Do you have difficulty handling differences? All of us do to a degree. For highly sensitive people, however, differences can seem dangerous because we have usually experienced so much invalidation that we can become afraid of differences. I know I have. So what can we do?
Why Differences Become A Problem
Differences become a problem because of three important factors:
- how we relate to our perceptions
- how we relate to our experiences
- how we define ourselves
All of these factors have one thing in common: we are making ourselves the basis of reality. Once we do that we are opening the door to lots of problems for ourselves and others.
How Perceptions Create Differences?
For many decades since the Marketing Age began, we have been told that “perception is reality.” Many if not most people have accepted that as truth. At one time, this new idea about perception was probably a welcome relief to people because for so long, individual perceptions had to conform to prevailing dogma – or else. The idea of perception being reality rather than ideology loosened us up. The world started to make room for different points of view. Even if we were still constricted in many ways, we could have every flavor of ice cream imaginable! It was a new age. The “perception is reality” idea had other benefits:
- we could now make changes
- we could take greater ownership of our lives
- we could develop skills
- we could flex our creativity muscles
In opening the door for the individual, however, we left community behind in our quest for improved living conditions and personal achievements. What we did is create a distortion to create a culture of the individual, a culture that let us develop as never before. Although personal development was long overdue, we nonetheless went overboard in emphasizing the individual and forgot about our commonality. We oversimplified reality as we also increased our receptivity to different points of view. It was an achievement but not necessarily an accurate depiction of reality.
How Experiences Create Differences
In a competitive consumer based culture, experience matters and has economic consequences. I have absolutely nothing against good experiences, however sometimes they have the unpleasant tendency to become hardened into entitlements, rights or expectations. We all like to enjoy life, however, there is so much that is beyond our control. In a hyper individualized society, we expect the individual to have full control over their lives even if they do not. It is an oversimplification that harms us all. As a result, many of us have learned to judge ourselves and others on the basis of our experiences. People who have provided good experiences are supposedly good people and people who have provided bad experiences are bad people. Our individual focused society has resulted in our turning experience into a marker of identity, social desirability and status: a trophy of sorts. It can sometimes make up self-serving. At the personal level, many of us identify with our experiences.We or others may think that our experiences are a reflection on us. If we identify with our experiences we may also seek to perpetuate them and lose our ability to adapt to changing circumstances. Most importantly we are in conflict with the reality that we are not in control of so much and so we are creating conflict within ourselves and with others by misperceiving reality.
How Identity Creates Differences
I am what I define myself to be and everything else is not me. Often when we create an identity we then need to maintain it; it becomes our suit of armor in everyday life. Identities are usually but not always a social construct. They are often an organizing point for our perceptions and experiences. This collaboration of identity, perception and experiences is often what we use to define ourselves and life. That means that anyone who does conform to our definition is essentially threatening our cherished life view and our personal identity.
How Can We Solve The Problem Of Differences?
The way to solve the problem of differences is with a dose of reality. We need to remind ourselves that:
- nothing in life is fixed: our feelings, perceptions, experiences and identities.
- if we have a fixed view, others are not obligated to uphold them.
- each of us has limited knowledge. No matter how much time we spend learning, there is no way that we can have all knowledge. No one can and so we are limited by our own ignorance as is everyone else. All perceptions will therefore be incomplete.
- each of us has a limited number of experiences in life. We all have limitations based on our experiences.
Embracing our incompleteness as well as the incompleteness of others as we grapple with the amazing experience of living is a great way to not only be more accurate but also to be kinder and more compassionate. It is a better way to live. It also helps us to avoid unnecessary differences and enjoy our experiences of other people. It helps us to relax in our differences and not take them so seriously. It makes it easier for us to friends with others who are different. For highly sensitive people, being able to relax around other people who are different is an important need. Reminding ourselves of the limitations and transience of everything can be a big relief.