Do you have difficulty handling differences?
All of us do to a degree.
For highly sensitive people, 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
Are Perceptions Reality?
For many decades since the Marketing Age began, we have been told that “perception is reality.” And many if not most people have accepted that as truth.
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 loosened us up. The world started to make room for different points of view. Even if we were constricted in terms of identity, 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 ownership of our lives
- we could develop skills
- we could flex our creativity muscles
Experience Is King
In a competitive consumer based culture, experience is king.
Now, I have absolutely nothing against good experiences unless they become an entitlement, a right and an expectation that we impose.
Many of us have come to judge ourselves and be judged by others based on our experiences. People who have good experiences are supposedly good people and people who have bad experiences are bad people. (After all, as individuals we have total control over our experiences.) Because of our over reliance on the individual, we have made experience a marker of identity, social desirability and status: a trophy of sorts.
It is an oversimplification that harms us all.
At the personal level, many of us identify with our experiences. We may think that our experiences are a reflection on us and therefore can easily be in conflict with someone who experience is different from ours. If we identify with our experiences we may also seek to perpetuate them, and lose our ability to adapt to changing circumstances.
Over-identifying with our experiences can cause us to misjudge a situation, ourselves and others and will result in our losing our flexibility and reliance. What a price to pay!
How Identity Creates Differences
Identity can be a little easier to understand. 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 every day 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.
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 transcience of everything can be a big relief.