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  • Writer's pictureBeth

“How To Survive And Thrive As A Highly Sensitive Person”

I won’t allow others to persuade me in any direction that my heart feels is wrong. Some may think that I am overly sensitive; however, I’ll bet they won’t when they need a cheerful word, a hug, or a shoulder to cry on and that shoulder is mine!

As a part of our series about How To Survive And Thrive As A Highly Sensitive Person, I had the pleasure of interviewing Beth Pauvlinch. Beth Pauvlinch was born to a single mother in a small town in Pennsylvania. She grew up with much love from her mother; however, her childhood was less than desirable. Beth fought to overcome traumatic situations and dreamed of better things. She couldn’t wait to turn 18 so she could move away from the area, begin her own journey, and follow her dreams. She considered herself the ultimate optimist.

Although she was hoping to work within a creative industry, she landed a great position with a law firm. The firm paid her handsomely and had her traveling the United States Monday through Friday. Seven years within the same industry and advancing into executive-level positions, Beth decided to build her own business (with the partner's blessings) which allowed her to more than double her billing rates and bring on her own staff. After eight successful years of continuing in the industry, it no longer brought her the joy for which she was longing. Beth dissolved the business and began working on her creative endeavors. She had a love for painting, photography, and writing.

Shortly thereafter, her mother/best friend had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She refused to allow her mother to go through this process alone. Beth created a blog where she would be able to release her emotions in a safe place and encouraged her mother to join her. She reluctantly agreed. They continued the blog for their entire three-year journey with her mother’s cancer. Unfortunately, Beth lost her mother to cancer in November 2011. In 2018, Beth published the blog ‘Two Women 1 Disease’ with hopes that it might help others going through a similar situation.

Beth was distraught viewing her mother’s cremains sitting in a box on her bookshelf. Being a creative, she decided to design an abstract painting utilizing her mother’s favorite colors and sprinkled in a small number of her remains. As she reflects on this painting, it reminds her more of the beauty her mother left behind as opposed to the loss of her life.

Beth thought that if this could bring peace to her heart, it may bring peace to others with lost loved ones. She created ‘Ashes of Love Memorials’ and is currently in the launching stage of this product. Beth dreams of helping others to deal with difficult times in their lives by creating beauty where pain once existed!

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and what you do professionally? I recently published the book ‘Two Women 1 Disease’ which was a three-year journey during the time that my mother battled cancer. The book began as a blog as I knew I would need a release for my emotions during this experience. I encouraged my mother to join me which she did reluctantly. It is unique in that it contains the perspective of both the patient and the caregiver. We were almost homeless during that time as I refused to let her endure this without me; therefore, I took an extended leave from work. Not only was I worried about keeping her alive, but also keeping a roof over her ailing head.

Currently, I continue to work on selling our book, supporting other caregivers and I recently launched a new product ‘Ashes of Love Memorials’ which is abstract paintings containing a small amount of cremains of peoples’ lost loved ones. Creating beauty where pain once existed!

Lastly, I created a reality show that will get homeless families off the street and set them up for a ‘Second Chance’ at life by utilizing companies and individuals who donate their time and life experience rather than money. I believe that people would be more willing to assist others in need if they could see that it doesn’t have to be monetary. I’ve been reaching out to supporters and sponsors to get this program off the ground and on the air. I would love to see it eventually adopted in communities all around the world.

Thank you for your bravery and strength in being so open with us. I understand how hard this is. Can you help define for our readers what is meant by a Highly Sensitive Person? Does it simply mean that feelings are easily hurt or offended? My personal experience in being a Highly Sensitive Person has nothing to do with me being hurt or offended. I am more sensitive to others and their situations than my own. I was born to a single mother in a small town in Pennsylvania. My mother had the unfortunate knack for finding alcoholic, physically, and emotionally abusive men which she graciously welcomed into our lives.

She married her first husband when I was about six months old. He had two daughters and a son, and she welcomed them all with open arms. The kids were very close in age (six months to a year apart). She took great care of all of us. My memories began at the age of about three years old of her drunken husband coming home and beating her. When I was four, he threw her down the stairs while all of us children watched in fear huddled together on the floor crying. My heart broke and there was absolutely nothing I could do for her. I thought she was dead.

She told me when I was six that we were leaving him upon my graduation of kindergarten, but I couldn’t let any of the other children know. Needless to say, I grew up at a very young age keeping secrets at the age of six.

Does a Highly Sensitive Person have a higher degree of empathy towards others? Is a Highly Sensitive Person offended by hurtful remarks made about other people? Yes, I believe that a Highly Sensitive Person has empathy for everyone around them that they see in trouble. I cannot speak for others however for me, I somehow am able to place myself in their situation and physically/emotionally feel their pain.

When I was 13 years old, my mother began dating another abusive alcoholic. I attempted suicide several times because it was just too painful for me to witness her being beaten and not being able to help . . . again!

I was admitted to an inpatient mental health clinic to help me deal with the extreme empathy for her that I was attempting to cope with (and failing) at such a young age. Being a teenager, I was required to attend school. They had one on-site and after I was released from inpatient care, I still attended that school for another year as they had group and individual therapy each day.

Regardless of having my own issues, I was often called upon by the staff to speak with the other children attending the school when they were out of control and raging while dealing with their own issues. These kids knew they could trust and speak with me because I was in a similar situation and close in age. I didn’t judge and had a knack of calming them at the moment. Although I shouldn’t have been placed in that type of situation by an adult, I felt a sense of calm within myself to be able to help others, regardless that I was unable to help myself.

Does a Highly Sensitive Person have greater difficulty with certain parts of popular culture, entertainment or news, that depict emotional or physical pain? Can you explain or give a story? Being a Highly Sensitive Person, I refuse to watch the news as it is always bad news and very rarely good news. My heart physically aches when I see others suffering and it’s almost as if I am experiencing it with them. I find that oftentimes I cry uncontrollably over situations that others are enduring.

Honestly, I cannot even watch the commercials about animals being neglected and abused without tears streaming down my face.

My dad would tease me saying, “If someone stepped off the bus and their hat blew away you would start crying.” My response (in an equally teasing manner), “Perhaps it was their favorite hat!”

Can you please share a story about how your highly sensitive nature created problems at work or socially? I personally don’t feel that my highly sensitive nature created problems for anyone other than myself. At work, I would always be the go-to person for people having difficulty with others within the company. I was often the peacemaker and spoke to all parties for them to reach a happy medium. I calmed the sensitive people who were offended by the ‘bullies’ and spoke with the ‘bullies’ to get them to lighten up.

Regarding a social aspect of being highly sensitive, when I was about 19 I was in a public situation where there were many people around and a man began to get into his wife’s face screaming at her and forcing her up against the wall. He would raise his fist as if he was going to hit her. I couldn’t understand why no one was stepping in. It continued to escalate, and I was sure he was about to lay hands on her. I immediately placed myself between the two of them looking dead in his eyes and said, “I grew up around physical abuse and I refuse to watch it unfold on a public street. If you feel the need to hit someone, you hit me, you coward!” Only then did others decide to step in. I was saddened it took a little 95-pound young lady to stand up before anyone else did anything.

When did you suspect that your level of sensitivity was above the societal norm? How did you come to see yourself as “too sensitive”? There were many things that made me suspect that my level of sensitivity was over the top. I was 18 when I married. My husband joined the military and we were stationed in South Dakota. There are several areas where gold was found many years prior and temporary towns were built while they excavated the gold. Once all the gold was gathered, they abandoned the area and left the little town they built completely intact. We drove miles to reach our destination called Tinton. The journey was very desolate other than one general store we passed along the way.

On our way back to Rapid City, we noticed a motorcycle on its side with nobody around. My husband was skeptical and thought It was a set-up to rob whoever stopped to help. I refused to think how ridiculous that was and begged him to turn around to see if someone needed help. He continued to drive on. I began insisting that he return to that scene. He finally conceded and I climbed down this cliff where the motorcycle had been laid out above. I found a man passed out amongst the trees. I called my husband and he climbed down. I shook this man's conscience and we carried him up the cliff and took him to that little general store which was about 25 minutes away. I had them call 911. They insisted that we keep him awake. Turns out he had many injury’s and had we let him fall asleep, he may not have recovered.

He was very grateful and even offered to give me his motorcycle. Of course, I refused and wished the best for him. To this day I think about him and wonder how he is doing.

I’m sure that being Highly Sensitive also gives you certain advantages. Can you tell us a few advantages that Highly Sensitive people have?

During my mother’s chemo, we encountered several warriors that were also battling cancer. Being highly sensitive, you cannot help yourself from being there for those around you. At one point, there was an elderly woman who was alone, and they continued poking her to find a vein to administer chemo. They kept missing and she wore the pain on her frail face. I couldn’t help going over to hold her hand while they were still trying to find a decent vein. She didn’t say anything but looked at me with tears in her eyes and I could tell that she needed someone to do just what I did. My mother was okay, so I stayed with this older woman until I knew she was alright. She thanked, hugged me and we cried together. I told her that no thanks were needed because nobody should have to do this alone.

Can you share a story from your own life where your great sensitivity was an advantage?

After writing the blog with my mother and publishing it, I received many emails and messages telling me how much our book ‘Two Women 1 Disease’ has affected them and helped in their own circumstances. In fact, one man wrote the following message:

“I found your book on Amazon and had it within 48 hours. Buried my head in the book, I found myself amazed by the journey you and your mom took over the three-year battle with cancer. My wife is now reading the book and we want to have our family do the same.

In 2014 our 9-year-old granddaughter, Anya, was diagnosed with bone cancer in her right femur. After chemo, etc. they removed the femur and implanted a prosthesis. As in so many cases, she was in remission for about ten months, but unfortunately, the cancer was back with a vengeance and we lost her on December 28, 2016. Her parents are still struggling with her loss as is the entire family.

And as life goes . . . my wife discovered a lump on her left breast in 2015 and apparently very early in the cycle, had a lumpectomy by a specialist. To date, with prayer, there has been no reoccurrence.

Beth, have you taken your book and marched into local radio and tv stations and asked to speak to a producer? The forward in your book by your wonderful Doctor may be of help. Perhaps you have tried this already.

Get up each day, put one foot in front of the other, and continue to pursue your dreams.

You are a smart, gifted young woman. NEVER give up!!!

May God Bless

Bob T.”

This was such a wonderful message to receive and it was proof that I had done the right thing by publishing our blog. My thoughts in publishing were, even if it helps just one person . . . it will be well worth it. Apparently, it has helped more than one and I know that my mother is proud!

There seems to be no harm in being overly empathetic. What’s the line drawn between being empathetic and being Highly Sensitive?

There is most definitely a line between being empathetic and being Highly Sensitive. For example, when you are in the grocery store and you see someone in a wheelchair attempting to reach something high on a shelf, you feel the pain of their situation and reach up to grab the item for them. They appreciate you and it makes you feel grateful that you were able to offer help, regardless of how minimal it was. This is being empathic.

On the other hand, another personal experience was when I was pulling into a plaza and noticed a man in an electric wheelchair. He was stuck in a ditch on the sidewalk. There were already two men that had stopped to help, but that didn’t keep me from stopping to see what I could do.

I learned that he had been stuck for 45 minutes. He was sweating profusely. The three of us tried everything we could think of to release this man from his ‘stuck’ situation.

I suggested we call 911 which this man didn’t want to do as he didn’t want to inconvenience anyone; however, he was becoming increasingly overheated. This brought me very close to tears, but I was able to hold back.

Once the firetruck arrived, they were able to release him from this trap he was in and he went on his way while thanking everyone and apologizing for the inconvenience.

He only lived a block away and I watched him until he was safe at his home. When I climbed back in my truck, I had a complete break-down and burst into tears. This man was fine; however, I had no control over the tears that streamed down my face like a waterfall. This is what I would define as highly sensitive!

Social Media can often be casually callous. How does Social Media affect a Highly Sensitive Person? How can a Highly Sensitive Person utilize the benefits of social media without being pulled down by it?

Everything I do, I do in honor of my mother. Therefore, I refuse to let others’ opinions bring me down in anything that I have contributed to social media to help people. I simply do not engage with those attempting to pull me down.

How would you respond if something you hear or see bothers or affects you, but others comment that you are being petty or that it is minor?

Again, I don’t let other peoples’ words affect what I am doing to benefit someone who is experiencing something painful. I think back to my high school days and I always let other peoples’ judgments affect me; however, these days I know that I may be helping someone and I refuse to let anyone dissuade me from doing just that.

What strategies do you use to overcome the perception that others may have of you as overly sensitive without changing your caring and empathetic nature?

I won’t allow others to persuade me in any direction that my heart feels i wrong. Some may think that I am overly sensitive; however, I’ll bet they won’t when they need a cheerful word, a hug, or a shoulder to cry on and that shoulder is mine!

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a Highly Sensitive Person? Can you explain what you mean?

I feel the general public doesn’t possess enough compassion and if I can be the conduit to get them to stop and think about what someone else is going through . . . so be it. I think that all too often people are so consumed with their own lives, they don’t give others a second thought. I wish that everyone would take a moment and realize that the person next to us may be going through something so much more than we can even imagine or comprehend!

As you know, one of the challenges of being a Highly Sensitive Person is the harmful, and dismissive sentiment of “why can’t you just stop being so sensitive?” What do you think needs to be done to make it apparent that it just doesn’t work that way?

While that question would be asked of me, I would ask in return, “why can’t you be more sensitive?” Although it is sometimes very difficult to feel the emotional or physical pain that someone may be going through, it is a reality that you will endure similar pain yourself. Don’t you want others to be sensitive to what you are going through?

Ok, here is the main question for our discussion.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

My goal is to influence people to be more sympathetic towards others. I would like to start a movement where every day each person reaches out to a stranger and offers a fleeting smile, a simple ‘hello’, an out of the blue hug, a compliment or joke just to make someone laugh. I think this would bring so much change in the world.

Just remember, the next time someone snaps at you for ‘no reason’, they may be going through something that you have no idea about and a simple kind word or gesture may help them more than you may ever know. Let’s all be just a little more sensitive!

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