It’s hard to believe that just last year I had no idea what a Highly Sensitive Child was. Sure, I knew my son was sensitive about some things; I assumed he might be shy, an introvert maybe. Sometimes I just thought he was being difficult, defiant, purposefully trying to test me and push me to my limits. I was told time and time again that he was a “difficult” child, and although it drove me crazy, I eventually started to believe it.
Just last year, we thought we were alone. Three and a half years after our son was born, we still felt like we were the only ones having to constantly deal with a screaming child at a restaurant; the only ones who always had to cancel plans because our child woke from his nap in a bad mood; the only ones who couldn’t get our son to go ahead and try the slide because it’s fun. We blamed ourselves for the fact that our son would cry during every single shower because he couldn’t stand the water in his eyes. We were accused of not having done our jobs properly as parents because he would run away screaming if another child tried to play with him.
Just last year we had to turn down yet another birthday party invitation to try and save ourselves from having to explain to other parents why our son won’t stop crying and why he won’t join in the “fun”. Just last year I found myself at a loss for words when faced with family members and friends asking me why our child is “like that”.
And just last year, while desperately looking for answers online, I read a recommendation for a book called The Highly Sensitive Child by a mother who described her daughter as someone who cried at parties and hated the playground. That was the moment everything started to change. I couldn’t believe there was another child out there who felt the same way my son did about things and places that are generally regarded as “fun for kids”! A few seconds later, I bought the book. And a few days later, I could confidently say that my son was a Highly Sensitive Child. A wave of relief washed over me. After relief came joy. And after joy came determination. After I had read and understood the book, I was determined to be more understanding and supportive of my son. I was determined never to let anyone make me feel like it was bad that my son was “like that”. I was determined never to let anyone tell me that we “ruined” our son. I was determined to try everything I could to show relatives, friends, teachers, the world, that some people are born Highly Sensitive and that it’s not a bad thing. I was determined to show them that it was actually an extraordinary thing, even if it didn’t seem so at times.
It was just last year that I had to put up with another pitiful look from a teacher after I tried yet again to explain to her that my son was Highly Sensitive; a look that told me she didn’t believe there was such a thing and that she was just trying to be polite using the non-stop nodding technique; a look that told me I was a crazy mother in denial desperately trying to defend her son; a look that sent me home wondering if I , in fact, just might be a crazy mother in denial desperately trying to defend her son. And today, I am reading about High Sensitivity in the news, almost every day. I am thrilled that today, mothers of Highly Sensitive Children don’t have to feel alone or crazy or desperate. Today, parents who are worried, friends who are curious, and teachers who are in doubt can read about the science behind empathy and high sensitivity here:
Are you highly sensitive? Check your MRI scans
Are You A Highly Sensitive Person? You May Have The Empathy Gene
Cry at films? Blame your genes: Scientists say 20% of people are affected by ‘sensory processing sensitivity’ that makes them more emotional
Do sad songs make you cry? You could be a ‘Highly Sensitive Person,’ study says
“Highly Sensitive Person” Is An Actual Scientific Diagnosis, So Now You Have An Excuse
Sensitive? Empathetic? Could Be in Your Genes
‘Highly tuned’ people react strongly to happy faces
Are You A Cry Baby? You May Be Part Of the 20% Of The Population Affected by Sensory Processing Sensitivity
Why Some People Are Genetically More Sensitive or Empathetic than Others
Do Sad Songs Make You Cry? Study Identifies Sensitivity In The Brain
‘Sensitive people’ show heightened activity in empathy-related brain regions
HSPs’ Brain Activation, Compared to Non-HSPs, Indicates More Empathy and Awareness
No, actually, I’m not too sensitive!
That’s right folks; we are genetically programmed to feel things more deeply. Incredible, isn’t it? It’s not just in our heads; we don’t exaggerate everything; we’re not being dramatic. Nature built us to feel more than the average person, or in other words, the remaining 80% of the population. I find that to be truly amazing. The downside to this is the weight of it all, especially on our little ones. It’s hard work to feel so much and to be aware of so much. It can be painful to be so deeply empathetic. It can be overwhelming to process every tiny bit of information we receive through our senses. Imagine having to deal with all that at the age of 4, or 2, or even as a tiny baby. It’s no wonder our Highly Sensitive Children react the way they do to the world. Not only is everything new to them, but it’s bigger, brighter, stronger and louder than it is for most people.
The publication of this paper is a big deal for Highly Sensitive People and parents of Highly Sensitive Children. I do realize we are a long way from there, but this is a big step forward. Family, friends, teachers, caregivers and doctors will know, soon enough, that High Sensitivity is indeed “a thing”.
Before the news came out, I had already reached a point where I could confidently say that I understood my son so well that nothing anyone said or assumed or “diagnosed” could change that. But it took me four and half years to get here. Years filled with so much doubt and pain and tears and blame. Now, not only can new parents get online and find a scientific explanation for why their baby cries endlessly for no apparent reason, or doesn’t sleep unless he’s held, or screams when people come over, or wakes up if you breathe a little louder than you should. Not only can they read the numerous books that are being published on the topic of high sensitivity. Now they can also join some amazing communities online; communities that are private, safe, and so incredibly supportive. On more than one occasion, being part of these groups has helped me keep it together when I felt utterly broken and alone. I have found answers to questions I could never get from Google. I have heard parenting stories from all over the world that have helped me be a better mother to my Highly Sensitive Child.
And to think, just last year, I had never even met another parent of a Highly Sensitive Child.
Rejoice parents of Highly Sensitive Children. This is the beginning of a new and exciting era for all of us!
Here are some links to the wonderful communities I am lucky to be a part of:
Happy Sensitive Kids is a closed group run by Amanda van Mullligen who also has a beautiful blog called Expat Life With a Double Buggy
Highly Sensitive Children is run by the lovely Brenda Dronkers, whose blog is called Highly Sensitive Child. She also recently introduced a closed group for serious discussions.
My Highly Sensitive Child, a wonderful community of over 5,000 parents (so far)!
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