Early Marriage | Part 17

by Elouise

My Favorite Childhood Spot for Getting Away

I’ve sometimes wondered how I could spend the rest of my life with D. Not because I hated him, but because we’re so different from each other. Not in seemingly minor ways, but in major ways that being in love tended to obscure or deny.

Overall, my best survival instinct has been to cope, even though I wanted change. I don’t think coping is always wrong. Nonetheless, it often discouraged change and growth in me.

Coping got me through much of my life beginning with childhood. The dock above was in the front yard of my first Savannah home. A place to retreat and figure out what to do next. Coping didn’t begin when I married D. It simply took on a different, more adult appearance.

By the end of our first year of marriage I’d worked out my identity issues as Mrs. D. Besides my clear work identity at the law school, I also enjoyed a satisfying church identity with friends in both contexts. Having no children at that point was likely one of the saving graces of my life.

When D and I began our life together, I was utterly unprepared for marriage or for dealing with men. Though I’m deeply grateful to be married to D, it hasn’t always been that way. I’m glad we stuck it out, sometimes through periods of total cluelessness and distancing of each other.

In the last several months I’ve learned something about myself. It isn’t new to me. Yet its significance has only begun to sink in. Not just for my life with D or anyone else for that matter, but for my entire life on this earth.

So here’s the discovery. I’m a Highly Sensitive Person, an HSP. Not in a general way, but in a way specific enough that it regularly affects my life and other people’s views of me. From 15 to 20 percent of the USA population are HSPs. This trait is identifiable and now well-researched among humans and other animal species.

If I’d been born in any of several non-Western cultures, this trait might be honored and highly valued. Sadly, that’s not generally the case in the USA. What matters more is being out there, highly productive, tough and raising a ruckus, not being quiet and sensitive, observant and reflective.

So what does this have to do with our early marriage? It’s at least one more thing we didn’t know that might have made a difference.

In spite of not knowing this scientifically, I’ve been aware of this most of my life. Not just about my emotions, but about the way I respond to different contexts, the way my body processes medicine, the number and intensity of everyday stimulants that overwhelm me regularly, and even the way my body handles food.

I’ve always thought of it as just ‘the way I am.’ Finding out I’m an INFJ gave some credence to this, as did being diagnosed with IBS. However, damage was done by persons who wanted or tried to persuade me to be less sensitive, less emotional, less of whatever seemed ‘over the top.’ I needed to change or get over it. It wasn’t good for my personal or professional life.

To his credit, though D was and is sometimes still mystified by it, he doesn’t demand that I be anything other than I am. At the same time, it isn’t easy for him to deal with.

Sometimes D has wondered whether he was to blame for my meltdowns or withdrawal from him. Though he may have been part of whatever set me off, the problem was my sense of emotional or content overload. I was overwhelmed and unable to put into words what was happening or what I needed from him or for myself.

For the last several weeks I’ve been on the front end of working with Elaine N. Aron’s The Highly Sensitive Person’s Workbook. It has tasks and exercises that offer practical help in every area of life. I’m more than ready.

To be continued….

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 11 June 2015
Photo credit: DAFraser, July 2010
Dock in front of my childhood home in Savannah