Ever been in one of those situations where you were left scratching your head for a few seconds? It happened to me last week.
“She was a pee-in-the-grass kinda person, you know.”
In my head, I had an image of a beautiful green pea in a pod resting in tall grass. For about three seconds I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out what my co-worker was trying to tell me.
How was this woman like a pea in the grass??? [insert head scratch here]
And, then it dawned on me that it was “pee-in-the-grass” and suddenly the right (and congruent) image popped into my head of a woman squatting in the grass.
Immediately, I knew the woman was supposed to be “hippyish,” or at the very least, comfortable in the outdoors.
We went from having a conversation with two different truths–a pea in the grass, and a woman peeing in the grass–to a shared truth.
But what would’ve happened had I not continued to search for a different truth than the first one that popped into my head?
And, yet, everyday, I accept that first truth if I’m not careful. In this situation, it wasn’t wrong. It just wasn’t the truth that made the most sense given that I wanted to understand and communicate.
I traded truths to serve a desired purpose: communication and connection.
There are so many opportunities to screw up communication. There was nothing emotional at stake in this exchange with my co-worker, and I was not determined to hold onto that first truth as “the truth.”
But add in a little emotional charge, some life stress, and a topic about something that matters to you. Suddenly, accepting that first truth creates an opportunity for conflict within you and with other people.
That “first truth,” though, isn’t the problem. The problem is the story that ends up being created around it.
I see versions of this talked about in introvert groups a lot!
An introvert guy says to an extrovert woman friend (who may not “understand” introverts yet): “I’m gonna stay home tonight instead of going out.”
The extrovert woman hears those words, but thinks: he’s being selfish!
She’s made up a story that her introvert friend doesn’t care about her and only cares about himself. She’s “hooked,” as Susan Davis writes in her article on Emotional Agility.
It gives her an emotional charge. Maybe she’s hurt. Maybe she’s angry. And that affects the friendship. But what if she’d told herself a different story?
One that went like: Bummer! He’s probably just super exhausted and needs to zone out for tonight. I’ll see if another friend wants to go out tonight.
The story we tell ourselves matters. It changes our attitudes, our moods, our experience of feeling overwhelmed and worrying.
Ultimately, we all tell ourselves a story. We all interpret what goes on around us to fit that story. And it starts with which truth we choose to amplify.
The extrovert friend could choose the disappointment truth or the truth that her introverted friend was exhausted.
From there, the story she told herself evolved very differently.
He’s selfish and doesn’t care about me, or he’s really tired and his decision to stay home has nothing to do with whether or not he cares about me.
As Highly Sensitive Introverts, this is tricky. There are more than a few posts in our Facebook group expressing a sensitivity to current world events.
There are plenty of reasons to be sensitive in the US right now: uncertainties surrounding the presidential election, repeated police shootings and the killing of young Black men, an increase in hate crimes toward Muslims (or those perceived to be), terrorism in the US and abroad, refugees fleeing war, etc.
The list is endless.
Empathy, compassion, and a willingness to hold space for the suffering and fear is a healing gift that introverted HSPs possess. I am not suggesting that you “choose” to avoid the truth and pretend that disrespect, hurtful words and actions, injustice, war, and hatred don’t exist.
I’ve actually stopped listening to the radio. I don’t watch TV. I don’t read the newspaper. To be honest, there’s a lot of suffering that the people I work with experience.
I am not pretending the pain doesn’t exist. But, regularly taking in what’s also happening in the world can be too overwhelming.
(I do stay informed by talking with friends and family. And I look up information on the internet to understand events in more depth when I am in a place to process the information better.)
Frequently, keeping up with the news renders me feeling helpless. I end up feeling like “how can so much unnecessary pain exist in this world?”
That’s my “story.” There is so much unnecessary pain that exists in the world. And I am helpless despite what I do to change it.
It is that “first truth.” The pea in a pod resting in the grass. The story that my friend is selfish because he wants to stay home tonight instead of go out with me.
There’s a saying that evil is fixes a truth in time. That “first truth” is a moment fixed in time.
It may not be evil, but it’s a truth that does not serve a purpose of experiencing peace, calm, joy, or meaning.
What are your “first truths”? What story do you tell yourself about being HSI based on these truths?
What “truths” can you “trade” to be more at peace? To feel less overwhelmed? To feel good? I ask because I care. Really.
If you, as an HSI, know your “first truths” and the stories you tell yourself, you can start to shift them in the ways that bring you meaning, connection, and joy. And still feel deeply. Compassionately. Empathetically.
Think of what strength could come from uniting such compassion with retelling our own stories in ways that are affirming. In ways that trade “first truths” for alternate ones that offer possibility.
I wonder if it could offer up the possibility to make your (most) powerful contribution to your family, your community, and to our world…
It is a vision of HSIs who bring compassion and sensitive, quiet action together to make the world better. And, it’s also a truth I choose to hold dear. It makes feeling helpless the lie it is.
Image Credit: Mike Roberts
Eva Rubin, MPH/LCSW
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