Being a Highly Sensitive Parent
Deep Love…Overwhelm…Overarousal…Perfectionism… Anxiety… That kind of sums it up, doesn’t it? Being Highly Sensitive AND a parent? Feeling too much, wanting too much, expecting too much of yourself…it wares you out! I get that!
So let’s just start by closing our eyes and taking a deep breath. I mean it… Let all those feelings go for a moment because it’s ok to feel this way. Let them rest, breathe through them and then read on.
For 17 years now, I’ve been parenting as a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP). It’s been a road full of bumps and now I’ve seem to have finally paved that road. Sure I have my bad days, I HAVE incarnated into a human body in a human life. So, I’ve accepted that and I’m honouring my body and my life the best I can. And in this life I have chosen to take on a role of MOTHER and didn’t stop at one child. In full consciousness I decided that I wanted three of those little human beings (aka ‘best gurus ever”), so things do suck sometimes. And that’s completely fine with me. I’ve given myself permission to feel all my feelings: the good, the bad and the ugly.
And of course I love my little gurus. They are the light of my day. They ground me. Keep me present. They’ve taught me about unconditional love (not only giving it but the high of also receiving it!), about how I want to show up in this life, about the person I want to be. Not only for them, but also for me. It does seems that, after years of living, energy work, self-development and just getting through it (thank God they grow up!) I have created a life that works for me.
I’ve become fully aware of what my needs are and so I was very curious to find out if ALL (or most) of highly sensitive parents experience the same challenges. But let’s first start out with the advantages of being a Highly Sensitive Parent (source: Dr. Aron, hsperson.com):
- Sensitive parents potentially have the best temperament for raising children because we are able to tune into our children and we pay careful attention to their needs. Our children sense this which makes then feel ‘seen’ and ‘felt’ which in return creates happy and secure children.
- Because sensitive people are generally conscientious, we want to do ‘this parenting thing’ right. Thus the endless researching, learning and seeking help even if we already know (intuitively) that we’re doing just fine.
- Our sensitivity also makes us respectful of the future that our child would like to create for themselves; we already know how damaging it came be when we’re not respected in our wants and needs.
- Senstive parents are also effective communicators, not only because we know how words can hurt, but because we use all of our senses when tuning into our child. I can’t tell you how often this has helped me in communicating with my teenager…what she says, is really not what she means!
- Sensitive parenting comes with the full spectrum of emotions: because we feel more deeply,we will worry more and get tired easier, but we also tend to enjoy the good moments more! Parenting is then potentially more rewarding. We see the beauty in the moments! Love, pride, contentment, playfulness, it’s all part of our parenting life.
I love this part of parenting. But we all know that being sensitive also means that we have special needs that can be very challenging. So, I set out to create a survey and shared it through my contacts and facebook page. Many went out to tag others they knew where highly sensitive parents as well. In 2 weeks time 230 highly sensitive parents completed my survey. I approached 4 of these parents and interviewed them as well. I also researched different forums and groups (yahoo, facebook, linkedin) to see if my results where consistent with the needs expressed there.
My survey was completed by 223 mothers and 7 fathers. I had hoped to hear a bit more from highly sensitive fathers, but I guess they are still not self-identifying as often as the mothers or they are not frequenting parenting and highly sensitive groups as often as the mothers. About 1/3 of the respondents are from the Netherlands, the other 2/3 are mainly from the United States, United Kingdom and Australia. Please note that this was a comprehensive study and I was not aiming for a statistical study or analysis. Just wanted to get to know you better!
Of these 230 parents 93.5% of them considered themselves well-educated. 73.9% of the respondents parents with a partner. Of those who parent with a partner, 64.8% of them have a non-HSP partner, 19.1% has a HSP partner and 16.1% didn’t know for sure if his/her partner was HSP. Some of this parents just found out recently that they are highly sensitive (for example, when trying to help/understand their child, they read up on it and then that ‘Hey, that’s me!’ moment hit them) but some have known all their life that they were ‘different’ (the amount of years that they’ve known varied enormously: months, 1 year, 5 years, 10 years, whole life….). This realization/insight meant a lot to most:
“it meant that I knew I was not weird or crazy, it is just the way I process the stimuli”
“that I am not abnormal and over-emotional”
“OMG…… I’m not weird, there’s nothing wrong with me :-)”
“EXTREME validation that I was not alone nor “weird” nor “defective” but rather just different…and that so many others are the same :)”
“I am not alone”
“It means more confidence. It was an eye-opener. I always thought I was different, but in a negative way. Now I know it is positive! It is my strenght and not my weakness! My whole life changed by this knowledge! :-) “
“Changed my world!”
But a couple of people where a bit scared by this insight:
“ Scary, didnt know what to do.with it. Try to block it.”
“Fear… being different…. not fitting in…”
Although only 47.2% described themselves as ‘balanced’, I was very glad to see that 74.7% described themselves as being ‘happy’. All parents have been working on their struggles since they’ve realized that they are highly sensitive. On very different levels but all trying to create more balance in their lives. They’ve been changing jobs, keeping distance from friends and relatives, reading books, going to therapy, being coached, being healed energetically, practicing mindfulness, etc. etc. If it’s helping them create balance and awareness, they’re doing it!
Unfortunately, not everything has created the results they’re seeking. Only 35.6% has seen the results they wanted, while 35.1% has seen some results but feel positive enough to feel that they are getting there! 24.9% state that they did get some results, but it doesn’t feel as enough. 4.4% simply state that they have not gotten results.
One of the questions was more to ease my curiosity but in the end it did gave me important insights. I’ve always wondered it feeling supported in your parenting had anything to do with you partner being highly sensitive as well. Of the 230 respondents 57.4% feels supported, 14.7% didn’t and 27.9% sometimes. If the partner was highly sensitive as well, 76.2% felt supported. Even without a statistical analysis I would say that is significant! 7.1% didn’t feel supported and 16.7% sometimes. When the partner was not HSP 53.1% felt supported, 17.7% didn’t and 29.2% sometimes.
I asked the same question but now in relation to feeling supported by their partner in their life and their life choices. Again, I am a curious person….! 57.6% felt supported, 12.8% didn’t feel supported and 29.6% stated sometimes. When the partner was highly sensitive as well the percentage that said they did feel supported was 69%. 26.2% stated ‘sometimes’ and 4.8% stated ‘no’
Then I also asked if they feel supported by their partners in being highly sensitive and what it means to them. This actually made me a bit sad: only 34.7% of the respondents said that they did feel supported on this aspect by their partners. 25.2% simply said no. The rest (40.1%) stated ‘sometimes’. The numbers are very different when the partner is highly sensitive as well! 61,9% of these parents then say that they feel supported. 28.6% stated ‘sometimes’ and 9.5% stated ‘no’. AND when their partner is NOT HSP the support really drops to a low: only 25% says they feel supported. 46.1% stated ‘sometimes’ and 28.9% stated ‘no’.
And of course I asked THE question: What would be the number one challenge highly sensitive parents have? Here a few responses:
“Not being able to process all the stimulation that comes with being a parent, the actual parenting, the kids, work, and being me”
“To be steady in parenting and trying not to be overprotective.”
“Taking rest when you need it, so you can be a Nice parent.”
“Anxiety over children and safety, managing my feelings in accordance with them”
“For me the biggest challenge is being easily overwhelmed. Children are loud by nature and often “clingy.” “
“Having the energy to physically do all it takes to run a household PLUS having the stamina to interact, engage and have fun with the child to actually actively parent the child. Also, taking things too personally that the child might say or do. “
“Having enough quiet time to recharge.”
“Overstimulation. From the many things that need to be accomplished each day, much noise, coordinating schedules. Mind that as hsp, the smallest thing can trigger very big emotional reactions, and one has to find a way to settle down before one can actually “do” anything.”
“Being on the same wavelength as others and overcommunication / overprotection”
“Other people don’t understand what they are talking about. Teachers don’t, school system doesn’t.”
“To me it’s when I reach my boundaries, it doesn’t mean my kids are done with sound, storytelling, wanting something etc. I get overaroused”
“Wanting to protect their children to much. Fear.”
“The ignorance of others….developing relationships for your kids when dealing with parents who are critical of sensitivities”
And so on! I would love to list all 230 of them! But, it’s pretty clear that the needs of highly sensitive parents can be summed up in three main categories:
- BALANCE (How can I handle it all?)
- SELF-CARE (How can I process it all? How do I deal with overarousal) and
- ANXIETY/FEAR management (How can I actively calm myself? AND How can I parent without fear?).
I also see a lot anger that has to be processed/healed about the way the ‘others’ (school, teachers, other parents, non-HSP family members) perceive high sensitivity. In my experience this anger and hurt does NOT benefit the way that parents communicate to ‘others’ about their needs of those of their children. This is also closely related to:
- ACCEPTANCE and
These three categories actually came up a lot when I asked if there was ONE thing I could do for them, what that would be:
“See me and accept me”
“Love, understanding, space and tenderness”
“Work on social acceptance in this society”
“Just listen without judging.”
“I would like to have more help and support as a parent.”
“Ways to help understand people close to me what is going in me… without having a huge expectation that they could ever fully ‘get it’.”
“I would love to learn more about hyper-sensitivity, what it means, and how that translates into everyday life. Finding ways to create balance in daily life, so that overwhelm and overstimulation can be prevented as best they can, i.e. mindfully taking care of self and “to-dos” in an orderly fashion so nothing becomes “too much”.”
“Take me seriously and listen to my needs and family problems instead of putting me in a box. So look at the individual and not at the overal picture.”
“Bring high sensitivity out in the open!”
“Sending the messages through facebook already helps. Good to know there are more of them out there.”
“I need to know I’m not alone in the world. I know there are others like me, but it’s hard to find them. Once in awhile people will get me. There are others who don’t, but they listen without judgement. Then there is the majority of them. The ones who look at you like you’re crazy or feel the need to give unsolicited advice.”
Then I asked why they thought Highly Sensitive parents struggle with this so much. A quick overview of their responses:
“Because when we were young no one spoke about it, you were a weak person and overreacting. It’s only now that society is beginning to accept it a little and is learning about it. That makes me happy!”
“I think I struggled with this for two reasons: 1) I always could see the potential in EVERYONE and 2) I wanted to nuture this potential by HELPING. I helped too much. I did things for others that I shouldn’t have done.This is especially harmful in raising boys to men.”
“We don’t want our children to feel sad or hurt”
“My sensitivity to news and current affairs makes me feel anxious and that I can’t let my children do anything.
I’m highly emotional and have to make myself not hold my children back.”
“I struggle because I feel everything so deeply, so intensely. When I realised my son did too I felt so guilty for not taking his feeling seriously enough, I was in denial about my feelings and really didn’t want him to feel the same. I dismissed his feelings then felt twice as guilty as I, out of everyone should understand and respect his feelings.”
“Too many thoughts….no rest in brain.”
“Trying to cope with my feelings and also trying to understand my 5 year old can be a daily battle.”
“Because society is not organized this way. It is organized around different capabilities and it touches trauma of other people often.”
“There is so much information coming at you from all directions.”
“I love my children deeply, but I have to let them grow. I must prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child.”
“The environment doesn’t understand what highly sensitive means. They don’t understand why a couple of hours are enough. Not also staying for dinner.”
“The world expects me to go go go. Even my husband likes to go places more than me. I can’t bare to disappoint him, so I usually go along, even if it makes me unhappy.”
“These other parents think more activities is best. They are content to drive their kids all over the place. They don’t work or at least have a lot of freedom at work. I have neither the freedom nor desire to run all over the place. And these parents can be incredibly critical. Many of them are helicoptor parents.”
And I did ask the parents…if you could wave a realistic magic wand, how would your life be like in one year and how would that do for you? A few asked for a cleaning lady…which just cracked me up! But most took the time to describe their ideal life. These answers really back up the three categories I summed up earlier:
“I just would like to have a better grasp of who I am and how to cope. And have more support from my husband. I wouldn’t be so frustrated and angry at being misunderstood.”
“In balance with balanced childeren. Rest is of no importance. When I am more balanced I can keep more energy to myself so I have more ‘space’ for working with my intuïtion. It would do so much! I would be a even more happy person! It would give a steady foundation to my childeren, one I never had but building now.”
“I’d be working for myself, able to spend a lot of time in the sun/nature DAILY. I’d have a supportive and understanding partner. I’d be in school to become a licensed therapist. I’d live in the country. I’d no longer have any addictions to cigarettes or alcohol. I’d be free. I’d be happy. Freedom is the thing I desire more than anything.”
“I would be a stay-at-home mom or a work-from-home mom.I’d like to have more time to do the things that make me feel happy. I feel like so much time is spent outside the home working that it’s often difficult for me to find time to recharge and unwind and do things that I truly enjoy.”
“I would be out and proud about my sensitivities, I would put my son first but I would come a very close second. I would be able to say, I am highly sensitive and not feel vulnerable about it. I would fully understand what it is to be HS and how to see it as and make it as positive as possible. I would feel validated, supported, stronger. I am already happier and stronger because of the HSC parenting group. I share more on there than I do on my facebook wall. I want to be understood and if not understood then accepted. I want my boy to be accepted. It must be twice as hard for boys.”
“Not much different! Just happier, not so lonely or frustrated! I would feel complete! And I pray!”
“Happy family life. A husband with understanding. Also people around me. My own practice helping gifted and sensitive children and their parents. I’m able to help my own children and my wish is to help others too. My passion is becoming my work. I would feel magnificent because I would be contributing in society! Make childrens lives better. Helping them to cope with sensitivity, learning problems, personal problems, cope with every day life.”
“I would be in a relationship with someone that doesn’t have a computer as his best friend. I would have energy to go to the art museum, small, independent movie theaters, and listen to music we both liked.I want someone that can have a discussion about thoughts and ideas. I would feel heard.”
“My husband and family completely understands my personality, my newborn sleeps through the night, I can make money staying at home without it taking away from being a stay at home mom.I would feel understood, refreshed from good sleep to handle my HS newborn, and balanced.”
“Happy without stress and over control.”
“I’d be less stressed, less anxious, calmer, more relaxed and at ease with myself and the world. I’d let life happen and enjoy it rather than getting hung up on everything. I’m a wonderful, easy going parent. Successful and comfortable at work and a happy carefree wife.”
I’m so grateful for all this amazing parents who took their time to share their struggles with me and with the world. I feel so connected to all of you, my heart hurts for you, your pain is my pain. But your happiness and your joys are mine to. You were all so open about your challenges and yet 70% of you say that you’re happy. And that fills me with joy. Our lows are very low, but our highs are truly high as well. It was so lovely that when I gave people the opportunity to add something to the survey, most of them just took the time to thank me for the opportunity and to wish me luck. And for that I love you all!!
“I’m so glad you’re doing this work!”
“Curious about your findings! Keep us posted!”
“Thank you for the opportunity to express myself!”
Do you recognize yourself on the results of survey or not at all? Awareness is the first step in any transformational work. We simply can’t change that what we don’t acknowledge. Share your comments below! I love to learn from your experiences!
I’ve decided to keep the survey open because the more information I gather, the more I can help. If you would like to contribute, please go ahead and follow this link.
Warmly, Karin Monster-Peters
Originally published at www.highlysensitiveparents.com.