For sensitive people, there has been a feeling of something missing for a long time, that somehow we were missing a piece of a puzzle. That missing understanding was provided by the discovery of the trait of sensory processing sensitivity by Dr. Elaine Aron. Our sensitivity is a biologically based difference which explains why we experience the world differently and process information of all kinds differently than non-sensitive people. Learning about our sensitivity is also the start of a journey of self-understanding which can help us recalibrate our living strategies so that we create a better balance in our lives and greater satisfaction in our work and relationships.
Biology And Identity
Identity is defined in many ways. It can be:
- biological. Certainly highly sensitive people have an identity because of their unique biology. That is not always the case. People with crooked noses, for instance, who probably not consider that physical characteristic an identity influencing feature of themselves. Other physical characteristics such as skin color have acquired, over time, attributions that are often inaccurate which we call prejudice, but are derived from social not biological constructs.
- cultural. Cultural identity is often a form of identity that people do not recognize. Each cultural system is like a project, our current one being the project of creating material sufficiency for humans, a project that has been largely successful. Each cultural system also creates a desired “identity” in order to meet its goals. The entrepreneur is a role but also a defining cultural identity under our current system. A cultural system rewards those who fill the desired identity so those who do not can feel unwelcome, left out and even punished.
- social. Social roles often transcend cultural systems and can be more archetypal, like parent. We all have these archetypal energies in us and resonate with some more than others. We can draw on different ones as needed and they can become important sources of strength unless the culture’s social roles are too controlled and predefined. Then they are simply oppressive.
Is Identity A Problem?
Does identity get us in trouble? It can only because we get attached to our identities. This is not all bad in that with each identity we develop some skills which is, of course, valuable.
However, when we need to change or when we are living in times of great change – like now – identity can become an issue and create a lot of pain for us in our lives.
People become very attached to their identities and during times of change what is essentially being asked of them is that they surrender an old identity for a new one. That sounds simple on the surface but in reality it is not because each identity offers us skills we need and new identities require skills we do not have.
Furthermore, most people have social and family connections in their cultural system and with cultural mindsets that may be different than the new ones being demanded. How do you square that? How do you deal with the rejection or abandonment issues that come with change?
Change is a big deal, which we all know, but handling it well is not a skill that humans have developed yet especially at the cultural level. Survival is the first priority of life and when change is required we must figure out how to manage it in a way that supports us. Too often change is treated as a threat or as a novelty which means that its seriousness is not given its due. Change delayed always carries a higher cost and potentially greater accumulated harm.
It is important to develop compassionate change strategies, adjusting living requirements, pacing, education and skill building among others. It is also important to accept that many will not support change because for one reason or another they cannot make the journey of transformation. Sometimes that is the right choice, and the skills that individual has developed still have value as in supporting quality of life.
It would be nice if we could manage change with greater finesse but even with great intentions and some good planning it is likely to a messy process. The more we are process oriented rather than identity focused the more we can draw on all parts of ourselves to manage change. As we become more skilled and adaptable we can more through various stages of our lives with greater flexibility and resourcefulness, always building and incorporating the past in thoughtful and life-enhancing ways. If we can continually add rather than be fixated on one identity or another we can turn what seems like an overwhelming set of stairs into a series of building blocks that help us make life better.