Support for the highly sensitive person

(OMTimes | Peter Messerschmidt) An inherent part of living with Consciousness is to be able to understand what is going on with both ourselves and others, so we can act with mindfulness and compassion.

Under this general heading, we often face the issue of feeling supported in our endeavors, and how to best be supportive of others. As an active member of the global HSP (Highly Sensitive Person) community, one of the most common themes I see in forums, blogs or just hear from individuals is “I need support!” and “I don’t feel supported!

When we examine the situations in question, it sometimes seems like the person lamenting the lack of support actually is being supported. The central issue isn’t about “support,” but about differing interpretations. Which then invites a deeper examination of what “support” really is, and how important it is to understand the nature of “support” in order to live consciously. 

Are we all on the same highly sensitive person page, here?

Perhaps where people run into the most trouble is with the assumption that “support” only comes in a single one-size-fits-all format. Alas, nothing could be further from the truth.

When we ask for support, what are we really asking for? When we claim to not feel supported, what is actually missing?

Typically, the desire for support comes about when we face some kind of life situation or task that feels overwhelming. When you’re a Highly Sensitive Person, such situations can arise quite often. We could be facing anything from trying to extract ourselves from a toxic relationship to dealing with extreme financial hardship to wrestling with meaningful career choices. The possibilities are many.

For simplicity’s sake, let’s use the metaphor of “Digging a Hole,” to illustrate the many possibilities for “support.” Hopefully, this will illustrate that “support” is a far more complex issue than we tend to believe. 

Digging a hole: the many flavors of support

For some, “feeling supported” simply means that those around us are there to pat us on the back and tell us that we’re doing a good job, and doing the right thing as we struggle. In essence, this kind of support calls for a validation of our efforts; the words “you’re digging the best hole EVER!” is all that’s called for. When our hole-digging prowess is recognized, we feel supported.

For some, “feeling supported” means receiving “peripheral help.” We don’t expect anyone to help us actually dig the hole, but we feel supported if they bring us lunch. Or a change of clean clothes. Or a better shovel. Or a manual of hole digging techniques. This kind of support also doesn’t expect anyone help dig the hole itself; we feel supported when the task of digging the hole ends up feeling easier and/or more pleasant.

For others, “feeling supported” is about the hole, itself. We feel supported when someone comes by and sees us buckling under the workload of digging the hole, and simply grabs another shovel without much fanfare and stands next to us, helping with the dig. This is the most “direct” and physical form of support, but it can have certain “personal land mines” hidden within it. 

Caution! holes ahead…

Some versions of this type of direct support have the potential to turn into an unhealthy or manipulative situation. That potentially happens when someone only feels truly supported when someone volunteers to take over their hole digging, leaving them to be merely a “spectator” in the process of someone else digging their hole. What becomes important in such situations is staying mindful of whether we expect support because we are authentically ill-suited to digging holes and way out of our depth, or because of a sense of narcissistic entitlement… something that’s often present in our modern society.

Another potentially harmful version of direct support tends to surround financial issues. The statement “I feel supported when someone else pays” works as long as it is free, reciprocal and consensual between supportee and supporter, but can quickly become toxic and usury if it turns one sided. This can be particularly significant for Highly Sensitive Persons whose idealism not infrequently includes the idea that “stuff should be free!” Again, that works… as long as there is mindfulness… but not so well when your form of “feeling supported” results in the direct (or indirect) suffering of others. 

Sometimes we just need to vent!

Last– but not least– for some people, “feeling supported” is purely about being able to express ourselves. We simply want to be heard, as we struggle with the digging and the labor or unfairness of having to dig a hole… we feel supported when we get to bitch and moan about our situation, but otherwise we expect nothing of those who are doing the supporting. We just want to feel heard. This can be difficult for those who want to support us, because we tend– as a species– to want to do something about something we feel is a bad situation.

I am sure there are other variations and blends of how “feeling supported” manifests. The most important thing becomes clear communication and mindfulness when we say the words “I NEED SUPPORT!

One thing to keep in mind is that feeling supported is not all “about others,” it’s also about us.

Being mindful and conscious often comes in the form of checking in with ourselves to see what we’re really asking for, when we “need support” or consider ourselves “not supported.” As you can probably imagine, if the supporter and supportee have differing expectations, you can easily end up with misunderstandings and hurt feelings, even when only the best of intentions are present.

For example, If I am desperately wanting you to grab a shovel and help dig the hole, and all you do is stand there and tell me that I am “doing a great job” while I am digging, I may not feel “supported” at all... in spite of the fact that you believe you are being perfectly supportive. To make matters worse, I may even become frustrated and upset and say things like “if you’re just going to stand there and DISTRACT me, just get lost!

Although the issue of understanding support is important to all of us, it can be particularly important for Highly Sensitive Persons because– as a group– we tend to be hesitant about actually asking for what we want and need. And the situation can be exacerbated by the fact that we can usually intuit what others need; in her research on high sensitivity, Dr. Elaine Aron specifically points out that one of the common attributes of being an Highly Sensitive Person is an intuitive capacity to sense what other people need to make them feel better. However when we project the assumption that others also have that ability, we inevitably end up disappointed. So we must learn to ask for what we need… even when it (to us) it feels stupid and like “we have to carve it out in cardboard.”

Yes. Yes we do… at least if we truly want to get the support we want. 

Don’t cast your support pearls before swine!

One final word of caution, specifically for Highly Sensitive Persons, concerns what I call “forced support.”

When considered as a group, there is much evidence that Highly Sensitive Persons have an idealistic desire to help, heal and to make the world a better place. When we “marry” that to an intuitive sense of “knowing what others need” we often end up being able to see the best solutions to life’s challenges. This is one of the reasons why we find so many Highly Sensitive Persons in the coaching, helping and healing professions.

However, much as we might like to think otherwise, simply knowing what’s the best path for someone does not an “invitation” to step into the middle of their situation to “give them the support we KNOW they need.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to help someone beyond their obvious suffering, and on towards healing, but it is wise to wait for an invitation, rather than “forcing” our well-meaning support on people. Although that may seem painfully obvious, many healers forget this. Authentic healing begins within… and our support (however “good” or “valuable” it may be) will only do good if the “supportee” is open to receiving it. If we persist, anyway, we become little more than “meddlesome busy-bodies,” which is hardly “supportive.”

There are lots of people in the world who would like our support… so let’s give it where it truly makes a difference!

About the author

Peter Messerschmidt is a writer, beach comber, rare stamp dealer and eternal seeker. When he’s not wandering the beach or the Internet, he facilitates groups & retreats for Highly Sensitive Persons, and shares his musings at “HSP Notes,” the web’s oldest Highly Sensitive Person-specific blog. He lives in Port Townsend, WA with the great love of his life and several furry “kids”.

Source: OMTimes

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