As I came to understand myself and my super sensitivity, I came to see how intrinsic to my own identity was service to others. I also saw how this can swing into unsustainable and irresponsible codependence, resentment, burnout, struggles with self-directedness and awareness of personal preferences, pleasure, and priorities.
Self Identification With Service
In my therapy practice I also work with those who are in direct service to others as an important part of their lives. Too quickly and too often I see how we can flip from a judgment on being too codependent and then flop right on over to a judgement on being too selfish. It can be really uncomfortable to take up space. It can be incredibly uncomfortable to take up space during a global pandemic. Flipping and flopping, too codependent and then too selfish, keeps us distracted from the discomfort.
The Need for Harmony and The Value of Harmony
Resonance feels so good to my sensitive nervous system. SO good. Like I will dissolve into a trance at the perfect pairing of flavors and textures and density. Dissonance, any little hint of disharmony, feels so agitating that sometimes I dissociate from it before I even know it is happening. It is that uncomfortable. That may seem like a pair of really obvious statements to say that resonance is pleasant and dissonance is agitating. But, for me, it took quite a number of years into adulthood to really get it and how much it was running my life. Once I could see it, I judged myself for it. I judged myself because I primarily focused on the negative impact of it. I saw the relationships I stayed in for far too long and incurred far too much trauma because I was subconsciously avoiding feeling the discomfort of disharmony through dissociation and insistence on harmony. I was unknowingly adapting to something painful because it allowed me to maintain some sort of harmony. But then I started to have compassion for myself. I started to see what an immense need this must be if I would go to such lengths. Allowing for compassion also allowed me to see that I truly value harmony, and the ways in which I had worked through conflict for myself and others by believing in the value of harmony. And I also saw the importance of resonating with myself. I saw that a part of who I am and what makes me who I am is serving others. The true service of others truly serves me in being me, and me being truly me is serving others. Service to others is a part of my self care, when it is in harmony with my ownership of my sense of self and growth.
When Harmony is Prioritized Above Growth
Growth is uncomfortable. It can feel good too, like a good stretch can. A deep massage where your tissues ache a little in a deeply softened and relaxed way. Moving your body in ways that challenge and strengthen and enliven can be satisfying. It can also just be a struggle like a little root or sprout pushing its way out of a little seed through soil. When I word it that way, of course we want things to grow. Plants and food and flowers are lovely to watch grow. But when it is our self growth happening, it can seem disharmonious. It can SEEM like something is off if our guiding light is comfort, harmony at all costs. Growth is part of being alive and if we do not intentionally distinguish the difference between distress and actual harm, it can be tricky to know what we are turning toward and what we are turning away from and why. Harmony is a totally valid value and need, and as highly sensitive people we benefit those around us by focusing on harmony. Its an important part of who we are individually and collectively. But if harmony is put ABOVE growth, it can become debilitating, atrophying, and damaging to our sense of self.
The Right Amount of Comfort
Wouldn’t that be great if I could tell you what the right amount of comfort was? I can’t. But I do think we all need comfort, just as we also need growth (which comes with discomfort). Sometimes the best response to someone facing a loss (disharmony) is a hug (comfort), and sometimes its encouragement to keep going until they get to the place they want to be (growth/discomfort). Sometimes we develop habits and coping styles to isolate or overdo it when we are experiencing a loss. During this pandemic, I have seen so many so confused about how to serve, how to bring harmony, how to bring comfort, and what the best ways to growth are…especially when part of what helps is physically isolating from each other and many of us are overwhelmed with so many things to do all at once in one confined space. This IS confusing.
So often you can see the person in a family or group who cares the most about harmony, and often they are the most highly sensitive person, managing things that they really do not like to manage. You may see them dealing with all kinds of behavior from others and obstacles to connection, going to great lengths to make things work. Trying to come to agreements with high conflict people who do not care about agreeing. This objective of connection is a noble one. But it must come with growth, growth of all involved. We must learn to be uncomfortable with allowing things to not be harmonious when there is important conflict. We must learn to allow others to feel whatever they feel without trying to manage it. We must learn to act in service from a space of centeredness not hopefulness or desperation or obligation. We can and we will and we do serve, and we want to. And that is wonderful, and needed. We are the center of that and so we must stay centered in our selves to do so.
Centered in Self vs. Centering Yourself With Others
Being centered in ourselves is about where we orient from. Perspective taking is a great skill of highly sensitive people. We can be incredibly understanding and open and make space. We can easily jump out of our own skin and see things from above or below or over there or from all kinds of locations. We have an ability and sometimes a default to be other-focused. With our sensitivity the environment can be so loud or distracting, and so we seek to harmonize it in order to experience peace ourselves. Sometimes we forget to or don’t make space to listen to the internal environment of ourselves first and foremost when we seek peace. Sometimes we don’t hear our own individual needs for growth or space or care. At this time socially, there are more conversations about who is centered in conversations. Who is centered in political conversations and health conversations and safety conversations and well-being conversations, publicly and privately. I declare that we are all more capable, functional, and able to cooperate when we are all centered in ourselves, with each other. And if we are in a social conversation, we can stay centered in ourselves while we also center other voices or identities or experiences different from our own in a shared space together. The central focus of the conversation may be another’s perspective, and it is so important that you stay in you while you also stay with their voice and their perspective. Hearing unheard voices and the experiences of those who are falling through the cracks and gaps is so essential. Those who are sick and struggling need our attention. You access more space and care for and with others by being oriented in you when you are in service. Be in you while you are attending to those who need you.
Remember that harmony is not the path, it is not the way. It is the result, it is the outcome. It is the destination. And you are so needed as people who want for and need for harmony, and for people who provide it. Your harmonious abilities are tremendous. Use them well to create rather than to adapt and enable. Growth is the way, the path. And of course, we all need comfort along the way. Centering in yourself is always welcome, even if you hop out for a bit. And you can center others in social contexts while still being centered in yourself for you. We all need to center together those who are being missed and hurt. And we center their perspective most effectively by being centered personally in ourselves as those who care deeply. You are the resource we all need. You being in you as a servant of harmony is more than enough. Use your extreme empathy skills to jump right into your own shoes. The space you take up and own is space that moves us all along the path.
Repeat after me:
- “An important part of who I am is someone who serves others with integrity.”
- “My offering of bringing harmony through service is valid and valuable.”
- “Serving others and myself happens with growth and discomfort as well as comfort and harmony.”
- “I am facing a great unknown in this moment, and I can stay in myself in my body with any discomfort to hear what I need to hear.”
- “Growth can happen with compassion, not punishment. And comfort can happen with care, not enabling.”
- “Being centered in self is a generous way to make space with those who have been socially de-centered.”
Image: Markus Spiske – Unsplash