I had a dream a few days ago that I was at a high school reunion, but all my classmates were still high school age—no one had aged. You know, typical weird dream stuff.
Attending this reunion (in my dream) was the first guy I ever dated. He was my boyfriend from around age 16-20.
Since that dream, I’ve been thinking about that relationship, mainly because I haven’t thought about it in so, so long—this was almost 20 years ago! It feels like a different lifetime. Like it involved different people—not me. Definitely not the “me” I know today.
Also, when I think back to that relationship and my friends at that time, I have fond memories. However, I think my ex feels the opposite. He probably hates my guts.
Why? Because after dating for nearly four years, I broke up with him in a cold, cruel way. And here’s the thing—because I was so afraid to feel pain and hurt, I rationalized what I did. At the time, it made sense to me. I didn’t think it was hurtful because I explained it away, in my head.
I didn’t know ANYthing about how to be in a relationship. I was so young….I think back to some of my behavior and cringe.
For example: when we first started dating, I would slug him in the arm all the time. Yeah, I’d sorta playfully (but kinda hard) punch him in the arm or chest.
One day, a mutual friend said to me, “Why do you punch him all the time? It’s so weird.”
It hit me like a ton of bricks. I hadn’t even realized what I was doing. I immediately felt so embarrassed for doing such a strange, weird thing.
But now I know why I did it. Have you ever heard the saying that “little boys pick on girls they like”? Like if a little boy pulls a girl’s hair and is mean to her, it means he likes her? It was kinda like that. I didn’t know how to deal with my feelings for him soooo….I punched him in the arm? [cringe]
I saw sensitivity and sentimentality as weakness.
So if he said something funny, sentimental, or teasing, I’d punch him in the shoulder. A healthier reaction might have been, perhaps, to laugh, smile, tease him back, or allow myself to feel the warmth of friendship/love/camaraderie/whatever.
I also remember that I would tease him (and I would put myself down) any time either of us said or did something sentimental. Endlessly. It was always done as a joke, though—a joking accusation or eye roll. This deflection of emotion seemed harmless at the time, maybe even cute, but it had deeper implications later.
I was simply too afraid to let myself feel feelings. I didn’t want to be vulnerable, I guess. Showing you care for someone opens yourself up to hurt. At least this relationship taught me to stop being that way in the future.
It’s only now, I mean seriously, almost 20 years later (!) that I’m thinking about this whole thing again. I didn’t fully process it at the time. Some of the memories are vague, some are totally gone, but some are still there.
So, after around 3 and a half years of being together—both of us were then in college—I decided that I didn’t want to be together anymore. I don’t remember why, but the reasons aren’t even relevant—I guess the relationship had run its course. The problem was, I’d never ended a relationship before. I didn’t know how.
I was so scared about feeling hurt or hurting him that I ignored that possibility that we could even be hurt. I feared intense feelings so much that I pretended those intense feelings didn’t exist.
Somehow, I thought that after dating for nearly four years, he’d simply be fine with me breaking up with him. That it would be no big deal. I honestly thought that!!! Well, I tricked myself into thinking it, without even realizing it.
I left for a semester of study abroad. I remember thinking, when I left, that it was probably the end of our relationship. I thought he felt the same way. I thought he knew that it was over.
Running away to another country gave me an easier way out, too. I thought time away from me would make it easier for him, almost like our relationship would fade. Seriously, at the time, this all made sense to me! I wasn’t trying to be hurtful. I was trying to avoid hurt for both of us.
There are a lot more details that I’ll leave out for your sake, dear reader. But I eventually broke up with him via phone from another continent. I was so cold and matter-of-fact. Remember, I’d also convinced myself that he knew our relationship was pretty much over. My attitude was like, “You had to know this was coming, it’s not that big of a deal.” And after a couple emails we never interacted again.
It hurts me to admit all this now. It was so unfair to treat a good person that way. He did not deserve that.
I just kept rationalizing things over and over. My ex would be fine! And this was a big one: I didn’t believe that someone could be hurt by losing me.
As a functioning adult, it is difficult to explain this thought. I had such low self-esteem that I didn’t believe my breaking up with someone could hurt them that much. After all, it was just me. I wasn’t that great. And remember—I didn’t believe in sentimentality or sensitivity….so no one should be hurt by me leaving.
This is difficult to admit now. I think it was all a defense mechanism to avoid feeling pain, hurt, and feelings in general.
This brings me to the point of this very long, very personal post.
I am regretful and sad for causing someone pain. We were both immature and did some dumb stuff as teens, but essentially he was a good, kind person who did not deserve the pain that I inflicted so callously.
This entire story made me realize that if I had just been more aware of my feelings, if I had been taught that being sensitive and showing love in a sentimental way was ok instead of a weakness—that entire relationship would have been better. Instead, I ignored any hint of sensitivity or vulnerability because I saw it as a flaw. He had to suffer due to my emotional ignorance.
I think most of us eventually learn that you can’t love someone if you don’t open yourself up to being hurt. Therefore, if you think vulnerability is a weakness, and you avoid it all costs, you can’t have a meaningful relationship with someone.
This is why it’s so important for people to learn that sensitivity is not a weakness, flaw, or a solely “feminine” trait. I especially hear, from highly sensitive men, about how they were taught to suppress their sensitive feelings as boys. Not only can this lead to poor relationships, it can lead to psychological and behavioral issues.
So, you can see that even me—the stinkin’ host of a podcast and website about sensitivity—used to think tenderness was dumb. Talk about doing a 180! Now I embrace sentimentality and allow myself to enjoy it.
I’ve noticed there are no comments over this post. It’s a shame because for me it means so much…
It’s been one month since I discovered I was an HSP myself. My whole lik¡fe I’ve been struggling to make other people get me when I didn’t even know who I was.
Although I’m still struggling with it I can know see myself from a different perspective.
Coming back to the post. It reminded me of my first real relationship with my ex-boyfriend from when I was 20 years old (I’m 25 now).
I was so ashamed of my feelings being so deep from the moment I first met him that I was controlling myself everytime we spoke or saw eachother.
It was so exhausting. It came a time when it went even further… As we began our sexual life, I was ashamed of my sensations and emotions that I couldn’t cope with it anymore. I started rejecting him. I was feeling more and more unconfortable so I ended up breaking up with him because we couldn’t get anywhere.
I’m truly sorry about that AND I’ve always been because I really cared and still care about him. We understood eachother and he was so patient. I know understand that he was probably an HSP as well I we were both going through similar things…
I really appreciate you writing about this… It’s quite comforting to know other people tried to hide their own sensitivity as well…
I was this way, too!! It was always hard to reconcile my HSP-ness with my coldness as a youth. I was almost afraid to bring it up in fear that people would think I wasn’t a true HSP. But I know that I was just denying my sensitive side. Thanks for this!
I can very much relate to this post, even now. I’m 48 years old and still struggle with allowing myself to feel. We used to call it Catholic guilt or coming from a military family, but about 8 years ago I began to realize my “problem” was being a sensitive. Before you sold me for saying that, it was a problem I have been working to turn into a gift. But feeling is hard. Not only am I a sensitive, I am a cancer making my life more sensitive. I also don’t like to feel. I have been told I’m too sensitive or I’m a know it all or I think I’m smarter than anyone, because I feel things. When you hide who you are and try not to feel, it makes you more lonely, more depressed, more alone and I’m at the place now where alone feels like a safer place than feeling. I have done the hiring when a man compliments me, the putting myself down to counteract emotion and sweetness. Once a man starts to care too much, it’s time to end it. And like you, I couldn’t believe that my leaving the relationship would be that hard on anyone. Besides, who can love a crazy person who doesn’t want to feel???
Thanks for your comment, Lusa!! I was a little nervous about this post but I’m glad to see it may resonate with some people. 🙂
Hi Kelly, I too have always been a HSP. I think that in a way I hid my emotions as a way to try and fit in with others. When other people get overtly emotional there is a part of me to this day that cringes as if I’m worried about their mental state, I’m embarrassed for them I guess. But then there is a part of me that is envious of the easy way in which people show their emotions, I’m always worried about going too far and revealing too much about what I feel. That does make me seem cold and cruel. I also have that feeling of self doubt, “why would it matter that they are losing me?” Silly really, I wonder how people can get so attached to me when I’ve worked so hard to not get attached to them. I guess a big part of that is not wanting to hurt, not wanting to lose them… I’m still trying to figure it out and I am 37! Here’s to all of us HS and sometimes unintentionally cruel people.
🙂 Thanks Annie!! glad you could relate.
Wow. This really resonated with me. I have a very similar story from my own past (down to the “calling someone from a foreign country to break up” detail) and after reading this it really stopped me in my tracks. I think it’s easy for HSPs to feel like bad, strange people for having so many deep and intense emotions that hiding them seems like an appropriate response. Thanks for sharing. I really appreciated this post.
Thanks Amanda! 🙂
Hmmmm…After reading your post, I got to thinking. Minus the shoulder punches, I still feel and behave like this now! High school for me was over 40 years ago. I avoid intense relationships or situations, drama I call it, as a defense against being hurt. May not be the best but it’s all I’ve known.
Not only have I been highly sensitive, but I came from a somewhat bad childhood. I was the youngest, the smallest and the least important. I fought with my brother (I could go on and on), and the four of us kids were generally not close. I do remember my first boyfriend and the way I treated him-quite similar to your story. I’d always thought why wouldn’t someone break up with me. My self-esteem was about as low as anyone’s could go. I didn’t know others had relationships like this. Where was this HSP concept when I was in my early teens? I so enjoy reading your posts, I’m not so alone anymore.
We can ALL relate to your story Kelly – in one way or another. Thanks for sharing!( :
Story of my life. I have cut off so many relationships (friendships and romantic ones) because of fear of any type of conflict. Most of my role models I grew up with suppressed true emotions -and I learned that acting sad or angry meant that I had a bad attitude. After learning about HSP – I’m finally starting to figure out how I tick. I really enjoy your podcast Kelly, thanks so much for all you do 🙂
Thank you!! 🙂
Loved reading your story. This is me. The last two men I have considered in a romantic way, I have been so afraid of my feelings and their feelings, that I sabotaged everything asap. Usually with a “foot-in-mouth” joke or comment that just flies out of my mouth in fear. I hate myself for it because I know it’s not the real me, it’s my parents talking. The latest guy hasn’t expressed whether he has picked up on my act yet or hasn’t told me he is offended, but why wouldn’t he be, I tell myself. Every time I see him I assume he must be pissed off at me. Just like you did, I also say “There is nothing important about me, so no loss for him, there are plenty of women out there who can provide more warmth than I can.”
The other guy knew what was going on because he was the same way and expressed it saying that we put on an act because we are scared; it was probably the first time I truly felt intimacy and connection with someone because he got it. I have a lot of respect for him; too bad nothing could ever become of that relationship.
When I see someone else doing the same thing in a conversation with me, I don’t get offended or hurt, because I know the fight. But really for me this sabotage goes beyond just romantic but also into the work place, into community, where I live and beyond.
I know for me this is part HSP and childhood. I can pinpoint exact times in childhood when my emotional personality changed and the abuse that caused it. Being happy-go-lucky, open and caring to being cold, defensive and sarcastic. But still working on changing the present. Some days I feel like I am a time bombing waiting to happen and one day I am going to piss off the wrong person because of this.
Hi Carrie, thank you for sharing! Realizing these facets of our personality is a huge step in itself 🙂
Hi Kelly, do you have any advice on how I can stop hiding my sensitivity? I grew up with a lot of criticism regarding how sensitive I always was to everything, my parents used to constantly tell me to stop being “this way”. I’m 17 right now, and I’m trying to get over thinking that vulnerability and sensitivity is an insanely horrible weakness 🙁 Most of the commenters seem to have gotten over this issue successfully, so I was wondering if anyone has any advice for those who are still struggling to do so? Thank you 🙂
Hi Arabelle, thanks for your comment and I’m sorry you are having a difficult time. I think the first step is simply discovering high sensitivity and acknowledging to yourself that it’s a real thing! Hopefully this will give you a little comfort. I don’t know if it’s true that most HSPs have gotten over hiding their sensitivity. It depends on the situation–sometimes it is just not appropriate to show sensitivity in certain situations….like maybe at work, for example. Maybe your parents don’t understand or accept your sensitivity right now but hopefully you will meet other other people who will. As cliche as it sounds, as more time passes, the more comfortable I get with it!
Hello! I know this is an old post, but I still wanted to leave a few kind words with you. I think it is truly amazing how you are now able to reflect on these past events and see them in a different light. Yes, as an adult and after so much time has passed it is easier to do so, but it is never really easy to tell yourself “Well, you probably hurt someone when you did that”. Because no one truly wants to ever hurt anyone. But we won’t go through life without doing so and while that doesn’t give us the right to just run around leaving other people hurt, it is still good to know that we don’t have to be perfect. And by sharing stories like that we can learn from each other and see that we are not “monsters” for not always doing the right thing or even for not knowing what the right thing is. Thank you so much for sharing!