I am a Highly Sensitive Person. This is a concept coined by Elaine Aron, Ph.D. Highly Sensitive People are easily overwhelmed by…everything. The world, with its constant chaos, strong smells, bright lights and loud noises, is often too much for me to bear. I often describe myself as highly permeable. Everything gets in; nothing pings off.
Those who are not as highly sensitive may not notice the endless stimuli that exist in the world, but let me tell you, it’s there: My oldest yelling, “Mommy!” repeatedly, even though I’ve answered her 12 times, the escalation of my twins’ sobs because they both want the same toy right NOW, the TV in the background, which inevitably gets louder every time music or a commercial comes on, the whir of the dishwasher, the pounding of the of the construction work down the street, the dog barking a block away, the ring of someone’s cell, the smell of dirty diaper emanating from the diaper pail. It ALL gets in. The outer world floods me and hijacks my nervous system.
I’ve been like this for as long as I can remember. I often prefer to retreat inward, enjoying my quiet, alone time, thinking, reading, writing, or just sitting in silence. This may make me sound like a recluse, but in reality, I’m a social being who cherishes time with others. But unlike my exceptionally extroverted spouse, I only have so much social energy to give, before I wilt like a dying flower.
Becoming a parent has truly challenged this part of myself. I can’t simply choose when I want to be a mother, and when I need a break. I don’t get to tell my kids, “Sorry, not now…Mommy is too overloaded. I’m going to sit in my quiet bathroom and come back when I’m ready.” It just doesn’t work this way. Mommyhood is an all-the-time thing, and I need to be present as often as my sensitive self will allow.
When my twins came along a year ago, my struggle with this increased tenfold. My house is never, ever quiet. My husband thrives on the chaos. He thinks it’s amazing and loves coming home to a bustling house. But for me? I want to cry in my closet with a pint of ice cream, and stay there—in the silence—until the kiddos are asleep and the house is dark and calm. We’re just a wee bit different from one another.
But more than the issue of managing the constant-ness of life with three kids is the issue of handling the intensity of my emotions regarding my children and their wellbeing. As I mentioned before, everything seeps in, and I don’t have a solid enough outer boundary to prevent myself from absorbing the thoughts, feelings, and worries of others. When it comes to my kids, this is relentless. If my daughters get hurt – physically or emotionally – I feel this pain as if it were my own. If any of my kids get sick, I can’t rest until they feel better. If I hear of any news story where violence of any kind is inflicted on a child, I sob uncontrollably – for that child, for my own, for all the innocent and vulnerable little people everywhere. Parenthood has cut through my core in the very best and also most intense, aching ways.
I often express these feelings to my husband and say, “I wasn’t cut out for this – I wasn’t cut out to have three children. It’s too much for my sensitive self to bear.” And he replies with, “That’s EXACTLY why you were meant for this. You are the most empathetic, compassionate mother I know, and you understand our children and what they are going through in ways I never will. They are so lucky to have a mother like you.”
When he expresses this, I cry. Because, well, I’m sensitive. But also because I can hear and feel it’s truth. I do care, so very much. This has always been one of my greatest strengths, as well as one of my most painful downfalls. And so, though at times it causes me great agony, it is also what enables me to embrace and experience life completely. And that right there is what makes being a Highly Sensitive Person and parent beautiful, fulfilling and rich. I wouldn’t have it any other way.