This piece is also available to read on the following website: Highly Sensitive Refuge
At an early age, most of us are taught that diversity contributes to life’s beauty. As children, we may have had parents or teachers who would point to a garden featuring a variety of flowers and explain that each plant’s unique appearance and qualities add to the overall perfection of the garden. So, from childhood, diversity is presented as a positive aspect of life.
Pleasant as this concept may be, is it a belief that our culture truly values?
A 2019 study from The U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Institutes for Health found that among 40 million U.S. workers, on-the-job discrimination ranged from a high of 25% for black women to a low of 11% for white men.
Those numbers illustrate a disheartening fact in America’s working world: some of the most unrepresented individuals in the workforce -the ones who are considered “diverse”- experience the most discrimination.
Like the women who participated in that survey, I’m African American, but as an INFP I’m also a highly sensitive person (HSP), and for most of my life I’ve felt as though I had no community, no “people” to lean on for support or understanding.
Of course, it isn’t surprising to hear an HSP express feelings of loneliness that find their root in the way they’ve been treated. Many HSP relate experiences of family members and friends making it known that when one has a tendency to be quietly observant, this is a flaw that should be swapped out with more extroverted behavior.
Being “different” is a struggle. However, when an HSP happens to be a person of color (POC), they likely experience not only the previously mentioned loneliness, but social rejection based on the color of their skin as well as familial rejection due to falling short of cultural/ethnic standards related to social interactions.
Rejection hits an HSP with the force of a knife-wound. Our sensitive nature often turns even small criticisms into gaping flaws that we become anxious to fix. But when the rejection is based on something an HSP can’t change -such as their ethnicity- they’re left with a deep sense of hopelessness, feeling as though no matter what they do, they’ll never be “acceptable.”
I remember feeling this way when, due to my love of cinema and budding desire to become a filmmaker, I decided to begin collaborating with local wedding videographers in my hometown of Louisiana. I hoped the experience of working behind a camera at an event like a wedding would build my courage and skill as a camerawoman and eventually a director.
So, a family member who works in the film and entertainment industry was kind enough to put me in touch with a local videographer who agreed that I could spend the day with him and his crew while they shot an out-of-town wedding.
Overflowing with anticipation, on the day of the wedding I met up with the videographer so we could take a two or three hour-long road trip to the venue as well as to the secondary location where we’d meet up with his other crew members.
It was a great trip. He was an amazing conversationalist, and though I can be very quiet, I felt comfortable talking to someone as animated and funny as he was.
Our conversation covered just about everything under the sun for the first leg of our trip, and when we stopped to get lunch, he looked at me and said something I’ll never forget.
This very nice man who seemed to say whatever popped into his mind, turned to me with a huge grin and said, “This has been great! I can’t believe I’m having a conversation with a Black woman!”
I smiled and faked a laugh, because what else does one do when one is reminded that they’re not the sort of person anyone would typically choose to talk to or hang out with.
When he said that, my heart plummeted.
I honestly hadn't even thought about the fact that he was white and I was black. I was just enjoying myself with a person.
But that comment of his, which was said in innocence, taught me a terrible lesson. From that moment on, I believed that when people saw me, they didn't see me, they only saw the color of my skin. HIs innocent remark taught me that I’m not really a person to people who don’t look like me, I am a stereotype.
For the rest of the day, I tried not to let my feelings turn into some hovering dark cloud. But I did continue thinking about the deeper meaning behind his words. And as I, in typical HSP fashion, overanalyzed the entire concept, I was hit with a right hook to the heart that resulted in a painful realization- my social life, the way I was treated at work, the way acquaintances and friends interacted with me, it all began to make sense. t
That day I realized that the “problem” with me extended far beyond my shy nature, the real problem was that I looked like a person who wasn’t supposed to be shy. I was supposed to be loud, instead of reticent, because aren’t all black women loud? And, I was supposed to be “strong,” instead of indecisive and mild, because aren’t all black women strong?
I didn’t make sense to people, because I didn’t “act like my race.”
So, after that incident, I felt like some kind of freak of nature and I started hating the fact that I was drawn to hobbies and entertainment that seemed out of harmony with what a stereotypical black woman was supposed to enjoy. For a long time, I felt stuck, and hopelessly weird.
Those feelings, however, were shaped by a world culture that punishes diversity instead of encouraging it.
Thankfully, my perspective shifted after learning about what it means to be a HSP and then speaking with other HSP POC. The education and exchanges with people who similar to me, finally allowed me to breathe a sigh of relief. I gradually began to understand that there was nothing wrong with me.
Instead, I began to see that there was something very wrong with our current world culture. It was based on a system that created racial stereotypes for the purpose of dehumanizing members of certain ethnicities.
In speaking with other HSP POC, I’ve also learned that despite feeling lonely for so long, nearly all of us have struggled with low self-esteem and intense feelings of worthlessness due to living with prejudice, which I believe is a form of abuse.
As with any abuse, it takes years to recover from the scars that racism and prejudice cause.
But I can say, I feel lighter now, happier. And, as I continue to heal, I’ve learned to cherish three practices that are helping me along the path to self-acceptance.
Reconnecting with one’s self is a simple yet effective technique. It involves taking a few minutes to write three lists. I write a list of the things I absolutely love to do, a list of my talents, and finally a list of my goals.
After incidents of prejudice/discrimination occur on the job or in every day life, I find that taking a moment to reflect on who I am, and what I have to contribute to our word helps to rebuild my confidence.
A second form of assistance that’s crucial to healthy self-esteem is finding like-minded people. I’ve used Facebook Groups, meetup.com, and even my local library to get in touch with other writers, INFP’s, and filmmakers to chat with. The interactions are refreshing and I find I can be myself around gentle souls who share my interests and value me as an individual.
A third, and form of assistance I took advantage of and benefited from was therapy. I worked with a psychologist to rebuild my self-esteem. Experiencing prolonged prejudice and racism, especially as an HSP, is detrimental to one’s emotional well-being and I firmly believe anyone who's been exposed to such abuse would benefit from the assistance of an experienced psychologist.
So, while navigating an extroverted world as a HSP, one often battles feelings of loneliness, and these feelings are exacerbated when an HSP frequently experiences racial prejudice.
But the truth is that none of us are alone. We have a global community of kind and empathetic HSP who will readily support their fellow quiet folk.
It’s up to each of us to reach out and make connections and this can be daunting. But when we do, our journey through this world stops feeling like a solitary trek of wrong turns, and becomes an enjoyable adventure that unfolds alongside a supportive group of companions.