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The Wisdom of Knowing

    Two years ago I submitted a written article for consideration to Dr. Elaine Aron, a highly regarded and well published psychologist whose book, The Highly Sensitive Person, changed my life. Dr. Aron also helmed a newsletter, The Comfort Zone, which is geared to those of us who are highly sensitive individuals. The article spoke of my acute sensitivity to observations and feelings surrounding racism in particular, but also my desire to move forward to a more comfortable evolution of a less affected state of knowing. I spoke of my uncomfortable, unnerving, always unwanted, yet still uncanny sense of feeling racially based hatred, ignorance and disdain, as well as the subtle and more covertly felt behaviors which I often intuited as being racially biased. I entitled my work, The Pain of Knowing, and I was honored that Dr. Aron agreed to publish the article.

    Well, several years have passed, and I remain more convinced than ever that my HSP (highly sensitive person) temperament greatly magnifies my experiencing a disproportionate sense of awareness. [1]To quote Dr. Aron, �this greater awareness of the subtle tends to make you more intuitive, which simply means picking up and working through information in a semiconscious or unconscious way. The result is that you often �just know.� Yet, I have consciously and more knowledgeably begun to experience it through different eyes � eyes that have benefited with the wisdom received by working on my feelings as less of a problem than a challenge. Could I turn the Pain of Knowing into the Wisdom of Knowing? After all, is the problem of racism less severe than I first felt? Sadly, no. Was I exaggerating what I initially felt? Also, sadly, no. But, had I begun to face these feelings and oftentime uncomfortable occurrences with newfound courage, acceptance, self compassion and less fear? Yes, I had. And, is there some type of joy in that type of knowing � indeed there is.

    My words are written for anyone who feels challenged by themselves. It is written in mind for those who feel uncomfortable with the constant unremitting feeling of over-sensitive reactions within themselves, and would like to free their minds from the weakening state of constant emotional vulnerability and sensitivity.

    When I read the work of Dr. Judith Orloff, Thomas Eldridge, Dr. Elaine Aron and other highly sensitive doctors, educators and motivators, I found that I was almost a prototype for the description of the HSP temperament. As a child I was constantly challenged by not wanting to be as much a part (and often, no part at all) of my friends activities. Being young, and not really wanting to go to the party, or enjoy being around lots of people confused everyone � but most importantly, myself. I didn�t understand why I didn�t want to be involved on the same level as everyone else. I didn�t understand why I felt safer, and saner, alone and undisturbed. Why I often felt like a duck in a roomful of rabbits. Now I have evolved to a much more enlightened woman who understands who she is, and likes who she is. But even to this day, my times spent alone are some of my best, most comfortable times.

    To take control of my uncomfortable grasp on some of life�s sad realities and the way I experienced them, the first step was in understanding how I got to feel the way I did. Those of us who are plagued by any concern that we struggle with � owe it to ourselves to figure out why. I have healed and become so much more compassionate at this stage of my life though, that I am loath to be any more specific than to honestly admit to you that my childhood influences did indeed negatively color my perception of many things.

    [2]�Dr. Aron states that, �If you have not yet done so, you must begin to heal the deeper wounds. You were very sensitive as a child; family and school problems, childhood illnesses, and the like all affected you more than others. Furthermore, you were different from other kids and almost surely suffered for that.� My childhood was often fraught with issues of fear, low self esteem, and a lack of self-confidence. But, because I have chosen to grow I am now at a stage where I can allow myself my mistakes, as well as other�s their mistakes. Casting blame has become less meaningful to me now as it was then. I have accepted the reality of life not always giving you what you want and need when you want and need it. I am now 54 years old, and it has only been within the last few years that I have allowed myself to understand and accept the following statement as truth � and move on from there. I have learned to accept that most people do the best they can. Their best may not be the best for you � but it is their best. Even when the behavior is so unacceptable to you as to genuinely question it�s legality, credibility, humanness; it most likely is the best that person could do. Abject mean-spirited ignorance may be the most a person has in them at a point in time. They are doing the best they can. It may not be what I would do, and perhaps not what you would do � but it is the best they can do.

    It has often been hurtful to experience life in New York in Black skin. A city so full of opportunity, culture, and often times glaringly different standards of treatment for different people. Add to that, my HSP temperament, and I have often found myself weakened beyond belief by realizing man�s inhumanity to man. A great deal of my personal unhappiness has not been found, as one would think expectantly, in being treated differently by White people; but in being minimized or over-familiarized and stereotyped by my own race. As I wrote in my first article, The Pain of Knowing, my Black brethren were often and still often are the source of much of my hurt. We Blacks can leave little room for differences of opinion. I am an individual woman who happens to belong to the Black race. My race does not dictate my point of view, and never should be expected to, not to anyone.

    In learning and understanding my HSP temperament I sought out a lot of information that was available to help me understand cause and effect � thereby understanding why I felt what I felt. These works, among some other resources, were totally responsible for my turnaround. I finally felt a validity and self-acceptance of my sense of self. At the end of this article I have listed a few books that were of particular benefit to me. They were absolutely on target, using anonymous case histories, giving me an opportunity to actually identify with the material in a way that was at times perhaps sad and somehow familiar, but also necessary for me to say, �Oh, my! � that same type of situation happened to me, and I have behaved and felt just like she/he has felt as long as I can remember!� Sadly, but necessarily and gratefully, I came to understand that there was a damaged place inside of me that allowed me to feel validated in my sense of vulnerability to negative emotional content/baggage. I felt entitled to my fear, I felt entitled to feel anger and I felt entitled to feel victimized. And, my uneducated and misunderstood sensitive temperament played along very nicely along with my Fear of Knowing. Once I allowed myself to be highly sensitive without fear, and a sense of victimization � to enjoy this gift of awareness, I gave myself permission to simply be.

    The more I have re-thought, reconsidered, read and understood the uniqueness of being highly sensitive, understanding in particular the great effect that words, actions and behavior have had, and still have on me � I now come away from it all with a great sense of pride. It�s tough work to be on the peripheral edge of knowing all the time; feeling, experiencing and sensing that which you cannot distance yourself from. I now know that it takes courage to face our fears, and continue to wage our personal wars. Perhaps to some this whole premise, and newfound attitude of mine speaks of egotism, a lofty sense of superior knowledge, etc., but nothing could be further from the truth. I am now experiencing The Wisdom of Knowing because I speak from a firsthand knowledge of my fearless choosing to take a path that lead me to happiness and truth, in lieu of one that more likely would not have. I made the choice, and we all have that choice. You may not know it yet, but if you want to � you will know it. Want to know it.

    Suggested Reading

    The Highly Sensitive Person, Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D
    Getting Through the Day, Nancy Napier


    [1] The Highly Sensitive Person, Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D, pg.7
    [2] The Highly Sensitive Person, Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D, pg.xii

    � Anita Marie Colbert