Saturday, March 8, 2014

Sensitive Me

I have some of my report cards from elementary school and because I taught at the high school I went to, I could read (and photocopy) the remarks of my teachers about my teenage self. There are two themes: intelligence and sensitivity.

Virtually every single reference to my (relative) intelligence is back-handed: "A boy of Chris's capability should do better…." "…Disappointed, given his capacity…." "Expect more of someone of his ability…." You get the idea. It repeats and repeats in that way; there is not a single positive commentary about my intelligence. And the comments about my sensitivity would have you believe that I were Joseph (John) Merrick or a pedophile.

I am sure the messages about my academic achievement were meant to encourage me, but in my high school at that time, there was a cultural distaste for sensitivity. To be constantly criticized for being sensitive certainly made me curious about sensitivity so I read lots of books and many articles. But after all my reading, I still could not understand what sensitivity was. I did learn, however, that sensitive people can be hard for people to understand.

I learned from Dr. Elaine Aron that sensitivity was the reason my self esteem was so low. She also made me smile by making me understand why, whenever I travel alone, my first day always involves visiting the churches, gardens and parks closest to my hotel. These places, along with my locked hotel room, become my essential retreat/re-charging places.

This week a student expressed profound distaste for me and my course on her course evaluation form. Her choice of language and her vocabulary made her commentary feel hateful and it hurt to be so hated and such a failure for someone, even though I never lost cognizance of the better path of "letting it go" and "not taking it personally."

That was the advice of every single friend in whom I confided and whereas it is sage, it is pointless. I know already. And I also know that for me—a person Dr. Aron calls "a highly sensitive people" or HSP—it is just not possible. Instead, I take comfort in knowing that when I go to bed, it will hurt less in the morning. And the next morning etcetera. But neither my own intelligence nor the well intentioned protestations of friends can affect the emotional track of an HSP.

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