HSP Identity: A Plant In The Right Place

My name is Lisa McLoughlin and I am from Green Alder coaching, based in the UK.

I would like to share a personal account of my journey to discover that I am an HSP.

Is There Something Wrong With Me?

Most of my life I felt like a weed— not belonging to my environment. Being a weed was a bad thing and needed to be fixed, eradicated, changed, and just a blot on the landscape.

I often wondered, “If only I could be like all the others…the ornamental and outrageously colorful, extravagant man-made plants (people)…perhaps my life would be easier on me?”

Well, what is a weed? ‘A plant growing in the wrong place’ is the commonly accepted description. But wait a moment, how are we to know it is in the wrong place?

The war on weeds began with the coming of intense farming and public opinion. Who’s to judge a plant and name it a weed when all it is doing is trying to survive? Surely, a weed is entitled to the same life as any other plant?

Despite mans’ persistence to eradicate weeds by hand and chemical weed killers (like the Extrovert Ideal), the war has never been won. The same old weeds show up in the same spots, demonstrating gritty resistance, and persisting through centuries of persecution.

You have to admire their tenacity!

It’s only recently that I have come to respect the weed and understand that it is a plant, that might not fit in with expectations of it’s environment, but it has just as many rights to thrive and flourish as any plant—often with useful properties and benefits to the environment. So, I am left asking, “What if a weed is entirely normal and just needs to stand proud and comfortably in its environment—room for us all?”

Harsh Words

So, my life—to date—has been built on the sense that I was flawed or damaged in some way and that my purpose in life was to fix myself and fit in with others around me.

“You will never set the world on fire…you are so quiet…you are boring…you are a swot…you are too sensitive….stop crying…toughen up…you have the McLoughlin bad-luck…you are self-absorbed…you don’t contribute” were some of the general comments I received through my childhood and adulthood.

I noticed the harsh words struck deep into my heart and I felt myself shrink into melancholy instead of flourishing in spite of them. The comments were like chemicals trying to eradicate the weed, so that an outgoing and colorful ornamental pansy would grow in its place—just like all the rest of the ornamentals’ in the garden.

How I Came To Feel Damaged

Deep down I quite liked myself. I loved my ability to paint & draw and my creative drive and imagination, my spirit, and the rich texture of my internal world.

I could quite easily entertain myself for hours and I thrived when my environment was nurturing and supportive of the unique me. I had an internal warrior-like fire of passion and persistence.

Why didn’t my inner brilliance show in my external world? Why couldn’t I shine and show who I really was?

Unfortunately, I had a tricky upbringing with a mixture of overprotective love from a mum wracked with anxiety and guilt, and a father who had a severe form of Multiple Sclerosis (since I was two-years-old). Boy, did my mum and dad struggle. But, they did the best that they could at the time.

My mum was cautious and my father was a gentle-giant of a man (an angel from heaven). My sister and I willingly tried to please them both; to make them proud, to soothe them, and make them happy. Due to our difficult circumstances, my sister and I were forced to grow-up before we were ready. I remember wrestling with my desperate need to stay as an imaginative child playing with my dolls, against the pull to be a responsible adult for my mum and dad’s sake. My sister and I were pulled into situations such as mopping my mothers brow as she cried herself to sleep (when my father was placed in a nursing home), or, at the age of ten, dragging my father from the front door to the living room chair—he crashed out of his wheelchair trying to let the dog in, whilst my mum was at an evening class. She found the three of us laid out exhausted on the living room floor.

It kind of deeply affects an HSP as you grow up. It blossoms and develops your kindness and empathy, but also caustically hurts to the point of feeling ‘damaged’ in some way.

The HSP Career Challenge

During my childhood and early adult life, I looked to external guidance on what I should do as a career— I just wanted to paint and draw. But I was gifted in school with regular ‘A’ grades. I confused everyone with my hard efforts to please, often waking at 4 am just to revise and get better grades; to make my mum and dad proud.

My internal compass went awry, and I reluctantly agreed to pursue the sciences which eventually led me to physiotherapy (a role that required extroversion, ability to be with many people and groups for long periods of time and constant interruptions from junior staff and NHS bureaucracy).

The whole of my physiotherapy career was a private hell. I tried self-improvement courses, numerous physiotherapy courses and general soul-searching to see if I could change myself and grow into the role—it never happened. I was glad to eventually find some peace with regular mindfulness meditation and yoga since 2008.

In my personal life I was naturally gravitating towards caring for the planet, positive news and healthy and nutritious food. Something inside of me was starting to take control and gain momentum—I liked the feeling. I became a voluntary Director of a Community Supported Agriculture Scheme (CSA) and trained in permaculture design.

I was instinctively averse to the regular negative news; depressing soap operas; seeing cruelty to humans, plants and animals; I even struggled to watch the harsh realities of a wildlife program. There was a continued tendency to feel overwhelmed in work (seeking solitude at lunchtimes), in my personal life, and I became frustrated that I did not seem to have the robustness as others did around me.

The Beginnings Of Change

As a misfit in my personal and work life, I eventually burned-out with a diagnosis of social anxiety disorder. It’s no surprise I was anxious, I had increasing pressures in a career I disliked, and my marriage was imploding.

I did not resonate with the label of social anxiety disorder, but it was a start for healing. I noticed myself shrinking and struggling with a husband who, although extremely supportive, did not know how to nurture me gently. He too saw me as broken; just like my family and me.

With a call to adventure and internally growing courage and inner trust, I had no choice but to follow my deep-down instincts—I realised that external advice and manipulation had not worked and was actually harming me.

I left my old life and gradually grew into myself.

My inner guidance lead me to coaching the quiet person, painting, drawing, Susan Cain, Elaine Aron, writing and to a beautiful replenishing and nurturing experience—my new life.  On this journey I serendipitously discovered I have been normal all the time—an introverted HSP. The power of knowing and feeling this label is immense.

I stand tall as a unique plant in exactly the right place!!!

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Comments

  1. says

    Hi

    I used to be a physiotherapist too! I failed because I was so nervous at job interviews and couldn’t cope with being watched during clinical training. The academic side was easy as I did the diploma course- couldnt have coped with the massive workload in the degree course. I also have OCD.which was untreated during the time I worked for the NHS …….. I now run Liferingni for people with drug and alcohol issues.

    I am 55 medically retired twice and am currently at a loss. Lifering is ok but there is a lot of negativity. I need to find something gentle to do :-)

    • Maria says

      Philip,

      Thank you for writing. I think you have a fabulous background that would benefit a lot of people. I would suggest inventing an online course related to what you are doing and perhaps doing some health coaching. If you can, take a health coaching program – online and self paced – to help you establish a lifestyle that works for you.

      I hope this helps.
      Maria

    • says

      Yes Philip, I can relate to your physiotherapy experience. I say just start doing something, no matter how small, that sings to your heart….commit to it and see how things unfold….little steps moving towards what you value in life is the key….
      I am better around positivity and developing coaching skills and studying online some positive psychology, resilience and motivational interviewing and mindfulness with Dr Chris Johnstone was inspirational for me..and very nourishing..
      Best of luck with this.

  2. says

    Lisa, thankyou for sharing your heartfelt story – that takes great courage, even in HSP circles. You’re an inspiration to every one of us who has felt (and may still feel) like a ’round peg in a square hole’, always in the wrong place. I share many of your experiences of feeling ‘cast out’ and of always feeling out of place. I’ve only recently discovered that I too am an introverted HSP, and I echo your feeling of joy and relief when you say “…I have been normal all the time”. There are still many challenges, of course, characteristic of being HSP, but the inherent ‘knowing’ that everything you feel and everything you are is ‘totally ok’ is a real gift. Like something just ‘clicked’ smoothly into place.
    It’s telling, isn’t it, that you knew all along that your real gifts and strengths included expressing yourself through art and creating. I’m so happy for you that you’ve now found this ‘seed’ and it has taken root and is blossoming into a wondrous gift that will nourish you AND the people you choose to work with.
    “I stand tall as a unique plant in exactly the right place!!!” – that’s a priceless realisation !! Bravo to you ! :D

    • Maria says

      Hi Ann,

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. Being highly sensitive requires a lot of bravery and it is wonderful when being an HSP begins to feel wonderful and right.

      I personally like being an introvert even if the rest of the world does not share my joy!

      All the best,
      Maria

  3. alisha says

    wauw I was almost thinking you were my twin ! Science studies, wildlife programs, feeling the need to fix myself.. I’m on the verge, I hope, to turn away from the pressure of society. But it’s hard of course.

    • says

      hi Alisha,

      I think it is even better if we can find a way to live within society, and to learn how to bin the unnecessary stuff whilst still connecting to people and the adventure of living authentically- to really feel comfortable with our boundaries and vulnerabilities and live amongst it all. ..

    • Alicia says

      Thank you for sharing! I relate to you totally. I work in healthcare (similar challenges as a physiotherapist)…is not a good fit for me (other than the empathic traits I have)..trying to find my way too…

      • Maria says

        Thanks, Alicia,

        Our hearts want to help but the environments we work in are often not heart centered and they can hurt us. Have you considered health coaching where you can pace yourself better?

        All the best,
        Maria

  4. says

    I’m quiet too. Here in the states we run rampant with Dandelion flowers, which are considered weeds. As a child, they were one of my favorite flowers. I could never understand why everyone was trying to rid them from their gardens. I was forever grabbing a handful for my mother who would lovingly place them in a glass of water. Now, I know the milk in the stems get rid of warts. Just like ‘weeds’, we also have purpose. Weeds. Lovely article. I relate.

    • Maria says

      Hi Mari,

      I think it is so interesting how many HSPs identify with weeds. You mother sounds lovely, how wonderful that she was so understanding.

      Maria

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