Michelle Lynn (HSP SOS)
Making the Invisible Visible
Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others. -Jonathan Swift
We had been together for almost six years that rainy November afternoon he pulled the car off to the side of the road and began weeping uncontrollably. I had known for over a year that things had gone off course, and the man that once looked at me with love and admiration could no longer look me in the eyes, let alone have a meaningful conversation. This sudden stop and outburst were completely out of his character, so I sat quietly waiting for him to speak. He wanted to tell me that he had been lying about going to grad school for the past three months. He had dropped out of class, but he couldn’t tell me. He knew I would overreact and be disappointed. It didn’t upset me that he had dropped out of school. It didn’t matter to me what he ended up doing professionally. I was more upset that he felt like I wouldn’t understand his decision, or that I would in some way think less of him for this decision. The conversation continued, and it ended with him telling me that our relationship was the very reason he didn’t want to become a psychologist anymore. He couldn’t imagine having conversations as emotionally intense as ours everyday for the rest of his life. It was at this moment, he also stated a need for a separation. I was just too much for him to deal with. I was blindsided by the reason of the breakup, but not so much the breakup in itself. I was surprised at how angry he was at me for a disappointment I had never expressed and that he never even gave me a chance to explain my actual thoughts.
Later that evening, I stood for three and a half hours staring at myself in the bathroom mirror. This was my first major heartbreak, and I was having a difficult time making sense of what I had done wrong. I felt completely misunderstood and voiceless in the final outcome, and I could not fully process the hurt. Standing there on chipped linoleum, I wanted to look into myself. I wanted to understand myself, see myself as others saw me, and hopefully identify what it was about me that made people always want to escape me. I stared so long that I could no longer distinguish the individual features that formed my appearance. I don’t know what I was waiting for, or what I wanted to happen, but after gazing at my reflection for over three hours, all I felt was invisible. Continuing to look at myself in the mirror could not remedy my confusion one bit, so I stopped.
That was over two decades ago, and I’d like to say that was the only time I found myself so lost in a relationship, but it was actually only the start. I have noticed a pattern of people enjoying certain aspects of my personality initially, but growing tired of my intensity over time. I have experienced more than one person telling me that he loves me more than he has ever loved anyone else in his entire life, but I am probably better off with someone else. I have been told that I am angry, disappointed, jealous, bitter, resentful, judgmental, too demanding, too intense, unstable, and self-centered from the same people that tout me as the most understanding, loving person they have ever met. Sometimes these mismatched descriptors come within minutes of one another, and I am always left at that point where I am standing alone staring at myself in the bathroom mirror wondering if I really am this difficult to love.
I am not writing this to air my dirty laundry as a forlorn lover. I am writing this to reach out to other HSPs, INFJs, or empaths that might have ever felt this way in relationships themselves. I inadvertently came across something not long ago that helped me understand what might be going on a little more clearly. It helped me feel a little less unlovable, so I want to share that feeling among friends.
A shift in perspective occurred when I came across two images I found while talking in various groups online. One said, intuitives are like mirrors that people can’t bear to look into too long, and the other said INFJ love story? Everyone will hurt you. My response was less than enthusiastic at first, because let’s be honest, sometimes the truth hurts. The everyone hurts you comment seemed like a harsh reality I wasn’t quite ready to accept, and the being a mirror concept was one I had to toss around in my mind a bit before fully grasping what it fully meant.
Over the next couple of months, the pieces of my past began to fall into place, and both phrases began to make sense. The premise of the conversations where these images were originally posted was that people love highly intuitive and emotional people intensely, but because we are so good at unearthing what is holding people back, and exposing it, we become too much for people close to us to cope with at times. We become a mirror, and people cannot look at us without seeing a reflection of themselves. Our personality type does not necessarily focus on negative aspects and draw them out of people, which is why people are drawn to us initially. We always start by illuminating the good, because we see the beauty in people when we first meet them. If they are down on themselves, we reflect back what is good about them. Over time, and repeated exposures to the mirror, however, we get a glimpse into the onlooker’s eyes and what is causing them to see themselves in a negative light. With strengths, we see weaknesses. A mirror is honest. If you have a blemish, the mirror reflects it. The mirror doesn’t tell you that the pimple is ugly, but you might make that connection and begin to feel self-conscious upon seeing it. You might then choose to avoid looking at yourself in mirrors for the day or longer until the image of the imperfection has faded from your mind.
That analogy for me explains everything I have ever misunderstood in every relationship I have ever had, including the one with my own mother. There was a time, for example, when my mother had been drinking too much, and without me saying a word, she knew I was aware of what she had been doing behind everyone’s back. She looked at me and said, “I will be so happy when you get out of my hair next week, so I don’t have to keep being judged by you.” I wasn’t judging her. I was actually keeping quiet, because I could sense the severity of the situation for everyone involved. She, however, was judging herself in that moment. My silent, reflective eyes produced so much shame that all she could do was lash out at me, but really it was the reflection of herself that upset her the most. At the time, I hurt so much that I sobbed for days. I was about to move out of my childhood home of 22 years, and those were her parting words. I have always had this sense of people being relieved when away from me, which is a big part of why I keep my distant until I am sure people are ready for me.
I have a history of mismatched experiences and emotions with the people I love. When I get really close to people, they are forced to look at themselves more than they would like to I guess. They in a sense, are being forced into a relationship with themselves by me, because I have a way of seeing the less visible aspects of most people’s personalities. I consciously, and sometimes unconsciously, bring the invisible to the surface. It is as if I am standing there holding up a mirror, forcing them to look at themselves, refusing to tell them what to do, trying to be supportive and understanding, and the reactions aren’t always what I expect. I guess that’s because I am still thinking in terms of their reactions in relationship to me. When someone I love tells me that they need time away from me, that can be a hard pill to swallow. I dislike that I cause people I care about such distress, even if I know it is what needs to happen for them to grow.
I have tried to be less intense or real, but telling that to someone like me is like telling water not to be wet. You can throw a towel over everything to hide, or dry off the situation, but everything is going to get absorbed eventually. Does this mean that I can never have a meaningful relationship with another person, or that I am better off from a distance? No, but that does explain why I am cautious with my feelings and sometimes build walls. It’s not just to protect myself, but many times it is to protect everyone else around me. Will everyone hurt me? Probably yes, but that’s because people respond unpredictably sometimes to being exposed to what they have worked hard to keep hidden. I think the hardest thing for me is when someone leaves me, or thinks I am better off without them, because they believe they are hurting me. I am just holding the mirror, but I see the hurt in others. When they leave me, I feel like they are leaving at the most crucial moment of their healing, so I become desperate to bring them back to the mirror.
I have to realize, however, that everyone needs to heal at their own pace. I am used to holding hurt, and I recognize the interconnected relationship between hurting and healing. It can be scary, and I have to remember that for the people I care about. I have to work harder at helping myself, as well as my loved ones, to see where they end and I begin. There is someone standing behind this mirror, and that’s the person I want people to ultimately see. I think deep down that’s what every INFJ, HSP, or empath wants, someone to really see them. People do see me sometimes, and I think when they do, they realize what’s been going on. They do start to see their own parts, as well as the parts that have all along been mine. Perhaps this is why, every time a relationship has ended for me I’ve been told that I’m better off without that other person in my life. When I hear that, I hurt, because I don’t honestly feel that way myself. While I hold other people’s pain sometimes, I rarely keep it as my own. The hurt isn’t from what that person thinks he has inflicted upon me. The hurt is that this person can’t recognize how much I have learned and enjoyed our experiences together. How much I value the light, as well as the dark.
A person really close to me once explained why sad songs are the most beautiful, and that was one of the first times I ever felt like someone could reflect something of myself back to me. Hurt is acknowledgment, concern, and care for how things should or should not be in this world. Even when people are hurting, and they choose things you do not agree with out of love for you, or themselves, that is far better than apathy. Every hurt has taught me a great deal about myself, as well as forced me to continue along my path of healing. As an INFJ everyone I love hurts me, but everyone I have ever loved has also helped to heal me.
Author, Michelle Lynn, is a podcaster on The Captain’s Pod, and she creates content specifically for HSP’s, empaths, introverts, INFJ’s, and Myers-Briggs enthusiasts. Her weekly podcast, HSP S.O.S. (Highly Sensitive Persons Supporting Our Sensitivity), can be found on The Captain’s Pod website, The HSP SOS website, and Facebook. Also connect with her on Twitter @hsp_sos.