Note: I originally posted this on Instagram, and it struck a chord so I’m expanding upon the initial post here with further guidelines for how to work with this potentially challenging aspect of ourselves.
Highly sensitive people often struggle with transitions, including the daily transitions of life, like:
• Getting out of bed
• Getting into/out of the shower
• Getting out of the car once you’ve arrived at your destination
• Getting started with cooking
• Brushing your teeth
• Going to sleep
Personally, I love lingering in bed in the morning.
I love sitting in my car once I’ve pulled into a parking spot or into our garage.
These aren’t bad things, but I do notice that sometimes the delay isn’t serving me.
In a nutshell, highly sensitive people don’t like change, even the small changes that comprise a day. We cling to “what is” even if what is isn’t necessarily working because it’s easier and more comfortable. If we don’t gently push ourselves sometimes, the avoidance starts to take a toll.
The seeds of my work were nourished in the soils of transitions over 25 years ago when I wrote and researched extensively on the underbelly of the wedding transition and called into question the mainstream mindset that the engagement is only a happy time. This culminated in my first book, The Conscious Bride.
From there, it became exceedingly clear that highly sensitive people struggle with not only major transitions – graduating, getting married, becoming a parent, job/career change, etc – but also the smaller ones.
These overlooked smaller transitions need our loving attention so that we can meet the stuck places embedded inside of them and keep moving our lives forward.
How Do We Meet These Smaller Transitions?
The question that arises after naming the challenge is: what next? As I responded to this beautiful comment on Instagram:
Wow. I feel as if don’t have words because you said everything I’ve felt for as long as I can remember. As a kid, struggling with classroom/subject transitions in school. Now, leaving bed, leaving the car, leaving a restaurant, leaving one location for the next in a multi-city trip. I never want to go, I assume I’ll never like the next spot as much as this one. Everything takes time. But I never thought of it all together this way. Thank you for the gentle push and the reminder to go forward.🤍
My response: “The invitation is to very, very gently push forward while honoring the beauty of a slower rhythm and processing speed as best we can.”
This brings us to a larger conversation about processing speed, which also arises frequently in my work with highly sensitive and gifted people.
It’s quite common, for example, to test as intellectually gifted on an IQ test but also have a slower processing speed. This means that we need longer to process information, we need more space in a dialogue, we need more time to integrate a classroom discussion or lecture or film. Because our senses are heightened, we’re taking in more information than the average person, which means we need more time to process it.
This isn’t a deficit; it’s a gift. But it’s a gift that tends to be judged and steamrolled in our fast-paced culture that fails to honor different rhythms.
This also applies to the larger transitions in life: some people need more time before they’re ready to take the next step in their relationship, for example: to move in together or progress sexually or get married or have children.
As Victoria and I touched on in our most recent Gathering Gold bonus episode, our culture presents a rigid timeline around these transitions, and when we “miss” the prescribed beat, we’re left wondering what’s wrong with us.
There’s nothing wrong.
Highly sensitive people often move to the beat of their own beautifully rhythmic drum. The more this beat is honored, the more grace we find to move forward when there’s enough inner readiness to do so.
As always, the first step is self-compassion. From there, change occurs, sprouting from the soft, mossy bed of self-love as we gently, courageously find our way in this world.
Do you relate? Share in the comments.
Thank you as always, Sheryl! I appreciate this call to honor our rhythms.
I think I notice this in conversations. I prefer carefully listening to each word which doesn’t match up when dialogues quicken in pace. In your opinion, how might gently pushing forward manifest here?
What do you think that might look like, Tali? I pose the question back to you because I know that you’re full of your own immense wisdom 😉.
Thank you! 🙂
It seems like this weaves together with an overall acceptance of one’s pace. So if that means accepting what one can focus on and manage in a conversation, or following one’s heart in preferring more 1:1 settings, those can be signals to inform what we do next! And otherwise accepting most conversations do eventually pass 😂
Then patience with oneself dissolves shame and can give space for clarity/calm 🧘♀️
Beautiful, Tali 🥰
I struggle with all these transitions. It’s like climbing hills all day… especially going to work and finding a parking spot. It’s like trying to cross a moat. Takes up energy and is stressful
Yes, it is stressful. And when we find more emotional regulation, the daily tasks are more tolerable.
Wow, I’ve been thinking that I’m lazy because I have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning. But this makes me feel less self-blame and understand that maybe it’s just the way I’m wired. I definitely identify with the high IQ/slower processing speed. I get overwhelmed with too much information at once and I have a hard time multitasking, I need a lot of space and quiet time to process things. Thank you for naming this and removing some of the shame around it
I’m so glad you experienced some shame reduction, Emma. From there comes the self-compassion that is the bedrock of change (if change is called for).
I’m with you Emma on being overwhelmed with too much information at once, need space and quiet time to process. I have often associated it with not being very smart but its really just how we are wired! Its nice to know others are the same.
This resonates so much with my experience. I struggle a lot with getting out of bed and often feel like when I wake up in need a lot of time to reprocess the face of my existence. This is especially the case since the pandemic began and I went through a divorce. I have been starting to suspect that I am a slow processor and I have sometimes felt inadequate and frustrated with myself for not being able to move at the same pace as others. It’s good to be able to put a name to this. Some things that help me: writing my morning pages in bed as soon as I wake up to help me process what’s on my mind. Asking my partner to give me a five minute warning before we move on to the next thing/have to leave somewhere, so I can start preparing myself for the change.
Those are beautiful, compassionate, concrete ways to work with this particular wiring. Thank you so much for sharing your experience.
Oh, just all of this Sheryl. It’s always so amazing to me when your weekly posts resonate. Last week my company told us they need to lay off 50% of us, and we won’t find out till later this week if we’re being let go. As I painfully and anxiously await my fate, all of my other colleagues have preemptively applied for jobs and even have interviews scheduled. This baffles me. I can’t even begin to think about that yet; I’ve barely had enough time to even process what is happening. I’ve been feeling like there is something wrong with me and that I need to push myself forward and be proactive, but I’m just not ready yet. Right now I’m at the stage v where I cannot see the gifts of my sensitivity, and only the burdens, as life just seems easier being a non HSP. Hopefully I’ll get there one day.
It makes so much sense that you’re still processing this, Steph. I wonder what it would be like to respond to your sensitivity and processing speed the way you would respond to a friend. This is one way that we can grow self-compassion.
This sentence: “we need more time to integrate a classroom discussion or lecture or film’ reminded me of when I took a college biology class for credit in my homeschool program, and the text book was this gigantic book that some weeks I was required to read three whole chapters (often 20+ pages long chapters, in a GIGANTIC book!). Mind you, I was also taking biology lab, which took up Thursdays, and Medieval History which met on and had its due dates on Tuesdays. So I only had four days left to read all this stuff, and no matter how many times my mom suggested I skim the chapter with a highlighter, I couldn’t do it. It would be “but I don’t know what information is or isn’t going to be important!” “I can’t just guess!” “I can’t skim cause I might miss something.” It took me HOURS to read these chapters, and while it didn’t effect the biology class as much, it caused me to be a few minutes late on nearly every assignment in Medieval History cause I only had two days to do all the reading and assignments for that class.
So that really makes sense that I take longer to take in information, certainly when I’m reading. It’s why, even though academically I actually consistently do fairly well in school, I’d get super stressed out and just over it before the semester was even over. It’s actually why I kind of dropped out of UAA after the first year- cause I started experiencing intrusive thoughts that spring and then just couldn’t deal with having to do school the next fall. But now I’m at LA Film School which is more project-based in a field I’m interested in so I’m doing much better, mentally, with that.
That makes a lot of sense, Riley, and I know many HSPs who don’t like to skim unless they miss something important!
Thanks for sharing that. I’m in the midst of all this, managing my deadlines and I can totally relate. Ahhh. Let’s hope I make it through this semester. I’m an adult college student, too. Do you happen to live in LA, my other intrusive thought is that since I have such longer processing speed, and everyone in LA seems so smart, and hustle and bustle that it’s nearly impossible for me to start a new life there (or SoCal in general) if I’m not moving at tip top speed like everyone else is…
I needed this! I have often wondered why I struggle with showers. I really don’t like them and I am definitely a bath person. The same with bed, cooking, brushing my teeth, arriving places.
They all trigger some discomfort and you are right, it’s because I don’t want to change what I am doing!
I did start sleeping separately from my partner and it really seems to have helped as I am finding I need that personal space.
I am starting to dance when it’s time to cook, someone said to make it into fun, so that seems to help a bit.
I think you are so right, just giving more time to transition and not rushing it.
You always have such wonderful insight and I need to find more ways to honor these transitions with compassion and care.
Oooh, I love the dancing when it’s time to cook idea! Playing music while cooking definitely makes it more enjoyable.
The light you are bringing to this struggle is helpful. I have noticed that I wrestle with transitions throughout the day and, most of all, going to bed at night. Now that I’m a mom, I find it challenging to effectively lead my kids through the transitions of the day, since I guess I feel slightly anxious and ungrounded during those times. Since I am raising sensitive kids, it makes sense that we all need a little extra time to change tasks or locations. Thank you for acknowledging this phenomenon. I am excited to grow in this area due to the increased insight.
I’m so glad it was helpful, Sarah.
Thank you sheryl for this post. As a child i also struggled (cried) with “going to holidays” and when we were there “going back home from holidays”. It was always as you said “the next time couldn’t be better as this time/place”
Oh, Anna yes! I cried for a week after one childhood holiday ended. I kept closing my eyes and hoping I’d still be there when I woke up. Bless us xx
Thanks Sheryl… I’d enrolled in your Relationship Anxiety course a few years ago, and thought it served me well. Once that present relationship ended however, I tried to convince myself that it was all information I’d never need again. So I mentally checked-out for a while, and lived under the direction of the unconscious for a while. After repeat attempts of trying to win a race without proper training, I’m coming to the conclusion that all of this information is a huge gift. It’s time for my authentic self to grow further & take the wheel. It takes some uncomfortable work & effort to build upon (hence the relation to this article on micro-transitions), but is very much necessary. Thank you.
I’m so glad you’re ready for the next layer of growth, Alec.
Really interesting read, thank you Sheryl. I relate a lot to this, and to other readers comments that they’ve questioned their smartness or intelligence on account of their slower processing speed.
How can I help other not so highly sensitive people in my life, who are very quick thinkers and very resilient, understand my sensitive ways without feeling like I’m weak/unintelligent?
Thank you for this Sheryl. I am learning more about my neurodivergence and human design. I know that I need so more time than I think to process and make decisions. I notice this in my business offerings too. But there’s one area where I find myself held and am trying to decipher if it needs more time or if there’s a gentle nudge I can provide to myself. I want to move to a more remote area and be closer to nature, and have wanted this for a while. But I stop myself because I don’t know what I’ll do for work (my business is not yet sustainable and I do gig work like babysitting, animal watching, housesitting etc and have built relationships with people where I live to be able to do this work). I also fear that because my income is not something a W2 can prove that it will be hard to get approved for a lease. These things stop me from taking the next step. In addition to feeling very strongly about how difficult an actual move will be on my system. Thanks for the space to share.
Thanks for sharing, Caitlin.
your book about the gift of anxiety and posts like this have tremendously helped me and how i show up to support my 3 years old son. since he’s born he has insisted that i allow him to take his time with transitions and if i try to rush him too hard he is super expressive in letting me know his distress. thanks so much for helping me understand myself better and finding compassion and patience for what my son is experiencing that i am unable to relate to without guidance from him and resources like you that bridge the gap for me.
This is so good to read. I love when these mindsets filter down to the next generation and help us find more compassionate and gentle ways of meeting our children.
Oh my goodness – I’ve been struggling with this these last few years. I HATE the shower as I ruminate in there, but yet find it hard to leave. Cleaning the thing when I’ve finished takes an age too.
My OCD has been so bad since the menopause transition. I also spend ages skin picking too. Morning and bedtime are real danger times for this 🙁
I’m so sorry you’re struggling. A lot turn upside down during and after menopause.
This is SO helpful and so spot on! Thank you for articulating the grief of small transitions. Because though “grief” is a strong word, that is exactly the underlying, subtle emotion. But I’ve always gotten down on myself for feeling that way (seems like “over-reacting” – a word I hate, but that I use to chastise myself with because I grew up hearing it as a criticism…) Thank you for clarifying where this comes from and how to deal with it/myself in a kinder, better way. I always used to run about 5 or 10 minutes late, and people affected told me (angrily) that I didn’t care about anyone else, was selfish, that it was an unconscious “fuck you.” That couldn’t have been farther from the truth! It was finally when I read somewhere about people who are chronically late having trouble with transitions — leaving on place and going to another — that it all made sense! I get very anxious when I know I have to go to an appointment, that it will be hard to leave when it’s time to leave. Thank God for Zoom appointments nowadays – so much easier for me to do, haha…. ANYWAY, everything you said was so on the money. BTW when I used to travel more and got to my destination hotel or AirbnB and got settled in… you guessed it!… I never wanted to leave!
I’m so glad it was helpful, Linda! I love the Airbnb example :). And yes grief is so often at the core. HSPs feel every change, which means there’s an element of grief.