As a child, I remember keeping my face completely still during a confrontation. If somebody hurt my feelings, I would wait to be alone before I allowed myself to cry. Little incidents that others would laugh off stayed stuck inside my head. I would remember every detail, and I would go over it all with an obsessive focus.
Now when I look back, I realize I grasped some very adult concepts at a very early age, and a lack of a confidante ensured that there was no one to teach me a healthy way to express myself. There were people who tried to help, but there was always a massive difference in perspective. My reactions didn’t make sense to others which always made me feel insecure and unsure of myself.
Every time I tried to connect with people, it ended badly, increasing my sense of isolation. Books and solitude have been my two steady friends throughout my life. During my year abroad (essentially my first foray into society!), I sought some professional guidance, and it was one of the best decisions I ever made.
During my interaction with the therapist, I learned all about being a ‘Highly Sensitive Person’.
It was amazing to me how not surprised this person was when I shared little pieces of my life with him. He told me, with complete certainty, that there are a lot of people who feel the way I do. I was given literature to read- books, websites, and transcripts. I devoured every source.
Apparently, over 20% of the world’s population is made up of Highly Sensitive People. You can undergo assessments to identify if you fall into the same category, and once you do, the world will be a different place. To that day, I had been repressing so much because I thought it was unnatural, but suddenly everything made so much more sense.
What’s more, almost every HSP has a similar story.
Can you imagine the loneliness of a child that feels too much? A child lacking in the emotional resilience that other kids take for granted. Such children don’t find understanding even in their parents who might perceive their reactions to be a bid for attention.
HSPs don’t casually forget things. Every mean word and every cruel action chips away at their self-confidence and their faith in the world around them.
“The highly sensitive person (HSP) has a sensitive nervous system, is aware of subtleties in his/her surroundings, and is more easily overwhelmed when in a highly stimulating environment.”
Dr. Elaine N. Aron
How to know if you’re a Highly Sensitive Person?
There are certain traits shared by most HSPs –
- Extreme emotional sensitivity
- Aversion to violence and cruelty
- Need for solitude
- Over-analyzing situations and emotions
- A rich inner-world
- Sensitivity to bright lights, loud noises, coarse fabric, and strong fragrance
- Don’t handle conflict well
- Love for culture, art, and all things beautiful
- A constant struggle with feelings of inadequacy
- Prone to anxiety and/or depression
If you feel that you may be different from those around you, I suggest you seek professional advice. Our loved ones do their very best, but love is not always enough. Sometimes, we need the understanding that only a professional can give us. So, if you constantly feel disconnected from the world around you or have any issues that may be disrupting your life, it is worth it to get a professional opinion. It can be the help you need.
Related: 11 Warning Signs Of A Mental Illness
Growing up, I was always told to be different, but on that gloomy day in London, finding out that I am not all that different really, really helped. It was a new beginning for me. I took all that understanding and worked on building a new life for myself.
None of it was easy, and it took a couple of years for me to see some tangible change, but it did work. More importantly, once you get to the other side, it is a whole other world.
So, how can you BETTER navigate life as a Highly Sensitive Person?
1. Stop doubting yourself
When HSPs share their feelings, they often come across as dramatic. Other people who don’t feel as intensely as we do, often interpret the reactions of an HSP to be a deliberate act to gain sympathy or attention. The constant dismissal and lack of belief rob them of confidence. Self-doubt sets in, and before you know it, you are questioning your own truth.
Therefore, before any constructive and lasting change can be affected, you must stop doubting yourself. If it helps, document everything in a journal so that you can review your own state of emotions.
Also, the next time you are faced with distrust and suspicion, try to remember that the people you’ve chosen to confide in are simply different from you. They are not right in their reactions to your confidence, but they are also not trying to hurt you. These people are simply not capable of feeling the way you do.
2. Identify your triggers
I really don’t like being in crowded places which is why, when I absolutely have to shop, I reach the store as soon as it opens. There is no browsing, I go straight for what I need and within a few minutes, I am done. Orange lights make me feel depressed so, my house is filled with white light.
All HSPs have triggers – things that lead to them having extreme responses and reactions. You need to know your triggers so that you can either avoid them or have a strategy in place to better handle them.
It could be anything like loud noise, violent movies, bright colors, anything at all. It varies from person to person. Unlike a lot of other HSPs, I don’t mind watching action movies, but if a movie has an unhappy ending, I need to write another ending for it. I write a different ending and then I obsessively play it in my head. I have come to know that a lot of other HSPs do similar things to help them get over bad memories or general unpleasantness in life.
It is not an ideal solution; It would be better to simply avoid your triggers, but sometimes, I get tired of tiptoeing around my own issues. Then, you let them swallow you whole and you simply deal with the consequences. Reckless, I know but that’s how we grow.
3. Build a sanctuary
If you share your living accommodation, then find a corner of the house where you can escape to be alone.
HSPs do well when they are allowed time to recover and recuperate. Even an ordinary day can be overwhelming for an HSP so, they need the necessary downtime to recover their energy.
When I am with my parents, they respect my need for solitude and always allow me to escape to my room when I need to. Communicate your needs. Let others know, that it is vital for you to have some alone time. Then, escape to your little corner and regain your strength before you rejoin the fray. This will help sustain periods of activity without any resulting trauma.
4. Communicate with confidence
Unless you are lucky enough to be born into a family of HSPs, chances are your relationships will always be difficult. You’ll always feel more than the other person. What might be a non-issue to others, may assume massive importance for you. Little things that others easily shrug off, stay in your head. All of these things make it difficult to have healthy relationships.
In such cases, open and frequent communication helps.
At the very outset of a relationship, openly communicate your expectations and your sensitivity to certain issues. If and when the other person does something to hurt your feelings, let them know. Try not to react too much, and don’t take things too personally. Instead, open a healthy dialogue. Having said that, if you feel that you are not being taken seriously, and they are persistently treating you in a hurtful way, walk away.
I don’t need people to share my sensitivity, but I do need them to respect how I feel even if they don’t understand it. Respect and basic consideration should be non-negotiable.
So, communicate how you feel, and do it effectively and often. If you feel that the other person is ignoring you, it’s time to reevaluate your relationship.
5. Set Boundaries
Boundaries are important for everyone, but for an HSP, they are of vital importance.
HSPs tend to be empathetic. They can pick up on other people’s energies, and their own mood is easily influenced. In order to avoid complete mental exhaustion, healthy boundaries are imperative.
Learn to say no. Put your own needs first without feeling guilt or shame.
When someone is becoming too pushy or encroaching on your personal or emotional space, let them know that you don’t care for it, and be firm and definite in your manner.
Walk away from emotionally abrasive people. Don’t internalize their energy. Only help people when you feel strong enough to do so.
6. Have a creative outlet
Most HSPs are creatively inclined. If there is some creative endeavour that makes you happy, indulge in it actively and consistently. Set aside time for it.
It will help you establish better emotional control, and gradually the creative expression will soothe your soul, making you a happier person.
7. Take care of your mind and body
I think of all HSPs as highly wired people. It is exhausting churning out so many emotions. The over-analyses I manage to do within the first couple of hours of being awake sometimes boggles my mind. You can’t help being this way, but you can ease your life in other areas.
So, do yourself a favor, and take care of your body. If you are going to use an insane amount of energy, make sure you have a ton of it in reserve.
Eat healthily and exercise. Cultivate mental strength. I am an HSP, but I am also a person with enough mental strength to keep all toxicity from having an effect on me.
Morning time is sacred to me. In the morning, I have a set routine designed especially to match my needs. Nothing is allowed to disturb this routine. It starts my day on the right note.
Revolutionise your Mornings!
A friend of mine (also an HSP) sews over the weekends. It’s not good stuff. You cannot wear anything she makes because it’s that bad, but for some reason, sewing calms her down. So, she sews over the weekends for a couple of hours, and anytime she feels off-kilter.
Find whatever works for you, and do it consistently.
Drink lots of water and spend at least a few minutes in the fresh air every day.
8. Find your tribe
When my balance is truly shot to hell, I can’t call just any friend and talk about it. Even close friends can’t be relied upon in these moments. Out of the many people I have, there are only 3 I can call. So, my tribe is made up of exactly 3 people, and they are all I need to put my world right on a bad day.
They don’t claim to understand how I feel, but they give me a judgment-free zone. I am never mocked or humiliated or called names for whatever I choose to share. Sometimes, they give me no solutions, and they barely even talk. They just listen with love.
I prefer handling my issues by myself, but the fact that these 3 people exist in my life makes a massive difference. I prefer to not share things, but while I am battling it out alone, I do it with a calm frame of mind because I know, they are only a phone call away.
So, please find yourself a tribe. It doesn’t have to be a bunch of people. Even one trustworthy person can make all the difference in the world. If nothing else works, there are professionals who can give you a safe environment.
9. Rescue kit at the ready
You know how some people have kits for emergencies like earthquakes or zombie attacks, build yourself an HSP specific rescue kit.
It can have anything that can help calm you down- books, music, journals, chocolates. Keep it with you at all times, and allow its presence to give you more confidence.
Seriously, have a playlist for times of stress. My playlist has saved me so many times. It is instant relief.
10. Be openly sensitive
Stop being ashamed. Look at the world around you, we can all stand to be more sensitive.
If you ask me, I think HSPs are the best chunk of humanity. Our sensitivity, compassion, empathy, and the way we love – it’s a freakin’ superpower!
I know for a fact, that every Highly Sensitive Person out there has been told time and again, that they are high maintenance, complicated, dramatic, and that nobody can put up with our ‘quirks’, but I think those people are just impatient and intolerant.
It is a privilege to be loved by an HSP.
So, stop thinking that there is something wrong with you.
My sensitivity has made me the person I am, and I love that person. Being an HSP is not something to be ashamed of, it is a gift.
Cry if something moves you, laugh as loudly as you please. Put your joy on display. Deal with your grief however you want to. Don’t sneak off into dark corners to hide. If your emotions make other people uncomfortable, too bad! It is not your problem.
Think about how you would treat someone you didn’t understand- you won’t judge or condemn them for their choices. If you can’t understand it, you’ll let them be. You have a right to be treated with the same respect and consideration. Use your sensitivity to make a difference. Let those who are truly in need use your capacity for honest emotion as a crutch. Cover the world in the glitter of your compassion and kindness because you’re the only one who can.
To Review –
What are the most common traits of a Highly Sensitive Person?
There are certain traits shared by most HSPs –
Extreme emotional sensitivity
Aversion to violence and cruelty
Need for solitude
Over analyzing situations and emotions
A rich imagination
Sensitivity to the environment, noise, light
Doesn’t handle conflict well
Love for culture
Don’t operate well on a hungry stomach
Ever-present feelings of self-doubt and insecurity
Criticism cuts deep
Prone to anxiety and/or depression
How do you define a highly sensitive person?
“The highly sensitive person (HSP) has a sensitive nervous system, is aware of subtleties in his/her surroundings, and is more easily overwhelmed when in a highly stimulating environment.” – Dr. Elaine N. Aro