About a month ago now I left Muscat to go to my first conference in Berlin, called ALIVE. So many people in the entrepreneurial community preach the benefits of conferences for connection, networking and learning experiences I wanted to experience this for myself.
During the welcome activities we were called to gaze into another’s eyes for several minutes without looking away. I got really teary eyed during my first encounter. After this, we were asked to admit to something we knew we need to hold ourselves accountable to in our lives. For me, this was honoring my need to make art, on my own terms, for myself. I am a people pleaser by nature and often my art is commandeered by this instinct and desire to connect with and help others. I feel as if I’ve lost a piece of myself by making art only for others.
Trying to speak this out loud, after such an emotionally connecting experience, I couldn’t speak. I was so filled with emotion I gasped for air as I stuttered that desire out to my newly found friends, tears rolling down my cheeks. That’s when I was told I may be an HSP. It was the third time this idea came up on my radar, so I decided to learn more about it.
What is HSP?
Each and every day our brain filters through information. There is only so much information that our brain can take in and the only way we can function is because of the special filtering ability of our mind. Some people are more or less reception to outside stimuli because of their brain’s filtering abilities. Highly Sensitive People, or HSP, have brains that filter less of this information and thus, can be more easily (over)stimulated than their non-HSP peers. This means HSPs are able to observe subtle changes in environments that others may not notice at all.
It takes me more than once to really hear advice sometimes. After hearing for the third time I should read more about HSP I picked up Elaine Aron’s book Highly Sensitive People. Aron breaks down qualities of HSPs and looks at research that informs our understanding of being HSP. The more I read, the more I saw clear connections to being HSP and creativity. In fact, many artists and makers are HSPs.
Are you an HSP?
Not sure if you are HSP? Take this free quiz to help you find out. Some characteristics of being a HSP include: feeling other people’s feelings, often being told you are “too sensitive,” crowded places can feeling overwhelming, and a clear need for alone time.
Takeaway for Creatives
One concern Aron mentions for artists is that as many of us create alone, this withdrawal increases our sensitivity and thus makes us more sensitive when we need to “show our work, perform it, explain it, sell it, read reviews of it, and accept rejection or acclaim. Then there’s the sense of loss and confusion when a major work is done or a performance is over.”
This means it is super important for creatives to prepare themselves physically and mentally for those public moments.
3 Strategies for Coping with HSP Sensibilities
Maintain a constant presence on social media: it is one way to be engaged in a more public setting. This can help us grow that thicker skin for our big moments of performance, showing our art, or receiving criticism.
Create a ritual for the end of your project. How can you celebrate the end of a project and also give yourself an opportunity for the grief you feel when it’s over? How can you navigate the sometimes overwhelming feeling of “what’s next?”
Create a celebratory burning of your sketchbook planning pages, or invite friends over to celebrate the work (friends are a safe, comfortable starting point to reengaging in the more public sphere).
Be prepared for the emotions that come your way. There may be no one way that helps you cope with the transition from being in your withdrawn world of your artist mind and the public sphere we must engage with at some point. If that is the case, create moments of comfort and withdrawal in and during those more public celebratory moments.
For example, before or after your art opening, why not have 30 minutes to one hour of meditation or quiet reflection? Or, say you know you have a review coming out about your newest novel, why not arrange a massage or yoga class for after reading those reviews? Brainstorm a list of different experiences that feeling pampering and refer to that list in times of need.
Aron suggests, “Indeed, accepting the loneliness that goes with giftedness may be the more freeing, empowering step of all.” It is in those moments of quiet flow and withdrawal from the world that our best ideas can come to us. Be present in those moments and cherish the sweet and sometimes subtle ache of artist solitude.
To Read or Not To Read…
I recommend Elaine Aron’s Highly Sensitive People if you have a HSP in your life or if you believe yourself to be one. She offers concrete advice about navigating our sensitivity and reframes the trait as a sign of strength. Sometimes her approach is so soft-handed in her explanations and activities that I felt a bit babied through the process. I do appreciate her quiet determination to prove that HSP is not a weakness, but a trait we need to better acknowledge, develop and maintain in ourselves for our health, happiness and creativity.
BE COURAGEOUSLY CREATIVE: As a creative, what strategies do you use to transition from the solitude of creative process to showcasing in the public sphere? I want to know! Tell me about it in the comments below.
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