Masking gifted sensitivity causes us to lose touch with ourselves, and we pay dearly for this disconnect. Our world becomes grey and drab; we feel an inner persistent, nagging angst; we are certain something essential is missing in our lives. In this article, InterGifted Coach Eric Windhorst shares both how the birth of his daughter catalyzed the re-emergence of his authentic sensitive self as a gifted man, and steps you can take toward rediscovering your own true gifted self.
By Eric Windhorst
This article originally appeared as an entry in our community writing project called Embracing the Gifted Quest. The ebook is available for purchase in our InterGifted bookshop!
The most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely – C. G. Jung
LOSING TOUCH WITH MY (SENSITIVE) SELF
Even as a young boy, I knew I was different.
For example, I’ve always been more sensitive than most other boys. Sensitive to: my emotions and bodily states, the feelings and moods of others, intellectual problems, changes in daily routine, the energy of spaces and places, shifting seasons, social injustice—and the list could go on (and on).
Other boys, in contrast, seemed ignorant to such stimuli or experienced them dimly.
I remember nervously standing in line to sign-up for summer soccer when I was 5. While patiently waiting, I spotted another boy (and his parent!) butt in line ahead of me. I was overcome with rage instantly. My breathing became shallow; a tight knot formed in my chest. How could these people be so inconsiderate? Who do they think they are? I turned toward my father and stated that I would not be playing soccer that year. Not with boys who acted like that. I could not stand such injustice.
As I got older, I learned to mask my sensitivity. I desperately wanted to fit in with my peers and my sensitivity set me apart. I decided (albeit unconsciously at the time) that because others did not share in my sensitivity, my perceptions must somehow be skewed. I thought that there was something fundamentally wrong with me.
I became an expert at reading social situations (one of my gifted traits) and, chameleon-like, adjusting myself to match my context(s). My performances were convincing—few people seemed to see me for who I really was. And, those who did, I adamantly avoided.
At some point in my teenage years—and I’m not sure exactly when—I lost conscious touch with my sensitive self. I guess the many years of role-playing took their toll: I mistook my many personas for my real self.
I paid dearly for this disconnect. The world seemed grey and drab. I was lost. Inwardly, I felt a persistent, nagging, angst. Something was not right. Something was missing.
INSPIRATION FOR AUTHENTICITY
Despite my discomfort, I managed to maintain my dis-integration until eight years ago when my first child, Natalie, was born.
I was fortunate to be the first person to hold Natalie after her birth. I remember embracing her tiny, newborn body against my bare chest and feeling both joy and despair. On the one hand, I was blown away that two human cells could come together and create such a beautiful person. She was perfect! My elation was tempered, on the other hand, by a more somber realization: gazing into Natalie’s beautiful blue eyes, I could tell that she saw the real me.
Natalie’s exposing gaze compelled me to change. I knew that If I didn’t address my inauthenticity, Natalie would have to. It just wasn’t right. I just couldn’t do it. I didn’t have the heart to pass my burden on to my innocent daughter.
I have grown immensely over the past 8 years. Through in-depth counselling and soul-searching, I re-discovered my unique, sensitive self and am living out of it, more and more. At times, my personal evolution has been breath-taking; at others, heart-breaking. However, it has always been good.
I also learned through my growth process that I am gifted. Discovering the giftedness lens dramatically shifted my sense of self. My many disparate pieces could suddenly co-exist: my sensitivity, my intensity, my complexity, my drive—each facet fit together within the giftedness framework.
Discovering my giftedness showed me that there is nothing wrong with me. There is just a lot that is right.
I wish I could tell you that my life is simple and easy now. That everything makes sense. That I have climbed the self-actualization mountain once and for all and am no longer affected by the trials and tribulations of daily life.
But, my life isn’t perfect. It’s still hard to be a sensitive man living in a culture fixated on male strength and stoicism. It’s still hard to care deeply about issues which so many others ignore, or easily overlook. It’s still difficult to feel others’ suffering and not be able to immediately heal it.
That said, my life feels real now. My joy and elation, my struggles and suffering: they’re authentic. They’re mine.
It turns out, this is the greatest gift of all.
A FEW TOOLS FOR YOU ON YOUR JOURNEY
Did my story resonate with you? If so, perhaps you are looking for some ways to accept your self and find direction in your life. I hope the following few tools help you on your unique journey.
RE-MEMBERING YOUR BODY
Many people—and most men—living in Western culture are cut-off from their bodies. Most Westerners live their entire lives out-of-their-minds. I believe that this mind-body dualism is the source of much human suffering
The body is a temple. It is your home. Your body knows who you really are, and is continually communicating what is right for you. Your task is to learn to listen to the subtle way in which it speaks—and then do what it tells you.
One great way to re-member your body is through meditation. Meditation involves learning how to live in the present moment while being fully awake and self-aware. Meditative practice transforms consciousness from one of frantic fretting to one of calm observance.
Meditation is often especially beneficial for us gifted souls. The never-ending vortex of sensations, thoughts, feelings, insights, and anxieties (think overexcitabilities!) that characterizes gifted life can be exhilarating—but it can also be exhausting and disorienting. Meditation is a readily accessible way for us to slow down, re-center, and listen to our bodies’ subtle inner-knowing and guidance.
Meditations come in a wide variety of forms. It is important to find a type of meditation that works for you. Fortunately, many meditation resources are available for free on-line. For example, mediation guru Tara Brach provides a slew of free guided meditations on her website.
My favourite meditations incorporate spiritual and body-based perspectives. I particularly like the meditations developed by psychotherapist Judith Blackstone in her book, Belonging Here: A Guide for the Spiritually Sensitive Person.
You may also enjoy learning about meditation and mindfulness practice for gifted people from our InterGifted coach and mentor Kelly Pryde. Learn more about her work here.
RE-EARTHING YOUR SELF
One simple - yet profound - way to get in touch with your "inner" nature is by connecting with "outer" nature" animals, trees, water, rocks, dirt. Being present with nature has a way of softening our bodies, thawing our hearts, and opening our minds:
Part of our ‘deep knowing’ can be accessed if we are willing to move out into nature and experience it mindfully, with awareness and presence. Direct experience [of nature] affords heightened sensations and perceptions that connect our inner world with the outer landscape (Hasbach, 2012, p. 128).
Like meditation, nature connection is often especially beneficial for gifted individuals. Connecting with nature calms overexcitabilities. Connecting with nature catalyzes true-self discovery and facilitates deep self-reflection. Connecting with nature awakens us to community belonging—an experience all too often lacking in our everyday gifted lives.
CONNECTING WITH NATURE
I encourage you to visit a nearby natural place several times per week for at least a month. Be sure to give yourself enough time on each visit so that you can enter deeply into the experience.
While in your place, pay attention. Take notice of the following:
· Your senses – What do you see, hear, smell, touch, and taste while in your place?
· Your body – What bodily sensations do you experience in your place? Where in your body do you notice them?
· Your feelings – What feelings arise while you are in your place? Are you happy, sad, relaxed, excited, joyful…?
· Your thoughts – What thoughts, insights, or intuitions into your self or the world come
to the fore while in your place?
· Relationships – The natural world is a web of life of which humans are a part. Each part it connected to and dependent on every other. What connections and relationships do you notice as you look around you? What part might you play in this one wild world?
There are many things you can do on your own to re-discover your true self and start living out of it. That said, seeking out the support of a trained counsellor or coach who is familiar with giftedness and high sensitivity can catalyze your growth in profound—and often unexpected—ways.
A good counsellor or coach will provide you with insights and tools tailored to you and your unique situation. A trained coach or counsellor knows how to listen for true self and can help you embrace yours more fully.
If you are interested in taking an intentional step toward true self discovery and acceptance, I invite you to reach out to work with me. I am a Master’s level trained counsellor & coach and specialize in serving those who identify as creative, gifted, and highly sensitive. I can work with clients either in my private office (located in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada) or online (via Skype). I look forward to watching you grow.
If my specialty isn't what you need, my colleagues at InterGifted can provide other forms of coaching and mentoring support for you, through one-on-one work, in group workshops and courses for gifted adults, and/or via qualitative giftedness assessments which guide you in understanding your unique cognitive profile and expression of giftedness.
Peer counsel and accurate mirroring is equally important on the giftedness self discovery journey. Consider joining InterGifted's peer support community or a peer group to connect with gifted peers who are as devoted to liberating and experiencing their sensitivity and depth as you are.
Hasbach, P. H. (2012). Ecotherapy. In P. H. Kahn Jr. & P. H. Hasbach (Eds.), Ecopsychology: Science, totems, and the technological species (pp. 115–139). Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
ABOUT ERIC WINDHORST
Eric is a counsellor & coach, teacher, (re)searcher, and writer, passionate about personal growth and our planetary home. As an InterGifted coach, he works with gifted and highly sensitive adults, guiding them toward mental health, growth and positive life transitions. He lives in the Canada and works with clients all over the world via Skype. Reach out to him if you'd like to work with him in coaching.