I always knew I was a little different. When I was a child, I was labeled “shy.” But I didn’t quite fit the description of an introvert. I liked to socialize and be around people, but with limits. After a few hours, I would become mentally and emotionally exhausted — hung-over from the interaction and stimulation.
I was often told I needed to grow a thicker skin. I wanted to be one of the hearty ones who didn’t feel the emotions of everyone in the room — who could shut out the sights, sounds, and smells that surrounded me, instead of becoming exhausted by them.
A year ago, I finally found a fitting description for a person like me: I am a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), a term coined by the psychologist Elaine Aron. I have pretty much every characteristic of an HSP, and Dr. Aron says that this trait affects 15 to 20% of the population. It’s innate and is not something to be ashamed or embarrassed about. Hallelujah!
Now that I know what it is, I don’t struggle against it. I’ve accepted my sensitive self and am trying to construct a life that is more comfortable for me, rather than trying to push myself into lifestyle choices that don’t fit my personality.
When I was a brand new mom, I hadn’t learned about HSPs and found motherhood to be, well, overwhelming. I think new motherhood is overwhelming to anyone, but I experienced it as particularly draining to all my senses. Even as the years go by, I see that I am never going to be a mom who can court her kids around town every day, or who can just shut out the constant noise of parenting.
There are always going to be things I struggle with, but I take solace in the fact that I’m not alone in these struggles. Maybe some of you will relate to the kinds of things that tend to overwhelm us highly sensitive moms.
1. Playdates exhaust us.
It’s not just the endless messes the kids create or the myriad of opportunities for one kid to bop another kid on the head with a Mega Block. Just planning for a playdate can make our heads spin, not to mention having to keep up with the adult conversation and kid interaction at once (we are horrible multitaskers). It’s not that we don’t want to have playdates with you and your tyke. We just might not want too many of them, and we will probably prefer them to be on the shorter side.
2. We might just skip a moms’ night out too.
I love my mom friends, but I usually prefer to hang out with them one-on-one. Plus, I’m often just too emotionally exhausted after a full day of kid-care to go out to a bar once my kids are asleep. We sensitive moms want nothing more than silence at the end of our days. A little Netflix and red wine can enter the picture on occasion as well.
3. We feel EVERYTHING.
I have been known to feel it immediately when someone who is upset or suffering enters the room, even if they’re trying to hide it from everyone else. It’s really hard for us highly sensitive moms not to absorb every little sorrow or bad mood our kids have, either. This makes us very empathetic, but since kids are known to be emotional basket cases so much of the time, we can end up feeling totally depleted, touched out, and drained a lot of time. It sucks (pun intended).
4. Upsetting news gets under our skin.
I know that since I became a mom, I have been particularly affected by the news. If a child is harmed, I can’t help but picture my own child. I become easily depressed and hopeless, even about things that don’t directly affect me. I have had to turn off the news more and more lately just to stay even-tempered and calm around my kids.
5. Too much busy is really taxing for us.
I used to feel guilt about not wanting to sign my kids up for too many extracurricular activities and preferring not to pack too much fanfare into our weekends. But I’m just a homebody at heart — and it turns out that my kids are, too. We do have our fun, but in moderation. I have given up on trying to be a busy mom when that is just not how I prefer to function.
6. We love our kids, but we need tons of breaks.
I love my kids to the moon and back, but I can’t be with them 24/7, especially as they’ve gotten older and become rowdy, motor-mouth, climb-all-over-you boys. I was a SAHM for almost a decade, and now that I am sending my youngest off to school, I see that I could have used a lot more quiet this past decade. I know that many moms feel that way, but for us highly sensitive moms, breaks from our little ones is a necessity.
Here’s what we highly sensitive moms ask for more than anything: Please don’t take our silence or our need to retreat personally. Our senses are just easily overloaded, and we need more breaks and silence than the average person.
But here’s our biggest asset: We love with all our hearts. And that goes for our kids, our friends, and even strangers on the street. So if you take the time to get to know us, we will give you our heart. We only ask that you handle it with care.