me as I would be for them.” Allow me to share what I learned, to see if it sheds some light.
Depending on where you come from, what I’ll say may seem like victim blaming, or excusing immoral/unjust behavior of others who should’ve known better. That is not my intent at all — in many situations friends and families should be there for each other and I’m not justifying them when they are not. But the intent is to save those of us from the grief and disillusionment of expecting support where none is available. So my hope is to help us feel better, not excusing others.
I learned that emotions are like muscles. It gets strong and you get good at feeling those feelings without letting them overwhelm you, the more you feel them. The opposite is also true. When you form a habit of running away from certain feelings, your “emotional muscle” atrophies and even a little bit of that feeling overwhelms you, which leads to even more running away / distracting / stuffing down. Strong feelings like grief and anger are prone to this. I myself am very blocked on anger — until the last few months I could not feel angry, every time a situation comes up where I should feel angry I’ll make some kind of excuse and don’t allow myself to get mad.
Unless folks are practiced at dealing with some extreme situations (emergency medicine, police, mental health professions) people have a hard time “being there” in situations where strong emotions are present. This of course applies to genuinely dramatic life events like death in family to other more seemingly benign situations, but being the HSP that we are we end up feeling strongly. Simply put, the feelings overwhelm them. They are not practiced at feeling it and can’t quite go there for anyone, including themselves. We the HSPs are naturally gifted at this, in fact I believe that’s one of the gifts we bring to the world, because we just emote very strongly. We can provide the best emotional support, but unfortunately that means most other non-HSPs will seem less empathic and caring. Sometimes they may care and relate in the ways that they can, but since we are so good at it their ways may seem very inadequate. (and sometimes they really do not care, which, again, I’m not justifying.)
The question then becomes, knowing that HSPs are minority and most of the population isn’t used to dealing with very strong emotions (which isn’t a bad thing in itself), why do we expect others to do for us what we do for them. I don’t mean this as victim blaming, but I sincerely believe the sooner we stop expecting support from where it’s not available, the better we feel, even if in the process we have to grieve for that loss. Just as it’s not our fault that we are sensitive, it’s not their fault that they are not sensitive, they are not empathic like we are. It is a shame that HSPs are not well understood, we should definitely broadcast our stories and tell the world what it’s like to be us and promote better understanding. But that’s not quite the same thing as expecting non-HSPs to come to us in ways that only HSPs can.
My theory is that as HSPs many of us have experienced the grief of expecting support from people who are not capable of providing. And because this is a significant grief in itself, one which we haven’t properly grieved, we keep getting attracted to folks who are not capable of providing support. This is life’s way of giving us yet another chance for grieving, properly processing that grave disappointment. If you notice a pattern of having friends, families and significant others who are not able to provide emotional support, my suggestion is to fully take the time to grieve that. I’ve now spent many hours crying about this and am finally starting to come to a place where if I notice that someone doesn’t have that capacity to provide emotional support, then I let them go and stop expecting that from them. It doesn’t mean that I stop needing emotional support, I am just learning to choose where I ask for it, and in the process saving myself some disappointment and heartache.
I hope this is of some value, but I welcome your thoughts, even if you completely disagree. Thank you for reading this long post.