Why Expressing My Emotions is Like Throwing Paint All Over Someone’s Money
**This piece was originally part of the Bristol Papergirl art project in 2014 — the design is a multi-coloured text document of various fonts, colours, and sizes. You can see the original version here.**
I am a Highly Sensitive Person. I capitalize this label because it is, in fact, A Thing. Carl Jung, the founder of psychoanalysis, noted that around 25% of the population have the dis/advantage of being particularly sensitive to external ‘stimuli’.
‘Stimuli’ can be any of the following:
Having lots to do
Other people’s moods
The arrangement of seating and lighting in a room
Whether or not list items are arranged in order of length and/or absurdity
Stuff that there’s loads of, everywhere.
Being a HSP can be a blessing, and one should be thankful for the positive traits that accompany the burning anxiety and tumultuous fear, such as being intuitive, conscientious, curious and constantly aware of ones endless, thundering, and potentially maniacal ability to feel.
A good hyper-stimulation, for example, would be listening to music that excites me: on a bus, headphones clamped on, I’m the subject of numerous stares. It’s likely that I’m breathing loudly, chuckling in disbelief, or weeping. A bad hyper-stimulation, however, would be overhearing someone telling your friend a sexist joke and then hearing your friend laugh. These things occasionally physically hurt. And is why parties are not always fun, and I am not always fun at parties.
Either way, my experience of emotional phenomena is like constantly carrying around a pot of multi-coloured paint. (This imaginary concept represents my fascinating complexity, and that I’m not always sure whether my existence is actually feasible.) It’s like taking this perfectly ordered rainbow paint, chucking it up in the air, and watching it in slow motion. You cannot deny that said chucking of the paint is, in itself, fucking intense. In real-time even, but in slow motion?!
Attention to and appreciation of a thick, throbbing flux of paint licking the air, displaying momentary chromatic skins before crashing permanently into the Earth, is an unavoidable human response. That’s science.
In the same way, passion, expression of emotion, and human communication are all, objectively, Good Things. Being full of such emotion and feeling, it almost always feels good to expel it; even in a rage, the expression itself is relieving, cathartic and, at least briefly, refreshing.
Though when something does ignite my passions, the amount of paint and my willingness to throw it is often deemed inappropriate. Should I warn people that I have a bigger, brighter, heavier palette than they have, feel I should need, or are used to? I forget to politely sidle around them, laying newspaper down to protect their carpets, or apologetically inform them via body language of an imminent separation of my oils and their watercolours. NOPE.
Instead, someone says “I know £800 is a lot for a handbag, but you have to admit it is a good investment, hence why it’s called an investment handbag, you know?” and I am unable to not chuck paint in their eyes.
While I stand self-righteously, feet apart, fingers splayed, and head back in awe at the rush of colour exiting me and trickling throughout my vision, the paint’s slow motion trajectory transforming, as though nature intended, from wonderously hypnotic to hypnotically devastating as it plunges indelibly onto reality, I realize I now have to deal with the fact that I have laughed directly at the Handbag-owner, and called the Handbag-owner ‘a morally bankrupt cock, lacking in any ability to perform socio-economic analysis.’
When my best, most joyous, affectionate and enthusiastic emotions run high, I’m still not necessarily exhibiting them at the pace people find to be acceptable. When I meet someone I fancy a bit, maybe the second, or third, time, I realize that I’m definitely in love with them, and that all of the fantasies in my head about what the rest of our lives would be like if we just stopped being so British and repressed are perfect, inevitable scenarios that I should stop stalling and make happen. I should make them happen right now.
“I thought you liked this colour,” I say, as he stands opposite me dripping awkwardly. “I figured maybe if I chucked it right at you, it’d make you happy and we could be the sexiest, most visually arresting soulmates, forever…” “No.” he says. “I’m not ready to be covered in paint right now. By anyone. Please leave me alone, I need to shower.”
Even though people say they like colours, very few will actually tolerate paint in their near vicinity. They’re upset when they can’t easily wash it away, or dismiss it. Even when yours can be beautiful and wonderfully textured, allowing you to imagine breathtaking thoughts, to understand and electrify people deeply and spiritually, and even when a bus is a public space that it’s definitely fine to cry on because of the undeniable beauty of certain songs in the trance genre, our cultural consciousness convinces us, en masse, to reject emotion (the paint analogy has now ended, by the way) if and when we experience it.
We practice austerity of the soul as standard, so that when we do express our passion it’s too often as anger and violence. It’s frightening to us and to others. Ultimately, I am glad that I feel so much. As long as we use our sensitivities to form intricate responses rather than explosive reactions, it’s a resource that gives us remarkable and gratifying capabilities. And it’s not only about conflict — I also have to curb a constant desire to dance, to hold people, to exclaim in awe as well as to debate. And that’s just when I get something in the post. So often, tired from maintaining all my desire and affection and fervor, I’m desperate for someone to lay some paper down with me, put on some overalls and chuck a bit of paint around.
The question is — do you feel the same?