Highly Sensitive People are born with a genetic trait called sensory processing sensitivity. Basically, that means they have a super responsive nervous system. As a result, a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) is, typically, shall we say, well acquainted with anxiety.
Let’s define anxiety, talk more about HSPs, and then discuss the overlap.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is a combination of fear and stress. It is a normal, common emotion.
Think of anxiety as a form of worry, uneasiness, and/or nervousness.
Our ancestors’ anxiety helped them to fight off danger, such as animals, and to run for safety.
Anxiety helped to keep them alive by activating the fight-or-flight mechanism. The same mechanism is still in place today in our brain. It prepares us for action and orients us for safety’s sake.
Without the safety mechanism of anxiety, humans would not have survived.
These days, fight-or-flight activation can easily be a ‘false alarm’. No longer are there lions or their equivalent chasing you. The threat in the present is more benign, like having a first date or arriving late to an appointment. Much less is usually at stake than being attacked by a ferocious beast. But, our nervous system doesn’t distinguish.
So, all of us — Highly Sensitive People and people without the trait– can actually thank anxiety for the evolution of our species.
Something else important to know about anxiety is that it manifests in your mind AND body.
Anxiety shows up in the form of thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations – whether you’re a Highly Sensitive Person or not.
Let’s take the ferocious beast example to illustrate how anxiety manifests.
A large, scary, growling animal is coming toward you. You think something like, “Oh s**t! He is going to eat/hurt/maul me.”! You feel fear. Your body goes into fight or more likely flight mode. Your heart rate and pulse increase, preparing your body to RUN like the wind!
Anxiety is helpful. It protects you, Highly Sensitive or not, from danger.
Let’s use a first date example to illustrate how anxiety can be not-so-helpful.
You’re scheduled to meet a blind date at a busy, crowded Starbucks. You arrive early. Immediately, you start to think about the miserable blind dates you’ve had, the zit on your chin, and the stain on your shirt. You feel awkward, nervous, and overwhelmed. Your body is sweating, and your heart is beating louder than a drum.
Your blind date approaches you, and he looks older than he does in his profile photos. You feel extremely anxious, you bolt for the bathroom (flight, as in fight-or-flight), and stay there. After awhile, you leave the bathroom, hoping he will be long gone.
In this case, the anxiety was not as helpful.
This blind date example illustrates how a Highly Sensitive Person’s nervous system might respond to a similar type of scenario. (A person without the High Sensitivity trait is less likely to respond as…. strongly.)
What is a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)?
An HSP is someone born with a trait that has four key features, summarized by the acronym, “DOES“.
- D stands for Depth of Processing:
Highly Sensitive People process things deeply. They reflect more often and intensely. Especially on their own internal workings, relationships, and decision making. They make connections in their mind that other people respond to by saying they never thought of it that way.
- O stands for Over-arousal/Overstimulation:
The five senses of a Highly Sensitive Person respond intensely and easily. Certain smells, sounds, or textures are overwhelming – sometimes in good ways and sometimes not.
Crowds, bright lights, and loud noises can also be overwhelming – usually in the negative sense of the word. They can activate the same ‘fight or flight’ response we spoke of at the beginning of this article. As a result, they’re likely among the first in certain environments to feel overstimulated. (Hi, Starbucks example.)
- E stands for Emotion responsivity and Empathy:
Highly Sensitive People feel emotions intensely. They also worry about the health and welfare of vulnerable people and animals. When they see a flower that reminds them of a loved one, for example, they become sentimental.
Sometimes HSPs’ empathy is so strong that they can feel others’ emotions – even when the people themselves do not feel the emotions.
- S stands for sensory sensitivity:
HSPs notice details and nuance. The moment-to-moment changes of a setting sun, a subtle shift in facial expression, or the sound of the wind as it picks up speed are all things HSPs naturally notice. Their senses are highly attuned, and their experience of life is very rich.
HSPs are anxiety prone because they process thoughts and feelings deeply. Because of how deeply they experience the world, they’re more easily and quickly overstimulated. (Hello, Starbucks example.)
Overstimulation and anxiety feel similar in the body.
In the Starbucks blind date example, the HSP felt anxious relatively soon. She arrived early, giving herself time to (over)think and judge herself and her appearance. The crowded and loud setting frayed her nerves. It was tooooo much. She also likely felt others’ emotions and the dynamics within the coffee shop. She probably felt nearly depleted and taxed before her date even arrived.
The E, emotionality, also put the HSP at risk for anxiety. What if he didn’t like her? What if she spilled her coffee? Who was going to pay for whom? (Can you say AWKWARD?!)
The S, sensory responses, are anther way HSPs are inclined to feel overwhelmed. Their response to loud sounds, such as sirens, is more intense because of their hardwiring. So is the tendency to feel overwhelmed and ill-at-ease in a crowd. Or not to like bright lights, rambunctious scenes, or other social situations with people they don’t know.
Consider how easily and naturally the HSP felt overwhelmed and anxious at Starbucks. So many emotions to process, factors to consider, and ideas to evaluate…
You can see how things (e.g. sounds, situations, dynamics) that may seem benign or neutral are anything but for an HSP.
Living with the High Sensitivity trait means there are a lot of ‘extra’s’ in life. At times that can mean life feels extra stressful. As an HSP, you may feel extra anxiety, sooner than someone without the trait. But that is ok!
It just means you have extra incentive – aka ‘good’ obligation — for your own self care.
Know yourself. Be curious about the way “DOES” shows up for you.
Anxiety does not have to be a bad thing. Especially when you know why you are feeling it. And, how to live your life in a way that optimizes your unique attunement and experience of the world.
I am a private practice psychologist who works with women and men interested in learning how to use their HS as a gift and how to find the humor when it is not.
The world benefits from what HSPs have to offer.
If you’re married to a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), you’re a lucky spouse.
Why? Because your partner is one of the universe’s deep feelers and thinkers. And “noticers” of subtleties.
Maybe her uniqueness attracted you. Or her deep reflections, appreciation of nature, and delight in delicious food. Regardless, there are unique things to recognize about your spouse if you’re married to a Highly Sensitive Person.
First, keep in mind that all Highly Sensitive People are not exactly the same. Any one description isn’t a “one size fits all”.
So what is High Sensitivity (HS)? It’s a trait, present at birth, in about 15% of the population. As much as eye color is a trait you’re born with, so is High Sensitivity.
HSPs have a unique hard wiring. Their nervous system is highly attuned and ultra responsive.
Some people consider the trait a Super Power. It certainly can be!
By the way, half of Highly Sensitive People are male. Men with the HS trait often have a history of being bullied or teased as kids. Throughout life, they’re likely to keep their high sensitivity on the downlow. Makes sense!
After all, sensitivity in our culture is deemed natural for women and not so much for men.
Certain challenges are somewhat predictable when you’re married to a Highly Sensitive Person– whether two HSPs or an HSP with a non-HSP. Many advantages are also available if you understand the HS temperament. The ideas below are primarily referencing a marriage with an HSP wife and non HSP husband.
Here are nine things to recognize about your spouse if you’re married to a Highly Sensitive Person:1. Intensity:
From sights, to sounds, to emotions, Highly Sensitive People experience life more intensely. Why? Because their nervous system is genetically designed that way. As a result, HSPs experience positive events VERY positively (and negative events more negatively than someone without the trait).
The enhanced intensity means she derives extra delight from sensory pleasures.
Sunrises and sunsets, the smell of the ocean, the sensual feel of velvet. Ahhhhh! And her turbo charged nervous system can be highly responsive when aroused.
Being married to a Highly Sensitive Person means you too can experience natural pleasures in life more easily, often, and fully.
HSPs are more easily overwhelmed by external events and may therefore at times feel broken. This is due to the combination of their nervous system’s makeup and cultural messaging.
Experiencing life more intensely and being judged for something that’s just inherent in who they are can create of a lot of wounding.
This is very important to be aware of if you’re married to a Highly Sensitive Person.
Unfortunately, cultural values of dominance and overt power have led many HSPs to incorrectly believe they’re flawed, that something’s wrong with them. (In contrast, in Japan, where cultural values are different from those in this culture, HSPs are held in high regard.)
Especially if you’re married to a Highly Sensitive Person, knowing this about her is important. You know she’s not damaged or a weird-o. (And, anyway, sometimes, weird is a compliment. No clone concerns there!)
Encourage your Highly Sensitive spouse to express her quirkiness and nerdiness. And laugh alongside her at her puns and sense of humor.
At times HSPs are mislabeled as “shy,” “fearful,” “introverted” or “timid.” In reality, being an HSP means she engages in close relationships on a deep level. And she experiences the world in a very acute way. Life is filled with a lot of “extra’s”. At different times she is an Old Soul, and other times a Late Bloomer.
Approximately 30% of HSPs are extroverted. They thrive on social activity and become energized in exciting social situations. Extroverted HSPs walk a thin line though between getting the social interaction they crave without entering into overwhelm.
4. Words matter:
HSPs process words, thoughts, and content deeply.
Case in point: Among others, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Celine Dion, Mozart, and ee cummings are HSPs.
If you’re married to a Highly Sensitive Person, your particular expressions of love are super important to her. She’s likely the type to save cards, notes, emails, and texts in which you profess your love.
Tone and posture matter do too:
Be mindful of your tone of voice and body language. If you’re married to a Highly Sensitive Person, you already know that she has a ‘sixth sense’; that she may intuitively seem to know how you feel.
She will recognize when what you say and how you say it aren’t aligned.
5. Conflict avoidance:
HSPs tend not to do well with conflict. Actually, most prefer to avoid it.
As the non HSP spouse, you’re probably more adept at arguing and comfortable dealing with things head-on.
Your HSP spouse is more likely to withdraw from, rather than address, a conflict.
If you’re married to a Highly Sensitive Person, you already know that at times she prefers her own company- i.e. to spend time alone. This may especially be true after an intense discussion. And may be a necessity rather than a preference.
Don’t take this personally. Having time to regroup means her nervous system is back to baseline. She’ll feel more content afterward. And have a longer fuse.
Ideally, you two generally communicate with each other in a way that doesn’t create or escalate to conflict. Let’s be realistic, though: Conflict is inevitable in relationships. Discover methods (at times other than in the heat of the moment) to minimize conflict. After all, you are on the same team! Consider using humor, writing, or even “time-outs”.
6. Tendency toward Overwhelm
All of us have an optimal level of stimulation and arousal. A zone where we’re neither bored nor overwhelmed.
HSPs have a more narrow window of optimal stimulation. Therefore, your HS spouse tends not to enjoy crowds, noisy restaurants, or a lot of commotion. These kinds of settings become overwhelming, sometimes immediately. (If your spouse is an extraverted HSP, she enjoys social environments but can suddenly become too overwhelmed to stay.)
Her threshold for overwhelm is probably lower than yours.
Remember, she naturally takes in a ton of stimuli. As a result, some alone or quiet time is needed for her nervous system to recalibrate.
Maybe, for example, she needs to retreat to a quiet, dimly lit, comfortable place such as the bedroom, to recharge. If you’re married to a Highly Sensitive Person, expect that she will need down time in her daily life.
7. Social activity parameters
Reiterating the propensity for overwhelm is important. Even if redundant.
Your Highly Sensitive spouse is unlikely to enjoy large gatherings, such as sporting events. Or loud social get-togethers, like a tail gating party. And forget about small talk at parties. No thank you. These forms of stimulation frazzle her nervous system.
When she has had enough, she has had ENOUGH. Time to go! Not “oh one more drink.” or “In five minutes.” This isn’t personal. It is her biology.
8. Decision making
Because of the depth of processing, HSPs may take longer to make decisions.
They consider pros and cons, all possible outcomes, and risk-to-reward ratios before coming to a final decision.
If you’re married to a Highly Sensitive Person, you’ll learn to be patient if you’re not already. Keep in mind that what may appear to be indecision is in fact just her way of processing the options.
9. Contagion Effect
If you are married to a Highly Sensitive Person, you’ll discover an increase in your creativity, kindness, and warmth. Your HSP spouse is likely to bring out the best in you, especially if you’re familiar with the trait.
You may become more inclined to notice subtleties and nuance after spending time together. And to be aware of other people’s goodness in a way that you hadn’t been before.
If you’re married to a Highly Sensitive Person, understanding your spouse empowers you both to create a glorious, thriving relationship. One in which both of you feel known, loved and safe. Where you’re comfortable being your true selves. You understand one another, respect each other’s wiring, and communicate well.
As with any marriage, finding the balance between what you need and what your spouse needs is key.
No marriage is perfect. If you’re married to a Highly Sensitive Person, you’re in for a lifetime of sensory pleasures, a deep sense of connection, and a meaningful life together.
I am a private practice psychologist who enjoys helping Highly Sensitive People access their superpowers with confidence and ease. I tend to have a pun or two to share along the way. #canthelpit
The world will always be unsettled. One of the best ways to manage being a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) in a highly unsettled world is to change the way YOU think of the High Sensitivity trait. By thinking of the trait differently, you’ll interact more effectively in the world. And maybe even feel empowered along the way.
Being a Highly Sensitive Person means that your nervous system is innately wired to attune to subtleties.
You’re creative, empathic, inquisitive, and a deep thinker. That’s just how you are. Your eyes are brown, blue, or whatever color, and your nervous system is wired for high sensitivity. That is you.
And you are among the 15 percent of the population born with the High Sensitivity trait.
Learning what being a Highly Sensitive Person means will help you make the most of the trait. And see it as the gift it is.
There are four general categories that comprise High Sensitivity:
- Depth of processing – Whenever you take in information, you really TAKE IT ALL IN. And not just what is on the surface. Nuance and details are on your radar. Feelings, thought, observations, sights, sounds, opinions…..
- Over arousal – As an HSP you take in tons of information, feel what others are feeling, and have senses that are very responsive. So of course you’ re prone to feel overstimulated more quickly and intensely. There is just so darn much to think, feel, do, especially because you’re also linking past, present, and future to the moment. And the practical with the philosophical.
- Empathy – due to more mirror neurons, you easily feel what other people are feeling. You have a deep understanding of people and their emotions.
- Sensory sensitivity – your senses are calibrated in a way that what you see, hear, smell, taste, and touch feels ‘extra’. Your senses are extra alive.
The four core features are interrelated.
What makes managing as a Highly Sensitive Person so challenging is the second feature on the list – over arousal. What might feel like a little thing (e.g. crowds, a hectic schedule, loud music) to others can feel like a lot to you.
Makes sense! Especially if you consider how the other three categories naturally promote a sense of over stimulation.
In other words, you take in, analyze, consider, and process a lot. So much more than could be captured by a list. What you take in includes thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. As well as sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile sensations. Memories, speculations, present moment experiences. All of it. And more.
And, we know that nearly all human traits have advantages and disadvantages, depending on circumstances. High sensitivity included.
Why not optimize your trait? Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, and Martin Luther King did, and their contributions enhanced meaning in life for us all.
Here are the top five ways to manage as a Highly Sensitive Person in an unsettled world include:
1. Set boundaries
Because of your capacity for empathy, you are inclined to agree to requests. You avoid disappointing or hurting another person, even at your own expense.
You prefer to do what is requested rather than risk the possibility of a conflict. Hence, setting boundaries may not feel ‘right’.
Here’s a tip: When setting boundaries, practice being more direct. Instead of beating around the bush, be clear and to the point. For example, let’s say your friend suggests a movie and asks if you’re interested in seeing that movie. Your inclination may be to go along with his decision, even if you don’t want to see that movie. So rather than saying “I’m not sure I want to see that movie”, you could say “I would prefer to say this movie”.
2. Include daily down time to manage being a Highly Sensitive Person
Your built-in radar is constantly processing a ton of input. That is exhausting! To prevent burn-out, you need a reprieve. So take time each day to replenish your energy. Maybe it’s spending time in nature. Or quiet time with low lighting and a comfy chair. Or just having a few minutes alone and without any demands on you. Do each day what you need to do to recharge your batteries. Even if it is only for a few minutes.
The High Sensitivity trait is real. So are your needs for downtime. Build in breaks during your day will make taking care of yourself easier to do.
3. As a Highly Sensitive Person, please manage your environment AND have a “ME” place
Your environment has a much bigger impact on you as a Highly Sensitive Person than is the case for people without the trait. In fact, Highly Sensitive people are both more likely to become physically ill and to develop depression, and/or anxiety in stressful environments. The fancy term for this is differential susceptibility.
The good news is you also do even better in calm environments than people without the trait.
Your priority in your home and work environments is to reduce overstimulation to the extent possible.
What does a calm environment look like for you? Maybe it is whatever area is most free of clutter? Or wherever your dog happens to be? Or maybe just in your bedroom, alone.
What does a special refuge look like to you?
It could be a designated area in your home or yard, with some of your favorite things. (Hopefully no social media.)
You may think of some exotic getaway when you think of a peaceful place to recharge. Actually, having a reprieve that you can access in your everyday life is more important. Maybe it is the living room recliner. Or a quiet spot near the window overlooking the backyard.
So guess what: Nothing fancy is needed to create an HSP sanctuary of your very own.
4. Get enough sleep
Everyone needs sleep. But Highly Sensitive People more than just ‘need’ sleep to restore mind and body. It is as important as breathing!
Because you feel deeply and absorb so much, your nervous system is primed to feel frazzled and overstimulated. Which then leads to emotional and physical exhaustion.
High quality sleep is the best way to restore and reset your nervous system. It is an essential ingredient to replenish.
Tips to get a good night’s sleep include having a bedtime routine, prioritizing your bedtime, and minimizing screen time and other forms of stimulation at least an hour before bed.
5. Get outside each day to manage being a Highly Sensitive Person
Highly Sensitive People have a sense of connection with nature that defies words.
Walking through a green space can actually facilitate a meditative state – for anyone. This is especially helpful to you as a Highly Sensitive Person because it offsets the inevitable stimulation you feel. AND spending time strolling through green space can facilitate creativity. Which you as an HSP have a lot of.
But the superpower is a superpower only if you think of it that way.
And only then can you deliberately leverage your High Sensitivity as a foundation to launch from.
And it is sooooo easy to instead deem high sensitivity as anything but a source of thriving. Especially because you have probably heard at least a million times that you are “too sensitive” and “need to lighten up.”
You don’t need to do anything. Just be you.
I am a psychologist in the Boston area dedicated to helping people, HSP’s especially, feel empowered to live their best life. Through all the ups and downs that life offers, HSPs have special gifts to make the world a better place for us all. Please contact me with any questions.
Whatever your age or relationship status, living with another person has its ups and downs. For Highly Sensitive People, living with anyone can be especially challenging – for either or both parties. You may think that you would automatically know how to live with a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) when you’re sensitive too. That may be true — sometimes. But it is a big assumption. Let’s unpack it.
As a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), you were born with a unique inherited trait.
The genetic trait causes you to feel emotions intensely and to think deeply. You absorb more information than other people do, and you process it in a more complex manner. You’re also highly attuned to your physical environment, including sounds, sights, air temperature, and tactile sensations. You naturally notice more quickly than others do when something changes or is askew. Details that are not even on anyone else’s radar are blaring to you. Another thing you automatically pick up on are people’s feelings. Even when they themselves may not recognize their own feelings.
As an HSP, you are more easily stimulated. At times this translates to feeling overwhelmed, either in a positive way (e.g. awed) or not so much (e.g. prone to tears). Your nervous system is calibrated in the same way as the other 15% of the population who are born with the High Sensitive trait.
And that calibration means your system is more finely tuned and responsive at lower levels of stimulation.
If you are a Highly Sensitive Person and live with someone else who is sensitive, you two likely ‘get’ each other. Especially if you are both familiar with the trait. But to assume rainbow-and-butterflies-roommate bliss when you are a Highly Sensitive Person and live with someone who is also Highly Sensitive is quite possibly a setup for storms – with no rainbow.
What are the challenges of living with a Highly Sensitive Person when you’re sensitive too?
4. Families with a mixture of HSP and non HSP family members should keep all temperments in mind.
Among families there are different configurations of High Sensitivity. For example, a child who is a Highly Sensitive Person may live with family members who are also sensitive, and with some who aren’t. In such a situation, making sure everyone respects each other’s quirks, temperament, and preferences is an ongoing process.
How to live with a Highly Sensitive Person when you are highly sensitive too is no different from when any two people living together. The same codes of conduct apply: Respect each other; Be kind; Cooperate/Share; Don’t hold a grudge; and Keep communication open.
The good ol’ Golden Rule applies whether you are a Highly Sensitive Person or not.
I enjoy helping Highly Sensitive People create a life of balance and joy – Especially people who have been told over and over again that they are just too sensitive.
What it’s like for Highly Sensitive People (HSP) in an insensitive world varies, from painful to blissful.
One unfortunate commonality for Highly Sensitive People in an insensitive world is that big things and little things easily and often feel like “too much.”
Western Culture in particular causes and reinforces that High Sensitivity is a bad thing to be born with.
Why? Because you notice “little things”– such as a shirt tag grazing against the base of your neck, the muted sound of sirens in the distance, or subtle disapproval in a friend’s tone. And your nervous system alerts you. Kind of like when a smoke detector activates. (But the same kinds of things don’t activate the smoke detectors of the 85% of people who do not have the High Sensitivity trait.)
And boy oh boy, life sure can feel like “too much” – because you REALLY NOTICE and REALLY FEEL the impact of your senses, of your empathy, of your way of deep thinking.
And those ‘really’s’, especially in this culture, easily lead you to feel as if something is wrong with YOU.
Sensitivity is typically considered a weakness or flaw – or at best, not a strength. At least in Western culture. (In Asian cultures, for example, high sensitivity is considered a strength and is admired.) As a result, there is lots of ‘proof’ from those around you that your (HSP) response is not normal. And that the culturally normative (insensitive?!) response IS normal.
The 85% or so of the population who do not have the HSP trait may not even notice or only be slightly put off by whatever has catapulted you into system overload.
People who are not Highly Sensitive ask, “why must you be so dramatic?”
And then you, as a Highly Sensitive Person, eventually collude with the majority and come to see your innate hard wiring as bad. Wrong. Too much. And you believe you need to find a way to be less sensitive.
Plot twist: You don’t need to find a way to be less sensitive.
Reminder: Traits are hard wired and can not be transformed. If your eyes are blue, you can’t wish them to be brown. Your foot size is your foot size, even if you wish your feet were a different size.
Highly Sensitive People living in an insensitive world experience a lot of “extra’s”.
The extra’s can be delightful (e.g. noticing two cardinals playfully chirping as they fly from branch to branch) or intolerable (e.g. bright lights shining in your eyes). Package deal.
When you deem something in your environment to be extra loud, extra sharp, extra warm/cold, or extra anything, people around you may pejoratively label you as ‘extra sensitive’.
What for others are at most minor annoyances, for you are energy zaps.
You can’t ignore the shrill beeping of the symbolic smoke detector. People in close proximity hardly notice. Some do not even hear/smell/feel/see it. But it causes you to want/need to escape. The sensory stimulation of whatever type from whatever source deluges your nervous system.
Being a Highly Sensitive Person in an insensitive world can be lonely.
Knowing about and recognizing the trait is an invitation to make friends with it. When you do, your ‘weakness’ becomes a source of strength and vitality.
Just about everything you process is intense because you were born with a biological difference in your nervous system. The high sensitivity trait means what you see, hear, touch, taste, and experience are deeply processed and can naturally lead to feeling depleted.
As if you have nothing left.
Fortunately, you can replenish in a quiet, low stimulating setting, and give your nervous system some time to recalibrate.
Highlights of what it is like for a Highly Sensitive Person in an insensitive world include:
1. Emotion Hangovers:
2. Bumpier Transitions:
Even if the change is positive, such as going on a vacation, you take longer to adapt. Acclimating to changes throughout the day can also take extra time and effort. You probably aren’t a huge fan of change, nor do you likely adapt easily or quickly.
Being a Highly Sensitive Person in an insensitive world can feel like you ‘should’ be more adept at adapting to the next thing, whatever that may be.
3. Cry readily:
Because of your innate deep processing, empathy, and intensity of feelings, you are more prone to cry. Your threshold for what is considered crying-worthy is considered low. But only because of how deeply you process and feel, and how misunderstood your style of processing is in this culture.
As a Highly Sensitive Person in an insensitive world, you may be called a crybaby. Or have been shamed for crying.
You tend to be more reactive to blood sugar ups and downs. Low blood sugar impacts you more negatively and suddenly. Irritability, intolerance, and cognitive fuzziness are signs that your blood sugar needs tending to. (As in, Eat!)
Being a Highly Sensitive Person in an insensitive world means you are more prone to becoming hangry. Especially because other people may not realize how quickly and intensely you react to low blood sugar. And you may not feel comfortable advocating for food in certain settings, such as in a work meeting.
5. Deemed shy, weird, anxious, or something else inaccurate:
Our culture that has strong views on what is normal and of value. Nonconformists of any type are misunderstood. As if there is something fundamentally wrong – with them, rather than with the standards for reference.
Being a Highly Sensitive Person in an insensitive world can render you to feel like a misfit.
Sensitivity is thought of as ‘girly’, feminine, and a flaw. Standards that tend to be valued are patriarchal: Stoic, conventional, strong, unwavering.
Your nervous system is wired to readily respond to subtle stimuli. You are more likely to startle when you hear an unexpected sound (even music) or are in an unfamiliar environment – even if both are considered benign.
As a Highly Sensitive Person in an insensitive world you’re more often on edge or distracted. Rather than others recognizing you have a nervous system that is highly attuned to what is going on around you.
To you, there is nothing “over” about “overanalyzing”. Your brain is wired that way.
You are just thinking. And when you think, you process many facets and angles, many of which are not even remotely on others’ radar.
Being a Highly Sensitive Person in an unsensitive world means you are more likely than not used to be told you are “overthinking this” or “belaboring the point.”
8. Strong reaction to criticism
Because of the way you are wired, you react to criticism with deep processing and feeling. Add to this what is reinforced from culture, family, friends– that there is something de facto wrong with you at your core. Criticism intensifies the hurt.
Being a Highly Sensitive Person in an insensitive world means you are often misunderstood and considered high maintenance.
9. “Can’t take a joke“:
Even though people making the ‘joke’ may not mean to be hurtful, the jokes may be hurtful. Especially because you naturally process comments multidimensionally.
People making the joke may actually not recognize that the joke is hurtful; their mind works more uni-dimensionally. Your genuine empathy translates to easily recognizing what could hurt someone else’s (or your own) feelings.
Being a Highly Sensitive Person in an insensitive world means you may have to remind yourself that you find funny jokes funny, and other jokes not so much.
If the joke were funny to you, you would laugh.
10. People pleasing:
Being a Highly Sensitive Person in an insensitive world means you may face temptation to pretend. To pretend that you want to do what everyone else is doing (e.g. going to church/synagogue as a family) or feel the way others feel (e.g. excited about a concert).
Educating yourself about the high sensitivity trait can make all the difference in the world.
The trait, with you from birth, can transform into one of your biggest assets.
Learning about the High Sensitivity trait allows you to appreciate it more. Especially when you use the knowledge to support your highly attuned nervous system.
The way you experience the warm sunlight reflecting off the beautifully heart shaped leaf on the tree by the lake is something you wouldn’t trade for the world.
There is nothing “too …..” about you. You are just right.
And that, my Fellow HSP, is extra awesome.
If you would like more information about how to thrive alongside your HSP tribe, please contact me.
If you are a Highly Sensitive Person, and you know it, clap your hands. (To find out if you are an HSP, click here to take the questionnaire.) The amazing and powerful characteristics of a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) ARE celebration – worthy.
Why? Because your nervous system is highly attuned and your perception is heightened. Your senses are turbocharged simply by nature. You are compassionate, intense, and thoughtful because you were born with a unique system that processes stimulation deeply.
You are among the 15% of the population born with the trait of High Sensitivity.
And, you are in great company! Many famous creative people, from artists (e.g. Vincent van Gogh) to musicians (e.g. Mozart, Drake, Celine Dion, and Bruce Springsteen) and poets (ee cummings; Ralph Waldo Emerson, Robert Frost) are considered Highly Sensitive People. You have a natural gift with language.
How unfortunately that the amazing and powerful characteristics of a Highly Sensitive Person are often not recognized, let alone celebrated. Even by HSPs!
Sadly, many Highly Sensitive People do not even know they are Highly Sensitive People. Instead, HSPs think of themselves as “too sensitive”, “too emotional”, or too something else (that’s undesirable).
By understanding the characteristics of a Highly Sensitive Person with the acronym “DOES”, you can more easily recognize and celebrate being/knowing one.
- D stands for Depth of processing.
Highly Sensitive People tend to think a lot and at a deep level. You’re reflective and take longer to make decisions.
HSPs are “intense” and feel feelings deeply. As children, you may have been told you are an ‘old soul’ or ‘so mature for your age’.
- O stands for Over arousal.
Highly Sensitive People notice a lot – people’s feelings (even if unexpressed), features in the environment (e.g. clutter; air temperature), and internal experiences (such as low blood sugar).
This is the hardest feature to manage, especially if you don’t take time to recharge your batteries.
- E stands for Empathy/Emotion responsiveness.
Highly Sensitive People have strong emotional responses to all kinds of situations. For example, you’re highly attuned to others’ feelings and can sense others’ ‘vibes’.
You are deeply moved by nature, music, and the arts. And disturbed by violence, injustice, and cruelty.
- S stands for Sensory specific sensitivity.
HSPs are more attuned to sights, sounds, smells, and tactile features of the environment.
For instance, you’re more easily affected by bright lights, scratchy wool fabric, and sirens.
But also by sunrises, the breeze, and birds chirping.
The most common reaction to learning about “DOES” as an HSP is something like, “I never knew this was a thing. I thought it was just me.”
Most Highly Sensitive People have been criticized for being “too sensitive” or told that sensitivity is a weakness or flaw. The literal opposite is true; the powerful and amazing the characteristics of being a Highly Sensitive Person are a strength, a gift.
Understanding the trait of High Sensitivity is like hitting ‘refresh’ on the keyboard. Or like switching to High Definition television.
And with that welcome, comes a deep exhalation. Why? Because you spend less time defending your sensitivity – and more time enjoying the benefits.
Let’s return to the gifts of “DOES” and the talents you may not recognize you have.
Depth of Processing:
As a Highly Sensitive Person, your inner world is fulfilling, alive and rich. Orgasmic even.
Deep thinking is an amazing quality of a Highly Sensitive Person’s wiring. You ponder and seek eternal truths, such as love, connection, meaning, justice, and peace.
Every HSP has different strengths, though — you may have great attention-to-detail, be creative, or disciplined. When you finally admit that you are more sensitive than others, you can spend less time trying not to be sensitive and more time making the most of the gifts of being sensitive.
Computer simulation studies suggest that HSPs, who take time to notice all cues before make a decision, usually come out ahead, despite the disadvantage of potential overstimulation.
Heightened empathy provides a deep understanding of relationships and of other people’s feelings and thoughts. Hence, HSPs make phenomenal therapists, physicians, and other healers. Noticing subtle changes in body language, tone, and facial expression comes naturally. Your attunement and ability to put yourself in others’ shoes helps people feel understood and supported.
You notice emotional undercurrents that other people are completely oblivious to. Your antennae are just naturally on alert.
Plus, you’re awed by nature, art, music, literature. Soft warm breezes by the ocean, the sea’s many shades of blue, and sunlight shimmering on the water carry you to a different dimension.
You FEEL the beauty of life in every cell of your body.
Sensory Processing Sensitivity:
HSPs naturally notice details that others often miss. This type of attunement provides an evolutionary advantage and has prevented the human race from becoming extinct! Wow. Talk about powerful and amazing characteristics of the Highly Sensitive Person!
Let’s make this super concrete. A Highly Sensitive Person would be the one in the tribe to identify that the rustle in the bushes is a hungry animal ready to attack! Or that a change in barometric pressure means a storm is brewing. Or that those pretty berries don’t smell quite right and are unsafe to eat.
Thank you, Highly Sensitive Person ancestors for keeping our species alive!
So, You, Highly Sensitive Person, are a healer, a visionary, a seeker who marvels at the wonders of the world. Your creativity and intuition add depth to humanity.
But that is not all; you’re captivated by the beauty and mystery of the Universe. Own your gift and cherish its exquisite magical powers. The world needs more of what Highly Sensitive People naturally offer.
Embrace your sensitivity!
Because when you honor the amazing and powerful characteristics of being a Highly Sensitive Person, the Universe smiles. And we ALL benefit.
People feel heard, seen, and understood when you allow yourself to be you. And what better gift can anyone give to the world?
I enjoy working with other people who are also Highly Sensitive. Please contact me if you would like to learn more.
Ever wonder how to deal with a highly sensitive person? A great majority of suggestions out there work – if you’re not highly sensitive too.
If you’re highly sensitive, knowing how to deal with another highly sensitive person can be …. challenging.
It can be confusing when it comes to understanding what you’re bringing to the interaction and what they are.
Let’s unpack this.
As a Highly Sensitive Person, you are very aware of what is going on around you. You feel your own and others’ emotions deeply. Both of you have a knack for being able to identify subtleties and have been referred to as deep thinkers. You are used to being called “intense”. And maybe even ‘too sensitive’.
You know that your shared high sensitivity trait is based in biology, hard wired from birth.
Your experience of how to deal with a Highly Sensitive Person when you’re highly sensitive too will include ease and challenge. Be it in the workplace or a social gathering. Or with your child or parent. Or even in your relationship with your partner,
Taking time to reflect on how to deal with a highly sensitive person when you’re highly sensitive too makes sense.
The million dollar question is, does having this trait bode well for 2 HSPs in a relationship with each other?
In a dating or marital relationship, talking with your partner about how to deal with a highly sensitive person when you are one too is essential. Especially if your partner is not familiar with the trait despite having the trait.
Both of you appreciate intimate conversations, value intimacy, and detest small talk – so this is right up your alley.
Here are 5 ways dealing with a highly sensitive person when you’re highly sensitive too may be tricky.
- You are both prone to stress and overwhelm due to your high levels of awareness of nuance and deep processing of information. One overwhelmed person in a relationship can be taxing to both parties. Have a general plan for how to handle both of you feeling overwhelmed at the same time.
- You two are aware of subtleties that other people completely miss. Examples include tone of voice and facial expressions. Add to this the naturally high level of empathy you both have. The result? Emotional exhaustion. Feeling your own AND the other person’s emotions so intensely is very tiring! Just recognize and remind yourselves of this tendency.
- Deep processing of information is the hallmark of being an HSP. This means you both do a lot of reflecting on your experiences. It also means both of you are prone to overthinking. Negative overthinking in particular. You may both obsess over events and spiral into worry thoughts. Give each other space to process thoughts and feelings and permission to provide feedback if welcomed.
- Conflict avoidance is common among HSPs. Why? One reason is you feel your own and the other HSP’s emotions. As a result, you may end up doing or saying things to keep the other person happy – because conflict hurts and you both prefer to avoid it. However, swallowing your true feelings and thoughts will backfire. Your partner will likely sense it anyway, and a worse conflict could then ensue.
- In dating or marital relationships, knowing each other’s love language is a good idea. For HSPs, it is especially important so that each of you feels understood and validated by the other, especially if you two have different love languages.
Talking directly about potential areas of conflict with one another means your relationship is less likely to be derailed by any of them. Even if neither of you is a fan of confronting potential conflict.
Here are 5 ways dealing with a Highly Sensitive Person when you are highly sensitive too might just be natural.
- Intense emotions, including love, passion, and integrity go hand in hand with being highly sensitive. You will never have to worry about his loyalty because his love runs deep.
- You two share common experiences and approaches to life and to problem solving as Highly Sensitive People. At the end of the day, humans tend to seek a long term partner who thinks and even acts like them. Having a partner with similar underlying personality can translate to greater relationship satisfaction.
- HSPs are used to being thought of as quirky, and maybe even weird. Being in a relationship with someone who totally gets you is one of the most refreshing gifts. You may feel a levity and sense of connection to yourself that is unprecedented as a result of the validation your partner provides.
- Strong couples share many similarities and nuanced differences. Even as HSPs, there are differences. One of you may be extraverted (as are 30 percent of HSPs) and the other introverted. Or you may be a high sensation seeker HSP (30 percent of HSPs are), and he is not. While you two may have slight differences, your overall wiring is similar and you naturally ‘get’ each other.
- Both of you benefit from downtime and self care activities after socializing. You know this about each other and are thus less likely to take the other’s need for ‘me time’ personally. Both of you recognize the other’s need to regroup and recalibrate because you have the same need. And your partner taking time to unwind on their own makes it easy for you to do so too, sans guilt or justification.
How to deal with a highly sensitive person when you are highly sensitive too is often easier once you have an understanding of how you are similar and what the differences are.
You more often than not intuitively ‘get’ each other, and you know when you don’t. At the same time, when in doubt, ask your partner.
For HSPs, authenticity and consistency are two predictors of long term satisfaction in a relationship. You share this understanding, which protects again feelings of rejection or doubt.
You two have a history of experiencing the world differently than non-HSPs. Now you can share the exquisite gift of High Sensitivity.
You both value understanding and appreciating your partner’s traits, the things that get in the way, and what you need to thrive.
An extraordinary, passionate, satisfying relationship. With humor, gratitude, and awe.
I am a clinical psychologist specializing in helping Highly Sensitive People flourish. If you would like to learn more about me, please visit me here.
Highly Sensitive People (aka HSPs) feel the world deeply. Why? Because they’re born with a nervous system uniquely wired to be super attuned and responsive. That is why if you are a Highly Sensitive Person, self-care is critical.
The reality is everyday life can be draining. Highly Sensitive People need self-care to refuel to make best use of the unique gifts of being an HSP.
The trait isn’t super common, but it’s not an anomaly either. About 15 to 20 percent of the population is born with High Sensitivity, with an equal male to female ratio.
High sensitivity comes with advantages and disadvantages, benefits and bummers.
Feeling, thinking, and living with intensity adds depth and meaning. Kind of like living in a world of bright colors and beautiful sounds, delicious flavors and appealing textures. In essence, the natural capacity for soulful connection is part of the trait.
This intensity can be double edged, though and could lead to a sense of ‘too much-ness.’ And generate angst that something’s wrong with you. That you are ‘too much’ . Even though you’re not.
If there were such a thing as a ‘muchness continuum’, you would be just right. Because you are just right.
You’re uniquely you, and your perception of the world is what makes you so extraordinary.
Productivity, swift decision making, and a fast pace are highly valued and praised in modern-day. These aren’t the innate traits of HSP’s. Expecting yourself to be who you are not will only lead to frustration, disappointment, and a sense of futility.
And thriving in an environment that is nurturing doesn’t just automatically happen. But it can be learned. Thank goodness – because Highly Sensitivity Person self-care is critical to health and wellbeing.
Thriving as an HSP takes effort and psychological strength. And you’re up for the challenge, once you educate yourself on the trait.
As an HSP, you can create the kind of environment for yourself that is conducive to growth, as long as you understand the high sensitivity trait.
Discovering how to accept, embrace, and enjoy the kind of person you are translates to having a full, meaningful life.
Let’s use a flower analogy. Consider orchids. They require a supportive environment to grow and blossom. Air temperature, amount of sunlight and water, location, and other features of the environment have to be within a particular range for the flowers to blossom.
Orchids are sensitive to the care they receive. They have an exceptional capacity to grow and blossom under favorable conditions. And, they wither in an environment that doesn’t support their needs. Orchids aren’t the everyday kind of flower or plant sold in flower shops.
In the world of flowers, highly sensitive people would be orchids.
In contrast, consider dandelions. They grow in nearly any kind of environment. They proliferate regardless of the amount of water, sun, shade, or care they receive. Their roots are deep in the ground, so deep that even yanking them has little effect.
Dandelions are hardy and easily endure variations in weather, soil, and temperature. They even grow through rocks and concrete! Dandelions are common and symbolically represent the 80 percent of people who are not HSPs.
Btw, the high sensitivity trait has been documented in over 100 species of animals including chimpanzees, deer, horses, birds, cats and dogs.
For humans, expression of the high sensitivity gene shows up in four areas. Within the four domains are features that can be enriching or overwhelming.
Knowing about the four categories can help you embrace being an HSP and understand why self-care for Highly Sensitive People is so necessary.
For a Highly Sensitive Person, self-care takes more effort than it does everyone else. Here is why:
Depth of Processing. HSPs process things deeply. You reflect more often and intensely on the ways of the world, including your own internal workings, relationships, and decision making. You make connections in your mind that other people respond to by saying they never thought of it that way.
Overstimulation. HSPs’ senses respond intensely and easily. Certain smells, sounds, or textures are overwhelming to you – sometimes in good ways and sometimes in yucky ones.
Crowds, bright lights, and loud noises can also be overwhelming – usually in the negative sense of the word. They can activate your ‘fight or flight’ response. As a result, you’re likely among the first in certain environments to feel overstimulated.
Excessive stimulation can be one of the hardest aspects of high sensitivity to manage. As long as you can access a calm or just calmer environment to recalibrate, you will regain your equilibrium. Self care for Highly Sensitive People includes knowing what you need to refill your cup.
Empathy/Emotional responsiveness. HSPs feel deeply. So, you probably tend to worry, be sentimental, and may even be known as ‘intense.’ HSPs can easily worry about the health and welfare of those they believe to be less fortunate. We can become sentimental when we see a flower that reminds us of a loved one. And our emotions can exude from us, causing others to think we are intense.
Sensory sensitivity. HSPs notice details and nuance. The moment-to-moment changes of a setting sun, a subtle shift in facial expression, or the sound of the wind as it picks up speed are all things you naturally notice. Your senses are highly attuned, and your experience of life is much richer than it is for many others.
For the highly sensitive person, self-care is absolutely essential.
The kind of self-care I am talking about goes beyond bubble baths and pedicures. Immersing yourself or your feet in warm, sudsy water may be lovely, but not what the doctor ordered. (Maybe it depends on if the doctor has the high sensitivity trait lol.)
The particular form of self-care is individual to you.
Here are some refreshing self-care ideas for a Highly Sensitive Person to consider:
Make time in your day to spend a few moments in solitude, in a quiet, calm space. This is especially helpful on days you have experienced a loud event, conflict, or busy-ness that has left you feeling exhausted.
Give yourself time and space to reset.
Getting enough restful sleep is critical for an HSP to recalibrate, replenish, and renew. If you have a difficult time getting the sleep you know you need, here is a helpful guide you may want to check out.
Let your natural creativity guide you toward other ways to practice self care.
Make your own special go-to “coping container” or box. Decorate it in a way that makes you smile. Maybe incorporate decoupage, stickers, sparkles, or doodles.
To take it a step further, fill the container with sensory faves. Invite your favorite senses to the party! Hello cinnamon (smell), velvet (touch) swatch, Tibetan bells (sound), mint (taste), and favorite photo (sight). Awwww! If you are highly sensitive, reading the suggestions may automatically cause a smile and warm feeling inside.
Have fun creating your container and choosing the contents. Allow for whimsy and nostalgia. The collection provides relief when you are looking for a quick (or not) dose of comfort.
You can always change the contents of the collection at any time to keep it extra interesting. Or keep it the same if you prefer consistency and knowing what to expect.
Making sure you are well hydrated is another self-care must. The same goes for nourishment.
Eating enough, including foods you enjoy, keeps your body satisfied and energized.
Stable blood sugar and hydration help HSPs put their best foot forward. Eat a snack in between meals to fend away irritability, brain fog, and feeling out of it. Have a snack with you so that fuel is there when you need it. Keep a water bottle handy for easy go-to sips of water.
Compassion toward living things comes naturally for HSPs. Self compassion is not as automatic. A tender relationship with yourself softens how you speak with and care for yourself.
Treat yourself as you would a friend or a beloved. Maybe even refer to yourself with a pet name, such as “Sweetheart” or an empowering image like “Rockstar”. Or even a silly or superhero name to add light heartedness.
In any given situation you may need ‘extra’. Extra time, space, or comfort, for example. Trust that what you need is valid. Because it is.
Familiarize yourself with the four areas that comprise the gift of being an HSP. Honor and appreciate what you know to be true about yourself. Be open to and curious about what helps you be you- with all your splendor, wonderful quirks, and ways of being in the world.
Doing so will help you to discover, affirm, and prioritize whatever your orchid needs to thrive.
I’m Dr. Elayne Daniels, a psychologist in private practice. I specialize in working with highly sensitive people. To learn more about my work, visit HSP page. If you’re in the Canton, MA area and are interested in working with me, you can contact me here.
In a recent magazine interview, Ashley Judd spoke about her role in the movie Divergent. Based on the book series, the film is about a society that divides people into five factions, each based on a different virtue. A decision has to be made at age 16 to remain in the faction one was born into or switch into another, for life.
Judd’s character is torn between two powerful forces: The desire to belong, and the desire to be an individual.
Judd describes her true life struggle with the very same tension, especially during adolescence.
I think we can all relate to that struggle. And not just during adolescence.
In Judd’s case, her mother (Naomi) and sister (Wynonna) were on tour much of the time. Judd moved in with her father, who often left Judd alone.
She credits psychotherapy with helping her to recognize the longing created by her mother’s and sister’s absence. (Yay, therapy!)
I was thinking about the same kind of struggle today. How much do I want to fit in and be like everyone else, and how much do I want to assert individuality, even if it means setting myself apart?
Today’s yoga class was filled with fit women wearing perfectly matched clothing. The Lululemon symbols were on every mat. Except for on my mat.
I was not wearing Lululemon. I don’t own any Lululemon, not even a headband.
I don’t agree with their philosophy and don’t want to support their company. In my opinion, they practice weight discrimination and prejudice.
By not wearing what everyone else in the class was wearing, was I an outcast? Taken less seriously?
Maybe, by some. Maybe not.
As I get older I feel less concerned.
I am reminded of grade school days. Sometimes I preferred to spend recess in the library and not on the soccer field.
Even though I wanted to be thought of as athletic and cool, I also wanted to read and spend time being quiet.
So, today, after yoga class, when I stop by the library in my non brand name yoga wear, I smile at the Universe.
It is poetic how it all assembles, eventually. How we decide whichever faction we want to be a part of, whenever we want, and for whatever reason we want.
We really can choose.
I choose limitlessness, because honoring all the different aspects of who I am is incredibly freeing.