Are you drowning in a sea of sensitivity? It's time to walk on water
Ane Axford, MS, LMFT - "My name, Ane (I pronounce it like “Annie”), comes from my Danish heritage. I am a highly sensitive person, who is also high sensation seeking, introverted, a licensed mental health and relationship therapist who specializes in working with highly sensitive persons."
I have often heard an analogy in the psychology field that creative geniuses and those who experience mental disorder are in the same water.
The difference is that one is swimming and the other is drowning.
Let's talk about this water. These fluid, intangible, ever-changing emotions. Sensations.
All that arises right now that we cannot ever plan on, EVER. Go ahead, analyze that. I know you will. That's how we HSPs roll.
Eventually you get to the conclusion that it's true. There is no way to plan for now. You just show up.
On solid, dry land we can plan. We can map it out, chart it, monitor it. We can stand on it. We can build with it. It's quite predictable. This is logic.
So what do many of us do who have found ourselves in this sea of sensations, tossing us around? We hold onto something really heavy and sink to the bottom to find a limit.
We cling to the edge and hold on TIGHT. When the water is calm, we may venture out a bit.
But, we always stay in the shallow end for fear of getting lost in the deep end. We get incredibly capable at holding on and our arms get really strong.
But, at the core we are weak. And for those at the bottom, they are drowning. Some just get tossed around over and over, assuming that is their lot in life. Beat up and broken down.
I find the same thing as I work with highly sensitive people in my therapy and coaching practice.
Walking on water and walking on land require a whole different perspective, though I am here to tell you that you can not only swim, but walk on this water...and you already know how.
From day one, we are bombarded with this ocean of sensation.
It is coming in at us and can lead us to feel passive.
It can lead us to feel that we somehow have to find a way to manage the outside world.
And, many of us can get pretty good at it.
Or, we at least create pretty solid buffers to block it all out. Unfortunately this also blocks us off from who we are.
We dry up without water. We get rigid, stiff, crackly. We are brittle. We are not alive and luscious. We are desperate and craving.
We get depressed, because that IS depressing to live this way.
We get anxious, because being on guard all the time IS anxiety.
We get addicted to substances, behaviors, compulsions, relationships, thoughts to help numb us from the unknown of living in this ocean that we have deemed as overwhelming and unsafe.
We hold onto heavy thoughts that help us feel safe by keeping us at the bottom, but ultimately and over time do damage mentally, physically, and emotionally.
We think that we will always be alone. We think that we will always be out of control.
We think that we are not enough or too much.
We think that we will always be sick, in pain, and suffering.
We compare ourselves to those who are so able to stay out of the water and walk so freely and easily on dry land.
We feel guilty and judge ourselves, isolate, and our world becomes smaller and smaller.
But, sometimes people stop trying and they just start being.
This is usually the case with the people who walk in my door.
Or, they are at least considering giving up trying because they don't know how they can do it anymore. This is where it gets juicy.
For those who shift from drowning to swimming and then walking on water, I find that one or all of 3 things happens:
1. They get very bored with their life and they stop trying. They let go.
2. They have a serious mental, physical, emotional, or relational disorder that forces them to stop. Trying to fit into a mold that doesn't fit for them over time causes damage they can no longer tolerate or ignore. They finally let go.
3. They have a profound experience of self, what one might call a spiritual experience. Something totally unexpected and beyond the realm of their "normal reality". It makes them stop and question everything. They have to let go.
I experienced all 3 of these things personally in my own life unintentionally.
I thought it was a disaster. I didn't realize it was the best thing that could happen.
That was the turning point where I stopped building and let my life unfold and be nourished by the unknown because I had to.
What if we decided to be ok with the unknown, instead of just surrendering to it as a last resort?
And what if you could stand on your sensations. Not even just be with them and ok with them, but use them.
What if you could own your anger?
What if you could trust them?
Instead of feeling consumed by them, what if you decided that they were just right and you used that information to stand on and move you forward?
Just as you know how to walk on land, you can walk on water. Simply decide that it's ok.
Let go of holding back. Let yourself be really frustrated about what is frustrating. This doesn't mean as a victim. Really own your frustration, open to the idea that you can go somewhere with it.
Let yourself be bothered by illness and disorder so that you keep looking for what feels better.
Let yourself be really bored with what is boring about your life.
Stop tolerating and minimizing. Stop going half way to what you want.
Put yourself in scary, vulnerable experiences that have the potential for you to experience your self powerfully.
Go all the way into whatever you're in, go all the way into your "yes"es. Go all the way into your "no"s. And, most importantly, go all the way into your "I don't know"s.
Just as you would assume that it's ok to feel happy, you could assume that it's ok to feel sad. You can repeat that to yourself. "I am sad right now and that's ok." "I am sad right now because something sad is happening. I can respond to it to do what feels better to me."
We already do that when we are happy. We figure out what feels good and go for more of it, we use it as information. Make no judgement of your emotions, of your sensations. When the ocean is stormy, it's stormy for a reason.
Just float. Let yourself be where you are and do what feels easiest or best to you in that given situation. Don't compare it to any other situation. It's showing up right now in you, it's not random and it's not outside of you.
You are not living on dry land, in the world of concrete and discrete answers.
You are living in the unknown world of sensation.
That doesn't mean it's not just right. It's just unknown.
Being highly sensitive means you have no choice about being in this constantly changing sea.
You may be in denial about it, you may be overcompensating with analysis. But, you know deep down if you are truly satisfied.
In my own personal experience and the experience of all the clients I see thrive, it comes from letting it all just be. It comes from letting go. It comes from showing up with what is without judgement. No thing is better or worse than another. It's all just right. So use it all. Stand on it all.
The paradox of it is that being willing to go into your weakness to stand in and on the unknown builds stability in you, your core muscles get toned from the unsteadiness.
Your sensitivity, this ocean of emotion, is your super power.
You are a powerful, natural leader with all the sensory information and illogical knowing that you have in you right now.
You feel every wave and every ripple, use it.
The only person stopping you from using that power is you. You cannot experience your value until you experiment with it.
This is it. What are you waiting for?
Let go already. Start swimming in what you're in. Eventually you'll be dancing on it.
~ ~ ~
Ane (pronounced like "Annie") Axford, MS, LFMT, is "a highly sensitive person, who is also high sensation seeking, introverted, a licensed mental health and relationship therapist who specializes in working with highly sensitive persons."
Find out more about her services at her site sensitive + thriving
Read more quotes by her in the post ‘Condition’ or ‘character’? How language impacts our understanding of the high sensitivity personality
Also see list of HSP / Highly Sensitive People books.
Photos added by site author Douglas Eby:
Upper photo: Der Weg des Lichts - by AlicePopkorn.
Middle photo: Faces - related to the emotional recognition work of Paul Ekman, from the post Emotions both enhance and impair higher cognition.
Lower photo: Nicole Kidman says: "Most actors are highly sensitive people, but you have this incredible scrutiny. You have to develop a thick skin, but you can’t have a thick skin in your work. So it’s that constant push-pull of going, How do I stay human and vulnerable and real, and how do I, at the same time, not let all this affect me?" -- From my Inner Actor post Nicole Kidman on fame, and actors as highly sensitive people.
Post related to dealing with disruptive emotions: Guided Imagery and Emotional Health.