I could feel the burn, as soon as I hit enter. A conversation with a maker that I once featured on my site had turned into an opportunity for them to chastise me for being so presumptuous to feature their work without permission. It’s a risk that you take when you are a blogger, one that thankfully didn’t manifest itself very often. In fact, of the thousands of makers that I featured here and on my old blog, I really have only had just 2 who requested that I remove their work. Their loss, my lesson.
The issue wasn’t that they didn’t want the free publicity or the fact that they had every right to ask me not to share. It was the fact that I didn’t anticipate that they might not want the love. Or the fact that I had somehow caused pain and distress to a stranger. No amount of goodwill on my part could make up for the feeling that I had created a moment of angst for another fellow passenger on this beautiful, spinning, blue oblate spheroid. #science
For many years, situations like that as well as a myriad of other life events, big and small, used to sap the juice from me for days at a time. These moments would color my world with something that I couldn’t quite put into words. Not just those tense moments in business; I’d feel a similar burn when choosing a movie to watch. If there was an inkling of distress or drama, I couldn’t bare it. (Don’t ask me about the movies I’ve ruined for others because I just had to know if the movie had a happy ending. Oh, the hero dies? Nope, no, no and NO.) Same with books and television. I avoid anything that ignited my seemingly overactive empathy. It felt like a plague at times and I certainly treated it as such. This continual flow of emotional needling left me feeling raw like fresh cut grass. Why did it seem like I was constantly in a state of empathic heart-melt?
A few years back, in the quiet and restful city of New York (I kid!), I was enthusiastically introduced to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator by a equally-exuberant new friend. The version of the test that I took was nested in the back of Please Understand Me, the bestselling guide to the MBTI by David Keirsey & Marilyn Bates.
Funny thing: when I first took the test, the years of conditioning that I had experienced at the hands of my primary custodial units had convinced me that most of my dominant personality traits were either insufficient or fodder for exploitation. I was finally on my own in a huge and daunting city, ready to stand on my own two very flat feet, so I convinced myself to not be myself and answered the questions like I had never met myself. My new, eccentrically attired and energetic friend threw that test right back in my face and said: “Take it again and this time, tell the truth!” Thus began my journey into the world of what Keirsey calls the intuitive feeler. I tested as an ENFJ and, although the description seemed to be slightly off the mark, something about Keirsey and Bates description of the NF, or intuitive feeler, hit me straight in the soul. (If you want a really well-designed way to discover the MBTI, try 16 Personalities. Hey, I’m a designer and this site wins.)
I know that there are many who give this Jungian-based temperment and personality assessment the same credibility as organic and ‘healthy’ Oreo cookie knock-offs. However, for many intuitive feelers, the MBTI and especially David Keirsey’s intensive study of it in his second book, the cleverly-named Please Understand Me II, gives us an explanation and a vocabulary that opens a world of mental doors. So, from the concrete playground of NYC, I started trying to understand this enigmatic creature, hidden behind the longing brown eyes that greeted me in the mirror every morning: Me.
Here’s where books, blogs and Youtube videos can fail you, big time. Over there years, the definition of an ENFJ seemed to do me well, but it couldn’t explain some anomalies. Something was missing, and no amount of reading or researching down the narrow lane I was traveling seemed to uncover what it was.
For instance, it was true that I loved people and craved being surrounded by creative and joyful humans. However, I used to count the minutes, always aware the somehow, no matter how engaging the crowd, I couldn’t wait to recharge my batteries in the privacy of my amazingly small apartment. Or the fact that nothing brought me more inner calm as a day spent alone, at home or walking the city and studying the unique homo sapien newyorkius that roamed the streets and alley ways. Something else that used to puzzle me: my most powerful gift was not enthusiastic feeling, a marker of the ENFJ, but instead it was a steady and unyielding intuition. No matter the situation, I almost always seemed to know what was happening with people. My radar was (and still is) uber-intense. Toss in my poetry writing addiction and the ENFJ profile just didn’t seem to completely gel with what I believed was my core temperament. It wasn’t until I moved to California and started working within the tiny house universe that I figured out what I had missed all along: kid, you are no extrovert.
Thanks to an insightful moment from a former boss and fellow MBTI enthusiast, who looked at me and stated, out of the blue: ‘You do know that you are not an extrovert, right?’, I started to reexamine who I really was, or should I say who I really am. He followed this with the words that would change my inner life in a profound way: ‘You are the most intuitive human I’ve ever met and the most emotionally mature, too.’ Now, I’m not blowing my horn here. In fact, due to my damaged sense of self-worth, compliments of any kind were often greeted with the same enthusiasm as dust in my eye. Yet, I couldn’t ignore this truth, especially the intuition comment. So, I picked up my copy of Please Understand Me II and finally read the INFJ profile. I was floored. It was there all the time. ALL THE APPLE PIE LOVIN’ TIME! This is me! So many things started to make sense and I really did have a DUH! moment reading the description. Right in from on my face, in print, was the missing piece of the puzzle. And so a new adventure began. Yay!
Fast forward to last year.
I just so happened to discover a documentary by Dr. Elaine Aron called Sensitive, The Movie. Dr. Aron is the best-selling author of The Highly Sensitive Person, a book that details the particular traits of those with this unique condition. Between the book and the documentary, which featured the hurricane of talent that is Alanis Morissette, I found the missing piece to my personal puzzle. Dr. Aron breaks down the 4 traits that, when combined, are at the core of those who are HSP: depth of processing, overstimulation, emotional reactivity & empathy and sensing the subtle. You can read an extensive definition of each trait here.
Finally, I understood the whys behind what sometimes feels like the constant sense of intrusion that often bombards my mind. If you haven’t see the documentary or read the book, both are worthy of your time.
Combined, both the MBTI and Dr. Aron’s work have really helped me set some necessary boundaries. They’ve also helped me to not feel so abnormal when I am overwhelmed by both external events and my internal processes. After so many years of trying to navigate a world that seems to want to crack open my skull and force its way in, I find that I am just coming to grips with the impact of self-understanding.
Where am I going with all this? Don’t worry, there is a destination and it’s a simple one: Love. Yep, that’s it. When I decided to respect and actually love being sensitive, intuitive and creative, it was the beginning of a redirection. On this path, I no longer feel the need to let certain voices and noise in. For instance, discovering that I didn’t need to read the news everyday was a revelation. I want to be informed but not suffocated, so I choose both the dose and the content very carefully. Social media presents another area of concern for me. I recently took a 30 day break from most of my social feeds and the effect was nothing short of astonishing. You know that feeling of seeing something trending and fighting with your index finger, trying not to click? Yep, none of that for a month and the residual effect has been long lasting. The internet is full of landmines for the sensitive and knowing that I can actually avoid acres and acres of those dangerous fields by choice is a necessity for me.
But enough about me: how has embracing your sensitivity helped you?