“No pennies! No pennies!”
3-year-old Annemarie has been playing quietly on the family room floor for an hour. Without warning, she throws her toys, grabs her blankie, and begins to wail.
“No pennies! I have no pennies!”
I rush to sit beside her on the floor, scoop her in my lap, and begin to croon.
“It’s okay, Chickie. It’s okay.”
Experience has taught me that her sobs will crescendo before subsiding, so I hunker down to weather the storm together.
“No pennies!” Annemarie declares again between jagged breaths.
What is she talking about? I wonder. Why is money suddenly …
I stop rocking and stare at her in disbelief.
Did she overhear my phone call?
An hour earlier, I’d been talking with a Bank of America customer service representative, trying to figure out why our checking account was — once again — overdrawn.
I’d done the math so carefully this time. I’d known we’d be close to zero, but I was so certain we’d not be in the red.
As the detached voice at the other end of the line advised that I simply visit any local branch to make a deposit before the close of business in order to avoid incurring further NSF charges, I’d burst into tears.
“I have no money!” I’d blurted into the phone.
Glancing into the next room where Annemarie played unperturbed, I’d lowed my voice to a hoarse croak. “I have no money!”
I thought I’d shielded her. But clearly, she’d heard me after all.
Of course, she’s far too young to comprehend exactly what upset me. As I rock and whisper, “It’s okay, Chickie. It’s okay!” into my little girl’s unruly curls, I realize:
She’s absorbed my emotions — with astonishing accuracy.
5 Positive Living Choices
Twenty years after the “No pennies!” incident, Annemarie and I learned that being a Highly Sensitive Person is a thing.
What a relief to discover that being emotionally perceptive is in our DNA. It’s what makes us so empathetic.
It’s also a double-edged sword, as you know from your own attempts at positive living in a negativity-saturated world.
One Sensitive and Strong sister voices what so many of us feel:
My biggest struggle is remaining calm when surrounded by chaos and/or negativity.
The problem: HSPs are like emotional sponges.
The solution: We need to wring ourselves out regularly.
Here are five intentional things we can do:
Positive Living Choice #1: Remove
The obvious choice when surrounded by “chaos and/or negativity” is to remove yourself.
- Turn off the TV show that’s gonna give you nightmares.
- Walk out of the movie that’s giving you a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach, and a glance at your watch tells you there’s still half an hour to go.
- Exit the friendly discussion that’s morphing into a terse debate.
- Leave the room or hang up the phone as soon as you recognize that hearing someone’s complaining is not helping them and is hurting you.
“Oh, I can’t do that! What if they…”
I’m gonna interrupt right here.
Of course, I can’t tell you exactly what to do in every situation.
But I can tell you that if your first reaction to the idea of removing yourself — to turning off, walking out, exiting, leaving the room, or hanging up — is, “What if they…” you’re asking the wrong question.
The right question is, “When will I…” As in, “At what point will I choose to remove myself from a negative situation?”
Another right question: “How will I… “ As in, “How will I remove myself from a negative situation in a way that respects everyone involved?”
Another right question: “Who pays the highest price when I stay in a negative situation?”
You already know the answer to that last one, right? First you. And then everyone you come into contact with.
Which means that staying in a negative situation due to “What if they…” worries is not nearly as selfless as we like to believe.
Removing yourself is a vital form of healthy self-care.
Positive Living Choice #2: Reduce
What about when it’s not possible or practical to remove yourself from the “chaos and/or negativity”?
Reduce your exposure and, thus, its impact.
First, limit it.
Set a time limit. Literally, on your phone or with an old-fashioned kitchen timer. When the timer goes off, you’re done. At least for now.
- The whiner who still wants to be heard can find someone else to vent to. Someone who is not you.
- The debate, Part 2, can continue another day, another time. Today, you’re done.
- The chaos-creators in your life do not neeeeeed to keep spewing negativity in your presence in order to move on. The venting myth (“I have to let off steam or else I’ll blow”) myth was debunked years ago.
The truth is that in most situations, expressing negativity doesn’t help the negativizer; it makes things worse.
For them, and for you.
What if your timer has gone off and the negativity persists around you?
Say,”I find myself feeling a little overwhelmed, so I’m going to take a bit of a break.”
And then block the sounds of others’ negativity, with noise-canceling headphones or ear plugs or white noise thru earbuds.
Positive Living Choice #3: Relax
Easier said than done, I know.
But it’s vital to develop a short set of relaxation practices so you have a go-to ready when negativity hits.
A few starter ideas:
- Create a play list of relaxing music on your mp3 player.
- Write in your prayer journal.
- Put your feet up for five minutes and close your eyes.
- Sing and dance to an up-beat song.
- Light a candle.
- Make yourself a cup of tea.
- Take a walk.
Find a reliable relaxation practice, and over time you can train your brain to relax your body.
Positive Living Choice #4: Release
HSPs pick up emotions in a negative atmosphere the same way our boots pick up mud when we walk through a field in the rain.
We wouldn’t think of wearing our muddy boots into the house. Or propping them up on our coffee table. Or keeping them on when climbing into bed.
We take our boots off outside, hose them off, and leave them outside to dry.
And yet we’re often oblivious to the way our negativity-encrusted hearts leave muddy prints and clumps of dirt all over our homes and relationships.
HSPs don’t choose to be emotion magnets. It just happens. However, we can and must learn healthy ways of handling the negativity we pick up.
This doesn’t come naturally.
What comes naturally is holding on to the negativity and ruminating on it, which only hurts us and the people closest to us.
- Pray-cess the negativity and hand it over to God.
- If you’re someone who likes a set plan, the structure of breath prayers may work well for you.
- If you’re a kinesthetic learner, physically clenching your fists and then opening them in surrender might be an important part of your surrender process.
Find a method of release that allows you to take off your emotionally muddy boots, hose the negativity off, and leave them outside your heart to dry.
Positive Living Choice #5: Remember
Others’ negativity can cause you to fragment.
So you must re-member — which literally means “to put the pieces back together again”.
- “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139:14 NIV)
- “I am God’s masterpiece, created anew in Christ Jesus to do the good works he planned in advance for me.” (Ephesians 2:10 NIV)
- “I have a highly sensitive Savior who gets me, even when others do not.”
- “It is not my job to fix other people.”
- “It is not my job to make other people happy.”
- “I must practice self-care. No one else will do it for me.”
Re-mind yourself of truth.
Positive Living in a Negative World
As a Highly Sensitive Person, you’re going to experience plenty of “No pennies!” moments in which you absorb other people’s negative emotions.
Remove yourself when possible.
Reduce your exposure.
Relax your body, mind, and heart.
Release the negativity to the only One who can handle it.
Remember what is true — last, first, and every step in between—from the Source of all Truth.