A few years ago, I heard a term that made a lot of sense to me. Actually, that's not entirely true, at first it made me roll my eyes at yet another -ism entering the vernacular. I wondered whether the world really needed another label to navigate round, until one day, to my shame, I realised that the label, quite literally, defined me.
I'd never considered myself in need of explaining before that point. I was just, well, me, and yeah I had a few quirks - who doesn't - but they weren't coherent, and they certainly weren't problematic.
And for that very reason, people who wear this label, are architects of our own demise. Our emotional kinks don't usually result in public meltdowns, or explosive swearing, or an inability to function, even if those things are happening to us inside.
The label I saw was Highly Sensitive Person, and it applies not only to me, but also to at least two of my children. It influences every part of how we see and interact with the world, but most importantly right now, it has huge consequences for how we make friends.
Why do I mention all of this now? Well my daughter is navigating the Russian Roulette world of HSP friendship.
She is blessed to be a part of a community who care very deeply about her, and who have been working with me, to understand how she sees the world. As is often the case when we unpick our own journeys, this process has helped me to come to a few realisations of my own, about HSPs and friendships.
- HSPs are people pleasers
It is my absolute favourite thing in the world to make other people happy. Last year, I spent a week of my life creating a personalised travel and prayer journal for a complete stranger I got on NZ Secret Santa, and I was frickin GIDDY to see her reaction. Never met the woman, didn't know her from Eve, but the emotional investment I made in something I thought would make her happy, was damn near surreal. And when she got in touch to tell me she had cried with happiness? Yeah, I cried too. More than I cried at The Land Before Time, which was a lot, because Littlefoot's mama DIED! She frickin' died, leaving him alone in the world, and I cannot even with that sort of thing.
I've noticed as the mama of HSPs, that those simple, malformed, slightly second hand gifts are similarly more important than breathing to my children. It's not about the gift - hell, they'd bring me a desiccated mouse as a gift if they thought it would make me happy - the pleasure for them is in seeing my face light up, even as I fight back tears, and sometimes vomit.
- HSPs see rejection everywhere
Hey friend, remember that time, fifteen years ago, when you exhaled in a kinda sigh-y way, while I was telling you about a particularly crappy relationship? No, of course you don't, because you were simply expelling air from your body in a way that allows you to stay conscious and, well, alive. I remember it though, because what I heard was "jaysus woman, would you stop boring me with your drama", it was like a dagger through my heart, and ever since then I have been trying to feel like you weren't rejecting me, with your judgy bodily functions.
I'm pretty sure everyone who identifies as an HSP can tell you a tale of feeling mortally wounded by a friend.
The HSP approach to befriending people they really like, is about as awkward as a pre teen boy at a school disco. Our tendency towards empathy goes into overdrive, as we do the usual up and down assessment of whether this is a person we want to invest time in knowing, and by the time we have decided, we either feel like OMGTHISISMYNEWBESTFRIEND, or we are mentally filing a restraining order. Either way, life experience usually makes us believe that the best way to deal with the situation, is to make a fart joke before running away.
- HSPs don't need lots of social interaction, we need the right sort of social interaction
Extrovert HSPs sometimes get called generalists, because we can strike up a conversation with pretty much anyone, given half a chance. We also find it quite easy to be open about our lives (oh hai, yes I do splash my life all over the internet) but for us, that is very different to actual, real friendship. I suppose you could say that extrovert HSPs live their life in the way a lot of people approach their Instagram feeds; you see a lot of us, but we probably won't show you much of consequence.
In case you hadn't realised, we also use humour: A lot.