5 Things You Need To Know About Highly Sensitive People In Relationships

A couple on a beach at night with a fire pit, suggestive of Highly Sensitive People

Are you a Highly Sensitive Person? Or in a relationship with a Highly Sensitive Person? Either way, there are important things to know about Highly Sensitive People in relationships.

What is a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)?

Highly Sensitive People are ultra-aware of what’s going on around them. HSPs process information thoroughly and respond strongly to positive and negative input.

As a result, HSPs commonly experience the world as overwhelming.

“The world” refers to everything going on around a person, and to what goes on internally. External stimulation includes sounds, images, smells, and taste. Internal stimulation occurs from the vivid internal world of thoughts, feelings, and overall creativity.

Why? HSPs are just wired that way. Kind of like having blue eyes or size 7 foot size.

In the case of High Sensitivity, taking in a lot of information easily leads to overstimulation and to a feeling that it’s all “too much”. The “too muchness” may unfortunately create the perception that the Highly Sensitive Person is “too much.”

The “too muchness” also applies to joy, gratitude, and other positive emotions. Walking by the ocean, observing Piping Plovers on the water’s edge, and feeling the sun’s warmth can be intoxicating for HSPs. As their partner, you too benefit from the HSP’s High Definition experience of a walk by the ocean.

HSPs make up about 15-20% of the population, with an equal male female ratio. HSPs themselves may not even be aware they have this trait. There’s a gigantic “aha!” moment when HSPs recognize having the trait.

The dots in life immediately connect when HSPs discover the High Sensitivity trait.

The same can be said of you if you’re in a relationship with a Highly Sensitive Person. Everything makes more sense when you recognize the High Sensitivity trait in your Highly Sensitive partner.

People who don’t have the trait pay less attention to subtle stimuli, approach situations more quickly, and are less emotionally reactive. They have a greater capacity to be unaffected by loud sounds (e.g. sirens), and by more subtle sounds (e.g. when a piece of silverware makes a scratching sound on a china plate). The same kind of greater capacity also applies to the non HSP’s other senses.

If you don’t have the High Sensitivity trait, understanding people who do have it can be…..challenging.

Many HSPs suffer from self-doubt or low self-esteem because their sensitivity isn’t appreciated.

How do people know if they’re Highly Sensitive or in a relationship with someone who is?

The fastest way to determine if you’re Highly Sensitive is to take the self-test that Dr Elaine Aron created. She is a pioneer in the field whose research in the 1990’s helped to identify the trait of High Sensitivity.

If you’re wondering if your partner is Highly Sensitive, check out the same self-test and evaluate how closely it describes your partner.

Things to know about Highly Sensitive People in relationships:

1. Highly Sensitive People NEED down time to recalibrate their nervous system.


This is not a luxury! it is for basic self-preservation. Expect your HSP partner to require alone time, and maybe short breaks through the day to regroup. Don’t take this personally or as rejection. It’s just your Highly Sensitive partner honoring their nervous system. Remember, their central nervous system is constantly taking in information you don’t even notice.

The onslaught of sensory stimuli can be exhausting!

2. Highly Sensitive People have less interest and capacity to socialize, especially in a group.

Your partner is not anti-social; they just get overwhelmed more easily because of the depth of their processing and attunement to so many details. You would too if you were that aware of others’ emotions, especially when emotions aren’t in synch with the small talk and facial expressions.

Having a discussion in advance for how to navigate social occasions is helpful. Communication and compromise are key.

Socializing is also more difficult for HSPs if there’s a lot of noise, activity, or other distractions (e.g. the air temperature is hot).

So, if you’re all about partying hard, you’re probably not in a well suited relationship!

3. HSPs are ultra responsive to touch.

Whether fabrics are itchy or velvety, HSPs feel it. Really feel it. This is important to know so that your HSP partner has the optimal level of positive stimulation and responsiveness. Bring on the body lotion so your skin is nice and soft for your Highly Sensitive partner! The benefits are mutual.

Your HSP partner knows when they find the sweet spot. Whether mattress firmness, furry slippers, or a cozy sweatshirt, they know what feels right. And what doesn’t, such as a tag in the sweatshirt. She may enjoy or abhor the feel of your beard. Ask her and go from there.

Ultra responsivity to tactile joy is a plus for your relationship with a Highly Sensitive Person!

4. Highly Sensitive People notice things others don’t even see.

Your partner isn’t being picky or demanding. They’re just super aware of subtleties. Maybe the subtlety is the way your smile changes with your mood. Or that a lightbulb is dimmer than the other two. Or even that there’s a spider web in the distant upper corner of a room.

HSPs naturally process thoughts and feelings deeply. They tend to be curious too. As a result, they’re often excellent problem solvers.

You may value or despise the HSP’s “sixth sense”. Regardless, their antenna pick up on vibrations in the environment and in everyday intricacies. Whether this is “good”, “bad”, or neither depends on perspective.

Think of it this way: Your Highly Sensitive partner must have seen positive qualities in you when you met. She had a “good sense” of who you are and of the relationship you two could have. She probably noticed “the little things” , including your quirks. And here you are, now, a couple. Maybe your partner’s High Sensitivity is what brought you together?

5. HSPs dislike confrontation.

In relationships, Highly Sensitive People often avoid confronting their partners. HSPs prefer to keep the peace.

Why? Because arguing creates lots of stress, and the stress becomes “too much”. HSPs then feel overwhelmed, and overstimulation sets in. With overstimulation comes anxiety, uneasiness and misunderstandings.

Avoiding confrontation can create problems, especially when resentment builds. Over time, resentment will inevitably build. That’s just what happens when you hold things in.

One way to avoid resentment is to prioritize meaningful conversation, including “checking in with” each other. Invite warmth and understanding – rather than resentment – to build up over time.

Being in a relationship with a Highly Sensitive Person is an opportunity to live life more deeply. But only if you’re both aware of the High Sensitivity trait, and you navigate your life with the trait in mind.

Dr Elayne Daniels is a MA based psychologist who helps Highly Sensitive People embrace their High Sensitivity and thrive! Contact me here.

How To Help A Friend With An Eating Disorder

Knowing how to help a friend with an eating disorder can be tricky. If you’re reading this article, you probably have a friend you suspect has an eating disorder. And you want to help but don’t know how to. You’re especially concerned that anything you say could make things worse.

Perhaps one reason you want to help is you know that eating disorders are serious. They are not a choice, nor are they about vanity or attention seeking. Eating disorders can be life threatening, especially when left untreated. Of course, you do not want your friend’s health or life in jeopardy.

What makes helping a friend with an eating disorder tricky?

  • Your friend may not be ready to acknowledge the eating disorder. This happens a lot.
  • Many disordered eating behaviors are so common that distinguishing them from less intense but still damaging effects of Diet Culture can be impossible. After all, dieting is praised and thinness is admired in our culture. Often at a high cost, physically and psychologically.
  • Third, denial of an eating disorder is common among people with eating disorders, especially Anorexia nervosa and Bulimia nervosa. Often, the person herself does not necessarily recognize she has a problem. Or she does realize it, and wants it to remain a secret. Especially with bingeing and with purging behaviors, shame is inextricably intertwined.

1. The first step to help a friend with an eating disorder is to educate yourself.

A great place to start is with the National Eating Disorders Association, which also has a helpline and screening tool. Other excellent informational and educational sites available include the Academy for Eating Disorders, and MEDA.

A basic understanding of how an eating-disordered mind works is essential. Otherwise, there is a good chance any attempt to be helpful could make matters worse.  

2. Next, consider the approach to use to help a friend with an eating disorder.

How do you anticipate your friend responding to your effort to help? With anger? Relief? Embarrassment? Denial?

Regardless, try your hardest to remain calm and compassionate. Your friend, after all, is in a lot of pain.

When you do speak with your friend, state your concerns clearly and concisely. Do not go on and on or put your friend on the spot. You’re not the Eating Disorder Police.

Even though your intention is to help your friend, s/he may not be ready to address the problem. S/he could even resent your concern. Do not get into a fight over it.

How to help a friend with an eating disorder could go something like this:

“I notice how negatively you talk about your body lately and how little you eat and laugh when we go out. You don’t seem yourself. I’m here for you if you want to talk. Please let me know if I can help in any way.”

What not to say, although you may be tempted, are things like:

  • “Just eat more!” That never works because eating disorders aren’t about food. They are about so much more. And as the friend, your role is not to “fix”. That is the job of the therapist and treatment team.

  • “You look (or don’t look) healthy.” Or, “You don’t look like you have an eating disorder.” Steer clear of making any kind of appearance related comments. Also, for someone with an eating disorder, “healthy” is interpreted as “fat”, and fat is feared.

  • “Your self control is amazing.” Your friend has an illness, which has nothing to do with self control. If anything, your friend is out of control; her entire life revolves around weight and food.

3. Keep in mind that your role is “friend”, not “therapist”.

Eating disorders can be resistant to treatment. Even in treatment, recovery can be something your friend feels ambivalent about. You may be tempted to ‘therapize’ your friend. Instead, focus on your friendship. Do low-key things together (e.g. painting, doing a puzzle) that may take her mind off eating disorder things.

Eating disorders are complex.

No two people have the exact same eating disorder, even though certain symptoms may overlap.

Knowing what to say to a friend who is suffering with an eating disorder can be really difficult.

Open-ended questions are helpful. You could ask, for example, how your friend feels about the eating disorder. Or ask how you can support your friend. Maybe even suggest an activity for the two of you to do together that does not involve food or weight. Or social media!

If you do not know quite what to say, that’s okay too. Sometimes, the best thing to do is to just listen.

Dr Elayne Daniels is a MA-based psychologist whose passion and specialty are treating eating disorders and body image issues. Another area of expertise is working with Highly Sensitive People. Contact her here for more information.

Are Highly Sensitive People More Likely To Burn Out? (And What You Can Do About It)

A photo of an exhausted stressed out woman, outstretched partially in a chair and on the ground, who could be experiencing burn out

Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) are more likely to burn out than the 80-85% of the population who aren’t Highly Sensitive. Some good news for all you Highly Sensitives out there: There are things you can do to prevent burn out.

Why are Highly Sensitive People more likely to burn out?

Highly Sensitive People are born with a nervous system that is highly attuned. If you’re an HSP, you know how responsive (i.e. sensitive) you can be to experiences. 

Whether it involves sight, sound, touch, scent, taste, or even body language, you sense it all. You uniquely tune into the emotions and vibe/energy of people around you.

Understanding the four pillars of the High Sensitivity trait will further help you appreciate why Highly Sensitive People are more susceptible to burnout. And it will help you know what to do about it.

The four pillars of High Sensitivity include:

Depth of Processing:

  • As a Highly Sensitive Person, you tend to spend a lot of time reflecting.
  • You take your time thinking through decisions.You naturally take in a lot of information from around and within you,without effort or intent.
  • You’re aware of subtlety and nuance that others simply are not aware of.
  • You process everything more by relating and comparing present-moment experiences  and observations to past experiences and observations.

Because of your deep and extensive thought process, you’re more likely to feel overwhelmed due to the pure enormity of what’s on your mind.

Overstimulation:

  • You notice a lot in all situations.
  • You’re aware of details that others aren’t aware of.
  • You may feel people’s feelings, even when they don’t feel their own.
  • Because of all the stimulation, you’re more prone to feeling overwhelmed.

Because of all you notice, hear, see, manage, remember, and process, it makes sense that you are prone to overwhelm…and sooner than non-HSPs.

Emotion Responsivity/Empathy:

  • Your positive and negative emotional reactions are strong.
  • You’re in tune with other people’s emotions.
  • Empathy is purely natural for you.
  • You may even feel people’s energy field.
  • Vantage sensitivity” is the fancy phrase referring to your tendency to benefit disproportionately from positive conditions and interventions.
  • Having more active mirror neurons than non-HSPs explains why you naturally read emotion and have automatic deep empathy.

Your inherent empathy, combined with your tendency to have strong emotions, makes you prone to feeling overwhelmed sooner. You also feel more intensely than people without the trait of High Sensitivity, which can also lead to feeling burned out.

Sensitivity to Subtleties:

  • Your senses are highly attuned because of how you process sensory information.
  • The attunement is because of the way you process input from your senses.
  • Brain areas are very active when you perceive things because of complex processing of sensory information.

Naturally, the fluorescent lighting in your office, the setup of offices as cubicles, the loud sounds of many people talking at once, and the smell of the fish from the microwave are super intense for you. This intensity puts you at higher risk of experiencing your environment as “too much” and therefore quickly burning out.

What can Highly Sensitive People do to reduce/eliminate burnout?

The High Sensitivity trait is innate — something you’re born with (or not). So, unless you alter your DNA, your High Sensitivity is not going to change. 

Learning how to navigate as an HSP is imperative. Otherwise, you will burn out. As in extra crispy.

Tips for Highly Sensitive People to Avoid Burnout:  

  1. Own it. 

Know your trait! When you’re aware of the implications, you’ll be able to anticipate what gives you energy and what depletes you of energy. And you’ll be able to plan accordingly.

  1. Know your people. 

Spend more time with people who give you energy and less with people who deplete it. Smaller groups or 1:1 are often more comfortable than larger groups for HSPs.

  1. Be aware of triggers

In general, what sensory experiences are unmanageable in the short term? Long term? See if you can find balance between triggers and taking breaks. 

  1. Uni-task. 

Giving full attention to one task at a time means you’ll work more effectively. Multi-tasking takes a lot of energy and can easily lead to overwhelm.

  1. Recharge often. 

This is essential and non-negotiable for HSPs. Go into nature, where there is more serenity. Be still or walk; listen to nature’s sounds and enjoy. Consider putting your phone away and just be.

  1. Move it. 

Regular exercise lowers the risk of burnout. 

  1. Say nope. 

Learn to say “no” more often. Saying “yes” to something you would rather not do is actually a “no” to yourself. Learn to set your boundaries.  

  1. Dare to be less than perfect. 

Most HSPs are also perfectionists. Learn how to reduce or even let go of your perfectionism. 

Perfection is an ideal to strive toward, but it doesn’t actually exist. 

You are good enough as you are!

  1. Create meaning. 

HSPs need to do meaningful work. When work lacks meaning, stress happens more easily and quickly. So find work that gives you satisfaction. 

  1. Structure and planning. 

Structure and routine are often important to monitor your impulses, and you do this through planning. 

Make a weekly schedule, starting with your non-negotiables (things you can’t avoid, like a dentist visit). Then schedule me-time and alone-time. 

When you have open time, you can plan other things. 

Good planning ensures that you take action and that you also take moments to relax. 

When your head is full, write down your thoughts. 

For example, keep a “worry” journal. Peace of mind is more likely when you remove the whirlwinds of thoughts looping in your head.

Understanding the way your nervous system is wired and why you roll the way you roll is helpful in offsetting burnout. If you do not understand your experience of the world, you will be overwhelmed and at major risk for more overwhelm, chronic stress, and burnout.

Fortunately, the more you understand about your HSP trait, the greater the likelihood your choices in life will facilitate your best, non-burned-out, self.

Dr Elayne Daniels, a private-practice psychologist and coach in MA, specializes in treating Highly Sensitive People and people with eating disorders and body image problems..