When you look back at your life, what little memories can you recall where you were made to feel guilty, inadequate, dumb, or unsuccessful about being introverted or highly sensitive?
As a child, I remember being told to “speak up”, “participate more”, “go play with the other kids”, “stop being so shy”, and “get your head out of your book”.
I hated class participation. I would do everything I could to avoid the teacher’s eyes when s/he was scanning the classroom, looking for someone to call on.
In 5th grade I remember not wanting to participate in “recess”. I was bored by it. It was forced socialization and anxiety for me, as someone who only had one or two friends. I even asked the teacher if I could stay inside the classroom and read instead. I remember sitting alone in the classroom, surrounded by empty desks, so happy, while the kids played outside. I think my teacher may have even called me a “little introvert.” I didn’t think what I was doing was that weird, at the time. I thought all the other kids were weird.
I also remember a class field trip to a roller skating rink in 6th grade. I didn’t want to go. It sounded stressful, tiring, and like I’d be made to feel like a loser all day, because you know all the kids would stick close to their friends, and I didn’t have many friends. Everyone would be standing around judging each other. I think my mom called or gave me a note asking if I could stay at school instead. I remember I sat all day long in the counselor’s office, reading books about ancient Egypt (which I was obsessed with, at the time). I faintly recall people treating me like I was weird.
In retrospect, I am grateful that my parents didn’t force me to go. They are both also introverts, too. Maybe they understood.
What a weird kid I was–I wanted to stay in during recess and skip a field trip to a roller rink!
My dad got me playing sports from a young age, especially basketball and softball. I was pretty good at softball through high school, but my basketball career ended as a freshman, and not just because I was short. I didn’t have the personality for basketball. It’s a very team sport, and one where you need to have a lot of confidence.
I remember my basketball coach saying that, as a player, you should always think, “I want the ball.”
I always felt like, “I do not want that ball.”
I was awesome at defense because that was easy. I was fast. But I hated getting the ball and would subconsciously run to parts of the court where I knew I wouldn’t be passed the ball, because then I wanted to get rid of it as soon as possible. I was too nervous about screwing up.
You might be thinking, what does being unconfident about a sport have to do with introversion or high sensitivity?
I think I was timid because I analyzed everything. Paralysis by analysis. It’s not that I couldn’t physically perform like the other girls. I feared that I would always make the wrong decisions and let down my teammates and coach. If I could have just relaxed and thought less, I would have done better. (Yeah, that’s it–I wasn’t good at basketball because I was too smart!! Ha ha. I like that excuse!)
I eventually took up tennis and that became my best sport. Why? Because it’s individual. I don’t have to worry about letting someone else down (except for doubles, of course).
Wow, it is amazing how many of these memories are popping into my head–things I have never even thought of before. Try it and let me know your memories in the comments!
This post was inspired by the great book The Introvert Advantage by Marti Olsen Laney.
photo credit: theloushe via photopin cc
I had a hard time asking for what I wanted, from passing the ketchup to knocking on the door of a neighboring playmate. Familiy members would get exasperated: “I can’t read your mind!” I played with my sisters, spent hours with teen idol magazines and wrote tons of poetry.
As an adult, I marvel at the busy minds of children, and cringe when I hear the distress of their crying. It is so hard to not have a voice/power/choice.
Thank goodness. I thought I was the only kid hating to play with others. Well, not play, but to ask.
“Do you want to play with me today?”.
I could go around THINKING about asking a whole day. At the end of the day, I always felt like it was too late to ask, and I just went home and played alone with my dolls.
And it’s like that now a days too.
Even if it’s just “So, what did you do this weekend?” I think about the question for hours, wanting to ask it.
Usually someone else asks and I just have to listen to the answer. Fine by me, but many of my colleagues and not-that-close-friends think I’m a rude ass, never asking them anything…
I just don’t want to be a bother…
I remember enjoying being alone alot, sure I played outside with friends but it wasn’t the most important thing. I always felt different. My mom thinks of it differently though, she doesn’t remember me being shy or quiet. I think that’s because I tried to hide it for a very long time before I learned to accept it.
For example, in 5th grade, everyone took turns volunteering in the morning and afternoon as crossing guard and you got to wear a reflective sash and help kids cross the street. The reason why everyone loved his job was because you got to arrive to class late or leave early. I did it for one day and then told my teacher I didn’t want to do it again because I preferred being in class, at my desk and ready to learn on time. Nobody else ever did that,
Rachel, I can totally empathize with the crossing guard story!!
Your post had me nodding and nodding throughout its reading! I WAS a weird child: I obsessed over horses and had one ‘best friend’ all through grade school. I loved to doodle and draw and write stories, hated sports (teams, specifically…Think about it. How incredibly over-stimulating is the heat of a competitive game–with all the other kids’ intense feelings and energy bombarding you. Ugh! I get that now, but didn’t get it back then, obviously.). I was always the last one picked for teams–due to said aversion to sports–and I was bullied and mocked on the playground, so I disliked recess.
It’s a good thing I had an incredible imagination, loved to read books, and eventually left the ‘mob’ of grade school rule to the new pool of kids (and a few new friends) in Jr. High.
Sometimes I wonder how I survived childhood! I’d never go back again–but everything I learned and experienced has given me greater compassion, greater awareness of how words are important, and that kindness is critical.
I was extremely emotional a lot of the time where little details would overwhelm me into a panic. I read into things way more than was needed and was considered quite different. In middle school (oh what a ‘awesome’ time for all preteens ha), I preferred the company of a book or music over people, though I eventually found my group in high school, the HSP traits obviously followed me there. In another blog you wrote about how certain things can touch HSPs quite deeply and still be emotionally years/decades later. I am that way with certain situations with people: Did I say the wrong thing? Did I make the wrong decision? etc. I’ve trained myself (and continue to) stop second-guessing myself in all situations and that time will pass and along with any awkward situations. Growing up was harder than I realized at the time since I read into EVERY social interaction I had.
Thanks for sharing! I can relate to pretty much 100% of what you wrote!!!
I really relate to this, too.
Growing up, I believed I was emotionally defective. As a small child, I knew it was weird that music made me cry so much and I took to lying about the reason for my tears: “I miss my big sister when she’s at school.” Or “I can’t latch the buckle on my belt.” And once I even claimed I was crying because, “I don’t know which sock goes on which foot.”
Another vivid memory from when I was about 4 or 5 years old: walking in the park with my grandmother on a brilliant autumn day. Trudging through the fallen leaves, I stopped and looked down as a rather large snake slithered right across my shoes. Most children would be excited that an animal touched them, right? In my case I didn’t say a word because I thought the snake would scare my grandmother. Protecting everyone else’s feelings was always so important to me.
I know this is a bit of a belated reply, but it really impacted me. It brought back a lot of my own memories and I found myself agreeing with everything you wrote here, and a lot of the comments too. The majority of my family are introverts, so I didn’t really have problems until I started school. I’ve always been an emotional person, right from childhood. I would cry all the time at school, often for no discernible reason. It wasn’t until recently that I realized that my tears were probably caused when I got overwhelmed. I’d also find myself fascinated with nature. Even now, I can sit by the lake, or ocean, or in the woods for hours and just take everything in. Growing up I never understood why other people didn’t appreciate the beautiful things around them, but a lot of them probably didn’t even notice.
I do agree with you! We owned a cottage when I was a child, In the summer I was content to spent hours just exploring and taking in all th the amazing things to be encountered there…sometimes spending the greater part of a day there.. . I was disappointed to discover that none of my school mates could imagine doing that or enjoying it and I felt so isolated that things in nature touched me and filled me up with joy and I had no one to share that joy with because they honestly could not relate to what I was experiencing.. And thought it was weird..
I always remember being introverted and being called “anti-social” but I really realized I was different when a guy asked me to my Junior Prom. He asked me and being the polite person I was (plus I really liked him) I said yes. Later I asked my teacher what prom was like since I had never been to a dance before. She made it sound like it was the best thing since sliced bread! And I don’t know why but I kept thinking it would be like the old time dances like in “Cheaper By The Dozen” original movie. Boy was I wrong! My date picked me up and I was already nervous enough and when we got there, it. was. AWFUL! The music was so loud I felt it pounding in my chest, the bright spotlights, all of the loud teenage normal folk dancing and shouting. I wanted to throw up. So I ran to the bathroom and hid there for about an hour till I calmed down. My date, must have thought I had fallen in or something, called from the other side of the door to ask if I was okay. I came out and told him I wasn’t feeling well and had to go home. Thankfully, my father came right over and took me home. And that was my first and last dance I ever went to.
Awww Mel!!! I think many of us can relate to that experience, so thank you for sharing! It must have been difficult to deal with that scenario at a younger age, when you might not have understood/accepted yourself as well as you might now. I feel bad for younger you to deal with that traumatizing experience!!! But hopefully we can look back now and maybe even smile about it. 🙂
Thank you for the sympathy Kelly. I appreciate it. It is kind of a funny experience now that I look back on it. The best part is that the same guy that asked me to that dance is now my best friend! And we have both decided that if we ever are forced to go to another dance together, that we are going to dance in the parking lot. 🙂
This isn’t a childhood story, but you reminded me of an experience in my adulthood where I was overwhelmed and socially anxious at a big event. I was so grateful there was a Portapotty to hide and decompress in and block out some of the stimulation. My date must’ve thought I was in urological/bowel distress all night.
To clarify: not that I just stayed in there all night…. but there were several visits. Thank goodness for little opportunities to manage HSPness, however random they may be!
Wow, that is some HSP dedication!! 😀 Love it!!
Learning about HSP is helping me make sense of my self (and my past experiences) in a whole new, helpful way. Your posts reminded me of things I can now (knowing there is support and community for HSPs) almost laugh at – almost – or at least feel lighter and validated about. My parents, whom I have yet to explain HSP to, recall anecdotes of my childhood that – reflecting on them now – seem pretty darn HSP to me. I’ve used “perfectionism” or “overachiever” and “workaholic” to describe how I was/am with school and work, l since an early age, for example, but the HSP lens seems a crucial piece of that puzzle too:
For example, I remember a few times when I would misplace an elementary school homework assignment, and would be inconsolable worried. My dad would write notes to my teacher assuring them I’d done the work (which I always did). He always wrote of me that “she is HIGHLY conscientious about her studies”. If only he’d had HSP vocabulary – I think he would have found it applied.
My mom likes to tell (as a funny story) of the time – also in elementary school – how my teacher made a joke that if my class didn’t do something (not sure what it was – Clean up a mess? Finish a project?) we might not make it from the third to fourth grade. I took the joke to heart, intensely so – my mom found my lying awake at night worried about being a third grade flunkout. She asked me what I was doing. “Mama, I’m brooding.” I said (big, dramatic word for an eight year old).
I’m sure I can think of other examples. For now, just a big thank you to Kelly and all the others sharing their experiences! What a gift
Haha, thank you for sharing, Betty! I can totally relate to taking things too seriously sometimes, especially in school as a kid. I love the “I’m brooding” story!!
Hi! I just read this article and I have a funny experience to tell from when I was in kindergarten. I remember it so vividly. This was back in 2003. I had asked to borrow a sky blue crayon from my classmate José, he had the 100 crayons with that magical Sharpener. I was coloring and then suddenly I snapped the crayon in half. I felt a flash of heat on my face and anxiety. I remember not telling him that I broke it. I was so scared I thought he was going to cry or get mad at me. As soon as I got home I cried to my mom about it. Then, a day or a few days later she took me to the store and bought me the 100 box of crayons and I gave José his crayon that I broke. It turned out that he wasn’t even mad at all. He was a quiet kid as well, nice and totally mellow!
Thanks for sharing! I can totally relate to this story. I can see myself doing the same thing! Sensitivity in this case is sweet and considerate.
I’m the mother of a 7yo HSP and all of this sounds so familiar. I’m glad I’ve found somewhere I can make sense of what’s going on in her little head <3
I didn’t like recess time either. I found a nice, quiet spot in school where I could hide from everyone and be lost in my own mind. I hated group work and class discussion. I totally cannot understand why anyone would be so hyped up about playing team sports. My favourite sports are swimming and badminton (individual). The only “group” thing I like is playing in a band because there is no interaction except about whatever is written on the music score.
I was told many times that I should speak up, share my thoughts and feelings. I have no clue why I should because every time I do they get mad at me for being too curt and direct. But all I was doing was trying to do what they asked me to do, in as few words as possible so that I can get over and done with it. I find myself wishing that people would simply go away and leave me alone. And I get frustrated and stressed with people barging uninvited into my space.
I have extensive memories of events or just moments in my unremarkable childhood which date back to the age of about one year old. The memories all took place in a house we moved away from when I was eighteen months old. We moved away in midsummer and I remember events that took place in the winter before moving that summer. I know it sounds strange. It bothers me a little I guess, that I’ve never met anyone other than my brother, who had memories from such h a young age. We are definitely HSP. Could this be the reason we have memories from such an early age?
I can relate to not wanting the ball in sports! I also hated recess and loved to stay in to read. I didn’t want to go to school if there were conflicts going on between friends and would sometimes stay home with an upset stomach. I was afraid of things probably more so than my peers. Like when we were warned about a strange man in a blue car hanging around the school—I was terrified and wanted my mom to drive me to school even though it was no more than a five minute walk. She wouldn’t and didn’t really comfort me because she didn’t understand how afraid I was. I think she just thought I was being dramatic. I was also misread as snobbish sometimes and/or often asked “why are you so serious?” But I could also have fun, be silly and enjoy friends I was comfortable with. It wasn’t ALL bad! 😉
I had a hard time as a kid and a teenager. I always cried immediately when someone said something negative (or ‘not so positive’)
I was always the kid that played alone.
At home, I was a happy child.
My parents always understood quite well that I was introverted and ‘highly sensitive’ (they never use that term). I loved to spend my time doing detailed creative tasks, such as fiddling and making puzzles, and playing the piano.
I loved to go on vacation with my parents because that meant a lot of walking in an old city or beautiful nature. Just walking, talking sometimes…just experiencing the soil under my feet, listening to the sounds.
My parents were almost never angry at me as a child, simply because I never did something wrong. (Although, that chapter came later…)
At school, things were more difficult.
Teachers called me dreamer, consistently (which I was). And that was Not a good thing in their eyes.
Also making friends always felt like ‘mission impossible’.
There were lots of people that I liked. But I was never sure if they liked me back.
As a consequence I never took initiative, something I still find difficult up to this day.
There were times I had friends, and times I was completely friendless.
As an introverte personn, I never needed a lot of people but being completely isolated from friendship was the cause of several depressions in my teenage years. I like people, but most of them were , in my eyes ‘unreachable’. At the age of 17 (high school age) fortunately, I met my two best friends, with whom I still have very close contact and intense moments of kindred spiritness, something I’m really grateful for.
Thank God, I was never the subject of harsh harassments. I always had the impression that people ‘didn’t know what to think of me or what to do with me.’, that they had a pity on me (I still have that impression by the way).
Later in life I got to meet some friends who were badly harassed as a kid and as a teenager. When they told their stories, I thought:’ If God exists, he must have sent me a protective angel who guarded me from toxic people untill this moment.’
Because I was (and still am) the perfect subject to harass.
Shy, introverted, silent, not really pretty, different skin color (I was the only person of colour in my school).
As an adult however, I’m on a good way to take peace with myself. I’m learning to deal with my emotions, negative events (such a being fired) and negative people.
I know some decisions will take longer, and that I have to listen to my feelings and intuition first, something my counselour strongly advises me to do.
‘Your feelings will show you the way’. If something don’t feel right or DOES feel right, follow it.
When I was a child I used to play hockey. I was pretty good at it, actually. The thing is, I felt so unconfortable around my team mates. I was nervous all the time and I was really a challenge to go and play confidently. Saturdays were game-days, so the night before I wouldn’t sleep well because I just kept thinking about the following day.
Nowadays I run, go to he gym and play tennis instead. All individual activities that make me feel so good…
It’s really a relief to read this…
Glad you liked it 🙂 Thanks for sharing!
Omg I can’t believe this. I felt exactly the same way about basketball. And tennis, and just everything. It just feels so good to know that im not alone. I grew up feeling like I was awkward and never ever felt understood, until today, when I discovered this blog.
yay!! so glad it resonated with you :))
Hello. I discovered your podcasts a few days ago, and now I tried reading some blog posts because I’ve been writing a blog myself and love to read other’s.
I came straight to this post because, now that I understand why I am what I am, I can’t help thinking about my childhood. I guess that’s where all the problems started, the confusion about my “weird” personality. I grew up with super controling and problematic parents, I’m the youngest (by more than 10 years) and both my sisters are extroverts and had each other while growing up. They “fit in” and could deal well with my parents, ignore the fights etc, as I never could. I was like a feelings sponge, always suffering, both wanting to run away and feeling tied up to all of that. Feeling guilty that I was so angry, always with a huuuuge “dark cloud” above me. I was often labeled weak and shy.
Now I understand why, I know that I’m not weak, and I love and embrace who I am. It’s funny, it really is, it took me almost 28 years to understand all of this. And you helped – a lot. I guess I just wanted to let you know!
When you wrote about being obsessed with Egypt, I had to laugh ou loud! It sounds so much like little me. 🙂
Thank you for your work. I will of course consider buying your book. Have a nice life!
Hi Mia, thank you for the comment and I’m so glad you have found this HSP info helpful :)) It’s great to hear from you!
Hi, I am a young hsp person, I didn’t found out that I was one until one day I searched it up and the traits totally fitted me. I feel so messed up right now, and I am about to leave for college. Not even sure what to say, but I am a crazy, stubborn, obnoxious, again, crazy, I say HSP. I daydream a lot, and I got used to these bad habits for years. Time flew by so quick, and I got nothing else to say anymore. It’s not about school, but about my social life with friends and family. I have been to the psychologist for a while, but every time, I visually and immerse myself into the past memories good and bad. I daydream constantly about time traveling. And yes, I am a crazy, adhd person.
Never have I clicked on an article so quickly. I relate totally to not wanting to play at recess and hating being around the other kids. I had no friends (Still don’t), never watched cartoons, no imagination, and took everything seriously. This was sort of reinforced by the fact that I’m an aspie.
I have embraced my HSP trait(s) and am still learning all about that portion of myself and dealing with and tossing out a lot of baggage from it over the years. This story has hit hard and home to me. 1st, let me put this out there. I had a WONDERFUL childhood. 2 very loving and caring parents that let me discover myself as I grew and matured. There was no abuse on any level at all. Except of course from an older sister – we absolutely tortured each other growing up. Mom, Dad, sister all knew I was, as they called it and me, “overly-sensitive”. Though they never called me that or referred to it in front of me. I knew they said it in private though I was always comfortable around immediate family within the walls of our house. Once I stepped out of the walls is when all hell broke loose in my mind. To give you an example of this hell: At a store, at school, at the movies actually ANY WHERE I walked in public just Walking past people or even a crowd of people hanging outside or at the mall, etc. at any point at any time was a major anxiety attack waiting to happen. My mind would start with “they’re staring at the way I walk, I know they’re making fun of it…” Then the other panic questions would run through my head. Then the most horrific unthinkable thing happened. The kid from the middle of the crowd yelled a question to me. Everyone looked at me I froze. I didn’t want to answer because I was afraid something stupid was going to come out of my mouth and it usually did. I would be emotionally devastated for the rest of the day praying that I never walk past them again. This is just one example. I had and still have horrible anxiety, which I now believe was caused by the HSP. I always thought something was wrong with me, and why couldn’t I handle any difficult situation like so and so did, why do I cry or worry about everything. I saw therapists for over 25 years and not 1 of them could help me to obtain the answers I so desperately needed. Finally, 2 years ago, at the age of… Pre-AARP 😉 I stumbled upon an article about HSPs. It was literally an epiphany. I researched it all night reading everything. My childhood and the questions I had since then were finally answered. And if course, I cried like a baby for a while after that. Kelly, thank you for your expertise and passion in this field. Now, listening to and reading other HSPs experiences and seeing all the similarities, my anxiety is decreasing and I’m more confidant about myself and my life potential moving forward.