Working for social justice is just as much a part of my DNA as my freckles, my hazel eyes, or my sensitivity. But it was also something that was fostered in my family.
Like many of you, I grew up with a moral code that said part of what makes a good person is to give, be charitable, to leave a place or situation better than you found it.
As a young child, I would put a nickel or a dime, sometimes pennies, into a little blue and white tin each week. In my imagination, I can still hear the “clink” “clink” “clink” of the metal as I slipped the coins into the tin.
At the end of the month, I’d empty out the change and my family would donate it to help other people, or to support tree planting.
This was considered a good deed.
But even though the outcome was the act of giving, I learned as I grew older that what mattered most was how you gave. The highest good deed came from giving anonymously.
Because when you give anonymously, it spares the person receiving your gift any possible feelings of shame. It relieves them of the burden of being emotionally or psychologically indebted to you.
The person does not have to feel “less than” for having come upon hard times. You do not give to that person because you need thanks or recognition but because they are in need, and it is the right thing to do.
This is empathy. This is compassion.
Giving anonymously is empathy and compassion in action – that’s why it was considered the highest level of doing a good deed. Not because it was anonymous, but because anonymity made sure your focus remained on the other person.
Empathy and compassion in action is living your own experience, and imagining what another person’s experience might feel like. It’s acting with kindness and care toward other people even when you’re afraid or uncertain, or feeling overwhelmed.
That’s when empathy and compassion in action is hardest for Highly Sensitive Introverts.
As HSIs, we are keenly aware of the fear, hurt, pain, and anguish in others. We feel this pain deeply in our hearts and ache from the suffering of those around us.
It is because we are the keepers of community. We are the keepers of the future.
Our natural strengths as introverts and HSPs create this depth of empathy and compassion, and capacity for introspection and reflection. These strengths mend and heal and create opportunities to find direction, and a way “through” the difficult times.
But what do we do when the pain around us feels too overwhelming, or too painful to feel?
My heart aches from the pain inside of me and from the hurt and anguish around me following the US Presidential Election on November 8, 2016. Hate and racism and sexism and the other isms are alive and well.
I am not surprised by the outcome, but still, I feel devastated. I am deeply afraid of the hate that’s rising to the surface in this country in such bold and outspoken ways. Many people are living in fear.
There is now a kind of permission to bully and threaten and berate and harm. As HSIs, many of us have experienced or witnessed this kind of behavior and know the damage it wreaks from the inside out.
I’ve had my highly sensitive, beautiful cry (nothing ugly about it!). These horrible acts of hate deserve no less from sensitives like us. I’m sure I’ll cry more as time passes. I am afraid. Deeply afraid for what is to come.
Over the last two weeks, I’ve struggled with this new reality. My twice daily diet of commute news I started after the election caught up to me. On the last day I worked, I started having panic attacks and difficulty breathing.
When things get to be too overwhelming, there are usually what feels like a couple of choices: keep exposing yourself to what feels overwhelming (and push on despite the cost), or withdraw and isolate so you can reconstitute and function again.
Neither option is particularly great, but at least withdrawing can give you the solitude you need to recharge and return to being functional.
Last weekend, it was my birthday and I’d invited 5 other people over to my apartment for dinner. Despite everyone’s best attempts to “not talk” about the election and our fears, the conversation kept coming back to the election until we just talked about it.
What I realized is that there’s actually at least one other choice when feeling like the pain gets to be too overwhelming. Sharing your experience with other, like-minded people who “get” you.
Other people who feel like misunderstood aliens who are part of your Tribe.
None of us solved any pressing national problems, but being vulnerable with other sensitive individuals was not only meaningful, It was necessary. Talking about the “little, doable things” we could each do was empowering.
Most importantly, that connection with other sensitives gave me the strength to keep being sensitive at a time when I am feeling overwhelmed and scared.
Hate denies humanity. It destroys sensitivity. It breeds fear. It would be easy and understandable to withdraw and isolate in response to the pain and suffering it causes.
But we are needed. Our sensitivity is needed.
Now is the time to be who we are – the keepers of community. The keepers of the future.
Image credit: Melanie Lee
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