How Learning to Be Still is Countercultural

by Andrea Kolber


I find waiting and softness and quiet countercultural. 

We live in a system of hurry, hard, and loud. So very loud. Always there are things calling our names; the music, noise, videos and texts asking for our attention. 

But I find when we are with the noise too much, we also become noisy. Our brains struggle with the quiet and we feel the urge to join the crowd. Don't get me wrong, sometimes we need a little jolt, but not always. We can't live or exist in that space permanently. We're not meant to. 

This is probably especially true for me.

I experience life as a deep feeler and I know this to be true because I sense it embedded in my DNA. But I also know it based on other information such as traits identified as a Highly Sensitive Personality (HSP) by Dr. Elaine Aron.

Essentially, an HSP can be described this way: a person with an innate set of traits which causes them to be aware of subtleties (including emotions, physical sensations, sound, and lighting) (Aron). Because HSPs tend to take in so much around them, they also experience life in an intense way. For some, it can easily lead to feeling overwhelmed with so much information to constantly process (Aron). 

It is also important to note this is NOT a diagnosis, but rather a type of person. Aron notes that nearly 15-20% of the population meet the criteria to identify as an HSP which means it cannot be classified as a diagnosis.

A good portion of my counseling practice consists of HSPs. I find in a culture which often shames big feelings or sensitivities, people who share this makeup benefit from guidance on how to create boundaries, regulate their emotions, and manage reactions. Not because they (or I) are flawed, but because HSPs are often ill equipped to handle high levels of sensory input. Especially due to culturally significant pressure to minimize folks who experience life through this lens. 

Encouragingly, HSPs who are validated and supported to own their make-up can become some of the most resilient people around. This is a huge paradigm shift; one that can be life changing. 

One of the most rewarding pieces I experience as a counselor is watching the light go on in someone's head which allows them to validate their experience rather than shame it. When a person understands their experience falls within the range of normal (even while not always celebrated in North American culture) it can have the power to release them from a prison of yuck. 

One trend which frequently shows up with almost all clients (and myself, by the way) is the understanding it's okay to need quiet. This is how many HSPs re-charge-- from sensory breaks. Again, we are all on a spectrum in terms of the amount of downtime we require, but the need is there none the less. 

And to be clear, I don't mean simply not talking. I mean shutting down the noise. I'm pointing to the absence of sensory stimulation like phones, TVs, computers, music and sometimes even bright lighting or emotional content. All of these can be highly charged areas of stimulation. 

And this brings us back to our loud, buoyant culture. 

If you find you are frequently overwhelmed or overstimulated may I suggest starting with spending a little bit of your day with intentional quiet? My friends over at the Glorious table wrote a great post on intentional time away from social media in the evenings which you can read here. Another suggestion would be to take Elaine Aron's inventory on HSPs to see if you resonate and continue gathering resources on HSPs, which you can find here. 

But really, all of us can benefit from time settling our heart and our soul. We all can grow from allowing ourselves presence and becoming more grounded in our lives. And if you find you're an HSP too, know you're not alone. 

"Strong and sensitive are not opposites. Sensitive and insensitive are opposites. Strong and weak are not opposites." - Glennon Melton Doyle
 

Work Cited: 

Aron, Elaine. "Is This You?" The Highly Sensitive Person. Studio Press. Web. 24 May. 2016.