unsettled by beauty

It will probably come as no surprise to those who have read any posts here or that know me personally that I am a highly sensitive person (HSP if you want the acronym) as I suspect that some of you are. Being highly sensitive simply means that one experiences the world more intensely and it can be overwhelming. It makes sense that loud noises, violence or too much going on in our surroundings would be disturbing for a highly sensitive person. But being unnerved by a vast amount of beauty? It doesn’t add up, nonetheless, it is a reality for some people like myself.

I have two experiential illustrations to share on this point. When I was in college, I had the good fortune to travel abroad to Spain. Talk about a feast for the senses! It was amazing, exhilarating, and unsettling. I remember standing in front of a painting (I can’t recall which one) and just being so overwhelmed by it that I had the distinct desire to crawl inside the painting and disappear into it. It wasn’t enough just to appreciate the gorgeous work of art, I needed to be part of it. Upon reflection, it seems as though I wanted the beauty to cover me like a blanket of protection, as it was too painful to look at it for very long.

Another such instance happened more recently, about two years ago. My husband, daughter and I were driving home from church one Sunday. We stumbled upon a house for sale on a back farm road and decided to get out and take a look. Of course the house wasn’t open, but we were able to peruse the grounds. The house itself seemed cozy and there was a bonus of a separate building which looked to be used as an art studio, something I had always dreamed of. But neither of these structures were what captivated me, strange as that may seem.

The garden was a magical space of untidy and charmingly sown wildflowers that just took over the back portion of the property. The cone flowers were EVERYWHERE which invited the many butterflies gliding around us. I stood under the grapevine arbor and just thought about the love that had gone into that garden and how sad the owners must be to sell it. I so desired to escape into this little corner of beauty that I called the realtor to get information on the house although we were NOT in a position to buy. I actually cried when he told me that someone had just signed papers the day before and the house was under contract. I have often wondered if the current owners feel the same when they walk through their garden. It has been a lovely but quietly distressing memory for reasons I never could quite put my finger on.

That is until I discovered writer and podcaster of all things HSP, Kelly O’Laughlin. I don’t know how I had never come into contact with her writing before, but I was so glad when I did. She actually wrote a post about the phenomenon of being overcome by artistry and coined the term “beauty threshhold.” Oh my goodness, someone gets it! What a blessed relief.

If you are an HSP or just curious to find out more, I highly recommend Kelly’s work. It is insightful and consoling to find a kindred spirit and there are also practical tips for navigating life as a sensitive person.

Peace and beauty,


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