In her authoritative book The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You, Elaine Aron, PhD notes, we are at “the extreme end of the dimension of sensitivity.”
But she adds, “For many HSPs the real challenge is to achieve the middle ground. No more ‘too shy’ or ‘too sensitive’ or too anything. Just okay, ordinary, normal.”
But is “normal” what we want to be?
I don’t really know the nuances of Dr. Aron’s perspective on this topic of normality, but her sentence caught my attention, and reminded me of a poignant movie – “Phoebe in Wonderland” – about a gifted and sensitive girl.
In the film, 9-year-old Phoebe (Elle Fanning) auditions to play the lead in a school production of “Alice in Wonderland,” but her vivid imagination leads her to act out some possibly obsessive self-punishing rituals to earn the part.
When Phoebe explains to her drama teacher Miss Dodger (Patricia Clarkson) that she can’t control her odd behaviors, Miss Dodger responds, “I want to tell you something which may not make any sense. But I should say it, just so that one day you might remember it and maybe it will make you feel better.
“At a certain point in your life, probably when too much of it has gone by, you will open your eyes and see yourself for who you are. Especially for everything that made you so different from all the other ‘awful’ normals.”
[See more photos and get the DVD at Amazon.com.]
We do want to be “normal” in the sense of living as equals in the global community of other people, without being judged as freaks for being “too sensitive.”
But normal can often also involve satisfaction with mediocrity, support of destructive prejudices, acceptance of authority without question, and other qualities that, hopefully, creative and exceptional people tend to shun.
Being exceptional means not called or constituted to be normal, in the sense of ordinary or average.
In an issue of her newsletter several years ago, creativity coach Jenna Avery wrote: “I hear from many of you that you don’t want to “accept” being highly sensitive. It’s like if you give yourself permission to be who you really are, you’re giving in or even giving up somehow.
“The problem with this is that when we disown parts of ourselves we’ve deemed unacceptable, we waste huge amounts of our precious life energy resisting or repressing them. Plus we usually end up making ourselves sick on some level — whether we’re soul sick or physically sick, trying to make ourselves be who we are not.”
“Why do we do this?
“We repress, deny, and resist being highly sensitive because we’ve been programmed by our culture to believe that being highly sensitive is unacceptable. Particularly in American culture, the value is placed on being extroverted, logical, and unemotional. We’ve been told for years, ‘Oh, you’re just too sensitive.’ And, ‘Stop being so emotional.’ No wonder we fight it!”
You can read more of her writing in blog posts, and learn about her programs including Self-Study Classes for Sensitive Souls, at her site JennaAvery.com.
The image is a high speed photograph by Shinichi Maruyama – see an image of the artist in one of my videos, in the post Outliers and developing exceptional abilities.
Enso is a Japanese word meaning “circle” and a concept strongly associated with Zen Buddhists, who “believe that the character of the artist is fully exposed in how she or he draws an enso. Only a person who is mentally and spiritually complete can draw a true enso.” [WIkipedia]
In The Highly Sensitive Person, Elaine Aron writes:
“Wholeness is a central issue for HSPs in relation to the spiritual and psychological life because so often we are already good at the spiritual and psychological. In fact, if we persist in those to the exclusion of everything else, we are being one-sided.
“It is very hard for us to see that the most spiritual thing might be to be less spiritual, the most insightful psychological stance might be to dwell less on our psychological insights. A call to wholeness rather than perfection might be the only way to get the message.
“This is a very individual matter. If we’ve stayed in, we’ll be tempted out or finally forced out. If we’ve been out, we’ll have to go in. If we’ve armored ourselves, we’ll finally have to admit to our vulnerability.
“But if we’ve been timid, we’ll start to feel all wrong inside until we’re more assertive. In respect to Jungian attitudes of introversion and extraversion, most HSPs need to be more extraverted in order to become more whole.”
She adds helpful advice, “In general, anything that has been our particular specialty has to be balanced by its opposite, what we are bad at or afraid of trying.”
Related post: Why Conformity Is The Norm – The HSP Health Blog.
Also see article: Apple Seeds, Wabi-Sabi, and Appearances, by Eric Maisel, PhD. – “I can no longer find the reference, but somewhere I read that the imperfections in Victorian windows are known as apple seeds. This being San Francisco, many such imperfections are on view. We are a town of apple seeds. We are also, because of our Japanese connection, a town familiar with the idea of wabi-sabi, the Zen aesthetic that honors that nothing lasts, that nothing is finished, and that nothing is perfect.”
Maybe accepting – even embracing – imperfection is part of being whole.