Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Highly Sensitive Global Nomads

I cannot listen to music while I write. I cannot listen to music while I read. Too much beauty does me in: after two hours in a museum I have to go sit in a darkened room. If I have just seen a play or heard a concert, the car radio must be off on the way home. After being with people I like for a while, I have to go sit in that darkened room. Too much of any good thing usually does me in.

I am distressed by chaos and tumult; I wince at laugh tracks and screams on TV. I am affected by other people's moods. Folded-over rug corners, open drawers and messy eyebrows drive me crazy. I am easily bored, but too much stimulation exhausts me.

For years I thought that there was something wrong with me, that I was different from other people, who would laugh if they knew this about me. I felt like Marcel Proust--who could only write in his cork-lined bedroom and drove his family crazy from earliest childhood--without the talent.

But not at all. Rummaging through a bookstore a while ago, I opened a book, took a "test," and found out that I am one of millions. I am a Highly Sensitive Person, and I need not be afraid. That first book (The Highly Sensitive Person) spawned some more specific offspring (The Highly Sensitive Person At Work, The Highly Sensitive Person In Love, The Highly Sensitive Child--not sure I have the titles right). There are websites, newsletters, workbooks and support groups for us HSPs--we even have our own acronym.

I wonder if poor Proust would have been consoled knowing what a huge club he belonged to?

But that is not all that used to bother me about myself. Wherever I find myself, I feel that I am "from away." In America I feel European; in Europe I feel American. Asked where I'm from, I launch into a long explanation, which embarrasses me and bores the listener.

For a long time, "home" seemed to be a future concept for me--something I was looking for--rather than something in my present or past. During a certain period in my adult life, I instigated house moves every three-to-four years, much to the discomfiture of those who lived under my ever-changing roof.

I handle trivial separations, as in short business trips, badly, but I can let go of people, places, houses, jobs in the blink of an eye. I have trouble embracing the things most people embrace: a national identity, a political creed, a religious faith--I am mostly on the outside, looking in, comparing, contrasting. For a long time, I felt strange and sad about this.

But now, thanks to the internet, I find that, again, I am not alone! There are hordes out there like me! We are Global Nomads-- people who, before age eighteen, resided in at least one country other than their "passport" country. As far as I can tell from the websites, newsletters and support groups available, we GNs have a lot in common, down to the urge to move house all the time. Maybe that's one group I could feel comfortable joining?

Probably not. I'm too accustomed to feeling different. Besides, it might be too exciting, and then I'd have to go sit in a darkened room.

8 comments :

  1. I'm not buying the GN theory. All one needs to do is read the third paragraph from the end to realize that what you are is "whacko." Your self absorption is at a pathological level. I think you should continue to feel strange and sad about it.

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  2. I have a niece who is a Global Nomad. (I lived in another country before I was 18, but have since returned to NZ for most of the time since then, so don't think I qualify - though when I was a diplomat, I related more with other diplomats than my own home country). My niece did some research and apparently they call it "third culture kids" because they don't belong anywhere - lives as expatriates mean you don't integrate into your new environment, but you aren't at home in your passport country either. She also felt a sense of belonging when she realised this was a group of real people.

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  3. global nomad, third culture kid, HSP... I think I was attracted to the field of psychology precisely because of how satisfying it is to find a label for what you've previously experienced as your unique set of views/preferences/tastes/habits/pathologies. sometimes upsetting, but often it's so validating and affirming!

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  4. Mali, you do qualify, especially since you had to undergo the "trauma of reentry," according to the websites. And with globalization, TCKs are growing in numbers all the time.

    Alison, if you can name it you can tame it, sort of.

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  5. And a perfect final paragraph.

    (A favorite line of mine from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: "Let's be independent together!")

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  6. No time to comment. Busy combing eyebrows.

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  7. Indigo, some day I'd like to hear your unexpurgated version of Rudolph (can't do italics on these comments--sorry). I never heard that line.

    Elizabeth, I know...one more thing to deal with. (And even as I read your comment I find myself realigning mine.)

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  8. Self indulgent, narcissistic claptrap all the way around.

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