An Email from a new subscriber says:
I read for the first time in my life of 70 years about the truthfulness of the highly sensitive person!
Most of my life I felt my sensitivity was a negative part of my being, a result of “taking things too personally.”
What joy, freedom, and affirmation I feel in who I truly am!
Even as I reach for a Kleenex, I smile. Although it’s been five years, I recall my own joy, freedom, and affirmation upon discovering that being a Highly Sensitive Person is a thing.
I first learned about HSPs while reading Chapter 6 of Susan Cain’s book Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. I immediately ordered—and devoured—Elaine Aron’s foundational book The Highly Sensitive Person.
After forty-five years of wondering What on earth is wrong with me? discovering that I’m a Highly Sensitive Person changed everything.
I know now that I’m different, not defective.
What It Means to Be Highly Sensitive
Over the last five years, there’s been an increase in public awareness of what it means to be a Highly Sensitive Person. Popular resources include:
- Oprah (2013) — “Am I Too Sensitive? Highly Sensitive Person Quiz”
- Modern Mrs. Darcy (2014) — “Let’s Talk About Highly Sensitive People“
- Huffington Post (2014) — “16 Habits of Highly Sensitive People” (160,000+ shares!)
- Holley Gerth (2014) — “There’s Something You Should Know About Me”
- Forbes (2016) — “9 Signs You’re a Highly Sensitive Person“
- Introvert, Dear (2016) — “12 Things a Highly Sensitive Person Needs to Thrive”
- Psychology Today (2017) — “Are You a Highly Sensitive Person? Should You Change?“
- BuzzFeed (2017) — “If You’ve Done 21/31 of These Things, You’re Highly Sensitive”
- Medium (2018) — “How to Thrive as a Highly Sensitive Person“
Although sensitivity researcher Elaine Aron‘s books were originally published 15-20 years ago, Amazon rankings show them to be consistently (and increasingly) popular purchases:
- The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You
- The Highly Sensitive Person In Love: Understanding and Managing Relationships When the World Overwhelms You
- The Highly Sensitive Child: Helping Our Children Thrive When The World Overwhelms Them
What Highly Sensitive People Wish Others Knew
Last week, I asked the members of our private Facebook group, “What’s one thing you wish people understood about HSPs?”
Here are the Top 10 things they had to say.
1) The fact that we’re “sensitive” does not mean we’re “weak”.
While building the Sensitive and Strong website, I brainstormed dozens of belief statements. My drop-the-mic moment came as I wrote the words “I believe that sensitive is another word for strong.”
The ultimate role model for every HSP is Jesus, our sensitive savior, who was anything but weak.
2) It’s not our fault that we’re Highly Sensitive.
We’re not “making this all up” … nor is it “all in our heads.”
20% of the population is biologically wired this way. And in my experience, this number is considerably higher in the church, as HSPs tend to be spiritually sensitive.
Being highly sensitive is actually in our genes.
3) Our sensitivity is not a fault that needs fixing.
HSPs are typically treated as if our sensitivity is a fault that needs to be teased, bullied, or beaten out of us.
Fact is, we don’t need to be healed or changed or fixed.
We need what every person needs: understanding, love, and acceptance.
4) Being HSP does not automatically mean “drama queen”.
Or “cry baby”.
Or “basket case”.
Sensitivity and over-reactivity are two different things.
5) We feel everything deeply.
“Suck it up” and “just get over it” are foreign concepts for most HSPs. We’re not stubbornly resisting sage advice; we truly have no clue how to do either one.
Empathizing is automatic for us, which means that we’re not just processing our own emotions; we’re also absorbing the emotions of everyone around us.
(If this sounds exhausting? It is. See #6.)
6) We need time—sometimes a long time—to process.
Because of the massive amounts of subtle information we’re constantly picking up from the environment and people around us, we need time to process.
Introverted HSPs may prefer to process alone (which can lead others to label us “stuck up” or “stand-off-ish”).
Extraverted HSPs may be verbal processors who seek someone to serve as a sounding board (which can lead to accusations of “over-thinking” or being “stuck in your head”).
Either way, it’s a defining characteristic of Highly Sensitive People to be deep processors.
7) We can be easily overwhelmed by sudden changes and new situations.
There’s a very fine line between exciting and anxiety-provoking for most HSPs. No matter how well-intentioned, admonitions to
- “lighten up”
- “be more flexible”
- “live a little”
generally cause more harm than good.
We HSPs need to learn to “carry our own jam jars” and develop our own go-to practices for self-soothing and self-care.
8) We need to avoid over-stimulation. When it’s unavoidable, we need “down time.”
When we withdraw, it’s not personal. We just need to retreat into quiet solitude for a little while so that we can return with renewed energy.
It’s vital that HSPs learn how to consistently protect our energy and how to regularly recharge when it’s been depleted.
9) We thrive in safe spaces.
Research shows that HSPs fare far worse than most people in “non-nourishing environments.” But on the flip side, we thrive more than most in “nurturing environments.”
This is why HSPs do well to create sanctuaries at home and at work. Spaces where we control the lighting, the textures, the temperature, the sights, smells, and sounds.
10) Our sensitivity is our God-given super-power.
HSPs bring a multitude of positive traits to their relationships, such as
And we recognize that Jesus is the strength of every tender heart.
- If you’re an HSP, what would you add to this list?
- If you’re not an HSP, what question(s) do you have about HSPs?