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  • Writer's pictureTamara S. Graham

Highly Sensitive Families - embracing uniqueness

Updated: Jan 16, 2021

Highly Sensitive People (HSP) and Empaths come in all shapes, sizes and tolerance levels... with many variations of how our traits get expressed. As a sensitive empath myself, I think HSP's are most likely on the same vibrational frequency but it can be amplified depending on our surroundings and the people we spend time with. How HSP's and empaths relate to each other can also be challenging when it's the people you live with. I find it fascinating to look back in hindsight at the family I raised now that I am more self aware of HSP's and my own empathic tendencies. Our family of four were all highly sensitive in very different ways, and we all seemed to cope in our own individual ways. Two of us are empaths, and two have low tolerance for physical affection.

Imagine a dial or gauge of intensity that has a higher number for peak intolerance than most people ever reach and that high range is different for everyone. Like an emotional pressure gauge, the red zone can be the place of complete shut down. That time when we absolutely need to retreat into our own space and recharge our batteries. Only we can gauge for ourselves what creates the overwhelm, or meltdown. It often may not be recognized until the boiling point. How much more empathy would we have as a society if people had a better understanding of this?

I think many HSP's have been mis-diagnosed with any number of "disorders" when in reality we just react to dis-order. I don't believe in labels or trying to fit everyone in neat little boxes. Part of me is thrilled that there is a HSP movement, finally recognizing that 20% of our population has gifts of emotional depth and compassionate perception. But, the other part of me is also a bit repelled by the thought of boxing us up into another "label".

It was wonderful when I finally found a HSP community that I have so much in common with. I just wish there was a way to belong without stereotyping or boxing people in. I think we need to look at it as a super power - because it really is! However, my skin kind of crawls when I realize that "super" implies superiority and focuses on our differences. I wish it could be seen as a way to describe a personality trait - not as a label or diagnosis. But how does one do that in a society where the emphasis is always on the things that divide and separate us. On one hand it's nice to finally belong to a group, since most of my life I felt isolated and odd. But there are always two sides to consider and finally naming what best describes all of my sensitive tendencies does have value.

These are things I ponder, and as a HSP I can tend to over think. My brain seems to have extra maze-like twists and turns allowing more room for thoughts to travel before getting filed into memory. I like to ruminate, painstakingly evaluate and often reconsider ideas, seeing most things from all sides - trying to choose the most compassionate way to respond. I realize, of course, that was easier before I had my own family to take care of.

Much like a pinwheel of emotional sensitivity, the environment has a profound effect on me. My amount of spinning, which I call "whirring" while deeply processing, can cause me to shut down my other senses. Which may seem odd to a non-HSP since we are often perceived to be always hyper-sensitive. At times I don't hear what's happening around me, or I can forget to eat. It's like my thought process takes up too much of my resources so I can't attend to much outside of myself. A bit of a challenge when you are a mom. Fortunately for my children, the empath side of me kicks in and takes care of others needs - usually first.

As a young mom of two sensitive children, I didn't have the luxury of allowing thoughts to wander very long. My solution to honor myself - while still being able to react quickly to what life of a mother can throw at you - was to "pre-think" things. That turns out to be a blessing and a curse as I find other HSP's saying they do the same thing. We tend to try to predict the worst case scenarios and kind of rehearse what would happen and how we might respond in the best, safest, responsible way. There is some peace-of-mind in feeling prepared - giving me a bit of confidence that I can handle anything. Of course, I usually need some major down-time after "anything", but my life has proven that I can survive and THRIVE.

When my first child was born, I somehow expected an innate mothering ability to just show up! I had wanted to be a mom more than anything since the age of 5. I was sure my desire and yearning was enough to be a "natural" mom. Although I was 24 and had spent lots of time around kids and babysitting, I was not prepared for a fussy baby. I was young and naive and thought surely my huge motherly love would sooth my own child. Well... not so simple! I knew from the first few days that just because I gave birth to the boy that had been growing inside my womb for over 9 months did NOT mean I could comfort him when he wasn't happy. That was a tough one!

My baby boy often could not be consoled. He was sensitive to bright light, startled easily from sounds and seemed to have so many tummy issues. During my first month with him I was eager to try all of his new outfits on him, but I could not understand why he cried after each outfit was changed. Unfortunately, it took me way too long to finally realize the clothes were scratchy and uncomfortable, which is very exaggerated for the sensitive child. The photos I wanted were not going to happen and I decided to be more aware of his sensitivities. That was the best decision I made on his behalf, and it lasted all of his formative years! I was his biggest advocate when family and friends would try to tell me he was "too sensitive" and I needed to help him "toughen up". They hadn't spent every day admiring and sensing my child to know him as well as I did.

I honored who he was and how he came to be on this Earth and was grateful that he chose me to be his mom. I was accused of being "over protective". Others thought I was making his sensitivity worse by "catering" to him! Can you imagine? I knew my child so well and was there to comfort him as I would expect any soul would crave, and others thought I was spoiling him! Don't we all deserve to be loved as we are and have an attentive caretaker do their best to minimize the environments that prove to be most challenging?! That is what I consider PURE love!

I found it highly rewarding to parent such a thoughtful, insightful and aware child. He and I were very much alike. I began to tap into my intuition while remembering how I felt as a child. I wanted to give him what I felt I didn't get - unconditional love from a parent that really sees and hears you. I wanted him to feel so incredibly loved that he could thrive in a world that did not understand him.

Playgroups proved to be too social and noisy for him, and me for that matter! We experienced first hand society's new tendency to be too lenient on misbehavior and allow bullying. It all seemed so backwards since they seemed to be embracing name-calling and gossiping. I decided I was not going to "play along" with this mentality, but I also had to justify that decision to many friends and family. I turned into a mama tiger rushing to stand strongly and confidently between the darkness of this world and my offspring. Our days were spent building and creating, or we went to libraries, nature parks and playgrounds. It was a solid foundation for my son to rely on as he navigated life.

Life was challenging for my son during most of his public school years for many reasons beyond the outdated educational system in our country. Most of his teachers weren't equipped to deal with a sensitive child who sought positive attention from his peers in any way that he could. Plus, having a new sibling to share me with, the death of his grandmother and moving proved to be too much change and stress for him.

He sunk into a depression at the age of 10. In hindsight I think he sunk deep into himself since the world did not understand him. He would tell me he was an alien and he described what his soul looked like squeezed into the body that didn't fit. It was a fascinating tale with so many details that interestingly enough explained many of his physical issues. I took it all to mean that he felt alienated, and that was how a child would explain those feelings in his body... quite literally. While I thought it was creative, highly expressive and imaginative, the doctors thought it was something to medicate! Isn't that what society does to anyone who thinks outside the box?! These are the little souls that will change the world. They are open to any explanation or solution as they yearn to find their place and create the change we need.

In high school, while working on a research project about the toxins and chemicals in food, my son shifted his depression by changing what he ate and the thoughts he allowed to metabolize. He ended up growing so deeply spiritually as he healed. What a brilliant young man he turned out to be. Having a child that was different required alternative, conscious parenting. I would not be the evolved woman I am today without the journey I went through parenting this one!

There is almost 5 years difference between my first and second child, and since she was a girl they were worlds apart. She was a calm beauty and very intrigued by the world. We bonded immediately and our souls have been entangled ever since. I was a calmer mother and was able to successfully breastfeed her which I believe made her an easier baby. She was fascinated by the contrast of things, like black and white graphics and how the light bounced from the black pole lamp around the walls nearby. A little artist and photographer in the making, studying everything.

My daughter is a highly creative, intuitive, compassionate soul that feels the world very "dialed up". Playing alone in her room she would use her imagination which allowed much needed respite from the busy, loud world outside. A very empathic, sensitive barometer of just how dysfunctional our society can be. She feels everything and can't contain all of those emotions in her little body.

She is an old soul with a huge spirit that can reach far and wide. Much like a sponge she takes on all that is around her, making the school setting deeply challenging. Unfortunately, during my son's depression she retreated more into herself to avoid any drama. It made her very contemplative and creative, but I sensed a loneliness brewing too. Both of my children were not like other kids, and yet that did not bring them closer as young siblings as I had hoped it could.

Deciding to get a family dog turned out to be one of the best emotional successes for my daughter. She had a friend, confidant and furry "sister" to talk to and be empathic with. A companion that ran toward her when she cried, not away from her. Tears can be a necessary reset button and animals are very receptive to that emotional expression. A nature-loving buddy is just what we all needed - a way to pull us outside more. Our golden retriever just loved us with an innate understanding and never judged. Having a pet is a great way to ease anxiety and stress. It was just what my little girl needed when she got home from a tough day at school.

My daughter's sensitive and empathic tendencies proved to take a toll on her physically. She had so many mysterious symptoms that doctors could not diagnose or relieve. Again, I turned to alternative methods to help however I could. Energy work, nutritional support, Feng Shui and grounding exercises helped her get through most of her teen years. Going to high school in a large, competitive atmosphere was really too much stress for her. She worked her butt off so she could graduate early, and I am so glad that she did. I really hated sending her to that school every day. Being around twelve hundred students and teachers can be unnerving even for a non-HSP.

I found myself having to talk her through grounding exercises often to keep her in her body when she got anxious or overwhelmed. She had a tendency to check-out physically, retreating to her higher self and almost leaving her body, often losing sensation in her legs. I would suggest that she try to imagine her feet wiggling in warm sand at a beach, and hear the gentle waves or to become a tree and let her roots sink deep into the nurturing ground. She seemed to always be dehydrated and would have unexplained bouts of weakness and exhaustion. I have since learned that HSP's need to keep their electrolytes balanced and empaths can easily get tired from being bombarded by so many energies around them - people and electronics.

My grown daughter discovering Dr. Elaine Aron's book, The Highly Sensitive Person is the reason I finally connected the dots of high sensitivity traits in our family, and it turns out my girl has a gift for life and health coaching with a speciality in HSP. She has been really doing some great self-healing and self-discovery, which of course is part of what the late twenties is usually about. She recently wrote this about our family on social media and it is really cool to hear her perspective:

"Research shows that high sensitivity is actually a genetic variation. That our mirror neurons are more active, and that the area of our brains that process sensory stimuli are more dialed up. That we are more tuned in to the ups and downs of life. When I figured out that HSPs and Empaths existed, and that evidence of the high sensitivity trait can be found in your genes, I immediately began to wonder about my own family... my mom has always been very empathic, but also very strong and doesn't seem to have any issues with anxiety like I do. My dad is very anxious, and is sensitive to sound, lights, and crowds, but is not so much with the empathy. My brother I think is an HSS-HSP, which stands for high sensation seeking HSP. He was always sensitive to foods, textures, sounds, etc. as a kid, but also loves the thrill of performing. I think I got an interesting blend of both my parents: high sensitivity paired with high anxiety and high empathy. I theorize that I got the HSP part of me from my dad, and the Empath part of me from my mom."

Since my children's father and I are now divorced, I don't think it's my place (or fair) to describe him in too much detail without his permission. However, I do want to point out for the purpose of this HSP variation topic that he found working in the garden as his way of retreating while recharging and he also seemed to have the same high metabolism of "thoughts burning fuel" similar to our daughter. Much like hummingbirds, they both need to eat often.

As for me, I find myself wanting to sleep more when I get overwhelmed and my creative expressions are what keep filling me back up when the weight of life gets too heavy. I have also found that a nurturing massage or affection can keep me grounded and non-verbally understood.

I am grateful to finally have more compassionate understanding as to the individuality of my family and how to support others now that I am more aware. I identify with my newly found HSP community the same way a song speaks to your soul - because you resonate with it - on the same wave length. I find those connections with like-minded beings are the stuff of life! ❤️ Tami

P.S. My first children's book in The Sunshine Books series, Sunshine and The Power of Words is about to launch and my grown children couldn't be prouder! Stay tuned for more info!

Tami is grateful for all of her Highly Sensitive Person traits because they have made her who she is today: an optimistic, nurturing soul, full of great compassion. Being a mother has been her hardest and most rewarding job since her unique and sensitive children have been her greatest inspiration and teachers. She is currently writing a series of children’s books for HSP families, The Sunshine Books. Follow the links in this blog for more of her heartfelt HSP ponderings.

Click here to purchase mug: HSP's have super powers!

{Copyright 2019 - 2021 - Most photos are the property of Tamara S. Graham unless noted otherwise}

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