“And those who were seen dancing were thought insane by those who could not hear the music.”
Highly sensitive people are too often perceived as weak or broken. But to feel intensely is not a symptom of weakness, it is the characteristic of a truly alive and compassionate human being. It is not the sensitive person who is broken, it is society’s understanding that has become dysfunctional and emotionally incapacitated. There is zero shame in expressing your authentic feelings. Those who are at times described as being ‘too emotional’ or ‘complicated’ are the very fabric of what keeps the dream alive for a more thoughtful, caring, humane world. Never be ashamed to let your feelings, smiles and tears shine a light in this world.
Of course, that’s easier said than done, because it can be so confusing, right? … Why you get overwhelmed by run-of-the-mill tasks that others take in stride. Why you mull over slights that ought to be forgotten. Why subtleties are magnified for you and yet lost on others.
It’s like you were born missing a protective layer of skin that others seem to have.
You try to hide it. Numb it. Tune it out. But the comments still pierce your armor: “You’re overthinking things. You’re too sensitive. Toughen up!”
You’re left wondering what on earth is wrong with you.
I know, because I was in my mid-40s when I stumbled across the term ‘highly sensitive people.’ This led me to discover how delicious it feels to be one of thousands saying, “You do that? Me too!”
Since then, I’ve learned that many sensitive people feel isolated from others. They feel misunderstood and different, and they usually don’t know why. They just don’t realize that they have a simple trait that explains their confusing array of symptoms and quirks.
There’s even a scientific term for it: Sensory Processing Sensitivity. Dr. Elaine Aron, a psychotherapist and researcher, estimates that 15-20% of people have nervous systems that process stimuli intensely. They think deeply. They feel deeply (physically and emotionally). They easily become over-stimulated.
According to my research several successful historical figures were highly sensitive, such as Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King, and Steve Jobs. I see this as great news, because it means us sensitive types aren’t inherently disadvantaged.
But when we don’t realize how to handle our sensitivity, we end up pushing too hard to keep up with everyone else. We try to do what others seem to handle with ease, and try to do it better than them. And this leads to problems.
For a time, we do a first-rate job of using our natural gifts: we’re creative students, conscientious employees, and devoted family members. But when we hammer on beyond our limits, doing so can eventually take its toll. It shows up in things like unrelenting health conditions, muscle tension we can’t get rid of, and being endlessly fatigued or on edge for no good reason.
If you resonate with any of this, here are 10 actions you can take to stop struggling and start thriving:
1. Quit searching for someone or something to fix you.
Sensitivity is a temperament trait, not a medical disorder. So nothing is inherently wrong with you. Sadly, though, many certified health practitioners don’t understand this because sensory processing sensitivity is a recent area of health research.
Sure, highly sensitive people are more likely to have allergies or sensitivities to food, chemicals, medication, and so forth. And they’re more prone to overstimulation, thus quicker to feel stress — which can lead to other health issues. But sensitivity in itself is not something that needs fixing.
Successful sensitive types realize that they’re not “broken.” If your mind is exhausted from busily researching yet another solution to take away your “flaws,” know that the answers to living in harmony with your sensitive nature lie inside you.
2. Tell yourself, as often as necessary, that you are not a fraud.
Impostor syndrome isn’t exclusive to highly sensitive people. Many conscientious and high achieving people fall victim to this nagging fear. But the simmering discomfort about being found out is often constant for a sensitive person.
Why wouldn’t it be, considering you’ve spent a lifetime of feeling different from others and trying to fit in? Maybe you blame your tears on dust in your eye during that cheesy TV commercial; or you sign up for the company fun run, even though you hate running and you know you’ll feel ashamed of how long your body takes to recover. But even if you grew up displaying your sensitivity with pride, it’s unlikely you escaped the cultural pressure motivating you to disguise your real self to fit the norms.
Successful sensitive types respect that their nervous systems are wired differently from 80-85% of people. If you’re constantly thinking about who you should be but aren’t, and what you should be doing but can’t, understand that valuing your achievements and signature strengths allows you to show yourself as you truly are, more comfortably — even when you’re the odd one out.
3. Seek out kindred spirits (and know that you are NOT alone).
You probably feel different and alone. But the truth is, you’re not. Many have experienced confusion in isolation before discovering that hordes of people have some idea of what it’s like to be you. They’ve felt the surge of power that comes from being supported by like-minded souls. And they want to pay it forward.
The key whenever possible is to hang out with sensitive people who are already flourishing, or at least open to those possibilities. They understand not only how to manage their sensitivity, but also how to wield its superpowers. They know what it’s like for you to feel endlessly under siege, and they can offer firsthand experience and wisdom to help you make your sensitivities work in your favor.
Successful sensitive types appreciate and relish the strengths of sensitivity, in themselves and others. If you’re feeling unsupported or misunderstood, find a sensitively knowledgeable coach, mentor, or community who gets you … and nurture that connection.
4. Look for the hidden positivity in every situation and soak it up.
The brain is a powerful filter that molds experiences and perceptions of reality. If you think the world is a dangerous place, your brain is wired to hunt for evidence of danger. If you believe it’s a loving place, you spot more loving opportunities. What you focus on, you get more of.
As a highly sensitive person, the more negative the environment, the more you suffer. But the opposite is also true — the more positive, the more you thrive (even compared to others).
Thoughts are stimuli for your nervous system. One of the most important things a sensitive person can do is acknowledge the negative (not ignore it — because what you resist, persists), but then let it go… immerse yourself in positive thoughts and situations that make you feel good, or at least give you a soothing sense of relief.
Successful sensitive types decide to see the world brimming with opportunities to feel grateful for, and to marinate in that positive vibe. If you’re feeling at the mercy of your emotions and circumstances, understand that your thoughts (and the emotional charges they trigger) are always within your control.
5. Find new spins on old flaws.
Your gifts of sensitivity include deep reflection and an instinct to see all angles and consequences. But by being so deeply tuned in to details, you’re easily overwhelmed and exhausted by unyielding stimulation. And when you don’t understand why you feel and behave in the ways you do, it’s easy to frame these as flaws.
In truth, these “weaknesses” are simply your unmet needs and unique gifts to nourish. In reframing your past and nurturing your present, you set yourself up for success in your future.
Successful sensitive types rethink old perceptions in light of their deeper understandings of sensitivity. If you’re weighed down by the hypersensitive and neglected (even, despised) parts of yourself, seek to discover the other side of the coin … where you’ll find some of your greatest strengths: intuition, vision, conscientiousness — and the list goes on.
6. Treat yourself with compassion.
As a highly sensitive person you are deeply compassionate. So much so that putting others’ comfort and needs before your own is second nature. On top of that, you’re often your own biggest critic. You push yourself hard, and then you beat up on yourself when you miss the mark. You criticize yourself in ways you’d never dream of judging others.
Controlling your nagging inner critic is essential to self-compassion. But contrary to popular belief, you shouldn’t do so by relentlessly ignoring it. Deep thinking is one of your gifts, so why not embrace that power? Take control by hearing your thoughts without judgment (after all, there might be gems of wisdom hidden deep) and then pivoting to thoughts that trigger kinder and more loving emotions in your body. From that better-feeling place, you’re better able to choose actions to care for yourself and others.
Successful sensitive types show themselves the same loving compassion that they’re naturally good at giving others. It may feel selfish or vain at first, but it’s not. If your critical inner voice is devaluing who you are, answer back with self-kindness … this is the antidote.
7. Create healthy boundaries, not rigid emotional walls.
We live in a culture that values “take a painkiller and push on” far more than it values sensitivity. We grow up hearing: “no pain, no gain; survival of the fittest; life isn’t fair — get used to it.” We admire those who show grit to prevail over their terrible plights.
As a highly sensitive person your reflex reaction may be to freeze up or struggle to toughen up. You build walls to shield yourself from hurt … Emotional walls, such as suppressing feelings or creating dramatic turmoil to distract from the real causes of pain. Physical walls, such as piling on layers of weight to hide behind. Mental walls, such as tuning out with alcohol or drugs.
Or, you may let all your boundaries collapse at once, thereby unconsciously absorbing others’ energies and feeling devoured by unpredictable events and emotions. You try to escape the feelings by getting caught up in overthinking everything: endlessly planning and searching and analyzing, while completely losing touch with your intuition. And in the process you confuse conscientiousness with overwork, empathy with over-identification, compassion with over-tolerance. So you beat yourself up about how you know you should have better boundaries. It’s a vicious cycle.
Successful sensitive types embody gentle but firm personal boundaries. If you struggle to put your own needs first (which doesn’t come naturally to a highly sensitive person), make a conscious choice to practice the skill of saying “no” with love and grace, or carving out alone time to recharge … and decide to feel good about that.
8. Tune in to your body (to avoid seesawing between emotional extremes).
Many highly sensitive people learn to ignore the messages their bodies are sending them. They switch it off to avoid overwhelm or they tune in to others’ needs instead of their own to meet what’s expected of them. Does this sound familiar?
Doing so leaves you swinging like a pendulum. Too much, too little. Too fast, too slow. Too in, too out. Back and forth between being over-stimulated and mind-numbingly bored, dieting and then bingeing, or exercising hard and then needing several days to recover. And so on and so forth.
Successful sensitive types tune in to the physical sensations in their bodies; they accept that it’s not always comfortable, but they trust their bodies to guide them. If you have a habit of hiding from feelings or passing the point of overwhelm, learn to recognize your body’s subtle signs of overstimulation. You’ll spend less time being thrown out of balance, and more time swaying gently within your nervous system’s range of optimal arousal.
9. Design healthy habits that fit your unique needs.
Eventually, it all catches up with you. Grueling hours at work, followed by hard sweat at the gym and keeping on top of chaos around home — all fueled by crappy diets and minimal sleep or downtime. It’s an easy trap to fall into because you’re simply living the way you see most people get by on.
What’s more, some seemingly healthy habits hit hard on a sensitive nervous system — like “health” foods that are heavily processed and pumped with sugar and artificial additives, or intense exercise that’s not balanced with ample recovery time.
If you allow too much stimulation and too lousy replenishment, you run the risk of chronic illnesses (as many sensitive types have learned the hard way). At the same time, if you overprotect yourself, your genius goes unexpressed, and that also can lead to stress and ill health.
Successful sensitive types practice habits that truly nourish them. If you struggle with energy or well-being issues, prioritize habits that nurture these areas of your life (such as more sleep and alone time), and limit those that over-stimulate or drain you (such as too many high pressures activities — even if they are so-called healthy).
10. Stop smothering your sensitivity.
After a lifetime of being bombarded by stimuli, it becomes second nature to push sensitivity out of the conscious awareness. Tuning out from relentless sensations, for example, so you can pretend you don’t give a darn. Toning down intense feelings (good and bad) so you aren’t on a roller coaster. Suppressing emotions to get a break from feeling anything at all.
This self-protective mechanism might fool your conscious mind, but it doesn’t fool your sensitive body. This oozes into your health, your relationships, your career, every aspect of your life … or, it builds tension inside until something has to give.
Successful sensitive types let go of the grasp for control. When you free the energy used to hold yourself tight, you free the gifts of sensitivity that have been lost to you: empathy, creativity, and heightened joy, to name a few. And you allow your true potential to blossom.
As you’re working through the tips above, keep in mind that the key to thriving as a highly sensitive person, more than anything else, is to recognize that it’s perfectly OK to be sensitive — with its challenges and strengths.
Use your deep-thinking mind to recognize hidden understandings, and deliberately refocus on positivity and possibilities.
Use your deep-feeling body to tune in your emotions and sensations, and stay within your optimal range of arousal as often as possible.
Use your heightened awareness to dance to whatever beat you darn well please, even if that seems odd to a lot of people.
Because somewhere, others are dancing with you.
What are you sensitive about? What’s something you do that helps you thrive as a sensitive person? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts and insights.
Photo by: Ben Raynal
Troy S. says
Sensory Processing Sensitivity. Right. Which I believe is common in introverts. It is a good reason for introverts to avoid caffeine. As we are already often in deep thought within ourselves, processing multi projects at once, to add stimulants can drive us to a breaking point. I find myself easily ‘snapping’ at someone when I am overstimulated.
thanks for sharing these tips with us. Good stuff.
Mely Brown says
Hi Troy. I’m not sure what percentage of introverts are HSP, but Dr Elaine Aron estimates that 70% or more of HSPs are introverts. Much more common than extravert HSP. Caffeine is definitely one of the things that our bodies can be sensitive to. But even if not highly sensitive to caffeine per se, it’s like you said, it might be yet one more thing to overstimulate our already-stimulated nervous systems and send us past breaking point. (Then after snapping, many of us spend even more energy feeling bad about that!). Thanks for posting.
I am trying not to miss diognose myself. I have become evermore keenly aware how much more sensitive I am. Whether it be annoying sounds or an overload if critisim,” that rages me over board.” I will admit I am somewhat scared. Mostly, because of the wall of isolation that is built. I use my anger to shut out peip!e who do not understand my sensitivity. It is compounded by my sexual orientation. That fact that I am a man with a lot of bravado but has the sensitivity of a flower. I draw, create, write, pray, work, work out, and sex. All in a days time. At the end of the day. All it takes us an insensitive comment . Or someone saying can you just disconnect from your feelings. At that point I an crushed. I revolt, easily angered (which I hate), and cut those off or out that I love. I am in a 12 step program. I’m scared. What can be done?
Hi. I can relate to what you describe. Have you checked if you might have BPD like me? Borderline Personality Disorder. Google it. And keep searching and loving and do try yoga too. It helps.
Hi Troy. I have to say I disagree with your introvert analysis as I am an extrovert and highly sensitive. My father tells me almost every other day I need therapy because I think too much and I am too sensitive because as an extrovert I easily and readily vocalize my thoughts and feelings. My father is very abusive so it is especially difficult to cope with him as a result I am now realizing it is abuse versus being in a constant state of paranoia. I often wonder: if he wasn’t so overly critical of me would I still then be overly sensitive? Currently I am caring for my mother who is dying from ALS and here is where my HSP aids me in being a good care giver because I find all I have to do is look at her or other patients in the hospital and I know whether or not she/they are uncomfortable often better than the nurses do and I know what to do to make her body more comfortable. This is especially important as she is losing the ability to communicate. Like many I have spent many years wondering what is wrong with me. I don’t have issues with caffeine or noise. I am energized by crowds and celebration and as an extrovert I like being with people it energizes me. Where it all falls apart as I soon discover is I will come across someone who is overly insensitive and enjoys antagonizing me because I am sensitive. Mainly this occurs I think because as an extrovert, I vocalise all of my fears and concerns to anyone willing to listen which has often put me in very vulnerable positions in the eyes others who don’t understand me or are predatory sociopaths
Stephen Frost says
Beautiful advice, I had issues for much of my life due to my sensitivity, something many found strange in a man. What you say about going easy on yourself, stopping the search for someone to fix you and finding the positive in things are all things that massively helped me. These are things which came to me only after I was nearly 30 when I did my NLP training, had I been better equipped earlier in life things would likely have been much easier.
That said, having discovered NLP, ho’oponopono and meditation I have become able to sculpt my life into a far more joyful experience. All of which run nicely in-line with the suggestions you have made in this post, great to see you sharing the opportunity for joy here Mely! Heaps of gratitude and blessings to you. POI.
Mely Brown says
Stephen, it’s fantastic that you’ve found ways that massively help you. I often wonder about the extra layers of complexity involved in being a sensitive man –obviously there are many experiences in common, but also the extra challenges with society’s perceptions. Dr Aron has said that sensitivity is something that becomes more noticeable as we get older, so you’re in wonderful place to use your mind-body skills going forward! I love the notion of sculpting one’s life – sculpting is a fantastic word. Thanks for sharing, and blessings to you.
I finally have a relatable term for “my problem”. I have spent relentless years trying to find the right diagnosis & medication for “my problem”. I will be doing more reading up on HSP, sensitivity & stimuli.
You had indicated that you stumbled across this term being in your 40’s. I, being 41, am wondering if you can relate with the possible coincidence of weight loss stall in conjunction with being over stimulated (caffeine & drug free). Overthinking = Stress which increases cortisol levels & decreases DHEA which both hinder weight loss. Which is my current dilemma.
Mely Brown says
Melissa, yes I can relate with that on both a personal and professional level. It’s not a coincidence – stress makes your pants tight, and physiological stress is caused by several factors, with thoughts/emotions/tension being a biggie.
I don’t think that ‘stopping overthinking’ is the answer; the sensitive mind is wired to consider all angles and it’s one of our gifts. Rather, it’s about deliberately choosing what you focus on and being tuned in to the subtle feelings triggered in your body.
If your body is chronically overstimulated and doesn’t feel safe, cortisol will keep you storing fat because it’s trying to help you last the distance of the famine or war it thinks is coming (even though logically you know the next meal isn’t far away). It’s helpful to focus on thoughts, self-kindness, deep breathing, gentle exercises etc that feel soothing and that make your body feel safe. It sounds counter-intuitive because we think if weight loss has stalled we need to exercise even harder or restrict our food even more, but that can put more stress on an already-overloaded system. If it hasn’t been working for you, try this approach instead.
And if you haven’t signed up to my ebook yet (in my author’s bio) definitely do so, I talk about this type of thing in my newsletter tips a LOT. 🙂
Thank you so much for this post it was only in the last couple years that I came upon this term and discovered that what I was experiencing had a name and that it was okay for me to be that way. Creating art has been a powerful way for me to relax and deal with being overstimulated. I have found this especially true when I am taking a class that drawing or crocheting help me to focus on what the teacher is saying and keep me from getting overwhelmed in the classroom setting also being very intentional about where I sit helps .
Mely Brown says
Laura, it’s fantastic that creating art is a way for you to reduce the overstimulation and relax. What a wonderful way to express your creativity and gifts.
You’re so right, it’s very powerful to put a name to the wide-ranging and seemingly-unconnected things we’re experiencing. For me, knowing how this all ties together was half the battle won. In fact, it made it less of a battle and more of a dance. Thanks for posting!
Thank you so much for this article. You exactly named how I feel every day. It is exhausting to be Sensory Processing Sensitive and feel everything so deeply. This helps me understand, and will help me figure things out to move forward. Thank you again.
Mely Brown says
Thanks Lynn, I’m glad it resonated and will help you replenish some energy and move forward! Blessings.
Wow! I really really needed to read that. Every single thing is me to a tee… I have in the past been diagnosed with depression but I honestly don’t think it is a “chemical imbalance”. Sometimes feeling sooooo much about people or things just gets beyond bearable.
I need to read more on these coping mechanisms! I am going tough times right now and I am basically turning into a shell of the person I was. I so do not want to go on drugs to stop me feeling.
Mely Brown says
Emma, yes, you raise a really interesting point. Dr. Elaine Aron is a psychotherapist as well as a researcher. She talks about the importance of checking in to see if it’s depression or anxiety that we’re currently feeling or if it’s simply that our nervous systems are under-stimulated or overstimulated. If it’s that the nervous system is outside of its optimal range of arousal, taking action (a coping mechanism, for example) to come back into the optimal range.
You know your own body better than anyone, so it’s definitely a good idea to check in so that you can be guided to the right types of help available. Wishing you well!
Thriving Wives says
We SO needed this today! Sometimes it feels like we are just letting everything get to us and not sure why that is, but after reading above, we are going to accept it, feel it and find the good.
Thank you and strive to thrive!
Mely Brown says
That’s awesome, Em! You’re absolutely right. Sometimes we get so bombarded by stimuli that it’s hard to know why things are getting to us. Slow down, notice it, feel it, and focus on the good. Keep thriving! 🙂
Just a simple thanks. A friend on Hello Sunday Morning (alcohol behaviour change social media site) directed me to this today. Your post describes the different facets of being highly sensitive in a way that shows you know what you’re talking about. And it has given me comfort today. I look forward to following your posts from here on. I would like to connect with others who identify as HSP, if you have any suggestions around this please let me know.
I grew up with an alcoholic father, fighting, beating, being abused. I had to swim or drown. I was the first women to graduate from high school in my family. I started college at age 42 yrs of age. I fought through all the shyness and the hurtful life experiences and became an extrovert, even though I hide the fact that I have to dig deep to be that. I love to talk, I loved my speech class in college, it gave me an outlet to tell my story and express my pain , and I love working with children with disabilities and the elderly. I am very sensitive! I really don’t know what or how I keep up because I have chronic insomnia, generalized anxiety disorder, and I see a therapist . I have MS. I just push, push my life to the utmost limits that I can, but I do put others before myself. I help my neighbor, who is elderly and I raise my special needs granddaughter who I stayed with, in the Duke university hospital for over a year and a half. She is my life and others like her who pave the way through science and technology to show mothers and dads of children who are told that their children will not live, to have hope and see light at the end of the tunnel. I, myself, though, feel like there is no more me left! No one is much there for me. I cry a lot and say it’s from a cold or pain. I have recently started telling my youngest daughter of whom is a nurse and understands because she is going through some of the same things.
Mely Brown says
Teresa, you’ve amazing achievements and I can hear what a giving person you are. It’s good you have your daughter and therapist to share with and support you. I totally resonate – I too grew up as a child of an alcoholic, and pushed hard with many of the perfect daughter behaviors to hide my sensitivity. Eventually I developed neurological health issues (which is how I came across the term HSP). But I turned my health around, by realizing just how important it is to soothe our nervous system with the same gentle compassion that we’re so good at showing others. Giving our energy to others and the world, but also being there for ourselves, making self-kindness and self-care a priority and deciding to feel good about that. It makes a huge difference for a sensitive neurology. I hope my sharing and my article help you in giving some of that enormous heart of yours back to yourself. It helps to have other sensitive people who understand you too. Blessings.
I wish I could have read this before my mother died. She always accused me of being too sensitive. I would have liked to have shown her this article. What she said to me did made me wonder if something was wrong with me. I did always think ” What is wrong with being a sensitive person? Isn’t that a good thing? I always tried to be sensitive to other peoples feelings and I did not appreciate insensitive, bossy, or mean people. Thanks for the article.
Mely Brown says
Donna, it’s awesome that even at a young age a part of you questioned the accusatory tones and you could see sensitivity as a good thing. Dr Elaine Aron has written a book called The Highly Sensitive Child. What a difference it could make if more parents read that and had a different understanding of sensitivity in their children. Thanks for sharing!
Thanks so much for the article. I can relate to so much of what you shared as I seem to be constantly over thinking and analyzing. I have tried to figure out “what is wrong” with me for too long. I especially struggle during the school year to maintain balance as I’m a teacher and don’t always handle the pressures or the many stressors well. I will look into the eBook and am also open to other resource suggestions. I’m going to “force” myself to go to bed to get a good nights sleep. Thanks again
Mely Brown says
Cindi, gosh yes, there’s a lot of stimuli going on during the school year! And deep thinking and constant analyzing are definitely high on the HSP radar. It can be exhausting. When you get the free ebook mentioned in my bio, I send out tips every 2-3 weeks and overwhelm or stressors are topics that come up a lot. There are plenty of sensitive-friendly ways to help take the pressure off and it’s great that you’re putting good night sleep into your self-care focus. Enjoy!
Cindi, I too am a teacher and our job seems to never be “done”. Add to that the constant over stimulating environment we work in. We are surrounded by so much stimuli, and on top of that, make multiple decisions every minute based on all that feedback our bodies pick up. After the kids go home, there’s still more to do. I stay and try to get things done, but usually I’m not as productive as my peers because my brain needs a break. I often do my planning and prep better on the weekend with a fresh mind. – Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was an HSP teacher group? Our jobs are so important, and being HSP is a gift to the students since we notice the little things they need. Yet being so in tune using our sensitivities, being in such an over stimulating environment, and giving of ourselves all day takes its toll. It would be nice to have other teachers to talk to who relate.
I do yoga to help me restore my balance as I work full time as an RN and am a single mother of 4 sons. I believe I have such low self esteem that I rely on the strangers I take care of, my patients, who are the only ones I truly feel any appreciation from. I know this is an illusion so I try not to focus on it and choose instead to be happy. I think I have abandonment issues as my parents divorced when I was 5 and my mother has always favored my little sister, an artistic soul like herself. (Older brother died) I have enabled countless men and am being taken advantage again ( a ‘sugar Mama’) one friend called me. The Universe keeps trying to teach me a lesson but I guess I haven’t learned it yet. Thanks for the article. It helps.
Mely Brown says
Leslie, I think it’s wonderful you feel the appreciation from your patients. That feeling is powerful, and the brain doesn’t know the difference between what’s real and what’s ‘illusion’ or vividly imagined so it’s a wonderful way to soothe, calm and energize yourself. Soak up those appreciation vibes and enjoy them! 🙂 It’s great too that you choose to be happy. I’m glad the article helps.
Your point that “seemingly healthy habits hit hard on a sensitive nervous system” rings true for me. My supervisor says, “Hit the gym at lunch time,” but to me the noise, the people, the windowless rooms, the music, the added pressure of showering and re-dressing to get back to work on time has way more costs than benefits. My daughter says, “Go to Meet-up social groups or on-line date,” but the energy required to make the plan, dress-up, make-up, find the venue, and make small talk sounds more draining than fulfilling.
Healthy habits for me include: taking online classes (I’m learning and interacting with others on my own schedule), spending a day in my apartment “protected” from the outside world, and taking care of my two-year-old grandson (yes, it requires energy, but the unconditional love I get back more than compensate).
I’m still trying to identify more healthy habits, otherwise I do get depressed and overwhelmed.
By the way, I’ve often said that too much noise, crowds, and stimulation gives me the sense my skin hurts; there’s a sense of being exposed to electricity; almost feels like my body is prickling. Have you ever heard HSP describe this sensation?
Mely Brown says
Hi Susan. I love how you consider cost vs. benefit, according to how it impacts you. That was something I learned the hard way! I particularly like how you weigh up the energy you spend vs. what you get back – either within the same activity or with a different activity following (like a quiet day at home).
It’s good to have a toolbox or shortlist of activities we enjoy that lift our energy or get us out more (when we’re understimulated and feeling bored or depressed) AND ones that soothe our energy or bring us in more (when we’re overstimulated and feeling overwhelmed or anxious). They don’t need to be big things; they can be simple pleasures that are effective at soothing or lifting us. In that way, you can choose the right activity in any given moment to bring you back into your range of balance.
Yes, I’ve heard many people talk about a sense of electricity prickling the skin from overstimulation. I get it occasionally when I’ve been overstimulated for too long and for me it’s a sign I need to take some quiet time out. But for some of my clients and friends, it’s a normal occurrence. So you’re definitely not alone in that. Thanks for posting!
That was beautiful, Angel. Thank you!
The most tricky part about having HSP qualities is approving of and appreciating yourself in the midst of the rest of society that behaves differently. It is as if people with HSP traits have to work twice as hard to pave a new path to themselves that works, while the rest flood the roads that have already been well-paved for them. It can be a struggle to find a place for yourself, a way to behave, and a way to approach others, yourself, and life, because it’s likely, very few if anybody in your life is a role model coming from the same place as you. But once the path is created, I have a feeling life would become very delicious.
As a HSP myself reading this I felt quite annoyed. It is not good advice at all, in fact I would be very suprised if it was written by someone who is highly sensitive. It really irked me.
Why would you say that on an HSP platform. Just to be contradictory? You gave no actual reasoning as to why you disliked it.
I feel like this article was written for me! Thank you Angel. Sometimes it’s hard being HSP but this helps a lot.
You are the best part of a smile! I hear with my heart, and feel with my eyes, the words you left for us “sensitive” types!
Jennifer Vaughn Wiseman says
First I would like to point out how well written and free of grammatical errors this piece and its responses are (please forgive me for ending that sentence with a preposition ?). I think it isn’t coincidental that highly sensitive people are meticulous about language.
I have a question – does anyone out there know of support groups for HSPs? Online or otherwise? I’ve lived in New York City for eight years and have an extremely, debilitatingly difficult time as an HSP (I’ve never been diagnosed, but I score off the charts according to the test). As anyone who’s spent any time here knows, it can be a hard and hateful place…not because everyone here is that way, but because with a population this huge there are bound to be plenty of mean-spirited people. Try as I do to place as much emphasis and value on the heart-warming encounters, I inevitably hold onto the negativity to a much greater degree and let it churn and fester inside of me. I avoid antagonistic people like the plague, and when I am the target of a nasty comment, I rarely say what I want to in the moment and instead spend days, weeks, months, even years coming up with retorts that would have been perfect (much like Meg Ryan’s character in You’ve Got Mail). Does anyone else have “anti-doormat syndrome,” as I call it, in addition to HSP? A feeling that you can only be a victim if you don’t stand up for yourself or win an argument? I would love to know if that’s a component of HSP or merely another layer of my own personality that makes it much harder to be highly sensitive.
Thanks so much in advance for any responses!
This is me exactly! I have always been told I am too sensitive and overthink things. I have always thought there is something wrong with me and try very hard to hide my feelings sometimes. I try to not be too emotional but sometimes it’s impossible to hide my emotions because that’s who I am. You put up these walls and push ppl away so you don’t have to feel overwhelmed with emotion. And you think you are crazy. Nice to know I am not the only one who feels like this. Thanks for posting this!
I am a 48 year old extroverted HSP with mild Tourettes. Curious if there is as correlation between Tourettes and HSP?
I have finally discovered the reasons I have struggled my entire life. I have always been told I am too sensitive. It has caused so many problems in my life. I have had so many problems due to my professional work in nursing homes. Has anyone else struggled in these environments? I feel at times like I am going crazy. I can’t figure out why I am in a position where others can’t see the problems. I have isolated myself from everyone including family, friends and potential life partners because I “pick up” such negativity. I have become so reclusive for protection, but I am so lonely. I welcome any suggestions.
I’m sorry you feel so isolated! I too have isolated myself from others due to this condition. Everyone has constantly told me that there is something wrong with me and I’ve believed them. Nobody understands where I am coming from. I question every decision I make and try to make everyone else happy. I sometimes think it would be better to be alone but I don’t want to be..
Jennifer: I feel for you. I have been a nurse for over 25 years. I loved being in charge and especially loved ER. However, I often felt “crazy” and overwhelmed with the people (mostly staff), noise, lights, phones, call bells, etc. I always preferred night shift or at least evening shift for that reason. When I am overwhelmed, I snap at people and am impatient with them. I found working in a nursing home even worse, as being so highly empathetic, I spent so much more time helping the aids and residents due to short staffing, then I couldn’t get my work done. I have finally found the perfect fit for me, I have a large region to cover and my patients are in their homes. Between patients, I get down time in my car, I am not in a loud and busy environment, and I am not constantly with my co-workers. Consider trying home health or hospice work.
I can relate to your article to such an extent that I actually considered writing a book entitled ‘too sensitive to be sucessful’ on the way home from work tonight. I am having a magnitude of struggles at work due to the fact that I am too sensitive. I work with extremely toxic and egotistical people and I have found myself crying in the car park most days as I feel like the only person who is so deeply affected by these two faced and inconsiderate exchanges. People tell me to toughen up all the time and not to let it get to me but no matter what I try I can’t seem to block out the emotions and hidden undertones of other people. In some ways I feel more intelligent as I feel more aware of underlying politics in the office however my ruminations are probably considered paranoid as opposed to educated. I love that I have found this article and hope to look into NLP before I silently lose my mind and resign. Thanks for the curious insight Mely and please keep writing.
Thank you so much for this very validating post. You show such a depth of understanding and give such fantastic advice; I really appreciate it. And the quote at the beginning is so beautiful! Thank you!
Thank you so much for the article. I am also mid 40’s and have heard my whole life – how I should change, be tougher.
My sister and mother used to say that I “need help” and that I have issues.
I have been to many life coaches and psychologists – some of whom said I should start doing charity work or that I should start setting boundaries and not care what people think.
Most of them prescribed anti-depressants and mood stabilizers, which I am still on.
This was great for a while, I did care less, stopped caring what people think. I also stopped helping and listening to people’s problems.
That is also a great tool, but now I tend to avoid any human contact, just keep my eyes on the ground when I walk and not interact with anyone. People share their problems so easily and it just saddens me sometimes so much. Especially when people I care about hurt.
Then off course I get overwhelmed, snap at everyone and spend days spiraling, feeling so bad for being mean.
Oh my word I do sound psychotic!
I just have no clue who I am – I am trying so hard to change and just be normal.
This article helps. Thank you.
For years I wondered what was wrong with me. I’m 47, and now suffer from chronic migraines that are treated with botox injections in my scalp, neck and shoulder muscles, plus I’m on muscle relaxers. I have high blood pressure-I was obese, but recently lost 60lbs but still have no energy- I’m not sure why, but I’m so thankful to finaIly understand scientifically why I am like I am both physically and emotionally! I was adopted, and grew up in a very secure and loving home. I always thought my being different was because I was adopted and the emotional stuff stemmed from some deep issue with my birth mother and/or being in foster care before adoption. My adoptive parents weren’t stifling, but I remember a couple of.times being told to stop crying, but in general it was my own observations that made me realize I was different when it came to crying and laughing, etc. I didn’t understand why others weren’t moved as intensely at movies, or stories. Why others didn’t notice things I thought were obvious- sounds, smells, tastes, temperature changes, lighting differences etc. Anyway recently I’ve been feeling overwhelmed due to some life events . I found myself attacked by some particular bullies , (this has been a weird theme in the past 10 years, and one reason my daughter has lost respect for me I think) seemingly unable to do anything about it. My daughter, 18, who I believe is also a HSP, has teamed up with these bullies and embraced them as family . I believe she sees them as strong and me as weak (I’ve been weak :'( It’s a long terrible story – I’m devastated! However if this had not occured I would not have stumbled on to this and finally discovered what is “wrong ” with me. My 9 year old son I believe is HSP also. I don’t want to parent him wrong too! I messed up with my daughter in many ways because I don’t know how to manage me. I do stand up to these people who have attacked me, I stand up for the weak , I’m not afraid to do that. But for some reason these particular people in my life, I call them bullies, have no respect for my authority, zero. And when researching, I’ve noticed how they would accuse me of something they were actually doing. I don’t know how to handle people like that because they don’t play by the same rules. Sorry to go on so long. I’ve been down. I hope I can finally find a way to become the person I was meant to be. Both my children are amazing. So insightful, intelligent, empathetic, I don’t want to damage them, or lay them prey for others to. Can you help? Missy Fisk-Wolfe
Carol Offord says
Thank you for the wonderful article .The understanding and compassion shown is very comforting .I have been an hsp all of my life and struggled through all sorts of difficulties. My biggest challenge now is working through the grief from loosing my 43years old son ,just over a year ago .I have feared for my sanity at times .I have discovered Mindfullness and find it very soothing and helpful.Sending love and compassion to my fellow sufferers out there .Its good not to feel so alone . X x x
These are common experiences with Asperger’s/ASD. Anyone reading this that feels like it resonates with them may benefit from looking into that.
I am so glad someone mentioned ASD. I was diagnosed with Aspergers and also a sensory processing disorder.. I relate so much to the ‘highly sensitive person’, I wonder..
Thank You so much for this post! The kind of pain and anxiety I feel is sometimes just overwhelming. I am always on the defensive and though, I enjoy humor, I do take things a little too seriously.
I recently realized that I was an HSP (since childhood I remember feeling a little odd) but thought I was making excuses for my overly sensitive behavior. I have found some great people now, but still need to learn to let go of people who react harshly. I am ranting I guess, but your post has really moved me. Thank you @Mely Brown! And Thank You Angel for posting this! 🙂
julio javier rodriguez says
Thank You, Thank You, Thank You!!! I feel that i realese such a heavy burden. Thank You!!!!
Alix Gorshow says
I can’t thank you enough for this post.
I found this at about 1 a.m. last night after I had experienced an emotional whirlwind, for the billionth time. I was exhausted, overwhelmed, ashamed by emotions and wanted nothing more than to learn how to change who I am. I’ve always known I experienced emotion on a deeper level, but you’re article opened my eyes to why and how I can take control.
I relate to every word in this post. Thank you, a million times thank you….and I’m sure my boyfriend will thank you too 🙂
Thanks for the article. It feels reassuring to know that there are others who are like me. I find that its a trait that goes hand in hand with intuition; for some reason when I’m not suppressing feelings and i just let myself feel a lot i tend to read people and situations better therefore making more sound decisions. It’s hard tho i feel like its too much sometimes
Just someone says
Wow, thank you so much for this article, I really cannot thank you enough. For years I have thought I had depression, anxiety, a lack of something. I have tried all sorts. I formed a barrier not to get too close to anyone and not trusting anyone at the same time. I always have felt different. When reading these comments, tears came pouring down my eyes as I feel sorry for the people that are fighting this struggle in understanding and trying to get answers as I have been in similar boats. I have tried talking to strangers, being in not so serious and serious relationships but then getting too close and then being “broken” due to the other person not understanding even though I will go out my way to make them happy and listen to them and do what ever it takes to make it work but in the end I get hurt in more ways than one. It is a lack of understanding, over thinking that plays a part which plays with your head, gets you down. I seem to be getting there by taking deep breaths and saying to myself everything will be OK, life is short, enjoy and be good while it lasts. You will meet people that are not like you but you can have a positive impact on there life even if they are eventually bad to you as well as meeting people like minded. It’s life. I am a male carer, some may find that strange however, the appreciation that I get from my clients is the most satisfying feeling ever, a lot more rewarding than money. I also feel accepted and not judged. I care so much I sometimes think it’s a bad thing because people are evil, why be so good. I tend to over think and over think and go to deep in situations where others can do just like that. My head spins round an round to find the best possible outcome, what I have found out is life is unpredictable and some situations are out of our control however, the thoughts are in our head and we DO have control over them, think positive, be positive. It is such a simple word “positive” yet so hard to do but I found that practising it helps me a lot. Sorry if I have gone on a bit but I hope it helps someone out there like this article and comments helped me. I was in two minds in writing this as I thought how would people take it but if it helps it helps.
All them best, STAY POSITIVE… 🙂
I just stumbled onto this article after my 1 millionth ‘what’s wrong with me’ Google search. I’m aware of the HSP, and can say with complete confidence that it fits me to a T. This article was absolutely helpful and something worth holding onto, for future reference- for the bad… or good… or amazing… or terrible… or boring times. 🙂 Thank you, thank you, THANK you!
I really appreciate this article. On many levels it is helpful. It reminds me that I am not alone when I often feel that way. For me a big challenge is being a natural extrovert. I know this is not as common, and it definitely adds another layer to being an HSP. I want to be a part of ‘the group’, yet I often feel so different and sometimes I just can’t keep up. What my heart wants and, my body can do, don’t match. I’ll make plans, looking so forward to spending time out with friends, only to reach the date and be so overstimulated from my week of work that going out feels impossible. It’s in extroverts nightmare. Yet, there is no way to predict, when making the plans, that I would feel this way when the date arrives . At work, I find that being sensitive and a deep thinker leads me to identifying obstacles or seeing a bigger picture that others don’t see. As an extrovert, naturally share these roadblocks, which are usually not seen by others until months later. It’s hard to be a team player when the group chooses to follow a path that I realize will lead to a dead-end, and because I’m on the team, I have to take that route or be considered not a team player. As an extrovert, it’s natural to want to be with the team and not be working alone. I wish there was more information published about the challenges extroverts face as HSP, as well as HSP support groups based on specific careers/introvert/extrovert/etc . What you have written is spot on for me. Thank you so much for your time and research in putting this together.
Thank you for this article, I agree with all of it and this resonates with me. I’ve had several serious illnesses including breast cancer and I believe it has all get caused by the stress of suppressing myself. I have support from a wonderful Church where many understand me and at last I feel I can now offer my empathising skills to help others. Thank you again. I am 58 years old now and a Grandmother.
Thank u so much for the article,I feel much better knowing that this is normal as i’ve been called names and too sensitive to a point I thought something was/is wrong with me and I tried commuting suicide 3 times fortunately survived . No one understands me and trying to fit in is the most frustrating thing ever,i never been happy always confused and trying to figure out why am I different. I now work in a very stressful environment as a Sales Executive and I always feel drained. My boyfriend and I always fight and argue, he always says I overreact, over think too much and I’m too sensitive. I try not to but can’t help me. That’s just who i am!
Thank you for a great article. When I was younger I would and sometimes to this day feel so out of place with the main stream. I was happy to learn that I am not alone. I never believed in drugs or medications and I am very greatful for that. But often it is hard and tiresome to feel energy so deeply and it drags me down often. Control is my crotch and hiding tool. I am working on given that up slowly. It is hard to walk in to a room and feel the negative energy in there but to hear the lies out of people’s mouths trying to cover it up. But on the other side it is good to walk into a place with positive energy and being able to soak it up what many other people can’t do. I wish sometime I wasn’t so highly sensitive but on the other hand I am glad that I am and that I can experience the wonderful energy that other people can’t. It is never easy and often a struggle to be different, I am gay and HSP. That’s why it is good good to know not to alone and to think positive. It’s all about Ying and Yang and Karma.
I am a rare hsp extrovert. I also am the one to have no boundaries and let everyone’s emotions, energy, and needs take from me when they need it. At 29, I am finally seeing the results of years of no boundaries and giving my whole self away to heal others. It is easy to know you need to create boundaries, but when someone is in need, its almost impossible for someone like me to say no.
Wow! This was so helpful. Thank you! I am just learning about HSP and feel like a weight is lifted reading this. I have struggled my whole life with trying to figure out what is “wrong” with me and attempting to find every which way to fix it. Each of your tips described an aspect of my struggle to a T. It is so refreshing to know that others experience this, get it, and have successfully learned how to live and love themselves right where they are at. Lookin gforward to receiving future articles. Many Blessings.
I’ve noticed I’m a highly sensitive person after I broke up with my first girlfriend. She’s a great person, and I truly loved her — romantically and platonically — but I feel and experience life deeper than she does. It wasn’t the fact we argued that we broke up, but the emotions that I felt towards her and the life I lived over stimulated me to the point of a nervous breakdown. She noticed I was acting meaner and becoming more withdrawn and despondent, so she concluded I wasn’t ready for one. She got back with me the next day, but I still felt overstimulated. So I broke up with her saying I wasn’t ready for one. It hurt me deeply, but not her at least nit as much as me.
I didn’t want to make anyone feel depressed, but reading this article helped me understand better who I am and my needs and character traits. I shouldn’t be ashamed of who I am, and I can find a lasting life just being myself and “following your heart,” as my ex would say. It’s just that next time I go into a relationship I know what I need to thrive in it so I won’t feel overstimulated.
Wow. After riding my bicycle around in circles tonight not knowing why or where I was going for hours, I’ve come home and typed in ‘why am I so sensitive’ on a Google search and this article popped up. Needless to say tears streamed down my face…I couldn’t stop the flood! After being in a painful slump all day for feeling guilty and annoyed at myself for letting a seemingly innocent comment from my other half get to me today, I’ve only just snapped out if it…Over 8 hours later. On first impressions anybody would tell you I’m the most positive person, great energy and fun to be around…As those environments, whether it be the gym, the park, a night out are positive places and I feed off of that energy. Yet when the environment is negative, boring or hostile it really affects me , more than most people I know. If I comment on the situation whoever I am with doesn’t even seem to notice? Or acknowledge that I care!
I’m pretty good at reading people and intuitive in most situations. I’ll pick up on people’s emotions before they even realize sometimes and I’ll spend days almost obsessing hoping they’re OK. Even more so if I feel like I’m the one to blame for any negative energy.
After an episode I will slump into my own thoughts, round and round they go…driving myself deeper and deeper into the slump yet I’m telling myself again and again if I just laughed like normal, pulled a silly face or danced my quirky dance it will all go away, peace and happiness will be restored. Then comes the guilt. What if I’ve upset someone? Offended someone? Neglected someone? If they see me laughing or having fun I might make it worse, or they’ll think I’m not sorry or genuine.
My head hurts daily from all the processing! The older I seem to get, the more I think and will break down crying for anything good or bad…happy films I’ve seen a billion times I will guarantee I’ll cry before the start credits are up! It’s ridiculous really but so comforting there’s a name and better still, am explanation for what we are experiencing.
I’ve definitely always felt a little off. Away from the norm but at the same time I’ve never wanted to force myself to fit in properly either! I love being accepted when I’m the happy-go-lucky sun is always shining individual and usually that’s when I’m surrounded by people I love…The more people the better I feel. However I’ve never known how to deal with this covert side of my personality that very few people in my life witness and I feel even worse for that!!
I guess I’m trying to say a very long winded thank you for opening my eyes to more than what’s black and white. We’re obviously in tune with something much deeper, much more beautiful, like a rainbow. I don’t want to live like the bland colours and columns of a newspaper anymore. I want to relish in the freedom, creativity and colour of our skies.
I won’t hide from it again and will save this to reflect upon should I ever need it, thank you!! Xx
Thank you for the article. There is no doubt that this is something I have struggled with all my life. I found this article whilst trying to find help with my Fibromyalgia. I can’t help but think they are somehow connected. My suspicions are that Fibromyalgia is just an instance where being HSP has gone that far that is begins affecting you in a bad way physically. I don’t have any way to prove this though.
Thank you so much for this article. I’ve never read anything so relatable in my life. I could recognize myself in all of the points.
After years of trying to figure out what on earth was wrong with me (I was 100% positive that this had to be the case, because why else was I so confused all the time?), my mom took my to a coach and she told me nothing was wrong with me and I was highly sensitive. However, after that talk I kind of forgot about it and neglected it for the years to come.
But now after a few days of not being able to cope with the stress anymore I typed highly sensitive in Google and this came up.
I had to stop reading like 3 times because I was crying. Then I started laughing because I realized that I don’t have to change! That there are ways I can use this to my advantage.
This explains why a nice mandela can make my entire day.
This explains why I was stressed out for three days after my professor told me all my ideas were wrong in the most straightforward manner possible.
This explains why I kept shutting the laptop while watching a violent movie in the train, so people walking by wouldn’t see violence if they didn’t want it.
This explains why I came home crying after watching “the ugly duckling” at school when I was 6, because everybody was laughing at the duck and I was like: “why does nobody have empathy??”
And there are countless other examples.
Thank you so much for writing this
I cannot tell you how many times as a child I was told to “toughen up” by a parent. For the longest time, I thought there was something wrong with me or that I was slowly losing my mind. It is so encouraging to find that at least I’m not alone. I’ve always known I was different and I’ve always felt out-of-sync or something. I believe my child is this way, too. If I do not not spend many hours alone during the wee with my instruments (piano and violin) I seem to have a kind of breakdown. It’s a “disengage” tactic. In the past I tried to “self-medicate” to cushion myself. Ever heard any of this from others?
Andrew Weber says
Wow. Finally! 30 year old male here, and FINALLY I have an idea why I can’t connect to most men. They just don’t “get” it, when I make some statement that is rational to me. Or they give you a blank look. And I’m like hello, is anyone home there? Are you EVEN thinking? Then I’m like what’s wrong with me or what? Thanks for a well written post!!!
I am too sensitive about my environment.
My conscious seems getting affected by minute observatory thing which a normal person would avoid.
Even if someone yells at someone else, that sound seems to bother me. I mostly avoid telling people what is bothering me about them and try to resolve things in my mind only as far as possible.
I think a lot before confronting any issue in front of someone or most of the time put is out vaguely. Too much hanging out drains me and demands a long recharge time.
Thank you for writing on this topic. I found it much relatable to me.
I’ve spent my entire life looking for answers for the way I feel/am and how I can fix myself. I have always felt flawed, and have done everything under the sun to “fix” myself. But reading this article hit me hard and has finally made me realise that I’m not flawed, I just need to embrace my sensitivity and work with it, not fight it. Thank you for writing this. It’s truly amazing. I’m going to use this as a reminder every single day.