Don’t get lost on either side of the victim pattern. Every source of pain is a lesson in potential better understanding. Either it was your (pick one) fate, karma, or part of a master plan for your growth and development. Because others are in pain, and you can sense it, doesn’t mean its your responsibility to give to solve their problem. Chose to direct that energy where it can be received.
As a part of our series about How to Survive and Thrive as a Highly Sensitive Person, I had the pleasure of interviewing Margo Benge. Margo started life as an Army brat — in Japan, and made her first move from there to the US at 1 and a half. The moves kept coming, and her love for travel continues to this day. Her multiple career choices included simple bookkeeping, working as a consultant in industrial recycling, telecommunications, intuitive counseling, massage therapy, author, publisher, educator, and researcher. She enjoys her unfettered existence in a sunny suburb south of Houston, where life is still an adventure at 65, and she doesn’t see that changing anytime soon.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and what you do professionally?
I have been working as a massage therapist for several years — and my research led me into major medical discoveries. After braving my way to speak in front of a medical convention in Rome, and having my work published in a medical journal, I jumped into writing a book. It’s being translated into 4 languages, and I decided I might as well have a publishing company to go along with it.
Thank you for your bravery and strength in being so open with us. I understand how hard this is. Can you help define for our readers what is meant by a Highly Sensitive Person? Does it simply mean that feelings are easily hurt or offended?
I’m not so certain I am brave — I’ve been spouting opinions all of my life, and this is just another opportunity! I hope my perceptions of what I have always termed “hypersensitivity” are not confused with “defensiveness.” Unfortunately, as a child many people with heightened sensitivity are blamed for being more aware of other’s feelings, and more shocked and upset by the unawareness of others. Resolving this is key to not getting caught in unhealthy situations. Progression into not seeing other’s actions as a reflection of you, but rather, a reflection of them, brings a great deal of peace.
Does a Highly Sensitive Person have a higher degree of empathy towards others?
Empathy can be so pronounced in some that actually registering both emotional and physical sensations of others can be remarkable. Learning that others often create their own pain by their choices, and that we are not responsible for fixing their mistakes is an important lesson for any hypersensitive. Maintaining kindness while not becoming a rescuer is vital for one’s health and well being.
Is a Highly Sensitive Person offended by hurtful remarks made about other people?
If we are answering this truthfully, it depends on who and how they are speaking of others. Hypersensitives are generally not narrow minded, less likely to condemn others for their differences, and are often focused more on the intention of the hurtful remarks rather than the content. But personality will determine how and if they will address what they consider bad behavior. Some withdraw, some try and educate others, some ignore. I’m quite capable of enjoying a crack at the expense of someone I dislike, and very likely to challenge anyone who speaks ill of someone I deeply value. Awareness does not dictate how one will react, as many people throughout my life also are more aware, but we may respond differently in the same situation.
Does a Highly Sensitive Person have greater difficulty with certain parts of popular culture, entertainment or news, that depict emotional or physical pain?
A huge part of this answer is going to be based on age, conditioning, choices and philosophy. Can you explain or give a story? For example, as a child I lost my mother in a violent car crash which resulted in my being a classic PTSD, under the category of avoidance. I could not understand how anyone could stand the site of gore in a television or movie. I also couldn’t understand why anyone would want to work in a hospital, because when I entered I could feel the pain and emotional traumas of others. But as I matured physically, emotionally and spiritually, my innate curiosity of why people do what they do has me constantly enmeshed in true crime podcasts, television series, and movies.
Can you please share a story about how your highly sensitive nature created problems at work or socially?
Imagine if you will that someone is 10 times more sensitive than you are. In trying to learn to manage that sensitivity, many will turn to drugs or alcohol to deaden their disappointment in the behavior of others. Those with father issues (me) will instinctively know how to bring out the wrath of the father substitute (the employer) — Honestly, I can’t remember all the times I was fired in my 20’s. Or all of the many stories.
When did you suspect that your level of sensitivity was above the societal norm? How did you come to see yourself as “too sensitive”?
Let me start by saying the rest of the world could be more sensitive. When you can feel the pain of others as if it was your own, the confusion arises as to why others do not. And the depression! Deep into therapy, I was trying to express how to solve a situation with my second husband. The male therapist, who I deeply respected, leaned forward and said, “Margo! He’s an asshole.”
I’m sure that being Highly Sensitive also gives you certain advantages. Can you tell us a few advantages that Highly Sensitive people have?
Socially, it’s pretty much a great gift, as you can really quickly assess who likes you, who doesn’t, who wants to manipulate you, who you want to avoid. It is easier to connect when your ability to understand is so high. When a salesman lies it is crystally apparent to me. However — when hormones are engaged — awareness is greatly reduced. I suspect this is to keep the species surviving…
Can you share a story from your own life where your great sensitivity was actually an advantage?
At this point in my life, every minute is an advantage. I get paid for what the voices in my head tell me:). That was true as an intuitive counselor, and it certainly is true as someone who combines her spiritual practice into a healing profession. It saves me an enormous amount of time because seeing those who are choosing not to heal but instead be the star of their drama, means I can remove them from me. It means I can use that awareness to explain to people how they create their own pain, and watch them blossom as they come through their changes.
There seems to be no harm in being overly empathetic. What’s the line drawn between being empathetic and being Highly Sensitive?
I have to tell you these questions bother me. The trait of highly sensitive is like any other trait — double sided. For example, I can be accommodating, or wishy-washy. I can be determined, or stubborn. There also is great harm in being overly empathetic. If you partner someone who is overly empathetic with someone who is buried in the victim pattern, you have a very unhealthy relationship. Highly sensitive people, as they mature, will spot that person and move away….where that person who considers themselves so supportive will give all the attention to the victim manipulator, who in turn can disrupt the life of the highly empathetic person.
Social Media can often be casually callous. How does Social Media affect a Highly Sensitive Person? How can a Highly Sensitive Person utilize the benefits of social media without being pulled down by it?
My experience with social media comes later in life, but I can say that controlling who is exposed to your information, or simply shutting out disruptive individuals, isn’t that hard to do. A group of us on Linked in were so tired of one woman, we all went to a closed group on Facebook.
How would you respond if something you hear or see bothers or affects you, but others comment that you are being petty or that it is minor?
It depends on the situation. I don’t hear this much as an adult. What strategies do you use to overcome the perception that others may have of you as overly sensitive without changing your caring and empathetic nature? The beautiful part about being at peace with myself is that I don’t worry about false perceptions. If the person is important to me because I enjoy them, that hypersensitivity allows me to make analogies which almost always lead to understanding rather than continued judgment.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a Highly Sensitive Person? Can you explain what you mean?
The myth that there’s something wrong with that. Biases against awareness are not much different than biases against race, sexual orientation, financial status.
As you know, one of the challenges of being a Highly Sensitive Person is the harmful,and dismissive sentiment of “why can’t you just stop being so sensitive?” What do you think needs to be done to make it apparent that it just doesn’t work that way?
The beautiful part about being older is that I can just omit those people from my life — who needs harmful and dismissive people around them, anyway!
OK, here is the main question for our discussion. Can you share with us your “5 Things You Need To Know To Survive And Thrive As A Highly Sensitive Person? Please give a story or an example for each.
- There is nothing wrong with you — and you, if you search, will find others more like you.
- Do not ever think that you need to defend yourself to anyone. A person with less awareness either can’t get it, won’t get it, or won’t care as much as you are capable of caring. To some a simple explanation will change their perceptions. Accept where they are and move on.
- Don’t get lost on either side of the victim pattern. Every source of pain is a lesson in potential better understanding. Either it was your (pick one) fate, karma, or part of a master plan for your growth and development. Because others are in pain, and you can sense it, doesn’t mean its your responsibility to give to solve their problem. Chose to direct that energy where it can be received.
- Accept that part of your awareness is a complete comprehension of how ugly others can be, and do not internalize that as a reaction to you. After the initial shock of the horror of their behavior, do what you need to do to protect yourself. As an adult, you have many, many choices.
- Dwell on joy, and work hard to eliminate negative voices in your own head.
How can our readers follow you online? I’m open to email, but I’m not a writer of any blog, nor very attentive to social media. It’s far more likely they may learn more about me when I make my next targeted book, “The anatomy of stress.”
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.