On being a Highly Sensitive Person. Also, mean people suck

I met a friend at the Ponte Vedra an anonymous library last month, and afterwards approached a librarian to talk about donating a copy of my book. No big deal – I just thought maybe there was a local author section.

The woman behind the counter took my book and sighed very heavily. “I’ll have to see if it’s been catalogued,” she said. “This could take a really long time.” She picked up the book and started fanning through the pages, like she was shaking out dust or something.

“I’m not worried about it,” I said. “I just thought you might like to have it.”

More heavy sighing. “And if it’s not catalogued, we’ll have to catalogue it, and that could take even more time.”

“I certainly don’t want to inconvenience you,” I said in a strangled voice, because my throat was swelling up and water was pushing at my eyeballs. She said something about passing it on to the right person, I can’t remember exactly, and lugged my book to the back office like it was a 90-lb muddy golden retriever she would have to bathe before sundown.

This occurred on the first Saturday of summer. I had been having a very good day. But I cried on the drive home, because mean people suck, and when they suck at unexpected times, I’m caught off guard. It’s not at all about whether the library would carry my book – I don’t care. It’s better for me if people pay for it, remember? But that this woman would treat me as though I had asked her to personally check the card catalogue for 32,000 different titles – well, it was just plain rude. So disrespectful. Maybe it is indeed a whole lot of work to absorb a local author title into a library collection, although it seems unlikely. Here’s a much better response:

“Wow, this is your book? That’s so great! Of course we’d love to have it! I’m sorry to report that the library’s system for adding a book takes forever, so it might be a while before you see it on the shelves. But thank you so much! Congrats on your book!” Would that have been so difficult to utter? Geez. I went back later that day and told the same lady I wanted my book back. “I hope I didn’t make you think I didn’t want the book,” she said.

“Well, you did,” I said.

Look. I’m very sensitive. I even have a personality classification: Highly Sensitive Person. I know this fact about myself, and would have known it even if people hadn’t been telling me so my whole goddamn life, and even if I hadn’t just taken four quizzes entitled “Are You Highly Sensitive?” and aced every one. I have cried at every single Little House on the Prairie episode. I know things about people before they know themselves. I’m a writer, for Buddha’s sake. Being highly sensitive heightens my sense of empathy and compassion, and makes me more creative. It also makes me cry a lot. The other day I cried because I couldn’t do all the burpees in my CrossFit workout, and last week I cried because I couldn’t get my kid to fold her laundry. My feelings are hurt easily, although I’ve hardened up a bit. I know immediately if people don’t like me, and pretty quickly whether I’m going to like them. And I know when I’m being slighted.

Now, don’t worry – I usually get over it. But for a nano-second, it bothers me. Stop being so sensitive! I’ve been told a gazillion times. You’re being too sensitive! At this point, I’m thinking – if you know that I’m so sensitive, why don’t you be a little sensitive to things that trigger my hypersensitivity? Because I’m 53 years old, and I’ve been very sensitive since the day I was born, and it seems extremely impossible that I’m going to change. You see, sensitive people cannot stop being sensitive. However, insensitive people actually can acquire sensitivity. Sometimes, by the way, I refer to sensitivity as manners. Basic manners, or kindness. A woman I know recently took offense to something I said about her child, something that was true enough, and answered a question she had asked. But the instant I perceived I had hurt her feelings, I fell all over myself apologizing, rephrasing, and assuring – because I realized she was very sensitive, and it was the right thing to do to avoid ruining her day.

What the hell is wrong with people? I just don’t understand it. Yesterday the checkout clerk at Publix confided in me (that’s how often I am at the grocery store – the checkout clerks confide in me) that she’s very sensitive about her smile because she doesn’t have great teeth. Now that’s different from being a Highly Sensitive Person, but the premise is the same. She internalizes the pain of her source of weakness, and it hurts. I have perfect teeth, and I can’t imagine how difficult it is for her to work in a community where most people have expensive perfect teeth and be very aware that she doesn’t. So I took her hand and looked into her eyes (not at her mouth), and said, “You have a beautiful smile.”

She smiled at me, and it was actually a beautiful smile, and I smiled myself on the drive home, because sometimes being a Highly Sensitive Person means spreading a tiny bit of joy in the world. And that’s not a bad thing at all.

22 responses to On being a Highly Sensitive Person. Also, mean people suck

  1. MNM says:

    Thank you for always being the most empathetic and highly attuned friend that I have ever had. Though years, strange odysseys, and many miles have separated us, your uncanny ability to know the exact moment when to reach out to me, and to listen so intently to what is going on in my life, demonstrates a sensitivity that can never be taught. It is a gift which you have been given in order to enhance the lives of others around you. Hopefully, your reward is a gentle reminder that you, too, are very loved.

    • tricia says:

      And now my eyes are leaking. Thank you, friend. From one gift to another. xoxo

  2. Barb B. says:

    You know what Tricia…you ought to apply to the White House for the position of “Sensitive Advisor.” Jeeezus…THEY NEED YOU! Love you, Sweetheart! You’re ALWAYS “right on!”

  3. Patti Peeples says:

    I’ve been in bed all day because I’m TOO EFFING SENSITIVE and I’m going to cry, even if we had made it to Wonder Woman or that beautiful bike ride along the river in Jacksonville, and I was afraid at what I’d do if I saw a WW #kickass (because I currently #AmNotKickingAssVeryWell) or if I’d seen a cute puppy or a child laughing (because #EverythingMakesMeCryToday). Sometimes I wish I was a Hard Ass.

    • tricia says:

      Being a badass is better than being a hardass, and badasses can cry all they want. When you’re sensitive, some days are better than others, and there’s nothing wrong with that. xoxo

  4. Todd O'Donnell says:

    Ha, know that feeling all too well Tricia. I am at the point now where I try to go out of my way to say nice things, find the good in someone and make their day. Please know that if I was that librarian I would have sincerely made you feel good. I used to be kind of mean, not anymore, 52 years old and I still have good things to do on this Earth. Love ya sister.

    • tricia says:

      You are a very good man, and every day you breathe, you are helping this earth. xoxox

  5. Sharon says:

    From one highly sensitive person to another…I don’t go to that *anonymous* library branch anymore because they’re ​always so mean. And I like to avoid mean people. Okay, most people. But especially the mean ones. xo

    • tricia says:

      A SISTER. Yes, we should avoid mean people, but sometimes we should just shame them. Maybe we could go back together one day. Miss seeing your face. xoxo

      • Maureen O'Donnell says:

        Take Todd with you. He’s great at shaming mean people. Ask all the cashiers at the Neptune Beach Publix. He’s their hero. 🙂

  6. Libby says:

    Wow! I love this article and I love you! We could be best friends. I am both a Highly Sensitive Person and a new author! Way to go!

    • tricia says:

      Well, we need to connect, don’t we! Send me a P.M. and tell me about your book!xo

  7. Mary says:

    I feel your pain. Last night I cried because they unexpectadly moved us from one training class to another and our trainer was really kind and I will miss him (I blamed it on hormones, they get all the blame). Then this morning a friend posted a video she had to watch in preparation to adopt a child. OMG, the tears. Movies, tv shows, even songs get me going. Every slight hangs on till I force myself to let it go. I think the librarian certainly would benefit from not spewing every thought that she thinks and just saying thank you for your contribution.

  8. Robert Arleigh White says:

    This is a powerful and beautiful post. I cry a lot, too. “She internalizes the pain of her source of weakness, and it hurts” should be my middle name. As a sixty year old man, I’ve gotten better at mastering the expression of my feelings than I was at 50…or 40…or 30..but I always feel. Being an artist who works in collaboration with other artists requires heightened sensitivity, and I’m happy to hit the mark. Lovely to know, and to see, that you do, too.

    • tricia says:

      Dear Bob, your sensitivity has shone through ever since I’ve known you. And that’s a good thing. xoxo

  9. Jensie says:

    I just got introduced to your blog and, well, you are my tribe. I cried at the grocery store yesterday when I saw an older man rummaging through the day old pastries — was he too poor to afford fresh ones? Where was his wife? Was he alone and drowning his sorrows in stale doughnuts? Perhaps I’m a little neurotic, but also highly sensitive. But I love your work and I will happily buy and read your book. Thank you!

    • tricia says:

      Welcome to my peeps, Jensie! I think Highly Sensitive often comes with a healthy dose of neurosis. Thanks for reading, and can’t wait to hear what you think of my book. Peace and crickets to you, new friend.

  10. Robert Broder says:

    It works both ways. We have a lovely library here in Stony Brook, and it’s rated the best in Long Island. A few years ago when I would go there in the evenings to study, there was always this elderly man at one of the tables. Every single time! He would bring a bag with his mail and go through it, filling a garbage can.
    Every time he would go to the librarian and ask a question, and if they didn’t have the answer he was looking for he would begin ranting about how incompetent the staff was and how much better he could do the job.
    They always acted with complete calm, and each time I wondered how they didn’t tell him to, “Get the f**k out of here” when he did it.
    One day I realized that he was the crazy, retired airline pilot who lived around the corner from me. This is the guy who hasn’t mowed a blade of grass or trimmed a bush in the 25 years I have lived here. And he used to fly airliners!!

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