Believe it or not sensitivity is a real-life super power, though I get it may not always feel that way. Why would it when you’ve probably been asked more times than you care to remember: Why are you so sensitive? As if sensitivity is a deficit or something to be ashamed of.
Rather than write about why that’s a trash question (and it is), let’s take a minute to look at the nuanced experience of the highly sensitive person or HSP.
While I’ve categorized four types of sensitivity for this post, please know that there are as many types and combined types as there are people in the world. For instance, some people are more emotionally sensitive, meaning the actions and words of others may strongly impact their feeling states or moods. Sometimes people who are emotionally sensitive also identify as empaths – those who are easily able to sense the emotional states of others. Meanwhile, other HSPs may experience sensory sensitivity (sight, sound, taste, hearing, touch) or mental sensitivity wherein folks are easily excited or overwhelmed by ideas or conversation. And then there are those who are energetically sensitive. This last category is a bit more ambiguous in nature, but it speaks to the experience of walking into a room and sensing a collective energy - a vibe - if you will.
While we often hear about the challenges of being highly sensitive, which may include overwhelm or fatigue or even distress due to bullying or gaslighting, rarely do we talk about the joys of being sensitive because our culture focuses so heavily on pathologizing difference. But the truth is, HSPs are just as likely to experience heightened sense of connection, beauty and pleasure as they are challenging emotions and experiences. It’s also worth noting that HSPs often take on the roles of counselors, healers, artists, and other positions that require heightened levels of insight, empathy and imagination. So how can we move towards embracing the full HSP experience that honors the joys and mystery, as well as the challenges that may come with feeling things strongly? Here are some starting points.
Reclaim Your Narrative
First, let’s be mindful of the story we’re telling ourselves and others about our sensitivity. When we’ve been told different is wrong, over time we internalize those messages and it results in us retelling that same story. What if we flip the script and take some time to think about all the joy and beauty that comes from being highly sensitive? Not to replace the challenges mind you, but to present a more robust and accurate picture. What if we tell ourselves a fuller story and share it? How does that change the felt experience of being an HSP?
Find your People
Being an HSP without a tribe can be a lonely and even destabilizing experience. Shared experience and connection bolster mental wellbeing. If you’re lacking relationships with other HSPs or folks who can hold your full experience you may want to check out Meet Up groups and/or Facebook Groups for HSPs as a first step.
If you find people close to you offering unsolicited or unhelpful advice, pathologizing (i.e. talking smack) about your experience, or even making general comments about your sensitivity, I encourage you to practice setting boundaries. This may feel challenging at first, but boundary setting is a healthy part of relationships and feels more natural with practice. If you’re someone that gets tripped up on words, no need to over think it. You may start with a simple statement such as: “I understand you’re trying to help, but I’d rather not talk about this.”
Get Professional Support
Maybe you’re struggling to navigate the world as an HSP or you’ve experienced the trauma of gaslighting – which many HSPs have. Maybe you’re holding your own, but exhausted and ready to feel more grounded in your own experience. Either way, seeking professional counseling from a psychotherapist who understands the HSP experience can be an essential next step. If you’re in California and would like to chat, I would love to hear from you. Or please feel free to check out the HSP Therapist Directory here which offers listings of therapists globally.
Meanwhile, I hope you’ll be kind to yourself and remember: You are a gift to the world. Act accordingly.
Till next time, wishing you health and ease,