One day, Sisi pointed out the only brown leaf on our liquid amber tree. Leave it to a Highly Sensitive Child to notice and care about a leaf that looks slightly different than the rest. I glanced at it, then did a double take. There was a bronze smudge on it. To my horror, the smudge was actually hundreds of sesame seed sized caterpillars sucking the lifeblood out of that leaf. I wanted to throw up. Any bug, even cute bugs like lady bugs and caterpillars, becomes disgusting in large quantities. At least to me. My husband didn’t think it was gross at all.
Every day since my discovery, my daily ritual is to examine these bugs with equal parts horror and fascination. The O.G.s have long since flown away, but I’m now noticing more of those bronze smudges all over the trees. They are multiplying. Hundreds of leaves munched away. There is caterpillar poop everywhere. It’s gross. And so interesting, but so gross. It makes me all jittery when I see them, like they are crawling on me.
I’m just easily grossed out. I always have been. Moldy bread, ants eating a dead bug, that crusty stuff around a milk carton. I gag!
I used to get so disturbed on rainy days as a kid because the the floor of a school bus was all wet with dirty water, smushed snails from kids’ shoes, stray hairs. I tried to look out the window but found myself searching the floor for nastiness. Please tell me I’m not the only one!
It’s not just sights either. Gross sounds (swallowing, slurping, burps) can fill me with anger. This has a term actually- misophonia. I don’t think I have true misophonia, but I can relate to those who do.
It’s also hard for me to ignore gross smells. My neighbors wake me up out of a dead sleep sometimes when they smoke on their porch. I just donated several perfectly good towels because I just couldn’t get this slight mildewy smell out of them, even after many washings with vinegar and baking soda. I can smell peoples’ saliva on Matteo’s head all the time- he’s irresistibly kissable so it’s no wonder.
Why are HSPs so easily grossed out? We are sensitive to subtle stimuli. We notice gross things that others don’t. And then we think about what we’ve experienced, holding onto it almost obsessively to wrap our minds around it. HSPs have stronger emotional and physical reactions to stimuli- perhaps we feel more jittery, nauseous, stressed out by gross things than the average person? I’m just throwing these ideas out there.
Does this serve some sort of adaptive purpose? Probably. I can think of specific instances when my high sensitivity to gross stuff protected me. Like when I could smell mold coming from the wall (turns out we had major undetected water damage!) I also swore I could hear very subtle scratching sounds in the walls at night that my husband didn’t hear (turns out we had rats living in the attic.) I can smell when food goes bad much better than my husband, who gets food poisoning a lot more than I do. But there are probably many times when this high-gross-out-factor has caused me unnecessary stress. It also makes parenting a bit challenging.
Parenting can be gross. I’ve had to suck it up and confront things that gross me out. Crazy diaper blowouts, snot sucking with the nosefrida snot sucker, open wounds, and vomit all come with the territory. My duty and love for my kids far outweighs the gross-out-factor. I’m the adult, so I jump in and do what I need to do.
Question: I’m super curious how HSPs in the medical field deal with all the blood, bodily fluids, smells? Did it take some time to get used to it? How do you cope?