Are you sometimes questioning yourself if you are a weird princess and the pea and wonder: do I have ‘unreasonable’ fears or am I dreading something ‘real’? As a Highly Sensitive Person, this issue is tricky! You need to figure out where exactly your boundaries are. Let’s discuss why it’s so hard to distinguish what you can bear and when something gets ‘too much’.
Have you experienced this before? You were looking forward to an upcoming adventure or event – one you had been dreaming about for a long time and eventually it was coming true. But at the same time, you felt like abandoning, hiding, withdrawing and not putting yourself ‘out there’? And maybe you then started to beat yourself up and listen to your Inner Critic.
Because, as the monster in your head reminds you, “this is ridiculous and not rational”, right?
Ridiculous or rational?
In the worst case scenario, you hated yourself for dreading the upcoming event. You were feeling stupid and ‘incapable’.
But at the same time, you were knowing exactly what made you feel this way in the first place: you have experienced over and over again a high sensitivity to people and places. If you like it or not.
You can ignore it. Bot often there was a price to pay.
In other words: your environment affects you much more than most other people. Sometimes you just feel horrible and exhausted after spending time in public transport, a movie theatre or on crowded streets.
The reason for this may be that your nervous system reacts stronger to stimuli than for the other 80 – 85% of the population.
Elaine Aron coined the term ‘Highly Sensitive Person’ or HSP for people like us. Want to find out if you are highly sensitive?.
Anxiety or under-use of strengths?
I was exactly at that place while enjoying myself in the Australian countryside. I looked forward and dreaded at the same time to go to a big, bustling city like Sydney. The friend I was staying with, a retired counsellor, taught me that this can be called ‘anticipatory anxiety’.
In the article ‘What is anticipatory anxiety?’ we learn “Thanks to the fight-or-flight response, we’re engineered to feel anxiety when we’re about to face something that has scared us in the past.”
The Psychology Dictionary defines it as an “apprehension about an event prior to its occurrence. The apprehension occurs due to the expectation of a negative outcome – for example, death, danger, or a poor evaluation by others. Oftentimes this is accompanied by physiological symptoms (rapid heart rate) and possible tension in the muscles.”
As you may know, we all suffer from the negativity bias – and have to do certain things to counterbalance its harmful effect.
Applying the approach of Positive Psychology you could also say I was under-using my character strength of bravery and overusing my prudence. And maybe I was just rational and wise…
What if you were a princess and the pea?
If you have been labelled by your adult friends a princess and the pea (like me) you know these questions well: can it be that I am not dreading something ‘real’? No one else seems to bother. How can I protect myself? Am I slightly crazy?
If you are also a lioness at heart, loving to try out new things, getting excited about the unknown you have tried to figure out: where exactly are my boundaries? What is it I can bear (and how much/long) and when does it get ‘too much’?
Maybe you were just doing very reasonable ‘anticipatory anxiety’ because you are HSP and at the same time a so-called HSS or High Sensation Seeker.
Welcome to the world of an HSP / HSS
I don’t like labels, but they are conceptual models that help us to understand certain aspects of our behaviour or wellbeing/troubles. I was right to worry a bit and plan my stay in Sydney carefully while applying these 16 tips to thrive in a bustling city because I am hypersensitive anyway and even more so after spending lots of time meditating.
Elaine Aron describes The Trouble With Being An HSP/HSS as follows: “I have always used the analogy one HSP/HSS gave me, which was that she felt like she lived with one foot on the gas, one foot on the brake. But in fact, both parts are drivers, with human concerns and strategies for getting their way. Hence HSP/HSSs more often feel like two people in a constant argument. And the HSS part often wins because in this culture, at least, the combination of curiosity, competitiveness (more typical of HSSs), and risk-taking are all admired more than the HSP combination of traits.”
What is your way of balancing ‘unnecessary anxiety’ and wisdom based on experience? I’d love to hear from you.
Please share this post on social media using the buttons below, if you think it might be useful for others who love to try out new things and who might want to find out more about their high sensitivity and how to best use it as a strength.
Image: Princess and the Pea by Edmund Dulac, Wikicommons.
Combining professional experiences in communication, project management and public health with scientific research around mind-body wellbeing, effective time management, goal achievement and happiness she supports you to harness your sensitivities and play to your strengths.
Working with her allows you to complete your mission and to have time for the things and people that matter most.