As an artist, it can feel like hard work not to get at least some feedback about your art (after all, it is a visual form of communication). Sometimes, you really value that other person’s objective pair of eyes, or validation that you’ve managed to convey what you were aiming for. I was pretty-much guaranteed this when my equally artistic daughter still lived at home; even before her schoolbag had hit the floor, I often knew what she thought of my day’s output, if not always what I wanted to hear… Now, with my husband as my only living companion (apart from the dog!) I’m used to the standard comment, when I’ve finshed for the day, “More green!” (its an old joke and barely raises a grimace from me now). I know he can’t help it, being self-confesedly art-blind!

So, akin to most folk these days, its easy to fall into the trap of leaning more than you’d like to on social media for your feedback; a habit I’ve been breaking out of lately. We all know the perils of social media but, as an artist, it can be the kiss of death or a fool’s game to rely too heavily on the kind of feedback where, for no rhyme or reason, you can be flavour of the moment one day and completely bypassed or derided the next. The internet has become the commedy metaphor for the universal truth that when everyone’s input is invited to the party, you can find every single colour and shade of information, opinion and reaction to the point that you can use it to justify almost any point of view if you try hard enough or, really, they all cancel each other out. Most of the feedback you can gather there is thus rendered fairly meaningless in the end.

This kind of sticking point could be a really problematic one for a highly introverted artist such as I if such feedback was all I “did it for” but, really, I don’t crave feedback as much as I used to when it comes to my art (more on that below). Really, this isn’t the core of my topic…merely an example of one of the roles feedback can play, leading into what I’m about to say.

Because (its true) receiving feedback is part of who we are as sensory, highly interconnected beings in an interactive world. If we truly were a one-person island, it would be OK to say it doesnt matter, but we aren’t.

This requirement can feed straight back into being a Highly Sensitive Person, if you happen to be one, which is a recognised genetic trait (one I was born with but which circumstance has hoaned into a very fine “tip”). As the youngest child of four and the least similar in age to the rest of them, I really craved positive feedback when I was growing up (at times, it felt like a matter of survival!), so it became a currency I learned to work extremely hard for, at school, in my family and from my parents in particular, during my formative years. I collected such feedback and used it, more and more, to evaluate my own self-worth at the expense of other factors that should have been allowed to count.

Another reason it felt like a matter of survival was because I felt “different’ in just so many neurodiverse ways which, not understanding what this meant at the time but strongly sensing it wasn’t going to make things easy for me, made me work extra hard at evaluating other people’s feedback (you could say, prioritising it at the expense of all else) so I could become as adept as possible at adapting, blending in, meeting people’s demands and not disappointing them, in order to survive. This became the ingrained trend of many decades!

That HSP trait itself, especially when taken to the extent of being an empath (another recognised trait which mostly corresponds with people who have a partcularly high HSP score) can also be a sign of being more aware of feedback than the average person. When your entire system is geared at feeding back excessive amounts of data gathered from other people and the environment, it becomes a daily deluge of information, often far more than your nervous system can handle, leading to severe overstimulation, overwhelm, exhaustion and other health issues. On top of being an HSP, any other extra circumstantial demands or pressures such as those I’ve described above can greatly exacerbate the fact that a person already picks up on more sensory feedback than some people, due to how they happen to be wired, because they likely already experience sensory processing challenges (too much feedback!) even before adding social hypervigilance to their list!

Amazing to consider that a person can get in such a tangle and all from the simple, life-affirming, desire for positive feedback, prioritising a search for it over everything else. If you happen to have ADD of ADHD traits on top of any of this (I do!) then there is part of you that actively craves the stimulation of feedback with as much potency as any addiction to narcotics, sometimes without showing any discernment for what format that particular feedback happens to take (as in, not always the positive kind). There are known links between these traits with either genetically lower dopamine levels or malfunctioning dopamine receptors (dopamine being the “reward” neurotransmitter), meaning dopamine itself is craved due to a shortfall and people often default to those methods of “stimming” themselves that worked for them as a child or some other, earlier, phase in their life, even if that just keeps throwing them back in the path of high drama and abuse. When over-stimulation, even from too much or the wrong kind of feedback, becomes its own reward, problems inevitably ensue and, with repeated practice, we can become hardwired for pursuing the wrong kind of feedback all our lives, unless we break the trend. In my case, I can now look back with such a wry smile, given how clearly I see how I used to be such a glutten for punishment!

This is where, as ever, consciousness comes in. As per my last post, when consciousness crosses over with awareness, we start to see wood for trees. We notice trends that had us leaning too far, and too hard, into seeking (not necessarily positive) feedback in the form of the approval of others. My inbuilt Approval Seeker is a fragmented part of me that has been around for a lot of years and that I have been getting to know far better via the Gupta Program. Its a part or personality subtrait that can take many forms but many of us have such a part, calling the tune on our days, busily diverting us away from far more self-supportive and healthy behaviours and choices. Once we become more familiar with this part, we can start to see where we have been giving our energy away, hand over fist, if this part has been dictating to us for years!

As I already said, we live in an integrative, interrelated universe where everything is, indeed, connected; none of us is a separate unit. However we also live in a culture where that interrelatedness has been made “all about” the social; the largely unspoken mandate of having to fit in and conform to survive, which is quite different to knowing we are all related and should be able to lean on one another in a crisis, be respectful and kind. There’s an implicit threat to such an angle (deviate at your peril!) and we are ingrained with it from the moment we are born. Is it any wonder we become so hypervigilant when it comes to gathering feedback from other people, missing the point that this is not even the primary source of feedback we should be “listening out” for.

For starters, we receive a constant information stream of feedback from our bodies but how many of us pay attention to this, most of the time? When we don’t listen, those signals get stronger, pain and problems ensue and so we then want to pay even less attention to our bodies than ever before, distracting and detaching from them. “I already feel too much, I’m in constant pain or discomfort…why would I want to feel any more than I already do” people cry out (subsconsciously) and so they work mostly at anesthetising the pain with drugs and distraction, the modern way of life.

When we truly listen to the body’s feedback, when we give it that airtime, things start to shift. We start to notice what is most consistent about the symptoms we get; and we start to intuit what this is trying to tell us. This is how, bit by bit, we can start to get our health and priorities straight, putting ourselves (quite rightfully) back at the centre of the experience of life. Then, and only then, can we start to do the real work regarding feedback.

Once we can see wood for trees, we might start to appreciate how our body talks to us every minute of every day…and, the more we listen to its intuition, the more comfortable our body, and our lives, get to be. We cease pressing the override button because its “too inconvenient” to register our body’s needs, and so hear that it needs to slow down or even stop today, that we need to work in a different way or consider a change of job, a break from work altogether, a different kind of life..but at least we hear these things before its too late. In a world where our own feedback comes first, these are no longer inconvenient messages but, rather, helpful signposts assisting us in living our best life.

We can cease thinking we need to prioritise outside feedback…as a matter of security, in case something should happen that threatens us…and start to trust that when we are in sync with our own needs, those things tend to take care of themselves, or we are far better equiped to handle them.

Like having any kind of a clearout, sorting through what kind of feedback you are getting (and listening to…), throwing out or ceasing to subscribe to some of those sources and reprioritising what is most close to home can start to make your life a whole lot simpler and more habitable. The feedback that comes back at you starts to be far simpler, less hair-raising. For instance, the way I have noticed this week that I am chronically dehdyrated (you wouldn’t believe how many symptoms, some of them severe, this can cause…) which is very simple to remedy, now I’ve taken the time to notice it. Another one is noticing that you are tryng to do too much, spreading yourself too thinly so, of course, paying attention to this means you remember to pace yourself, slow down, bite off only what you can chew and this can make a massive difference, when its a consistent habit.

Such feedback can require you to make some lifestyle tweaks, for sure, and this can be daunting at first. For instance, it might meaning having to say “no” to a few more people, which can generate its own kind of feedback… but, hopefully by now, we are getting more resilient and even a little bit immune to the kind that doesn’t have our wellbeing in mind.

Then, of course, we are profoundly interconnected with nature, mother earth and the environment…all of this magnificient universe, in fact…and yet some of us only seem to notice their relationship with other human beings or, at most, their pets (it astonishes me) as though nothing else is of consequence to them. When we dial this broader awareness up, we can really start to draw comfort and strength from the kind of feedback we get from this interelatedness we have with all kinds of species and the very ecosystem we are part of. Including, but not limited to, all the positive feedback we can gain from the differences we can make by living a certain way that supports the natural world (like a garden full of bees, butterflies and birds because you went organic, rewilded a few areas and planted certain species of flowers known to support them; that’s wonderful, life-affirming feedback). We can gather a bottomless pit of positive feedback from our interactions with woodlands, mountains and flowing water, from birds, animals, flowers and all the magical synchronicities that start to occur when we pay attention to nature’s signs, cues and abundant inspiration…a whole other langauge of feedback we can tune into.

Once we really start to support these precious moments, the kind where (as I talked about last time) consciousness and awareness cross over, we start to crave spending more time in the kind of state where this is most likely to happen…times and activities when we are no longer bombarded but start to receive the kind of feedback that comes straight from the source, whether you prefer to call that “the universe”, “higher self”, “divine spirit”, or whatever works for you (really, it needs no name).

This ultimate feedback source requires no words to communicate, makes no demands and is entirely unconditional. It “tells us” all we ever need to know in terms we can’t fail to understand and make use of. Certain activities where we are fully surrendered into awareness can support us in getting there: meditation (of course), walking in nature, gardening and so on. For me its (back to the topic of) art, which I gave myself over to yesterday after a prolongued period of artist’s block…yet, just as soon as I picked up those brushes I found myself back in that place of no overwhelm, no more deep and brain-fogging fatigue, not even noticing my pain; just, simply, back in what is, for me, the rarified territory where I tend to receive a constant stream of the kind of positive feedback that readily tops up my soul. Really, that’s the only feedback I ever need as my incentive to continue doing it!

About Helen White

Helen White is a professional artist and published writer with two primary blogs to her name. Her themes pivot around health and wellbeing, expanded consciousness and ways of noticing how life is a constant dance between the deeply subjective and the collective-universal, all of which she explores with a daily hunger to get to know herself better. Her blog Living Whole shines a light on living with high sensitivity, dealing with trauma and healing from chronic health issues. Spinning the Light is an extremely broad-based platform where she elucidates the everyday alchemy of relentless self-exploration. A lifetime of "feeling like an outsider" slowly emerged as neurodivergence (being a Highly Sensitive Person with ADHD, synaesthesia, sensory processing challenges and other defecits overlapping with giftedness). All of these topics are covered in her blogs, written from two distinct vantage points so, if you have enjoyed one of them, you may wish to explore the other for a different, yet entirely complimentary, perspective.
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