I gather the Americans have an expression: ‘Suck it up, buttercup.’ And from the context in which I read it, I gather it means something like ‘We all have to do things we don’t like. Stop being a wimp and just get on with it.’
This is the normal voice of a normal person speaking from a position of understandable ignorance. When applied to another normal person it isn’t unreasonable, but when applied to a person afflicted with the HSP condition (or characterised by the HSP tag, whichever you prefer) it doesn’t and shouldn’t apply. According to the chief researcher into the phenomenon, HSPs have a brain that is wired differently from the majority of people, and nobody can help how their brain is wired, can they?
I’m reminded again of Emily Brontë. By all accounts she was physically strong, mentally tough, uncompromising and industrious. But she lived totally for her writing, her family, her animals, and her communion with nature and the open moorland. That was her world, her version of reality. When she tried to exist in somebody else’s version – through taking a job as a teacher at a boarding school – she was brought so low that Charlotte had to fetch her home because she feared that Emily would become seriously ill or even die. This is often cited as a case of simple homesickness, but I’m quite sure that it’s another example of normal people speaking from a position of understandable ignorance. It seems there is some correlation between the HSP type and artistic propensity, and the standard view of the artistic temperament has always been one of incomprehension.
Emily was neither coward nor failure (two accusations commonly hurled at HSPs, and which they commonly hurl at themselves because they’ve been conditioned by the culture to believe that only the standard type is the right one; anything else represents inadequacy.) She was a rare type, the like of which it is impossible for normal people to understand, any more than somebody blind from birth can know what red looks like. It’s a type which feels trapped and suffocated when forced to live in a world that is inconsistent with its particular needs. (Even the sympathetic Charlotte referred to ‘Emily’s peculiarities.’) To an HSP, such a world is dangerously lacking the only air it can breathe. And so the subject becomes fretful, anxious, depressed, desperate; it wakes up every morning with a sense of dread at having to live through the same torture for yet another day. To offer a simple analogy: does anybody say ‘suck it up, buttercup’ to a fish gasping and floundering on the deck of a fisherman’s boat?
Emily was lucky. She got rescued, first by Charlotte fetching her home, and then by a bequest from her aunt which enabled her to be financially independent. The result was the best of her poetry and the classic Wuthering Heights. Those who don’t get the luck have to find their own way back to the only air they can breathe. Often it means waiting for an opportunity to come along, and it can be a tough wait.
And here’s a final irony. In my experience, HSPs are unlikely to have money. That’s true of every one I’ve known. My ex, Mel, put her finger on the reason when she said recently: ‘When I’m looking for a job, I’m not so much concerned about the pay or the nature of the work. What concerns me most is how the environment will make me feel.’ To an HSP, feeling is paramount. They don’t do things because the material rewards are high, but because the activity and environment will be conducive to their highly aware and sensitive natures; because it will make them feel good; because there will be wholesome air to breathe and they will avoid being brought low by a grinding sense of suffocation. So what’s the irony? Sometimes an HSP will feel trapped through wandering or being forced into a place that’s very wrong for them, and sometimes they need money to get out of it. That’s the irony.