Sunday, December 23, 2012

I Am Miss Shuganah: A Heart Centered Woman Living in a Head Centered World

People sometimes approach me on Twitter and tell me my handle is one of their favorites. I thank them.  That indicates to me they get the joke.  Misshuganah or meshugana means "crazy" or "crazy person" in Yiddish.  

I was a very emotional child. Sometimes to the point of hysteria.  My mother will tell me, "You need counseling." An unkind, compassionless thing to say.  I imagine she was frustrated because she didn't know how to help me.

My father, who I was more alike than either of us would have wanted to admit, would routinely push my buttons and then when I would demand an apology from him he would say, mainly to my mother, "Get this mad bulldog away from me."  My brothers, I suspect, shared my mother's assessment of me but kept it to themselves.

From childhood on, I have been called crazy in one form or another by people who have confused my emotionality with mental illness.  Being emotional does not equal mentally ill, although, sadly, on the surface, to most people they appear indistinguishable.  It is for this reason that I am sensitive to people being labeled crazy.   It's too easy a word to use to discredit someone.

When I was in grammar school, these older girls were singing "They've come to take me away.  To the funny farm where life is gay."  At first I thought they were being friendly, because they were pointing at me.  So I smiled back at them. They were singing a silly song and including me on the joke.  After a few minutes I realized that was their not so subtle way of calling me crazy.  My heart sank.

I am keenly aware of being an outsider and not being understood. It has allowed me to be simultaneously strong and vulnerable.I can slide between these two states with ease.  It has also allowed me to be comfortable with other people's dark places.  Because of that, people either gravitate towards me and seek me out as a confidant or they feel ill at ease around me.  I know that I push past many people's emotional comfort zones.  When I was younger that used to make me insecure. Now I do not worry about being disliked.Sometimes, however, I do perceive people having a desire to distance themselves from me, and sometimes that still pains me.

Being an emotional person in a thinking person's world is very difficult.  In clinical terms I come out as INFP on the Myers-Briggs personality tests. That is Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Perceptive.  My husband is an INTP... T for thinking.  One letter off, but it can create a huge chasm. Most T types dismiss my intuition and my  insights and all that I have to offer because from their standpoint I am lacking in logic.  I am not lacking in logic. Nor am I lacking in critical thinking. What I am lacking in is ways to explain my intuitive feelings to others.

I cannot always provide reasons for what I know.  I just know.  I am perceptive enough to know that "just trust me, OK?" neither gives me credibility nor gains me allies. The tragedy for me is that a lot of times I am right, and, months later, when it turns out I am right, it is too late to do anything differently. I do not say "hate to say I told you so," because I derive little pleasure from it.  Asking me to provide reasons behind my feelings is like asking me to change my personality.  It would be like me saying to a math genius,stop solving math problems or to tell my husband, stop thinking of new ways to improve the world.

There are very few people like me.  We maybe make up four to five percent of the world's population. Makes it hard for people like me to find mentors. Makes it harder still to figure out how to fit into a thinking person's world. I have had many years of therapy.  As a result, I have a more balanced personality. I don't conform emotionally, but I have learned to hold my reactions in check. When I  have an over the top emotional reaction, it feels like a huge personal failure.  I realize that I run the risk of alienating others.

Immature emotional types are perceived in our society is as either drama queens or as too intense.  I joke that I am a drama queen in recovery. I never really was a drama queen in the sense that I was never really that self absorbed.  One can be a drama queen yet, paradoxically, have compassion for others. Emotional maturity is hard fought, all the same.

People like me literally take things to heart.  We take criticism personally. It's taken me many years to figure out that criticism doesn't mean someone dislikes me.  I realize that a person dislikes a flaw, not all of me. Hate the sin, love the sinner. It is out of that realization that I strive towards change and personal growth.  I am very introspective.  Imagine a Princess Hamlet.

I find it objectionable that people prefer to categorize emotional types like me as emotionally unstable.  Too many people try to marginalize heart centered people  like me by saying, "adjust your meds." I don't know statistics of how many heart centered people are mistaken for mentally ill.  Feeling things intensely is neither a crime nor an illness.

Because we are heart centered, people like me feel everything.  And I do mean everything.  When I call myself an empath, I don't do so to brag. I am an emotional receiver. What I've discovered is that this can lead me to a kind of arrogance and suffering.  If I think or feel that someone is blocking their feelings, I can choose to feel their feelings for them.  Years ago I decided to let people feel their own feelings, even if they, by my estimation, do it badly. Because I am a receiver, I sometimes cannot tell if I am feeling my own feelings or those of others in the room.  That may seem very strange to many of you, and no, I cannot explain it in logical or scientific terms.  Being an introvert compounds the problem.  I have found that clearing my second chakra helps a lot.  Allows me to return feelings to their rightful owners.

On our first date, my husband and I went to an animation film festival.  There was one cartoon about zoo animals being interviewed.  The large cat being interviewed ( cheetah perhaps) was saying to the interviewer, "I need space!"  By the time our third date rolled around, my husband was saying that back to me.  He found it amusing that I needed so much space, but he loved me despite what I am sure he perceived as prima donna tendencies.

When I was pregnant with Kid O, we went to a Purim service because we wanted to meet this rabbi.  When we approached him afterwards, this warm, wonderful soul kept stepping closer to me.  I kept moving back.  My husband could hardly keep from laughing.  He understood that this man was unintentionally invading my personal space.

I need more personal space than the average person because I am more sensitive to energy than many others. While I have developed coping strategies over the years, I sometimes feel like energy just about knocks me down. As with anyone, I adapt. The shape of a room affects me.  The furniture affects me. If I am in a room with a TV on, I will sit as far from it as possible even if I find the people engaging.  If I leave a room, it is not because I am disinterested. It may be that I am experiencing informational overload.

Why did I choose to call myself  Miss Shuganah?  Afterall I could have called myself Miss Understood or a number of other jokey handles with considerably less stigma attached to it.  After years of being reacted to as if I were crazy, I decided to celebrate it.  Calling myself Miss Shuganah is my very public way of liberating myself from the stigma that  I have struggled with for the vast majority of my life.  I am proof that talk
therapy can work. I am proof that one can choose compassion over being mean.  I am proof that sometimes sanity prevails in an insane world where events sometimes seem a little too random.  

I understand why society chooses to block out heart centered people like me.  Sometimes I mirror a sick society. Sometimes I insist people honestly address their feelings instead of  burying them. Much as a bird needs a right wing as well as a  left wing to fly, a person needs a heart as well as a brain to be a truly integrated human being.  Perhaps I express my feelings in a more authentic way than most.  Society needs to spend less time trying to force people like me to feel less and more time learning from people like me about what I do best:  living a feeling full life.    


  1. Debbie,
    Thank you for this honest post. I have been called, "too sensitive" for much of my life, yet it's simply who I am, not something I can change or would even want to change. Sometimes just walking down the street and seeing someone who is hurting can lead me to wanting to flee home and curl up into a ball. I feel your words as I read them...deeply.
    I hope that when people read this post they will really "get it." I hope that we can all act with compassion and be helpers when others around us need support in some way. Demonizing, labeling, acting in fear will never be the solution to taking steps to ensure that our children are safe.
    I wish for you moments of peace and joy. I so appreciate all that you share here and on Twitter.
    Joan (@flourishingkids)

  2. Thank you, Joan.

    As I was growing up, I felt like there was a "tease me, I'm sensitive," sign on my forehead.

    I rush in where angels dare to tread. It is hard, though, to be around people who are in emotional pain, especially when I perceive them being in denial about it. Makes me want to give every hurting person a hug.

    We all need to be safe. Not just our children. We all need to feel that we can be ourselves in a world that demands that we conform.

    Thank you for your good wishes. Wishing you peace and joy, too. And much comfort.

  3. RicHARD MakePeace is the TextMage. I am also TextMage86 because sometimes I forget my log-ins. I agree with Joan: This is a beautiful and honest story and I think it is a fiercely brave action to post it.

    I wanted to start out by quoting Joan because starting out with Joan will annoy you just a little: "Demonizing, labeling, acting in fear will never be the solution to taking steps to ensure that our children are safe."

    As both of you know, only light casts out the darkness. You and Joan are so far ahead of those who think that fighting and creating differences with our fellow human beings will somehow bring peace and justice.

    I thank you both for giving me yore light today.

    Kisses, Miss Deb and warm HUGS to you, Joan. May you both continue to have peace, love and success in all that you do.

    Very sincerely, RicHARD MakePeace, aka TextMage