I was at my local library yesterday when I serendipitously came across a parenting book entitled The Highly Intuitive Child: A Guide to Understanding and Parenting Unusually Sensitive and Empathic Children and immediately added it to my stack to check out. Once I got home, I read it through in a single sitting.
No, I don’t have children, nor does it appear likely that I will have any in the foreseeable future. So why would I find a parenting book so fascinating? It’s because I was that sensitive and empathic child that did not get the kind of parenting I needed, and I need to know how to take on the job of parenting myself to finish any work that remains undone.
Let me say first off that I think my parents, especially my mother who did most of the child rearing in our household, did the best job she could with what she knew. This kind of information was not available then, and this book helped me realize how very challenging I must have been in so many ways to sensate parents who would have had no understanding of the intuitive and empathic nature I had. If anything, this book helped me to have greater compassion for them and the ways that I must have stretched them. So this is not about blaming them or bashing them for a job poorly done. This is about recognizing that now that I am an adult, it is my job to provide whatever additional parenting I need for myself to help the parts of me that were never fully supported grow into maturity.
I’ve known for several years now that I am what Elaine Aron calls a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP); I am easily overloaded by all of the sensory (and extra-sensory) data that I take in. On the MBTI, I consistently test out as an INFJ, which confirms my intuitive ways of seeing the world. I’ve also known that I am an empath—someone who easily feels other people’s emotions. However, I’ve never put the two together in quite this way to recognize the challenges that the combination brings, nor have I really thought through the ways that the lack of support in dealing with these challenges as a child may have led me to find inappropriate or harmful ways of dealing with the effect that these gifts provided.
Even though this book was not about adults or the effects that these gifts could have on adults who did not learn the skills to deal with them when young, there were enough case studies mentioned for me to recognize myself in her descriptions. I discovered that some of my greatest struggles (depression, suicidal tendencies, acting in co-dependent ways, difficulties dealing with conflict, etc.) are actually normal for someone who has these gifts and was raised as I was. How encouraging to find out that this is normal and that there are skills I can learn that will help me to maximize the gifts these traits bring while minimizing the negative consequences that I have been experiencing!