If you are someone like me, you know that are you are sensitive, and yet, you often struggle to integrate this knowledge in your life. If you are someone like me, you also have an incessant voice in your head that keeps on discounting the little onward steps that you are taking.
It feels really hard to extend yourself the same compassion that you can extend to others and HSPs need self-compassion.
It’s very easy to get impatient with yourself as you try to make changes.
It’s only lately that I have started developing more compassion for myself in this process. I have started seeing that my hesitant, baby steps are part of my larger journey. I have started understanding why I have such problems with giving myself what I need.
The Challenge Of Self-Compassion
So, why is self-compassion such hard work for so many of us?
Sonia Connolly discusses this struggle in her lovely book Wellspring of Compassion: “Self-care can sound like an obligation, one more item on a long to-do list. Self-care can sound like abandonment if we were emotionally or physically neglected as children and still long for someone to rescue us. Self-care can sound selfish, self-indulgent, or forbidden when we are accustomed to caring for others first.”
Just being aware of these dynamics can help us immensely. We might have unmet needs for love and belonging that are not getting satisfied. We might still be holding on to the hope for some outside redemption. We might be looking at other people and envying them their ability to take care of themselves while forgetting how hard it is to give yourself what you haven’t received.
Maybe the first step in developing more self-compassion is suspending judgment about how well we are doing self-care. Maybe it’s about having patience with the parts that are especially difficult for us.
HSPs Have A Complex Set Of Needs
As a sensitive person in today’s world, as part of a minority, it’s likely that your journey has been difficult. If you have also suffered trauma — physical or emotional abuse, abandonment as a child, a life-changing illness — then your struggle has been even harder. Then, you truly have a formidable dragon to slay.
You are not just over-stimulated by the world around you like other HSPs, you are also hyper-vigilant. Your psyche is constantly scanning the environment for any potential threats. It is caught up in trying to keep you safe.
There’s very little energy left to make sense of what is going on inside you.
Sometimes, you end up feeling as if some unknown force inside you is sabotaging your efforts. But what looks like self-sabotage might mean something completely different.
Sonia Connolly discusses this dynamic, how sometimes, resistance to change actually points to a core truth about us. She tells the story of a client who at the beginning of a bodywork session admitted that he had felt extremely resistant to coming and seeing her that day. When she asked him why, he told her, “I don’t want to pay more attention to my pain. It claims too much of my life already.”
This resistance was a genuine expression of his exhaustion. He was tired of having to deal with the same feelings again and again. He was frustrated by the amount of effort it was taking to get past his pain.
His courageous admission showed Connolly that he needed to feel supported that day. So, she changed the focus of the session to a relaxation massage. Together, they also spent time noticing and counting everything that was actually working in his life.
As a result of this change of pace, at the end of the session, the client left feeling renewed and nourished.
But what if he had not expressed his truth? What if he had thought that his resistance was self-sabotaging behavior and then tried to bulldoze his way through a challenging session?
It is very likely that he would have left feeling that their work together was “too difficult,” something that just brought him more pain. It is very possible that at some point, when things got really hard, he would have stopped the sessions altogether.
Listen To Your Resistance
Just like Connolly’s client, listening to our resistance can help us move forward. When we are stuck, it’s important to ask: What is it that I need right now? What would make it easier to take the next step?
When we dig below the surface, we might find that our resistance — the sudden need to abandon what we are doing, forgetting to do something, or procrastinating on an “easy” task — is actually telling us about another deeper need. In such a case, resistance is actually an impulse towards health, and not the avoidance it might look like.
Just like resistance has something to tell us, other adaptations and defense mechanisms also carry deeper messages. Denial, for example, is a circuit-breaker that protects against psychic overload during traumatic times. We numb our emotions to deal with the overwhelm that trauma brings.
Dissociation from our bodily sensations is another adaptation. When we habitually feel disconnected from our body, it’s likely that somewhere in our past, we coped by numbing the felt sense of our bodies. Most survivors of physical abuse feel some degree of disconnection from their bodies, years and even decades after the traumatic incident.
When we come across these adaptations, it’s easy to feel like there’s something terribly wrong with us. We feel trapped as if we can never manage to be happy. But essentially, these ways of being are left-overs from an earlier time. They are relics that indicate that we passed through a dark night of the soul and they deserve our self-compassion too.
We can move forward by appreciating their role as important tools in our journeys up until this point. We know that they no longer work, so we can actively develop and adopt new tools that serve us better today. Connolly tells us: ““As we work to learn new tools, we naturally use the old ones less over time. Knowing that old tools remain available if we need them again, we feel safer to explore new ways one day at a time.”
So, as we learn to get support and understand new ways to manage distressing feelings, the hold of our learned patterns naturally loosens. We are not victims anymore. We can start becoming freer.
As we start noticing what holds us back, it’s important to see that we may have valid reasons for our stuckness. Self-compassion lies in staying with ourselves as we navigate difficult terrain. It’s about understanding that taking care of ourselves is something that we might need to learn just like we have learned all other skills.
It’s okay to go slow. It’s okay to fall down sometimes. It’s okay to not do it perfectly.
You are sending forth new shoots and leaves, and in time, these will grow into their full lushness. In time, what feels hard to do will become easier.
Haven’t you traveled a long way already?