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  • SuePattonThoele

Sensitivity, Awareness, and Me

“I carry the weight of the world on my shoulders and feel overwhelmed and exhausted.” a client lamented. I certainly could identify with her since I, too, felt overwhelmed for many years and made it worse by chastising myself for being a bad mom, wife, therapist, or whatever other hat I was wearing at the time. Yes, raising four kids, learning to live with two husbands—spectacularly unsuccessfully with one—running a household, cooking, and creating two careers, as well as doing the everyday necessities can be very exhausting. But I exacerbated the difficult feelings by neither understanding nor taking care of myself as well as I could have.

Noticing how often I felt overwhelmed, a friend recommended I read Elaine Aron’s The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Survive When the World Overwhelms You. In the preface, the author states, “Having a sensitive nervous system is normal, a basically neutral trait. You probably inherited it. It occurs in about 15 to 20 percent of the population.” (xiii) Professor Aron goes on to explain that highly sensitive people’s nervous systems are physically wired in ways that cause them to become overaroused and overstimulated more easily than most people.

Taking the self-test in the book showed beyond a shadow of a doubt, I was a highly sensitive person, an HSP. What an incredible relief to be labeled “normal” and to begin to let

go of the gnawing fear that I was fundamentally defective or emotionally flawed beyond repair. Understanding that nervous system wiring—a physiological phenomenon— made me a sensitive person, not a weak wimp, or worse, a teeth-grinding bitch, continues to be an incredibly freeing insight.

Sound is the area of my greatest sensitivity. At the time I learned I was highly sensitive, my household was comprised of one husband, four teenagers, three dogs, a cat, and multiple friends-of-teenagers. As you can imagine, the noise level was off the charts. Even loving every kid, critter, and snorer didn’t keep me from often feeling like I was plugged into a high-voltage outlet with seemingly no outlet for my own feelings of failure, impatience, and bitchiness. Luckily, realizing how my nervous system and brain were wired gave me permission to begin setting boundaries that worked for me and weren’t too restrictive for my family.

Because highly sensitive people gravitate to books like this, you may be an HSP. If so, it’s especially important that you remain mindful of your sensitivity and take tender, consistent care of yourself without judgment. Even if you think you don’t have a sensitive bone in your body or a sensitive emotion in your psyche, it’s still absolutely essential that you are mindful of your own needs and care for yourself as well as you do others. In our troubled and troubling world, I wholeheartedly believe women are called to model kindness and well-being to the whole human race. And, of course, the best way to become such a model is to guard your own well-being as tenaciously and protectively as a loving mother would.

Excerpted from The Mindful Woman by Sue Patton Thoele. Available on Mango and Amazon.

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