Last week I shared Jacquelyn Strickland’s five stages of cultural awareness for sensitive people.

If you disparage or deny your sensitivity (Stages One and Two) you know first-hand how painful it is. To reject a trait you were born with is to reject your very being.

Fortunately there is a light at the end of this tunnel. It shines from self-awareness. When you notice what you tell yourself and how that affects the way you feel, you empower yourself to move towards self-acceptance.

Do you like your “interior decorator?”

It sounds simple, but this kind of noticing can be tricky. Self-criticism easily becomes “part of the wallpaper:” you rarely look closely at it, but it affects the whole mood of the room.  If you chronically feel bad, it’s time to take a good look at your mental wallpaper.

Start the next time you feel low. Write down exactly what you are telling yourself about yourself. Don’t edit. If you are shocked by your meanness towards yourself, remember that seeing it is the key first step towards change. It’s time to hire a new decorator. What fun is it being a grownup if you can’t decorate your own place?!

There’s a good reason you learned to do this

Self-disparagement and denial can be subtle. It’s as if you see the world through a pair of “something is wrong with me” glasses. Your mistakes, challenges, and conflicts appear to be the inevitable result of your flawed, damaged, deficient nature.

This self-view is an old coping mechanism. If you did not feel accepted as a kid, you needed a way to make sense of that and to cope with the pain. Something in you said, “You are not accepted because you are not acceptable! You are flawed, damaged and deficient!”

This strategy was a brutally elegant but misguided attempt to empower you. It gave you something to work for. If you could just fix yourself, everything would be OK. For all these years, this self-disparaging part has faithfully persevered in an effort to help you be “better” and therefore lovable. This is the source of the perfectionism many HSP’s struggle with.

The antidote: Focusing

To let go of perfectionism and self-disparagement you need self-acceptance. This sounds like a paradox: how can you accept and “be with” yourself when you believe you don’t deserve to be accepted? How do you take off your “something is wrong with me” glasses?

You take them off by accessing a bigger “you” that can be with ALL that.  You need a perspective big enough to hold all this with compassion. Focusing gives you a powerful way to find this bigger “you” and to transform your inner world through radical acceptance.  Here are four steps you can use to get started.

Step 1: Notice how you feel

First, acknowledge exactly what is happening now. Simply observe and describe:

Hmm, wow, I feel kind of—off?…yeah, kind of low….yes, that’s it, it started during that call with Kevin.

If you’re not sure how you feel, you can say to yourself,

I feel great right now. Everything is great.

Then sense if that feels true. If there is any way in which it is not true, acknowledge that.

Step 2: Describe what is here

As you stay with the “off” feeling from that phone call with Kevin, begin to describe more specifically how and where you feel “off.” Let’s say you sense that your stomach feels not-right. Describe what you feel, like this:

I’m sensing something in my stomach that feels…hmmm… prickly…and jumpy…

Now there is a bigger “you” here, sensing the “something” in your stomach (or wherever you sense it): the “I” in “I’m sensing.” From this bigger place in yourself,  you can go on to the third step:

Step 3: Actively offer acceptance to this feeling

You don’t have to change or fix the prickly jumpy feeling. Just be with it. You can say,

I’m sensing if it is OK to let this be just as it is, for as long as it needs to…

This simple, powerful act offers your inner world exactly what it needs: radical acceptance. If another part of you pops up that doesn’t want to let the first feeling be as it is, then go back to Step 1 with this new part: notice it, describe it, offer it space to be as it needs to be:

I noticed a voice popped right up and said, “No way! I hate it when my stomach feels like this!”…I’m letting it know I hear it…seeing if it’s OK to let it be as it is, for as long as it needs to…

Step 4: Adopt an attitude of wondering

Wonder and curiosity are key elements of Self in Presence, that bigger “You” that can be with anything that comes up:

Hmmm…I wonder what wants to be felt or known here…

You wonder, and you wait—but without expectation. This kind of wondering is different from the mental, analytical kind: it means you allow yourself to wait, curious, in a state of not-knowing. Here we have another a paradox: you wonder and you are curious, but you do not have an agenda. While this is hard to describe in words, it has a distinct feel to it which you will learn to recognize.

Repeat as needed

Any time you feel ashamed, stressed, anxious, or depressed, or catch yourself thinking or saying self-disparaging things, go through these four steps. Each time you do this, you shine more light on the thoughts and beliefs that comprise your inner decor.

As you replace your self-disparaging thoughts with positive ones about your sensitivity, you move to the higher levels of HSP cultural awareness: acknowledging, affirming, and eventually promoting your trait. You feel less and less anxiety, overwhelm, and self doubt, and more and more peace, happiness, and self acceptance.

Thank you Kaitlyn (kaity.wyenberg@gmail.com) for the photo...