When I was a young kid, I remember wondering why women on TV and in movies would make jokes about lying about their age or not wanting to admit their age. I thought it was so stupid; who cares how old you are? I completely, totally did not comprehend why it was a bad thing to admit your age as an adult woman.
Well, now that I’ve been on the wrong side of 30 for a while, I get it. For me, the age hesitation is not because I’m ashamed or don’t want people to know. It’s more like I personally can’t believe how old I am! How did this happen? When did I become old!? Also, I don’t want people to judge me or think of me differently once they know my age.
When I was a younger person–say in my early 20s–if someone “old” (like 35+) talked to me in a social setting, I might be pleasant to them, but deep down I’d be wanting to get away and find people my age to socialize with. Why did I care what this old person had to say? It’s weird to be on the other side of that. If I find myself talking to a younger person, I wonder if they are thinking the same thing, “Why do I care what this old person has to say?”
And regarding aging: I feel like my entire identity is changed. For my first 29 years, part of my identity was “young person.” So many things accompanied that youth: I could blame things on being young and naive, I could expect to be looked at a certain way by the opposite (or same) sex, I was treated like I was fun and full of life, and that my future was wide open. Then, that part of the identity I knew my entire life was gone. I can no longer list “young” in my personal adjectives. I am expected to act the way a 30-whatever woman is supposed to act; continuing to act like a young person is gauche and embarrassing.
Sometimes I’ll look at a trendy piece of clothing in a store and have to remind myself: Oh yeah–I forgot. I’m old. I can’t wear that any more.
Dr. Elaine Aron says that us HSPs may be more aware of the subtle changes that happen to us as we age, because, as you know, we are just really aware of everything. The first thing I noticed around age 30 was my face: one day, I realized the skin on my face didn’t have a glow to it–it looked dull. The crazy thing is, I never realized there was EVER a GLOW, until it was GONE! Suddenly, I understood the phrase, “youthful glow”. And just as suddenly, all the products I’d ever seen advertised for fighting aging made sense—I was now the target market for the aging/cosmetic products I’d formerly rolled my eyes at.
Then there is the cynical knowledge that it’s all downhill from here. Up until 30, everything was great. I found my first gray hair recently and it scared me. I don’t know why—I mean, it’s inevitable. But it was like realizing that I was officially starting the process of becoming old. I will get more and more gray hairs until it’s all gray. The best I ever looked or felt has already happened. That was the top of the peak. Now, everything is down from there.
My husband Jim is older than me, but he doesn’t share any of these thoughts and concerns. None of this bothers him. He figures, “Why worry about something inevitable–something I can’t change?” I wish I could feel that way. He also said something cool: “Although your physical appearance might change, you become a more interesting person when you get older because you’ve been through more. That’s something to look forward to.”
That’s nice. But of course, aging leads to the Great Inevitability, and isn’t that the root of it all? Aging leads to our eventual death. Death is scary. Death Bad.
But then Aron writes something super interesting that takes my mind off death. Most HSPs “…find it important to be unique. The stages at the beginning and end of life are very confining in that regard…That inevitability can take away one’s sense of individuality.” source
Basically, us humans come into the world and exit the world in a similar fashion. HSPs like being unique, and death is the great equalizer that shows we are the same as everyone else.
She so hits the nail on the head with the uniqueness comment! When I think about it, I do find it important to feel unique. I’ve never liked feeling like I was doing what everyone else was doing, or that I was doing what I was supposed to do or expected to do. I guess this all boils down to a fear of being similar to everyone else. If I’m not unique, then what am I? If I am like everyone else, who am I?
Getting older means being less unique. When you are young, your future is wide open. You can do anything. But in middle age, the “typical” ideal is the person who has a job they go to every day, a house, a spouse, kids, and a life that looks pretty much the same, day after day. That is scary to me. I don’t know why. I don’t want to live the hum-drum life that is sort of expected of me and everyone. Why am I afraid of a typical life?
But I digress.
Let’s look on the positive side of being an HSP who is getting old!
Dr. Aron points out that because us HSPs are detail-oriented and whatnot, we are more likely to age well. We’ll save money, have insurance, and follow our doctor’s orders: get exercise and eat well. So that’s good. She says we also tend to get more sensitive as we age.
Has aging affected you in a positive or negative way? Do you think it’s connected to fearing a loss of your uniqueness?
I’m really not sure that the loss of uniqueness is the primary negative for me. I think it’s that everyone assumes that you’ve peaked your potential; that who you are, what you’ve accomplished are all finished, capped and placed in the cellar for others to remember when you die.
I defy this. I believe that all the hope and future does not lie with the young, but with some of us seasoned sages who absolutely have not peaked our potential. All our gifts have not been offered to the world.
While it’s true that, sadly, some people settle in to mediocrity and boredom as they age, I find that I am feeling more “unique” now than ever; and that the fruit of my life and accomplishments are just reaching the sweet, ripened state, full of rich, sweet, life-giving wisdom and nourishment. And there’s more I want to pursue, conquer and offer to the world.
So, while I don’t really disagree with your point of view (I understand what you mean)… there’s more. So much more. We are rich on the inside, and more unique than ever. I think it’s up to us to find and identify the treasures we have that others need (as you are obviously doing). We can choose to embrace this stage of life with joy, generosity and boldness. (I care a lot less what anyone thinks these days, which is very freeing.) I don’t think there really has to be a settling in.
Oh, and by the way, I can hardly believe my age, either. I’m still about 32 on the inside!
Blessings to you, and thanks for posting this article.
I am quickly approaching 50, and I have been blessed in recent years to learn about Elaine Aron’s work. I was emotionally abused by my parents – ridiculed, harassed, etc. because of my trait – and my reaction was to spend my life trying to fit into the non-HSP, busy world. And feeling like a failure. Now that I know more about my HSP trait, accept my trait and appreciate its value, I am starting life over with work that is unique to me and fits me.
Like you, I do not feel my age. I don’t know if non-HSPs feel that, too. I always thought it was the eternal part of me which doesn’t understand the concept of time. My eternal nature is fixed and constant, and the idea of time passing and changes occurring are foreign to it.
Thank you for your blog!
Thanks for providing this forum where we can comment on something so important to us, Kelly.
Having reached the age 73, I will have to say that I have quite a different perspective on uniqueness. When we are young we want to conform and fit in and be like everyone else. Society pushes us in that direction continually and the idea of being unique isn’t attractive. But what happens as you get older is that you begin to diverge from the common domain and follow those threads that lead out where others have little interest. Those are the things that define us individually and they find their greatest expression as the bonds of conformity loosen their hold when we get older. They are not something we can change, we can choose only to give them free rein or still them. It is one of the greatest things of aging that we begin to see who we really are as we follow our interests and convictions. Then our uniqueness is realized without any question or hesitation. Death is still only the dark hill on the horizon, the one that has been there forever but is now drawing close and beginning to fill our vision. For me, and maybe for many others, what it calls to us is, “What has it all been about, what has been the purpose of our years and what is on the other side of the hill.”
Clay, thank you for the clarity and new point of view! I appreciate it and value it.
This is the first blog I’ve read since identifying myself as an HSP…wow. Mind blown. Reading this specific post has made me wonder if its common for HSP’s to be abnormally scared of death. I realize on some level everyone worries about it, but I obsess over my fear of death. Would love to know if I’m not the only one!
Hey Kelly, thanks for the comment! It seems like HSPs look forward into the future a lot–maybe more than others? I don’t know if I fear death so much as I fear getting *closer* to being very old, which means closer to death. I like to think that death is still very, very far away (hopefully) so I don’t think about it yet, but I dread when I become much older and DO start to really obsess over it. How silly is that??!
You are not alone!!! When I was younger I use to read astrology books and my sign is already fixiated with death and new beginnings and now HSP to the mix!!! I obsess more than normal about death, and wasn’t sure why until I found out today that I was HSP
After having a baby at 35, I found that I aged more rapidly. My body changed a lot. My skin is more dry, my hair is dry also and no stylish. I have a lot of wrinkles around my eyes and also around my mouth (I am 37). My facial expression changes appreciably. Sometimes I take a fast look in the mirror because I don´t want to see every detail on my body. It´s like: hey, In who I´m becoming? And I don´t like it.
I feel very good inside. I have energy and a high level of curiosity for life. Honestly I don´t fear death so much. I see it like something liberating. Knowing that someday I will leave this world make me breathe and feel free and peace. A lot of peace.
Maybe I fear in the way I´m going to die. I wouldn´t want to feel pain.
To me, aging was most scary when I was a preteen. There were many sleepovers where I was the only one awake, crying because we had so much fun earlier that day but soon we will be adults and everything would change and then we get old and die. At age 11 a very heavy depression hit me and I didn’t know what was happening, and I had no way to explain my meltdowns to my exasperated family. I didn’t want anything to do with puberty or the inevitable adulthood or the dreaded old age. As time went on I was able to slowly process these heavy themes, until eventually years later I made peace with myself and my ever-changing journey.
There is an art to aging gracefully, which nobody can teach you; you must learn as you go. At times I really miss the “belle of the ball” feeling that you have as a young woman. To paraphrase a comedian who said, “If you’re 22, and you’re female.. you’re like a celebrity.” Meaning, you have nonstop attention, you are in high demand, etc. It’s pretty much true!
As a person who values privacy, I do welcome the decline in unwanted attention. In my teens and 20’s, I was fair game to all predatory-types. From bold teenaged boys to men old enough to be my grandfather, aggressive advances came randomly at me, which led to some scary scenes and a constant paranoia about people’s true intentions. Now in my 30’s and married, there are way less creepers for me to deal with. I am no longer that inexperienced, defenseless young thing that predatory people seek out. So my age/ experience is a newfound source of strength. Keep finding reasons to love your age, and it will love you back.
Time is your friend unless you allow your body and mind to become rigid.
Monica, thanks for such a lovely-written comment. I totally hear you on the belle of the ball thing–I didn’t realize it was true until it was GONE! And I’ve heard older women–especially mothers–say that they feel invisible. I can totally see how that happens now. Your positive attitude is something I could do well to emulate!
Aww thank you. 🙂 It is thrilling for me to contribute to this discussion.
I wonder if society as a whole will ever evolve past this fixation on youth worship. It’s so silly. It saddens me that older people feel invisible.
Seriously, young adults are not fully-formed individuals yet. Just because someone is at the peak of their reproductive potential doesn’t mean they are more interesting than, say, the post-menopausal ladies that I pal around with at work. Lol
Ps. I am not putting down the young adults here. Just saying that they are adorable but when I need some stimulating conversation on current events, or a lesson on the politics of my workplace, etc., I go straight to the *smartest* older ladies at work. They have a worldliness that we can all aspire to.
***Key word: *smartest* people. Yes, there are older people who only concern themselves with fluff and asinine gossip. I avoid them like the plague!***
hahaha, “they are adorable”. You crack me up!
The invisibility of older women is mind-boggling to me, and I’m only now starting to discover it. It’s messed up!! But what can we do…that is our culture…. At least older women know that *they* are cool 🙂
I know how that was. It started when I was 14 and I was never comfortable with that sort of attention. Aging is great!
I was never a “belle of the ball” type, so I never had that to deal with, and can’t really relate. I suspect there are a number of others like me who’ve had the same experience. I didn’t receive that much extra attention to begin with, so there’s really not that much to miss.
All I had to do was Google “Aging Highly Sensitive Person” and voila! I knew I wouldn’t feel alone! I used to feel a little too unique until I came across the wonderful enlightenment of “HSP”. Then, after reading quite a few books and blog entries on the subject, I didn’t feel unique at all! It was comforting but also a little humorous to go my whole life feeling like a broken alien, trying to act like everyone else…and then after reading Elaine’s book, I felt like my “unique” traits were almost cliché because they were such common staple characteristics of a highly sensitive person. This aging thing has become slightly unsettling and I was wondering: since we have such sensitive nervous systems, do we show age any quicker? We experience more stress, especially if we’re not taking care of ourselves properly, and I’m sure genetics play a big part. I eat extremely healthy (I’m a health coach) and I ‘m only 28, but I woke up a few months ago and I feel like I’ve aged 5 years, practically overnight! Kelly, I know you said you noticed your glow was gone…and I noticed the same thing but also loads of sagging and new wrinkles to top it off! Thanks so much for the post!
Hi Holly! Thanks for your comment and welcome!! I am a bit older than you and I’ve just recently started a real skincare routine for the first time ever–Vitamin C, retinol, chemical exfoliants, etc. It’s actually kind of fun. 🙂 It’s like this whole world I didn’t know about. I do think it’s helped my skin look a little brighter (whatever that means) after several weeks. But I digress! I sure hope we don’t age faster! That would suck!! I am vigilant about wearing sunscreen on my face so I hope it pays off! Thanks again for your comment! 😀
Oh my gosh!!!! Thank you so much for your post!!! I laughed so hard because I feel the very same way!!! I am 46 about to be 47, and when I turned 46 it about took my breath away because that only meant I was now closer to 50!!! I just about cry as my kids get older!!! And yes I wish I would have paid more attention to my youth when I was young!!! And no wonder I want to do more and be more, and move…change I strive and need change because I don’t want the same!!!
I totally get you! I am going to be 48 in a few months. Hitting 30 was no big deal. 40 was different. Getting close to 50 is freaking me out.
Not much to say other than this is the first article that makes me feel understood and helps me to know how to express my sensitivity. In trying to understand and eliminate my age sensitivity, all I have found are comments about how I am silly to feel this way. Obviously this makes me feel even worse. The fact is, it is there.
Glad it resonated with you!! I haven’t found many people who feel the same way 🙂
One of my earliest memories was when I was about 7 years old & I was crying because I was already grieving for the “not-yet-to-happen” death of my aunt, whom I dearly loved.
I have always felt “different”. Now I realise why I would so readily weep to certain passages of music, or in certain situations.
Getting older for me has not been a joyous journey.
When I hit 69, I suffered / & still suffer a complete depression. In my mind I’m 32.
I have no siblings, no children but a narcissistic mother who would deny telling anyone her real age. That behaviour I have learned from her.
I do not fear death, only the disability of age.
I have a beautiful cat as my companion. He has recently been diagnosed with a serious disease. I am dreading his demise as I don’t think I’ll be able to cope.
I would dearly appreciate how I may cope with that event. Has anyone some ideas?
Hi Vivi, thanks for your comment. Dealing with the death of a pet can be so difficult. I don’t have anything in particular to direct you to, but I’m sure there are some good resources on the web. It is something I am afraid to face as well, wth my dog. I’m so sorry to hear you are depressed and hope you can speak to a therapist for help. They can help a lot.
Vivi – there are special
counselors who deal
with pet loss, pet bereavement groups, and as Kelly suggested, online resources. I have 7 cats
and they ARE my children. As an HSP I get terribly sad thinking about them growing old. I’ve heard that for many, the loss of a pet is far more traumatic than that of a family member or friend. It’s, in part, because of the unconditional love they give us. Anyway, I wish you luck with finding the suppprt you need ! You’re not alone.
Hi Vivi & Kelly,
I’m 35 and always knew I was a HSP since crying for ants at 6 years old as my grandmother ran them over with the sliding glass door. I am so close with my animals, my Chihuahua has my heart. I am big into animal rescue and fostered maya ten years ago. Since then I kept her and have somehow convinced my last 2 jobs to let me take her to work. I work at a school!! She is so upset when I leave her- doesn’t sleep eat or drink water just waits even if it’s for hours. I could always sense her pain so she now comes with me everywhere. I dear her death (she’s getting old and lumpy) will absolutely destroy me. I can barely type this sentence.
I have no kids and I have been diagnosed with adhd since high school but I’m starting to rethink that.
I have finally figured it out (I think) – Thank you!
I have always felt ‘ unique’ which was properly magnified by the fact that as a kid I was always told how special I was by people.
I have always been a very caring / empathetic person, always willing to help out and putting others first (my nan was like this so having lived with her I assumed it was something I had learnt).
My teenage years went last in a flash. My mind races constantly with a million thoughts so I am very prone to sometimes not paying attention to the little things. My teenage hormones kicked in during this time so whilst still be caring and helpful I guess I was a little more self involved during this time.
As I have got older (now 33) I have noticed my traits more. I started noticing them more after my relationship break up of 12 years and just thought I had become more sensitive due to a difficult time and age. But I always new Inside it was just that, it was something more. I particularly sensitive to light and smells. For a while I had started to wonder if I was autistic, but It didn’t quite fit.
Having read your blog HSP fits. You know sometimes in life you have that ‘lightbulb’ moment and something just feels right and this is it!
The difficulty I have is that I have always had to be strong in life and so give off this sarcastic, nothing phases me attitude (and in someways some things don’t) and so that’s what people expect of me. It’s then so hard to show that vulnerability and sensitiveness. But I know I have to be more intuned and listen to myself.
The biggest thing I struggle with is empathy. I have too much of it! I can relate to someones feelings as if they were my own situation. To the point where I will put everyone else’s feeling a
Before my own. Any tips on how to try and reign that in? I feel like I, going mad sometimes lol
As with some of the comments above another big thing. I struggle with is aging! ( I’m sure most women feel it). But as you all say we notice every tiny detail! I have learned a little to concentrate more on how I can feel unique by my personality and traits rather than just my looks. But I still feel like I need that constant reassurance I have been used to.
Sorry for the essay. It’s just so nice to be able to identify with someone. 😀
The thing that I fear most about death and aging is the notion that I’ll lose my imagination. I actually rather relish in the thought of death (not in sadistic way) but in the sense that they are no longer suffering anymore. I’d rather someone be killed with a quick snap of the neck than let them starve to death. To many, that sounds cold and harsh.
I wonder if HSPs have a different perspective on afterlife/past life scenarios compared to the rest of the population? I’ve had the idea that, somehow my inner world was where I came from, and where I’ll return, like that is the REAL real world, and that I’m in the real world right now, as a homosapien, but it’s only in the real world, but not the actually, literally, really-real-real world…which I’m not even sure makes ANY sense! LOL
I never got the concept of heaven, hell, reincarnation, etc. It could be something interesting to look into, if other HSPs have differing views on beforelife/afterlife.