Sunday, November 15, 2015
Being highly sensitive in an evil world
In my journey to understand why I am the way I am, I have realized that I am both an extreme introvert and what is labeled a "highly sensitive" person. The combination of these attributes means that I am easily emotionally overwhelmed and exhausted by external events. I have a deep need for a feeling of stability and safety. When I hear about something negative, I feel physically weak and often start crying.
I have lived through many wars, waves of terrorist attacks, tragic accidents, natural disasters, and some personal bereavements, though so far I've had fewer bereavements than many people have experienced by my age. Each of these has left its mark on my psyche. You might think that repeated exposure ought to give me "thick skin", but I think it might be the opposite. The cumulative effect of all this might have made me feel that tragedy is normal and I can never expect to have a life without anxiety and sorrow.
On a rational level, I want to know about what happens in the world and think it is important to be informed. However, on an emotional level this leaves me drained and vulnerable. One reason why we don't have a television is to avoid watching hours of "breaking news" whenever something happens. I do read the newspaper and look at the news online, probably more than is healthy for me, but I don't click on photos or videos with a "graphic content" warning or seek out eye witness accounts.
I also want to point out that my empathy tends to be universal, and I consciously try not to ask whether an event is close to me or far away, whether any of "my" group might be among the victims, or what impact this will have on my future. Any suffering triggers my tears. While it is understandable that people care most about people and events close to them, since we have evolved that way, I think it is time to overcome this "us and them" thinking and extend our circle of empathy.
The terrorist attacks in Paris led about 90% of my Facebook friends to change their profile photos to the French flag. I have not done so. I don't feel the need to declare my sympathy for the victims or my opposition to violence. Anyone who knows me should know my character and opinions. I don't change my profile photo for positive events, either, such as marriage equality. I am who I am all the time and don't feel the need to show an external symbol related to one event. If you have made such a change, I am sure you did this for good reasons of your own. However, if this particular event has touched and moved so many, I have to wonder why other similar attacks in other parts of the world have not. Or perhaps now we will see people constantly changing their profile photos to show which of the latest world events has earned their sympathy!
Whenever there is a major event that leads me to tears, I try to be strong and continue with my life as usual. I have to concentrate on my work, and I want to find solace in the positive aspects of life that continues around me. This is why I spend time watching kittens online. Some may say this is escapism, but for me it is a defence mechanism. I need a large dose of positivity to counteract the evil around us. So when I go online and see constant reminders of tragedy, however well-intentioned, this can be painful for me.
I'm not an avoider and don't think everything negative should come with a "trigger warning". I engage fully with the world, with all the good and the evil. It can just be very painful sometimes, and when my reactions differ so much from other people's I feel even more isolated and vulnerable.
I would like to hope that things will get better and there will be fewer global or local tragedies, but I'm really not optimistic. Evil seems to be prevailing and war is upon us whether we call it that or not. I just hope that people become more aware of the different ways exposure to such evil can affect different people.