This post has been formatted to reflect an original journal entry.
Been reflecting lately on the importance of knowing what to ignore. Placing appropriate limits on technology use, media consumption, etc. An interesting thought: I imagine highly sensitive people have less of a problem with this. For me: I want to turn it all off. Those moments when I curl up in my writing room with a cup of tea, an old book, and some soft jazz are among my most cherished. Keeps me balanced as the outside world continues to grow louder and more intrusive.
That’s what it feels like, anyway. Overstimulation. Television, social media chatter, a barrage of alerts and updates. It’s so loud. I realize I touched on this experience in an old poem, Flo On (still one of my favorites): the whole world is screaming and / no one’s got the mic. Fascinating how our brains can do that. How some of us can experience these kinds of stimuli as noise, while others surely process them differently. Then again, I’ve always had a terrible aversion to loud noises. With loud music being the one exception.
Also been thinking it’s time to get back to some psychology books. May re-read Rollo May’s Psychology and the Human Dilemma or Power and Innocence. Have questions about authenticity. Authenticity and vulnerability, confidence, toughness. Specifically the concept of the shadow self and how it relates to these. I think I’ve long held an inaccurate view of the shadow, that which we repress, deny, fail to recognize within ourselves. Had somehow (and I’m laughing to myself knowing what I’m about to write) come to think that once I found my shadow, I’d become like a superhero. Tough and ruthless. A real badass. How ridiculous is this?
And yet, maybe it’s not all that ridiculous. Not in context, anyway. Because I’m beginning to realize I’ve spent most of my life denying, stultifying, and consciously trying to fix some of my best abilities and traits. My creativity. My sensitivity. Especially my sensitivity. Always thinking I had to toughen up. Not be so gentle. So nice. Not allow my feelings to be hurt so easily. Get over upsets and distressing events quickly. Not become overloaded or overwhelmed by things that others seem to ignore or shake off easily.
You have no idea what wonders it did for my self-esteem when I discovered Elaine Aron and her concept of the highly sensitive person. It meant there was nothing wrong with me. But it also meant I’d never become a superhero.
That image was the embodiment of everything inside of me that I believed needed fixing. I was too sensitive, too nice, too weirdly eccentric, and downright childlike to ever amount to anything. But finding my shadow—now, that would toughen me right up, make me invincible. Except creativity and sensitivity weren’t things I ever had to fix. They are capacities I not only have to accept but also learn how to honor, respect, and use to the best of my ability. That’s the biggest reason I am so proud of my first poetry chapbook, Seven Road & Other Poems. Because that book means I’m doing it. And that was the point of The Used Life from the beginning, wasn’t it? To develop my unused capacities. Is that a big part of what it means to find one’s shadow? This requires a real honesty—a transparency—with oneself.
I’m a big believer that unused capacities have a way of letting us know they’re there.
Capacities clamor to be used, and cease their clamor only when they are well used. That is, capacities are also needs. Not only is it fun to use our capacities, but it is also necessary for growth. The unused skill or capacity or organ can become a disease center or else atrophy or disappear, thus diminishing the person. – A.H. Maslow
Are those of us who are sensitive to our inner experiences more apt to notice our underused capacities? Maybe so. Kind of like jealousy, rage, resentment, other negative emotions and motivations. They let us know they’re there. I can usually tell when I’m engaged in some kind of double-speak with myself. Refusing to admit what I know I feel and what I know is driving my behavior. One can feel this kind of thing happening. And it’s far different from the lightness of authenticity. (There were a few posts on this blog that were born of that conflicted inner experience. I took them down some time ago. Because I knew.)
It also takes a great deal more courage to be authentic than it does to feign toughness. Also interesting: I think the scariest part is really knowing our feelings. Then, communicating them isn’t all that difficult. But really looking at ourselves with that much honesty. That’s terrifying. Then again, maybe that’s what superheroes are made of.