Since I have kids with autism, and Sienna also has an ADHD diagnosis as well as Aspergers, I have a few news pages that I follow on Facebook that are relevant to them. Today a link was posted to ADDItude Mag with an article on Hyper-sensitivity, as it is something that is often – while not a disorder, but rather a type – seen in people diagnosed with ADHD / ADD. On another Facebook post, a blogger I enjoy reading posted a comment on Myers-Briggs personality types, which ties in, for me, to the kind of self-understanding that helps with being very sensitive.
I am neither on the Autism spectrum (and yes, I've even done one of those basic online tests to check likelihood / similarities to ASD) nor do I have ADHD, though I have read a fair bit about them. Well, autism in particular. Anyhow ;) I don't believe myself to be on the spectrum of either of these conditions, but there are some traits I strongly empathise with. I've also read about the myers-briggs personality types, and the book 'The Highly Sensitive Person'. So, connecting with today's article didn't come as a surprise, but it is a good reminder.
One sentence that stood out a lot for me was this: “Prior to discovering my hypersensitivity, I perceived my over-the-top emotions as a character flaw. My mom would say, “Why can’t you get on an even keel?” As a child, I didn’t have an answer. This added to my already-low self-esteem.” I find this so interesting, and for a couple of reasons. One is the reminder that I really do fall clearly and undoubtedly into this category, which apparently includes an average of 15-20% of people.
There are no words that stand out more strongly to me from my childhood and youth than “you're too sensitive”, and they didn't stop just because I became an adult. But as a child, it was more confusing, because I didn't disagree, but didn't understand why was there something wrong with me? And also because feelings being 'wrong' doesn't make them go away. If something hurts, but it hurts because 'you're too sensitive', it still hurts, but then there is the added layer of it being wrong somehow. It was something I remember repeating in some of my angsty, sensitive teenage poetry – this idea that I was inherently wrong, but without being able to define what that wrong was, exactly.
It's a formative view of myself that I still struggle with, and so far have mostly just been able to work on recognising it. Changing those thought patterns is a battle for another season, I guess. Recognition, though, has its own strength. Which brings me to another part of the comment above that I found so interesting - “prior to discovering my hypersensitivity”. The next paragraph in the article quotes Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D (authorof The Highly Sensitive Person) - “Recognizing their high sensitivity can help people stop feeling bad about themselves.”
Well that is definitely harder said than done, but I do get what they're saying. And I totally agree, as this is the basis for getting any kind of diagnostic assessment really - such as autism, or ADHD as well. Further understanding can help, both with understanding the needs of the person and with improving their self esteem as a result of that understanding. The Myers-Briggs personality types helped me figure this out when I was a teenager, and a psychologist who saw me at 17 – on the recommendation of my bookshop boss, due to my extreme shyness – only saw me twice but helped me see that I was just a different type of person than most people around me.
My first couple of Myers-Briggs tests showed me as an INFP, a rare and sensitive personality type. Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Perceiving, and at 100% of the scale for introversion, and almost that high for intuitive. A few years later, the ratio shifted a little and I've been an INFJ ever since – very interesting, as my slight P preference earlier on shifted to a more decisive J type as I grew older. This was perhaps also in response to being with my husband since that time, as he was decidedly a P personality type, whereas I had only slightly leaned that way.
It all sounds rather more serious than I really view it, which is as a great lesson in understanding and acceptance. When applied to myself, the acceptance – deep, instinctive, self-acceptance – is a lot harder than the understanding for me, but they are all tied together. And also with this third point which drew me in straight away, which is that “Emotional pain and physical pain are experienced in the same part of the brain.” Which explains why it can feel so all-encompassing to literally radiate pain from the darkness at the centre of myself, to the point where it can be felt by other intuitive people, but feel so ridiculous about it when there is no clear wrong thing to be blamed.
I may be veering off into talking about depression, here, but this is the thing. I suffer depression, I guess, in that I fit the criteria more often than not because of my thoughts and feelings about myself. But clinically... it's not purely chemical. It's this inherent wrongness that I've never been able to understand and accept about myself, which is actually not wrongness at all. It's just being different. Being hyper-sensitive.
Having “all of the feelings” (for some reason I imagine those words spoken by Tina Fey?!).
Clouds of grey sensitivity aside, the silver lining I see is that I've never felt like I quite fit. But I've always found some kindred spirits along the way. And I feel so much empathy for my kids, my amazing, fascinating, brilliant Autism spectrum kids, as a direct result of this sensitivity. I feel for them. All the time. And so I think it makes me a pretty good Autism mum. That, at least, is something good. And I can accept that.