When you make an intense emotional investment in everything you do, it can feel impossible to walk away from a job or relationship.
Sometime ago, when my daughter was little, I found myself without a job. After months of frustratingly unsuccessful job searches, I managed to find one at a care home (similar to a nursing home) as a care assistant, which meant I helped patients with everything from eating to bathing.
Honestly, working at one was never my ambition and did not match my qualifications or dreams. Perhaps it was inevitable that I would only be there a few short years. But I was determined to do a good job at this exhaustingly difficult, low-paid position — even if I thought it would just be for a few months while I earned much-needed money for college.
“A few months” turned into three years. When I finally wrote my resignation letter, instead of joy, I felt profound sadness. In fact, I had a battle with myself because part of me didn’t want to leave the job: Even though it was physically and mentally draining, the people I worked with stole my heart.
I grew so attached to these sweet elderly people, each one full of stories, I just couldn’t let go. Even now, eight years later, I remember the day, and hour, I walked away from them. I was truly heartbroken and kept wondering why leaving a job I never wanted devastated me so profoundly. I couldn’t understand my feelings: Was I too thin-skinned? Weak? Abnormal?
No, no, and no.
Instead, it turns out that I’m a highly sensitive person (HSP). This explains why I react so strongly to the stimuli around me — everything from sights to tastes to smells. It’s why I’m extremely intuitive, and absorb others’ thoughts and emotions as though they’re my own.
And, like many sensitive people, it’s why I have a hard time letting go of things — whether it’s a job, a plan, a routine, or a relationship.
Deep Thinking & Deep Connections Make it Harder to ‘Let Go’
I found out that I’m highly sensitive long after I left the care home job, and it has been so liberating to discover that I am far from alone. In fact, 15 to 20 percent of the population is made up of highly sensitive people, and being an HSP is not a disorder; it has been scientifically proven that HSPs’ brains work differently, making sensitivity a recognizable trait.
Fiercely thoughtful and delicate, HSPs are wonderfully responsive to even smallest stimuli and so intuitive we almost have psychic power. Some might say we’re experts at “seeing” people and masters of making an impact on them, which magnifies the connections we make with people — as well as situations we’re in, like my job.
With our amplified emotions and sensitivity, we’ll then bond with others without even realizing how deep our connections are, which makes it that much harder to leave them behind.
As an HSP, we tend to naturally detect other people’s feelings. When we say, “I feel your pain,” we really do. It is no wonder that so many HSPs are in caring professions, such as teaching, nursing, and counseling. We often give of ourselves completely and wholeheartedly to those who need it, and their well-being and happiness become our priority.
Due to this intense emotional investment, they almost become a part of us. The connection, like an invisible chain, holds us together, which makes it that much more difficult to break.
Non-HSPs may not always understand why we HSPs are the way we are, like why we get so emotional over the littlest thing. They may tell us we’re “too sensitive” or “overreacting” or that we need to “toughen up.”
But at the care home, the residents accepted me for me, no judgment. In a way, having people I felt safe with, emotionally, made me feel free. Before then, to be accepted without being judged was a very rare privilege for an HSP like me.
No wonder it was extremely difficult for me to let go of that job and move on.
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How to ‘Move On’ When Things Change
Particularly for HSPs, there’s no easy way to say goodbye, whether it’s from a job, person, you name it. Change is usually difficult for HSPs, but I found two ways that have made it a bit easier for me to do so.
We will grow in the process: Before I have to say goodbye, I try to remember that without searching for something more suited for us, we wouldn’t find our higher purpose in life.
Sadly, moving on often requires leaving behind something and/or someone. As heartbreaking as it is, it can lead us to an even better, lovelier way of life, and direct us to meet wonderful, exquisite people we would not have met otherwise.
Plus, moving on doesn’t mean we’ll forget those we’ve already met — our tendency to form deep emotional ties to people will keep us connected to them.
So keep in mind that although leaving will be difficult, having faith that something better is on the horizon can help us feel better about it.
Make sure to forgive yourself: If you must leave people behind, it doesn’t mean that you are betraying them. Our high sensitivity means that we’re likely to think about the needs of others above our own needs. If someone will be in pain if we leave, we’ll usually feel their suffering, multiplied by hundreds, and we may feel quite guilty.
However, guilt often has a negative impact, eats at us, and stops us from moving on. Oh, that inevitable, crashing, soul-destroying, dark feeling that likes to lure us back and hold onto us tight! Yes, guilt often holds us better than any cage.
But stop: The others will be just fine without us. They even will likely be better than fine because your departure will free up space for someone else in their life. You don’t want to deny them the gift of gold by taking silver, even if that silver is you.
In the meantime, before the final moment with someone or an experience, focus on the present moment and enjoy what you’ve got with them right now. It is wonderful how we HSPs feel things so deeply, yet it becomes a double-edged sword when it’s time for us to let go and say goodbye to people or experiences.
One of the big problems for HSPs is to think (and overthink), and that includes about the future, too. However, we must remember to be grateful we even had the opportunity in the first place and had our lives that much more enriched as a result. And, luckily, due to HSPs’ ability to form connections, we can continue to keep those connections alive even when we’ve moved on.