Last week, I hosted my monthly Sensitive One Meet-up, a national group started by Sensitive Leadership founder Ane Axford. I organize the Seattle chapter of the group, and we’ve just started working our way through The Artist’s Way, a fantastic book by Julia Cameron that has so much to offer highly sensitive people.
(By the way – if you’re in Seattle and want to join the Meetup, you can! You don’t have to have read the book, or even be reading it – come for coffee and conversation anyway! Here are the details).
In the first chapter, Cameron’s goal is to get us to recover a sense of safety. What she’s really asking us to do is to recover a sense of trusting in ourselves, of clearing out the trashy thoughts that keep us from being creative (i.e. less than who we are), and developing a belief that we can be powerful creators in the world.
As I read the chapter, I couldn’t help but see themes and connections to us highly sensitive people. Seriously, you could replace every time she said “artist” or “creative” with “hsp.” And something she said that struck me deeply was this idea of what she calls a “shadow artist.”
Shadow artists are people who don’t believe they can be real artists, or offer anything of creative value to the world, and so instead they hide behind “real” artists – following experts, supporting their more creative friends, continuing their own projects in dark rooms behind closed doors and keeping their mouths shut about them.
One of the major characteristics of highly sensitive people is their incredible creativity. Because highly sensitive people are subtle sensors, spending a majority of their time contemplating and engaging in the more subtle aspects of life (spirituality, daydreams, thoughts, stories, energy, emotions, themes, tones, aesthetics, etc), they are inherently very creative. Creativity is the process of taking something subtle and intangible and making it physical or tangible, whether through written word, speech, song, story, picture, or other physical expression.
Creativity is valuable. Art makes our life more joyful, delightful and fun. Stories are what the world is built of. But further than this, creativity is what allows us to come up with new solutions to old problems. Or creative, diverse solutions to new problems. Creative problem solving is an area where highly sensitive people thrive. This is one of our superpowers.
And so I ask you, are you using this sensitive superpower now in your life? Or are you being a shadow superhero?
A shadow superhero is an hsp who has incredibly creative ideas, particularly about how their life could be lived, what their job could look like, how they could help solve problems at work, or what their next big project could be – but they keep it to themselves. Instead, they look up to other creative hsp’s who are already doing it – they are the supporters, in the wings, incredulous at how these other sensitives are creating amazing things, happy to participate but unbelieving that they could do the same thing.
They have logical “proof” against any argument to bring themselves out of the shadows. “She’s different from me,” or “I don’t have enough to offer,” or “I’m not that lucky.” So they keep supporting others, while their dreams stay hidden away in journals, lives feel fettered with stress, plodding on in a course that feels stripped of any of the deep meaning they crave.
I have been a shadow superhero.
In fact, I spent most of my late 20’s doing just that. I supported and/or worked for other highly sensitive creatives who were building businesses of creative genius, setting their own schedules, inventing their own rules. They made it look so easy. I felt like I was watching a game in which I didn’t understand the rules, and I felt very safe in my role as supportive fan in the crowd.
But underneath the support, I was unhappy. I was unfulfilled. And I had all of the reasons that I couldn’t do what they do. I didn’t have enough qualifications. I didn’t have the capital to get started. My ideas weren’t original enough. No one would pay attention to me. I didn’t know where to start. I would feel weird selling things to other people. I’m just not good enough.
All of those reasons, by the way, were complete bullshit.
They were fabrications of my mind. I had been programmed, ever since I was a little girl, to believe that I was small. To believe that my ideas, my voice, and my projects were too much for the world, so I should keep them to myself. I had been taught to believe that I needed a wall full of credentials to mean anything to anyone, and had been told repeatedly that I was bad at things pertaining to money (like business). All of these programs kept me in the shadows.
It wasn’t until the discomfort of staying hidden outgrew the fear around breaking out that I was able to own my sensitive gifts.
And I really, really hope that you don’t have to wait that long.
What is it that you really want to be doing? What is it that you really want to be creating? Writing a book? Running your own business? Putting art up at local art shows? Performing on stage? Speaking your ideas out loud at meetings?
Whatever it is, write that down in affirmation form. “I am a brilliant and prolific ______ .” Write it down, 10 times. Then notice when your mind argues with you. Those are your blurts – those are the programs keeping you in the shadows. They are the negative core beliefs that keep keep you small.
Notice them. Then do some digging and figure out where they came from – mom or dad? A coach or teacher? Once you identify where it came from, you can realize that it’s not yours.
Knowing that a belief isn’t yours is powerful. In the most basic terms, a belief from someone else that operates as truth in your system is a lie.
So then the question is, what is YOUR real truth about the situation? What does your heart say about it?
Continue to write the affirmations until those blurts are few and far between, or gone completely. Then step out of the shadows and into your creative, sensitive superpowers.