Highly Sensitive Refuge
Mural of George Floyd, whose murder had an especially strong impact on Black HSPs.

How George Floyd’s Death Impacted Me as a Black HSP

I feel everything deeply. How can I watch a man die for nine minutes?

The news is generally depressing. (When have you ever seen a news program — local or national — open with something positive?) Every now and then, there may be a positive story thrown in at the end, but it certainly isn’t the norm. Lately, however, the news has been particularly rough. 

Especially for someone who is not only Black, but a highly sensitive person (HSP). 

The continual swarm of stories showing racism’s impact on Black people weighs heavy on my heart as a sensitive Black woman. Seeing someone’s life being violently taken by those who are supposed to serve and protect (Eric Garner), or by those who think they have some inherent right to enforce law and order by being judge, jury, and executioner (Ahmaud Arbery) is horrifying.  

These instances are not just happening to Black men — they’re happening to Black children (Tamir Rice) and Black women (Sandra Bland, Breonna Taylor), too. It happens in my own backyard (Michael Brown). It happens just about anywhere in the United States. No one is immune to these circumstances. 

But the video of George Floyd’s murder was especially traumatic. 

How Can I Watch a Man Die for Nine Minutes?

I saw parts of the video, but I didn’t want to watch the whole thing. As a highly sensitive person — someone who processes information deeply and can be overwhelmed by intense situations — the brief parts that I have seen caused an intense physical reaction in my body. I cringed and winced as if my heart were being ripped to shreds and stomped. 

And that reaction happens every single time a clip is played on the news. I have to change the channel or mute it and look away. Time passing does not make it less impactful. I don’t know how anyone looks at it. How can I watch a man die for nine minutes? No one should have their life choked out of them — or have to watch such a thing — but it’s especially hard for me to stomach. 

I care deeply but I can’t watch it. It hurts too much. 

This Is What Racism Does to a Sensitive Mind

Being highly sensitive, I tend to feel things more than the average person. Highly sensitive people feel more emotional in response to both positive and negative events. 

It’s definitely a beautiful thing when something wonderful happens — a simple moment of kindness and love fills my heart and makes my day. I’m captivated by beautiful architecture and can look at it for hours. Being outdoors in perfect weather makes me feel at peace. When I eat really good food my stomach and soul sing! But when it’s bad, it’s really bad. 

When I see something traumatic, my mind goes into a downward spiral of negativity that takes over my thoughts, my emotions, and my soul. I replay it in my mind ad nauseam and it isn’t easy to turn off. I don’t — and can’t — just let things go. Of course, that might be true for any HSP, but as a Black HSP I know the violence is directed at those who look like me.

Then I start overthinking…

Oh boy, do I start overthinking.  

The ‘Blessing and Curse’ of My Overthinking

What a blessing and a curse that can be! Generally speaking, as a highly sensitive person and overthinker, I have the benefit of a rich inner world full of imagination, fantasies, and daydreams. I like being at home lost in my thoughts. It’s hardly ever boring. I can keep myself entertained for a long time in my head: Me, myself, and I have a good time! 

But that can also lead to a dark place when heavy issues (death, confrontation, hateful people) weigh on my heart and soul. It’s just so depressing and traumatic when yet another unarmed Black life is violently taken. It just seems that Black skin is feared and the response is to overreact because we are seen as a threat: Extreme deadly force is seen as the appropriate response. And when I start to think about that, that’s when the spiraling in my head starts. It can feel like a tornado of destructive, negative thoughts swirling inside me. And when it shows up, I know it’s going to camp out for a while.

A sampling of this inner dialogue: “Why didn’t the officer let his knee up? How heartless and cold do you have to be to drain the life out of another when he says he can’t breathe? Seriously, what is wrong with that guy? And why didn’t the other officers intervene? What about my brothers? What about their safety? Or any of my family members? What about me? What if I have children? How will I tell them how to be safe when it comes to these matters? And at what age do I tell them? What good will it do anyway? Will our country’s problems with racism ever be resolved? Probably not, but don’t be so negative, Courtney. But how? Legislation can help but it can’t change hearts, so what do we do? When will it be better? Will it ever be better? What are we going to do? What can I do?” 

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Is There Still a Space for Hope?

My mind and heart are a mixed bag of feelings. I am an idealist, but I’m also pragmatic. I want to hope for a better future, but I want to be realistic. And, yes, I know there may be some good coming out of this killing, but it shouldn’t have taken someone’s life to be a springboard for change.  

That being said, I am heartened for many reasons: the realization that issues need to be addressed ; messages of support for change and unity; necessary conversations that are taking place at a national and local level; people taking the blinders off of their privilege and being committed to growth; interest and support of black-owned businesses; commitment to hearing the perspectives of Black people and other POC; acts of service to restore and rebuild; art that inspires hope and love and so on. 

Conversely, I’m also sickened by other people’s cruel dismissiveness to the hard issues of racism and change. There are still unmoved hearts and, from many, an unwillingness to listen; a stone cold heartlessness in response to grief; a tendency to twist our intentions to fit political ideologies; a continuous argument on social media platforms; a proliferation of half-truths, conspiracy theories, and general nonsense — all excuses to devalue someone’s life. 

As an HSP who is very aware of the racism that happens in our country, existing right now feels like swinging on a pendulum. Where will we, as a nation, end up? And how is my mind going to wade through all of this tomorrow? I guess, we’ll see.

But going forward, there are small steps I can take as a highly sensitive person to participate and help bring about change. I can: 

Where we go as a nation is a looming question right now. But it’s one that will be determined by our own actions today — including those of us who are stressed out, torn, weary, and exhausted. I hope we can move forward towards positive changes. No matter what our personality types, we can make an impact — even those of us who are highly sensitive. Our contributions are just as vital as anyone else’s, even if they are not always as overt. And one of our greatest contributions is our empathy. Empathy is exactly what those officers were missing. And right now, the world needs it more than ever. 

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Featured image credit: Mural of George Floyd by artists Tasia ValliantJenna Morgan, and Patman, located at 2141 Rue Grand Trunk, Montréal, Canada; photograph by Olivier Collet.