The toe dipping version:
I learnt that it isn’t fear that makes me avoid certain activities, it’s simply that the physical feelings they engender, make me feel unwell so I choose to avoid them.
The deep dive:
Ever since I can remember I’ve been hypersensitive to feeling.
There have been too many people who, for whatever reason, felt that it was part of their remit to attempt to alter my perceptions of the world around me.
If you are a Highly Sensitive Person, you too will have heard the oft shared piece of advice to ‘grow some thicker skin’. As though that were possible!
For me, this was never the greatest piece of advice anyway, as I literally have very thin skin – that translucent type where every vein can be traced, like the lines on a map. Some wear their hearts on their sleeves, I wear my thin skin on pretty much every inch of my body.
Of course the danger in all this unloading of others’ discomfort onto a sensitive child, is that the child grows up to see themselves as inherently wrong. This is not news!
Chances are high that, if you’re a Highly Sensitive Person, this sensitivity includes the physical; our outer sensitivity guides our inner sensitivity.
What is news, to me, is that, not only were my emotional feelings fair game for ‘reeducation’, but so were my physical ones. It’s only now, as I rapidly approach 50, that I realise how little I have understood about how having my physical feelings denied, and wronged, has contributed to this sense of not being right, or good enough.
When the world and its wife tells you that you don’t feel how you say you do, the outcome is a belief that your system is not to be believed. This is a very dangerous state of affairs, particularly if you’re a woman. I could write an essay on the myriad ways in which this is so, but that’s not my intention today, so rather than leave that hanging, here are a few links you may, or may not, want to explore.
What I want to begin to share in this post, is how important our sensory typing is to how we experience the world. It’s a topic that I’ll be talking about a lot in the coming weeks, months and years.
For me, this new knowledge, here in relation to the vestibular and proprioception senses, has enabled me to see my life and experiences through another filter; my own – how revolutionary! This new insight has lead me to have more compassion for myself – again, revolutionary!
When I was younger I was often called ‘Clumsy Clara’ by family members. I don’t remember being particularly clumsy, but I do recall the nickname, so I guess I must have been!
My ballet teacher also taught gymnastics, which I really wanted to try, but she deemed me far too inflexible, so that was that. To be fair I was an ungainly dancer, which is probably why I was picked to be a Diddyman and a Womble in the show she put on. Talk about typecasting!
In secondary school I was one of those children PE teachers enjoy torturing. Though I was always good at sprinting, and was gangly enough to make a pretty good goal defence in netball, overall I was always more cerebral than physical.
I didn’t like rough and tumble, would not choose to go on fairground rides, panicked if I was somewhere high, didn’t like lifts or escalators, was claustrophobic etc. All of these things are true for me still.
These ‘weaknesses’ were considered a nuisance, a failing, laziness, a challenge to be overcome, and a bloody great joke by my parents and wider family, to my friends, husband and children.
I remember some years ago a, particularly forthright friend, telling me she had never met anyone who ‘sat so much’! It’s a comment that has frustrated me ever since – when people visit, you sit and talk, drink tea, share food. Right? She was a very frenetic person though – one visit from her and her daughter is vividly imprinted on the minds of me and my eldest children. We were all left feeling as though a tornado had ripped through the house, and were exhausted enough to need to go and lie down after they’d gone!
I’ve pondered this ‘sitting too much’ thing a lot, and whilst it’s true that I live, as many of us do these days, a relatively sedentary life, I have always enjoyed walking – ie gentle movement.
At this point, if I tell you that I suffer with terrible motion sickness and bouts of vertigo, you might see the connection that no-one, including me, ever made.
I am an avoider (one of four sensory types, more on which another time) when it comes to movement!
It wasn’t that I was scared of all those things, it was simply that I did not, and still don’t, enjoy the physical sensations that accompanied them. More than that, they make me feel ill. I am highly sensitive to vestibular disturbances, and my poor proprioception means that I’m prone to wobbling and bumping into things.
This means that my physical ability to balance has a tendency to let me down; even more so in situations where my inner balance has been thrown off by movement that most people don’t even notice. When you’re on the edge of a cliff for instance, this IS pretty bloody scary!
Naturally then, my instinct has always been to avoid these types of situations. Which, if you don’t have any experience of these sorts of feelings, or have bugger all empathy, may well look like cowardice I suppose, but it’s not! It’s self preservation, based on information gathered over a lifetime, by a sensory system that differs to yours!
This has been a HUGE revelation to me, and makes me more determined to share what I am learning about the senses.
Thoreau said that ‘the unexamined life is not worth living.’ I’m inclined to agree.
Reaching greater levels of self understanding requires work. It is not idle, self indulgent, navel gazing, because out of it comes self compassion, which in turn grows our ability to empathise with others who experience the world differently to ourselves. There can be no denying that the world needs more people with empathy!
Self compassion is something which has not been part of my make up – no surprise when you’re conditioned (largely through misunderstanding) to feel that you’re just plain wrong, but my experiences in recent years have made me realise that it’s not optional. Not if we want to not only survive, but thrive. It’s such an important, and life altering concept that anything we can do to gain more of it is worth the effort.
This is part of the reason why I created my signature Self Compassion aromatherapy blend. No, this whole blogpost hasn’t been leading to a hard sell, and of course I know that a blend of essential oils isn’t a magic bullet, but it has been part of my recovery. The oils have been carefully chosen for their physiological as well as emotional effects – my cerebral self loves the chemistry behind aromatherapy- so I share it here simply as an option for others to experiment with, and yes, to enable me to pay my bills.
In Hindu traditions the senses are known as The Organs of Knowledge. I think that’s a lovely description. To understand the knowledge our senses have to share, we need to be our own research scientists; experimenting, observing, and drawing conclusions based on the evidence gathered.
That’s not navel gazing, that’s a life’s work. It’s my hope that The Sensory Coach offerings will help us along that path of discovery.
And if anyone ever tells you that you’re not really feeling how you say you feel, send them to me!