3 Ways That High Sensitivity Shows Up (that few people talk about)

by | Jul 24, 2022 | Highly Sensitive Person, HSP | 59 comments

Over the years of working closely with highly sensitive people and raising our two beautifully sensitive sons, I’ve noticed three primary areas where the sensitivity shows up that are rarely talked about. What is not discussed tends to get tamped down into the dark vault of shame, where it festers and grows, entangled with the belief, “There’s something wrong with me. Nobody else does/feels/thinks these things.”

So here’s a normalizer and a shame reducer. Read the photo first, then the additional text. I’d love to hear where it lands with you in the comments!

Three Ways that High Sensitivity Shows Up:

1. With the Non-Human World:

My grandmother knitted a blanket for me before I was born. I attached to it immediately and fiercely – I can only assume that some wise part of my infant me knew that it was from her and that she would become one of the most important and beloved relationships in my life – and named it Bebes (pronounced Bee-Bes).

I never went anywhere without Bebes. He (yes, he’s male) came with me to friends’ houses, to the grocery story, and eventually to my first day of kindergarten. If I couldn’t find Bebes before bedtime I couldn’t sleep, and the entire house had to be turned upside down until he was found (often in a closet or laundry basket where I had been playing hide-and-seek earlier in the day).

I still have Bebes. He lives in my closet and once in a while I take him down, show my kids, and bring him to my face so that I can inhale deeply. As a child, I would take one of Bebes’ corners and sniff it endlessly for comfort. When I breathe him in now, it’s like my entire childhood comes flooding back, and most especially my grandmother.

When we sold our car a few years ago, I grieved like I had parted with a dear friend. I wrote this blog post about it and it was one of my most popular posts because my community of highly sensitive people understands that cars aren’t just cars, that blankets aren’t just blankets, that when we wave and say hello to daffodils and all flowers, they wave and say hello back. Not in a human way, but in a way that we understand.

Mainstream, left-brain driven culture judges our relationship to the non-human world. And yet the more I read books like Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer and Rooted by the Lyanda Lynn Haupt, I know more than ever that our heightened sensitivity that allows us to feel into the animacy of the entire universe is precisely what our world needs to right itself.

***

2. With Houses:

I still miss my childhood house, the place that held both the pain and the joy of the first 18 years of my life. Our houses carry memories, yes, but also the walls listen to our tears, to our laughter, to our stories, to our secrets.

I also miss my grandparents’ house where my brothers and I spent every weekend. I miss the garden in the backyard that my grandfather tended to every day. I miss the playroom where we made origami and did SpinArt. I miss the blackberry brambles along the back fence and the old, decrepit white shed that my brother and I turned into a fantasy land. When we sold that house after my grandparents passed away, it felt wrong. It’s still feels wrong and I wish we could buy it back one day.

My husband recently read an article that talked about how a house in the UK has been in the family since 1050 A.D. This never happens anymore, at least not in this country. We have become a society based on a disposable mindset and this bleeds over into our houses.

It’s nobody’s fault, but for highly sensitive people when you have to say goodbye to a house that has been meaningful to you it is a death of sorts. And it brings a grief that sends many people onto their knees.

I told my sons on the way to school one morning that I hope my husband and I can leave this house to them and they can leave it to their children and grandchildren and so on. Perhaps it will be so…

***

3. In Nature:

I was walking across our yard this morning and I saw a bee inside a dandelion flower. I was relieved I saw it in time and avoided stepping on it, both for my sake and the bees’.

I then flashed on how when my kids have been stung by a bee their first response, even amidst their own pain, was to grieve for the bee. In other words, the sanctity of the bee’s life is more important than their momentary physical pain. (Luckily neither of them are allergic to bees.)

How vastly different our world would be if this mindset informed our human actions – if we knew the immeasurable value of putting more-than-human life above our temporary pain or pleasure…

This knowing is wired in for highly sensitive people. I’m telling you: HSP’s are going to save this planet. And that means YOU and likely the beautiful children that you’ve birthed.

You are a gift. Your sensitivity is medicine. Value it. Honor it. Celebrate it. And allow it to guide you to keep bringing your gifts into our aching world.

Sending love, as always… ❤️

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59 Comments

  1. Oh yeah… I can definitely relate. And yet I’ve never heard these things said before. Thought I was the only one that said, “Hello!” out loud to flowers. My dog really WAS my best friend. Each stone is special and definitely has a story. And don’t even get me started on the cars and houses I’ve grieved as if they were people I knew I’d never see again…. THANK YOU, Sheryl, for putting all these things into words.

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  2. Wow what a timely post. We are currently looking for a new home as we are starting to outgrow our current apartment, with our third baby on the way. I notice how heavy and ambivalent I feel about this, how I want more space for my growing family to build a home, yet how I wish we could stay in current home with all of the memories, routines and rituals we have. I am afraid of what will be loaf from our family identity if/when we move. At times i have a tendency to distract myself from this grief and fear by obsessing over the search for a new home (checking real estate listings and looking at floor plans etc), but I find this gets me nowhere and leaves me feeling disoriented and cut off from my feelings. Your post has reminded me to make space to sit with my feelings- of sadness about moving on from a happy place in my life, and uncertainty about the future.

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    • Dear e,
      You comment really touched me. Thank you for sharing.
      I am in a similar place – just baby no.2.
      And i as Well have been destracting myself with House-apps and checking trains for commitee and all of that stuff.
      I Will try to allow for more feelings – thank you for sharing!

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      • HSPs won’t save the planet if we’re bullied to death, and I’ve been bullied to death for needing quiet and sleep, for example. Hint: quiet and sleep are sacred, and American society has no respect for either of them and acts like you only deserve those 2 things if you’re rich That will be the downfall of the US.

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        • Quiet Disabled Woman: I’m so sorry you’ve been bullied about your need for quiet and sleep. These are basic human rights and needs that Americans seem to have completely forgotten about. Sending big hugs.

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    • I’m so glad the post has reminded you to connect to the grief. It’s the medicine for most things, and especially transitions. And if you can create a simple ritual that will help you all say goodbye to the house – like touching the walls as you say thank you – it will create more ground.

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      • Your wisdom is very timely for me. I’ve been struggling for 25 months with deep sadness and resistance to move to a new place. And I thought I have attachment problems from childhood that needs to be healed, which brought my mood down even more. My desperate thought is if I ever heal this attachment issue. From the comments here that there’s a name for this struggle and that there are those who feel the same as I do, I feel as if the sun shines for the first time into my 25 months of feeling the sadness.

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  3. This truly resonates with me. My son’s blanket still lays crumpled at his feet while he sleeps. He’s 13! Any bug in our house “has friends and family” and he is gently escorted outside. Our dog, well, our friend and family…my heart still aches for the homes I lived in. Thank you for these powerful words.

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    • It’s people like you and your son that will save this planet.

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  4. I feel so seen. Ever since I was little, my mother and I would always come home from the store with a stuffed animal, because we felt bad for it and didn’t want it to be alone! I moved out of my parents home and into the house my husband and I bought 3 years ago and my heart still aches about it. I’m coming to realize that I am not broken or weird, but a gift to this very opposite, mainstream world. If all HSPs ruled the world, think about how different we would be!

    Speaking of highly sensitive, I read The Highly Sensitive person and The Highly Sensitive Parent (as I am in the midst of extreme pre pregnancy anxiety) and was absolutely triggered by the fact that she basically surmised that it is very very difficult to be a parent if you’re Highly Sensitive….I was really disappointed and discouraged and returned the books. Any thoughts on this?

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    • I would love to hear more about this, too.

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    • I remember reading this part of the book before having children and being so scared. I now have a 6 yo and a 2 yo and sometimes remember this fear. And I smile.

      The truth is, yes parenting is challenging but it is for all parents, and what a gift it is for our children to have HSP parents – we are so exquisitely attuned to them and parenting gently can be a way to heal our childhood hurts. Don’t let this passage scare you! ♥️♥️♥️

      Just like marriage, parenthood is filled with cultural expectations of constant joy and happiness. But just like any relationship it will trigger you and will invite you to heal deeply, and to open your heart in ways you didn’t know was even possible. It’s all worth it ♥️

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      • I am a highly sensitive parent as Well and i guess so is Sheryl.
        I Can tell you, i had all these fears, but now i only see my sensitivity as a mother, as a strenght.

        I Think maybe the author fell into some old ideas about parenthood and unfortunately reproduced Them.

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          • Yes, what they say makes sense, rationally. But I fear that my child will suffer because of my anxieties and will pick up on all of my fears. The last therapist I saw told me that “your unborn child will come into this world knowing that you were an ambivalent mother” and it stung so deeply. Being highly sensitive, I worry that since I can barely take care of myself at times, how am I to take care of another? I’m having a hard time feeling I wont be able to cope with it.

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  5. Sheryl, you just made something make more sense. When I was 12, I was on a bike ride with my dad and younger brother. I got a little too close to my dad, who didn’t see me. He hit the brakes, and I flew over the handlebars, landing on my face. I was really banged up, but at that moment, all I could notice was the grit in my mouth. I clearly remember thinking, “Oh, no, did I hurt the street?” It was my front tooth. I have always wondered why in the world I was concerned about the road.

    After living in our home for 40 years and talking about moving many times as it’s quite small, we finally accepted that we are not likely to ever move unless forced. Our hearts are here in this place. These walls where we raised our son, our garden, flowers, and trees that I commune with daily and that my husband waters for his soul, our animals buried here, and even our extra long narrow driveway and nearby park are in our being. We do have to figure out how to let go of more stuff as we have no more storage, and we both have issues with things that hold memories. Two high sensitives in one small house for 40 years is a certain challenge. 😉

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    • Oh, Lori… the story about the road brings tears to my eyes. It so beautifully and heart-breakingly encapsulates the heart of the HSP. Thank you for sharing it.

      And yes, we never plan on moving unless we absolutely have to because of exactly the reasons you’ve named. But if we do end of moving one day, I trust that the trees, creek, and I will create rituals to guide us through the grief.

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      • My dear Sheryl, your response to my story of the road really helped me embrace who I am a little more fully. Thank you. It is good. It helps me be more present and loving with myself.

        And I believe you are right. If moving happens for you or me, we will be guided in ways that will help us grieve and embrace the new. It does help me to know all the trees are connected, and if I can connect to Mother Redwood in another state, my dear Apple tree will still be connected to me, as will your trees to you. As you well know, being an HSP has many unusual perks, not just challenges. 😉

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        • YES! And I was just responding to your post on the forum. We’re connected to the trees always, and connected to each other. ❤️

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  6. I can move out of a place. But I am super, super sensitive to the “feel” of any place I try to live. I’ve been shopping for houses and I’ve learned that I can quickly feel depressed imagining myself living in various homes — whether it be a certain sense of the outdoor setting, or the layout of rooms. I feel like I should be able to rise above and prevail no matter what type of rooms I’m living in, but sadly I have learned this is a huge weakness of mine — buildings and neighborhoods very much affect my mood, way more than I would like.

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    • I wouldn’t call what you are describing a weakness, Heather. It sounds to me that you are an empath and simply very attuned to your feelings – that is truly a gift ❤️

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    • Heather – me too!! As soon as I see a new place and start considering it, I feel down about all the ways it could be wrong, and feel wrong. Always searching for a home but no-where feeling right. Like a constant home sickness.

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    • I agree with Bernadette, Heather: I think you’re sensing into the energy of the place and you can trust what you’re reading. We looked at over 100 houses before we found this one, and often I would walk in and out in two minutes because I knew it wasn’t for us.

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  7. This post resonated so much. I’ve cried every time I’ve left a house/apartment, even if I only lived there for a year or two during school! I never put much thought into this but I swore I must be the only one who becomes so attached to a place. Thank you for highlighting this as a gift of sensitivity.

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    • We have profound and beautiful levels of attachment, Olivia, and it shows up everywhere.

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  8. Yes this resonates with me a lot! Spiders are my angels visiting me. I say hello to them, thank them for visiting, and then escort them out of my home. I had a Blankey (also a he) that I lost in smoke damage to my home. I still miss him and often grieve that I don’t have him to keep me company or give me good luck under my pillow. When I was younger I lost him and wouldn’t eat, drink, or do anything until he was found. It’s so validating to know this is due to my highly sensitive personality. Lately, I’ve been struggling with accepting this part of me leading to a lot of relationship anxiety. Thank you.

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    • I love that spiders are angels for you! I hope this post and the comments help you to bring more compassionate acceptance to your sensitivity.

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  9. This was healing and validating to read. It helps me make a little more sense of my life. 💗 Thank you! I’m learning to love the parts of me that society sometimes mocks or thinks is weak. It takes great strength and courage to exist in this world as an HSP, while keeping our hearts wide open to love.

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  10. I love reading your words, Sheryl, as it makes me feel known and not so alone. I’m going to print this out for my young daughter – also a highly sensitive person – to read when she is a bit older. We both tick every point on the three pictures. I am glad to be able to validate her inner world as when I was growing up, my world was certainly not validated by my family and I was looked upon as other. I am sure this is not an uncommon amongst this crowd! So grateful for your work. ❤️

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    • Not uncommon at all! In earlier generations it was the extremely rare parent who knew how to honor high sensitivity. How lucky your daughter is to have you. ❤️

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  11. Dear Sheryl, I love this post so very much! It normalizes so much for me and has me reflecting once more on the beauty of my inner world. I have come to value this beauty and the treasure it is to our humanity now thanks so much to you and your work. 💛🌸 Todah & obrigada!

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    • I’m so glad you’re valuing and treasuring your sensitivity and your inner world, Patricia! ❤️🥰

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  12. The summer between 5th and 6th grade, my mom bought me new tennis shoes and said to throw the old ones away. I was aghast – they had served me so well, and THIS is the thanks they get? Thrown in a trash can and a life alone in a landfill for who knows how long? I hid them in the back of my closet and they stayed there until I went to college.

    I imagine the Toy Story movies had a lot of us around here in inconsolable tears.

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    • Oh, my heart fills with love for young you who knew that those tennis shoes deserved some respect.

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  13. I set a prayer every time that I’m on the road for God to protect animals and keep them safe far from the road. I do send love to the families of departed dead animals and wish them well in their transition. And I say hi to trees as I pass by them. And to my room every time I leave and come back. My car’s name is Betty and she’s precious to me.

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    • Beautiful, Ivonne. It’s people like you who are going to save this planet.

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  14. Thank you for this post. Every single thing resonates with me. But I have a question: how to navigate this deep attachment to things which is born out of our sensitivity when the spiritual path encourages us to become detached? Thank you for your work and your courses.

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    • I think it’s something like: be fully attached, but if, for some reason, we have to detach, we learn how to walk through that process with our hearts of grief in our compassionate hands so that we can let go.

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      • Thank you!

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  15. So many tears of love, joy, witness, and feeling seen as I read this and the comments. 💗

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  16. Thank you for these comforting words. Like the email points out, with changes of the seasons and an increase of anxiety, that is my days now. Ive really tried to not hook on to the thoughts itself, so reading the email was comfort in itself ❤️ I smiled while reading the first picture about stones having their stories. Ive often sat on the stone beach of my familys cottage, thinking about where they started and where/what they have been before they ended up there. All round and smooth.

    Also while shopping anything really. If I touch one item I have to take it, not the one beside it even if their the same because I have always felt the first one to be touch would be sad for not being chosen. This could be a bottle of ketchup or a pack of cheese. Doesnt matter. I have been like this since I was a child. With you and this work its the first time in my life that this side of myself is being validated ❤️

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    • Ida – omg…I have never heard anyone describe the need to take the first item you touch on a shelf, or it will feel sad and rejected…in my head I say ‘it’s a mug, or a ketchup bottle, don’t be so ridiculous’ but it doesn’t work..I have to take the one that I touched! Thanks for voicing this x

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      • There’s something so deeply beautiful, spiritual, and wise about what you’re both sharing, Ida and Annie. This is why I say that the HSPs are the modern mystics.

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      • ❤️❤️❤️ I really appreciate that we can share this!

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  17. Thank you for this post. I felt seen and heard. I was thinking becoming crazy with my love for insects and nature. Feeling sorry for the plants when I have to cut them in order to keep my garden in order and not becoming a bush. And walking over the lawn knowing I can step on ants or other bugs. But then I remind myself that God hasn’t put me on earth for no reason. That I am also allowed to be here.
    Still, I feel this is an overly sensitive reaction that makes my live harder. How can I be more compassionate for myself in this case?

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    • I already hear the compassion growing, Hanneke. I love what you’ve shared: “But then I remind myself that God hasn’t put me on earth for no reason. That I am also allowed to be here.” That’s it: hand on heart as we breathe into the pain of being human and remind ourselves that we’re allowed to be here.

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  18. Yes, I can so relate to all of this! Recently my adolescent daughter got into a serious car accident & the car was totaled but she walked away with minor injuries. When I was at the tow yard cleaning out the personal items in the car, I took a moment & thanked the car (Winnie) for protecting my baby & doing her job well. I got teary & connected so deeply with the car & felt deep gratitude for her protection.

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    • Oh, Leslie: Sending big hugs about the accident, and how beautiful that you were able to connect to gratitude for the car. I’m so glad she’s okay. Thank you, dear car!

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  19. This resonates with me so much. When i was little i used to collect stones from outside and bring them home to give them a “home” lol. I’m curious, is part of being an HSP also wondering and trying to make sure that you care enough about the people in your life because we value having deep meaningful relationships? This could apply to your partner, friends, parents, etc. I always feel like I’ve thought so deeply about this kind of stuff because deep meaningful relationships are very important to me.

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    • Yes, deep relationship are EVERYTHING to HSP (including non-human relationships). It’s all about connection.

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  20. This was so calming to read for me. I often feel at such odds with this world we live in. I find it causes me physical pain to leave my home, which is my safe place. We’re currently on holiday and although I’m immensely grateful to be able to do this, I still struggle! Not least because I have to leave my beloved Dachshund behind. My family think I am crazy that sometimes I cry thinking about when I will eventually have to let him go (he’s only 4 years old, my mum just says “why do you think of stuff like that?”) but I love him more than I could ever express into words, but I am sure the people reading this article and comments will understand!
    I save the saddest plants at the garden centre because I don’t want them to feel unloved. I cry when trees are cut down and I generally find the world we live in an overwhelming and un-caring place. I am so thankful to find people like Sheryl sharing articles like this so that I know I am not alone.

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    • I’m so glad you’re on this planet, Stephanie, and I have no doubt that those sad, sagging plants at the garden store are grateful for you. No doubt at all. Your doggy is very lucky, too. Our world is often overwhelming and uncaring, but there is also so much love here. It’s important to look for that, too. ❤️

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  21. Wow – thank you for this validation.

    We just sold our house of 14 years. A house we loved, a house we still love. I wish we could keep it, we really wanted to, but we are planning to get a new property with two houses so my Mother-in-law can live closer. Our current house is lovely in so many ways, but in addition to not having room for my MIL, it is not the best area to raise our son. We bought this place when it was just the two of us and now that we have a 3-year-old we realize we want a safer place to raise him. So, all of this is good – but it’s so hard to let go!

    It’s really hard because although I love this house, it has been a big point of anxiety for me. Right before my son was born we got new nextdoor neighbors, 3 college boys! That turned our quiet neighborhood a lot more active and loud. I had to make noise complaints, bake cookies for them, make more noise complaints and after 1.5 years they left. Beyond that we got some other interesting neighbors (sword fighting anyone? or a dog kennel that blasts Metallica?) and actually, three people were killed within 2 miles of our house in the last four years. So, it’s not quite the utopia it was for us when we were childless, working a lot and traveling.

    But there are some great people here, beautiful old oak trees that shade the house and support squirrels, turkeys, fox, deer, and even a peacock! All of this 10 miles from downtown.

    Anyway – this post really helped to validate all the complex emotions I have about letting go of this place. It is special and it was very special for us. And I fought hard over the past three years to try to restore it to what I thought it was, and could be for our family – but I think now the best path forward is to let it go. The new owners are a couple and I don’t know if they have kids, so I hope they love it as much as we did and that its special for them too. And I hope that in turn for us releasing this special place to someone else, that we get to find a new place that is just as special for our family moving forward.

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    • This all makes so much sense, April, and it sounds like there’s some real readiness to grieve, let go, and move forward.

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  22. Yes, yes, yes. I love this post. Me and my partner turn our phone torches on whenever we are going up the front garden path and it’s been raining lest we take the life of a lovely little slug or snail (and we move them to safety). We stick googly eyes on all sorts of things in our house – aubergines, the bread maker, plant pots, bananas – and it makes us love everything like it’s a friend (and makes us giggle). I love that you recognise this as being beautiful and connect the other HSPs together across the world!

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  23. Yes. I am now an architect because of the love and empathy towards my childhood home. Layered with a longing to save or care for it myself in the moments of neglect, which as an adult I understand as my parents hard choice to invest their time and budget into me instead. It’s also a strange path to walk as I sometimes notice myself disconnecting from my (small) home as an adult. Nothing has ever felt quite the same in spite of my complicated feelings towards home, and my challenge is to step into the actions that I was unable to take as a child.

    Reply

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