8 Things My Highly Sensitive Son Taught Me About Myself

a highly sensitive boy sits by a lake

Until six years ago, I had never heard of the term “highly sensitive.” I had, however, heard all about the term “shy” — a label I’ve worn for most of my life.

When I became a mother, I was suddenly cast into the world of the highly sensitive child (HSC), and it’s been a real eye-opener. Not only did I finally understand my eldest son, but I also got to know myself better. More importantly, I started accepting myself for who I am instead of thinking I needed to change to fit in with things that have never felt comfortable to me — a society geared towards the non-HSP. It’s an important lesson I’ll always carry with me.

Here are eight things I’ve learned as a highly sensitive introvert from my incredible little HSC.

What I’ve Learned From My Highly Sensitive Child

1. I’m a highly sensitive person, too.

I’d been well aware for many years that I’m an introvert. I’m energized by being alone, by being in a haven of quiet. The energy is sucked out of me being in a crowd of people. I’m unsure about going to new places, meeting new people, and making small talk. I’m a real homebody and am more than content to stay at home rather than be out socializing every evening (even before motherhood!).

Since becoming a parent — and realizing that my eldest is an HSC — I’m able to give my characteristics and how I feel a name. I’m a highly sensitive person. Learning about HSP traits meant everything suddenly fell into place for me. It was a good feeling!

2. It’s okay to be me.

For years, my vision board and goal setting included ambitions such as “be more extroverted,” “go to networking events,” “go out more regularly with friends,” and “meet new people”. While I’ll always strive to be a better me, I’ve recently learned to accept myself and my limits. I’ll never be more extroverted. I’ll never be completely comfortable being the center of attention in a large group. I’ll never want to network with new people — and that’s okay. I accept all that I am — introvert and highly sensitive warts and all.

3. “Me time” is essential.

Highly sensitive people (including children) need down time, and lots of it — whether they’re an introvert or an extrovert! Peace, calm, silence, relaxation: these are not luxuries for sensitive souls. These are essentials.

When my first son was a baby, I was alone at home with him all day. I became agitated if he wouldn’t sleep at nap time. If he cried incessantly during the day (which he did a lot), and I couldn’t get a minute to myself, I was a big ball of knotted stress by the time my husband came home. I thought I was a terrible mother.

By the time my second son was born, I’d learned that I need time to recharge during the day in order to cope with the noise and chaos that can ensue with a house filled with very small people.

When my children slept, I made sure I used those precious minutes to create quiet to clear my head, to reset myself to zero. Sometimes I read, sometimes I wrote. Sometimes I just sat and closed my eyes. No music, no TV, no vacuum cleaners or clattering of pans or dishes.

More than four years on, with three little boys in our home, I still insist on quiet time in the middle of the day. My youngest sleeps but the eldest two play in their rooms alone, or together, and do something quiet like drawing or puzzles, or they create masterpieces with their Legos. It does us all good. Without it, our afternoons and evenings can be tense!

4. I’m a sponge for other people’s emotions.

Not in an annoying Sponge Bob kind of way — but in a “soak up the emotions around me” sort of way.

When my eldest son was in the peuterspeelzaal (nursery school), his teachers told us that if others in the class were crying, there would be tears in his eyes, too. If someone hurt themselves, he’d get upset, even though he wasn’t hurt! If someone was sad, he’d be sad, too.

It’s a common trait of the HSP, and before I knew about high sensitivity, I never really got why others weren’t affected to the same extent as me by other people’s misfortune or sadness, or by horrific events reported on the news.

I’m often upset, on the brink of tears even, about things that are really not my problem to deal with. Worse still, when I hear about someone else’s dilemmas, I try desperately to think of how I could directly help them and I take their problem on as my own. Like I don’t have enough to worry about with three children! So I end up feeling frazzled as I carry the weight of everyone’s problems on my shoulders.

My sensitive son made me realize that I have to set boundaries. I’ve been busy helping him learn what he can filter out from his school day, what he should let go of, and it helps me in turn. I’ve learned to think more objectively when someone is sharing an issue with me — a listening ear is often enough, and people are not expecting me to sort out their personal lives and issues for them.

5. I’m a human lie detector.

My son quickly picks up on people who say one thing but actually mean something else. He knows when he hears half truths, an incomplete story, or just plain old nonsense. He watches faces, he reads eyes, and when the sentiment doesn’t match the words, he knows it in a flash.

It’s hugely related to #4, and it’s hard to trick highly sensitive people with mutterings of “I’m fine” while there are emotions in the eyes that tell a different story.

When I saw how tuned in my son is to the unspoken truth, the penny dropped about myself. Some people make me feel very uncomfortable, and I’m very quick to cast judgement on whether I trust someone or not.

6. I’m creative for a reason.

My son needs an outlet to release his emotions and experiences on any given day. He loves making things and using his imagination. He likes to paint, draw, make things with play dough, tell stories, and build his own little world with the help of his Legos. Creative activities help him empty his emotional bucket.

That means Pinterest is my best friend, and I’ve found that I really enjoy seeking out great projects to make with all three of my sons. It provides me with the creative outlet that I need too, on top of the writing that I don’t always get to do as much as I’d like. There has to be a place for all the energy that is swirling around my head to go. I can channel creative energy into making things with my children. and that helps me on an emotional level.

7. It takes strength to be true to your HSP self.

My eldest has a particular affinity to nature. One day, he came home from school very upset because his friends were trying to kill a worm they’d found. He thought it was horrible that they could act in such a way.

As he’s gotten older, he’s struggled with the behavior of his peers, trying to be the same as them while holding on to how he feels when he sees living things being killed. I see him start to bend to fit in, even though it doesn’t feel right to him. Later, when he’s lying in bed talking about his day, he’s able to be open and honest about how something made him feel. More and more, he talks about how “good” he was because he didn’t cry, even though he felt like he might. Sadly, he’s already being conditioned to fit in better in a world not designed for HSPs — especially HSP males.

This is just one example of how highly sensitive boys don’t live up to society’s expectation of how males should behave. Many boys therefore suppress their natural instinct and feelings. Ted Zeff’s book, The Strong, Sensitive Boy, is a great resource to delve further into this topic.

I’ve learned how important it is to help my son be true to himself, and in turn, be true to myself. Sometimes it takes more strength to follow your own heart and be true to your own feelings than to bend and follow the crowd.

It’s a hard lesson for a child, particularly one who’s so sensitive. It’s so important to find the balance between honoring how we feel but not constantly sticking our neck on the line. My son doesn’t want to stand out from all of his friends, he doesn’t want to be different, so I understand that parenting him is all about guiding him to find the right balance between feeling comfortable but being true to himself.

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8. Nature can heal HSPs.

My eldest HSC is given a new lease on life being outdoors, running among the trees and racing carefree along sandy beaches. He’s happiest embracing all that nature has to offer. He’s taught me that nature is a powerful healer for HSPs; nature refreshes me, gives me energy, and allows me to see things through renewed eyes. It blows away the cobwebs, and with life so busy, it’s good to take time out and walk in the woods, sit on the beach, paddle in a lake.

Parenting a highly sensitive child has its ups and downs, but what my eldest child has already taught me in eight short years is one of the highlights of parenting a sensitive soul. What greater gift is there than learning to love and accept yourself?

Want to learn more about parenting a highly sensitive child? Check out my blog, Happy Sensitive Kids, where I share advice and life lessons.

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A version of this post was originally published on Happy Sensitive Kids. It is republished here with permission from the author.