Are you ready to lose that overwhelming sense that “something must be wrong with me” and learn, instead, to embrace this HSP gift God’s given you? The Sensitive & Strong Community Cafe is open to new members now!
In this video interview (with full transcript below),
my good friend Cheri Parker Fletcher and I discuss all things HSP!
I am Cheri Fletcher, and this is Your Spiritual Game Plan.
Change. It’s something that happens to all of us. You’ve invested your time and energy into an important role, sometimes for years, and then suddenly, it’s time for you to move on. Maybe you’ve worked hard on a dream and now your path is taking a new turn, but that dream isn’t going with you. Perhaps you’ve raised your kids and they’ve moved on, but now your empty nest is filled with parent care. Or maybe you’re in the middle of diaper changes and laundry piles. If you find yourself asking questions like “Where do I fit in anymore?” “Am I even relevant?” “How do I find my purpose now?” – you are in the right place.
This is the show for women in a season of transition. I believe that while your roles in life will change, your purpose is eternal. I’m here to help you understand just how intentionally you were made by a Creator with a game plan. Together, we’ll discover ways to help you unlock the purpose God’s placed in you, develop a game plan for your life’s calling, and embrace the intentional masterpiece you were created to be.
Do you struggle to tune out background noise? Perhaps you’re bothered by bright lights. Maybe you’re quick to notice the details others miss, or you need a little bit more time to process events. Do you feel emotions deep, and often hear people say you’re just too sensitive? What if you learned you’re not too sensitive? What if your sensitivity is part of your design and comes with corresponding strengths? One in five people are HSPs: highly sensitive persons with a genetic trait of sensory sensitivity. As an HSP, you are not fragile or frail. You can be a strong friend in relationships, strong partner in business, and a strong member of your community.
When my guest Cheri Gregory first told me that she thought I was an HSP, I corrected her. No, I am not a highly sappy – I mean, I am not a highly sensitive person. I did not know anything about an HSP. But what I thought that it meant was being weaker emotionally. Being really sappy. I took the test and to my horror, I scored high. Cheri Gregory could not understand that the same discovery that gave her such freedom would not do the same for me.
In this episode, Cheri Gregory and I discuss the reasons why there are usually two responses to discovering that one is an HSP. Cheri Gregory is the founder of Sensitive and Strong, the place for HSP Christian women to find community. She is the co-host of Grit’N’Grace podcast with Amy Carroll, the co-author of You Don’t Have T o Try So Hard and Overwhelmed with Kathi Lipp. She is a writing coach, and she runs a private cafe just for those who are sensitive and strong. I am so excited today because I am going to get to introduce you guys to not only a very good friend, but also my writing coach.
So welcome, Cheri to my show!
I’m so excited to be here. Thanks for having me, Cheri.
Yes, and so, Cheri Gregory, you are kind of a repeat guest. And I say that because in season one, you so generously helped me introduce my podcast by interviewing me on my own podcast.
That was fun.
Yes. And so today, I’m inviting my listeners into what you and I call the Cheri-tory. And that means that there’s two wonderful Cheris in one location at one time, and that is the Cheri-tory.
I would love it if you would tell my listeners about you, your family, and what has God been doing with your ministry this year.
Well, I suffer for Jesus on the central California coast. I live on a Christian boarding school, which you actually attended, as did my husband before I had met him. And so when I look out my dining room window, I literally see the Pacific Ocean. And that’s why I say I suffer for Jesus, it is just so incredibly beautiful here. So I teach – my husband teaches full time and is the praise and worship pastor here at Monterey Bay Academy. And then I teach the AP English literature and composition class.
And when I’m not doing that, I am coaching writers and speakers, and creatives and coaches, like you. And I just finished co-authoring my fifth book. So I’m excited to have that deadline behind me. And then I have the wonderful privilege of working where God has led my ministry over the last year especially has been very much towards Highly Sensitive Persons. And I get to facilitate the Sensitive and Strong Community Cafe and working on some e-courses at this point. I’ve been married for somewhere between 33 and 34 years to my college sweetheart, Daniel, and we have two adult kids. Annemarie just turned 30 and Jonathon’s 28.
Wow. So you’re an English teacher, not a math teacher.
I like math. But yeah, no, did the English teacher thing. But I don’t have a red pen behind my ear right now. So, you know, I’m off duty.
Oh good. I want to interview off duty.
So I like to ask a couple fun questions before we get started. And I’ve heard that you are known and loved as a question asker. You do ask the best questions that make many people stop and think. And that’s what’s awesome about having you as a coach. But you also ask questions that go against the tide sometimes.
Speaking of going against the tide, you have a story about “going against the tide” that I’d like you to share
Oh, my goodness, yes. Several years ago before, actually, while we were working on the book proposal for Exhale, Amy Carroll, who is the co-host of the Grit’N’Grace podcast, she came out to California from North Carolina to visit and we were busy working on our book proposal. And one day we were doing what we ended up dubbing the coffee and carbs tour of the central California coast. We just kept going places where there were pastries and bread and coffee. And so she finally said “Cheri, this is lovely, but maybe we should get some exercise.” So I was like, well, let’s go kayaking in the Elkhorn slough, which is down at moss landing about 20 miles away.
And so we just literally hopped in the car, and we went and we hopped into our little kayaks, and we started paddling and paddling and paddling and paddling. It was good to get the exercise, and evidently like a mile or two up we were going to see these seals and, and I don’t remember what. It’s going to be beautiful, and we’re going to take lots of pictures. And so we were paddling for what like felt like, I don’t know, 15-20 minutes, I was sure we were making progress. And then we suddenly stopped to catch our breath. And we have made no progress whatsoever. Like we literally for all of our effort, we’ve stood still. And as soon as we stop, we can just feel ourselves literally being pulled out into open ocean.
And I’m like what is going on? And Amy calls out to me because we’re in separate kayaks and she’s like, “I think the tide is going out.” And I was like, oh no. And the night before, literally, we had had an outdoor dinner down in Monterey. And we had been enjoying this gorgeous full moon. And it was unusually large. So it was one of these blue moons. And what we were experiencing was not only a tide going out, it was a king tide. Because of the position of the moon, all that kind of stuff. So yeah, that was that was one of those moments where enthusiasm won out over planning.
And we still laugh about it. I mean, we had a great time, we were literally paddling upstream and going nowhere very, very quickly. So we just, you know, we floated back into the Marina and paddled around and then finally went home and probably ate more carbs and had more coffee.
And I think – didn’t you actually use that experience in one of the devotions you’re writing?
Yes, that exact story went into the most recent book, that was the manuscript that just – I mean, if I’m gonna have a failure, might as well unpack it and put it put it out there for people to learn from, right?
So there’s one question I ask every guest, and that is:
Looking back on your life, how far back can you see the very purpose that you are living out today in who you have always been?
I can look back to – I was five years old when I went to have my first piano lesson. And I came home, it was – the teacher was just around the block, and it was back when it was safe to walk. So I came walking home as a little five year old with my little books in my hand, I went across the street, I grabbed my little neighbor, and I lead her over to my house, and I sat her down at the piano bench, and I put my books in front of her. And I taught her the same lesson I had just been taught. And I gave her an assignment. And I sent her home with instructions to practice every single day. And she did. And so every single lesson I had, I would come home and drag Marian Pritchard over and teach it to her.
And then when I was in fourth grade, my brother got kicked out of his bedroom, because he didn’t keep it clean enough. And so my mom moved all of his furniture out into the garage, and he lived in the garage for a summer. That’s a whole different story. And let me takeover his empty bedroom. And so of course, what else would I do other than fill it with student desks and a chalkboard? And my mom took me to a school supply store. And I spent the summer teaching school to my little neighborhood friends.
And then in eighth grade, I didn’t like the eighth grade class that I was supposed to be a part of, because – for a variety of reasons. And so I started teaching Vacation Bible School, and I started teaching the fourth grade kids class. And then I got to college, and I called my dad and I’m like, I don’t know what I’m supposed to be when I grow up. I don’t know what to do with my life. And my dad was very wise. And he just encouraged me to listen for the Holy Spirit.
And somewhere in there, I think it was my junior year – no, it was my sophomore year, sophomore year of college; the English department got a phone call. The local Academy there needed a substitute teacher to cover some English classes. And so because the teacher was going to go help her daughter who was having a baby, they tapped me and my schedule happened to be open. So I could go and substitute teach. And it was literally within the first 15 minutes of being in that classroom, which was not mine, with a curriculum that I knew nothing about, with students that I didn’t even know their names that I went, oh, I think I know what I’m going to do with the rest of my life.
So yeah, teaching’s in my blood, it’s in my DNA. And when I look back, I realized it’s pretty much all I’ve ever done, starting with that very first piano lesson. But it was just so funny that I got to college and had no idea what I was supposed to do with my life.
And that’s when you listen to people talk. And even, you know, high school students or youth today, they say that, “I don’t know what to do, I don’t know my purpose,” while they’re actually doing it. Listening to those moments, and I hope that people listening, you know, take a moment to think about that in their own lives. So like you mentioned, your current ministry that you are doing is working with the highly sensitive person known as HSP. And I remember that – I know exactly when you were sharing this ministry idea and how God was leading and directing you, in regards to others with HSP. And you were sharing with me what an HSP was, and you know, what was running through my head? I’m thinking, well, you know, I’m glad that Cheri Gregory will be able to help those sensitive people. I’m not one of them. But I know that there are plenty of them out there for her to help. And so we were spending this weekend together. And by the end of the weekend, you had the nerve to tell me that you thought I was an HSP. And we were Starbucks and I just wanted to spit my coffee out right there.
That would have been funny.
So if anyone listening knows me well, you’re probably thinking ‘Cheri Fletcher is not an overly sappy – I mean, excuse me, an overly sensitive. No, that’s not Cheri Fletcher.’ But I do love you and I graciously took your quiz. And well, here we are today. And I would say that I might be one of if not the poster child for your HSP people.
I would love it if you would share your side of the story I just told.
Well, you know, I love this story so much, because, you know, I spent that whole weekend with you thinking ‘She is so strong and so powerful and so outspoken and so determined.’ And you know, we kind of had some conversation about how, you know, one of the roles or identities you’ve had is steamroller, and I’m like, no, she can’t be an HSP.
And then I remembered I spoke for a women’s pastors council in England a number of years ago, and there were two women that I met in the elevator before my Friday night talk. And I remember how intimidated – I’m going to say they made me feel, but it wasn’t them. Of course, it was me feeling intimidated because they looked so put together and so elegant. And then they sat in the front row expressionless during my entire message. And I was talking about how each one of us has a hurt little girl in our heart that we need to take to Jesus. And it was hard because like, I felt like certainly they were judging me the entire time. But I managed to give the message.
But you want to guess who the first two women were up to come talk to me afterwards, with tears rolling down their cheeks, there was them. And I realized, oh, so often the women that intimidate me the most turn out to be HSPs. And so that’s why I shoved my laptop across the Starbucks table at you and said ‘Maybe you should take this quiz.’ And here’s the thing I’m so grateful for is you actually helped me crack the code. Because for so long, there was a missing piece that I hadn’t understood. Like I had been meeting women who were like you, that were like, horrified with this word, sensitive, and they didn’t want to believe that being an HSP was a thing. And I couldn’t understand why this was a problem.
And so you started to describe what you thought was the highly sensitive person in your life. And you told me that this person dominated conversations, they complained incessantly, they insisted on everything being done their way, every topic turned around to being about them. They had constant meltdowns. They played the victim. And on and on and on. And I finally realized, oh, she thinks I’m describing a narcissist. Like that’s what you described to me, you described the family narcissist. And you were you would never, ever want to be perceived as a narcissist. And the nice thing is, by definition, if you care about being perceived as a narcissist, you probably aren’t one. And so that was a really important discovery. And I wrote I wrote a whole blog post about how narcissist and HSP are completely different concepts.
Now, I’m not saying that as HSPs don’t have our moments when we’re selfish. But we are definitely not narcissists. And it helped me understand – for the first time I understood the horror that some people have when they find out that they’re an HSP. Because they have this whole different perception of what it must mean.
Absolutely. That’s exactly what I thought. And so understanding that, and then understanding, which we’ll cover in a little bit here, what my HSP aspects, where I was like oh, wow.
So as an HSP, before you understood what it truly meant, you grew up being made to have to appear strong. Sensitive was a weakness. You had to be strong at all times, regardless of what was going on inside of you.
So how did God open your mind to the strength of what an HSP is, and your HSP qualities?
Well, the thing is, I had always admired people who were truly sensitive, but I didn’t consider myself sensitive, at least not in the way that I saw them. So on the one hand, I was drawn to them. And then I was also surrounded by people who considered sensitivity a weakness. I mean, I grew up, I grew up in a couple of different family cultures, where, you know, sensitive and weak would have been synonymous.
And so what I’ve come to understand is one of the most important and one of the most unexpected strengths of an HSP is actually their leadership style. And I’ve always been drawn to leadership, but always felt like I didn’t have what it took, because I thought the only definition of leadership was a charismatic leader. And so it was, as I’ve learned that there’s this entire, not just theory, but this entire practice known as being a servant leader. And servant leadership perfectly describes what HSPs come wired to do.
I’ll share just a few qualities of a servant leader here. So they exhibit humility, they live authentically, they accept others, they provide direction, they engage in stewardship, they develop and empower other people. And that sounded so appealing, as opposed to the much more in-your-face all-about-me center-spotlight type of leadership. And so understanding what being sensitive really means and the the strength of servant leadership. Of course, we need training, we need guidance. I’m not saying we are just naturally packaged to be perfect at anything. But we do have certain qualities that are actually part of our DNA that make us, how shall I say, prone to servant leadership. And that was when I discovered that that was good news.
Yeah. And that’s actually one of my love languages. And so that that really was helpful to learn. So I was lucky enough to be on the manuscript team for the book Sensitive and Strong that you wrote with Denise J. Hughes. But there were two dimensions to HSP. You wrote about one and she wrote about one in this book. You wrote from the perspective of someone who was elated to discover that HSP is a thing. And Denise writes from the perspective I first had, which is ‘What? No way. I don’t want to buy into this. I’m not like – I don’t want to be an HSP.’
So why did understanding these two perspectives help you relate to HSPs? And how can it help others relate to HSPs?
Yeah, you know, Sensitive and Strong, the book released in 2019, but I had the dream for it starting in 2012. When I read Susan Kane’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, and she has a whole chapter in that book on being highly sensitive. And it just like, opened my eyes, and she talked about Elaine Aaron and her book, The Highly Sensitive Person. I immediately bought that and I read it, and I became an instant HSP-evangelist. Because for me, learning that being an HSP is a thing was kind of like the end of those Disney movies where everything is grim and dark, and rainy, and dismal. And then suddenly, the sun comes out, and everything is in color, and the birds are chirping, and the butterflies are fluttering around. That is the impact that learning that I’m an HSP had for me.
And I assumed that was everybody else’s experience. And I was very resistant to the idea, like I just needed to – somehow they didn’t understand, and they really understood, then they’d be as happy as me. And so in 2013, I went to a couple of writers conferences, I signed with an agent who thought I had a great idea. There were a number of editors and publishers that were interested in my proposal. And then one by one, every single publishing house sent rejections. And I was devastated. I was like, What on earth? And what I didn’t know at the time, but I know now, is that sometimes rejection is actually God’s protection. I was nowhere near ready to write that book, because it would have been from just one perspective, it would have been so self-centered, because that was the only perspective.
Not only that, I knew, but it was the only perspective I thought was valid. And then over the next few years, God just kept bringing HSPs into my life. And you know, I’m not going to name names, but many of them were women who were in speaking ministries and writing books of their own. And we would just cross paths for no particular reason. And suddenly, I would discover, oh, they’re in my life right now. Because I need to share what being an HSP is all about. And every single one of them responded the way you did, and the way that Denise did, which is no, I can’t be an HSP.
And so in developing relationships with these women and discovering what it meant for them, and how different it was than my experience, it helped me understand there wasn’t just a different experience, but that their experience was 100% valid and needed to be represented in the book. It needed to be. There’s the HSP way, and the HSP no-way. And both of those are valid experiences. Not everybody has to be thrilled to be an HSP. It’s okay if they’d rather not talk about it, and rather not research at the way that I have.
Alright. Well, I think when I said no way it was because I had the perception that I did. And while you were talking, part of me was wondering, you know, different thing for you to look into:
How might each enneagram number accept being an HSP?
That’s a great question. I appreciate you bringing that up. Because some people think that maybe HSP is only one particular personality type. And the HSP is an overlay, no matter what personality system, whether it’s the four personality types, or the enneagram. Any personality, any enneagram type can also have that HSP overlay, it’s a genetic trait. It’s not a separate personality type. So that would be fascinating. And so I look forward to because I’m a research nerd, I look forward to researching them.
So I’m just curious – with your enneagram number, if you want to share it, great, if not, I would just wonder if that’s why it was a relief for you.
Oh, yeah. Well see, I’m a two. And so it made it it made it so I could be more effective in helping people. And so it allowed me to serve better to know that I’m an HSP. Because I kept tiring out. I kept burning out because I wasn’t caring for myself as an HSP. And so once I learned, wait, if I take better care of myself, I can serve better. That was wonderful. But I would imagine that for a seven finding out that you need to leave the party a little sooner or that you need a little bit more sleep or they have that probably wouldn’t be the best news in the world.
Yeah, because as a seven, understanding that now about myself, yeah, I understand why. And I’ll just skip to where I’m going with this, but why I’ll be in the middle of a party – love a good party, if there isn’t one, I’ll make one – but all of a sudden I’ll be like, I’ll hit a max. And so if people pay attention, they’ll see me taking the trash out in the middle of my own party. Going back to fold some clothes that just need to be folded or in the kitchen doing some dishes where I can remove myself from the continual stimulus and noises and whatnot. And but I used to think maybe something was wrong with me and that I was rude. So that was helpful.
So speaking of this and tying it all in, what are some of the different qualities of an HSP?
Yeah, the pioneer researcher in this field is Dr. Elaine Aaron. And she identified five defining qualities of a highly sensitive person. But the thing is, no two HSPs are alike. We each have our own unique constellation. And that’s part of what can make this so isolating. Kathi Lipp says it’s like being part of a secret society where nobody else knows who the members of it are, because we are so different.
So the first one is that HSPs need time to process. Don’t ask us to make instant decisions. Give us 24 to 48 hours. And again, each of us needs our own particular time. And then often we’ll need to think about something like if there’s a deep truth or something has happened on the news, we’ll take time to really reflect on it.
The second one is that HSPs, like you said, are easily overstimulated. And this is external stimuli through the five senses. And whether it’s sound, or sight, or smell, or taste, or touch, we perceive more than the average person, and it, it then gets our nervous system going into into overdrive.
The third one is that HSPs feel things intensely. And that’s at an emotional level. Sometimes we express it, sometimes we hold it in, but either way, we’re feeling it very intensely.
The fourth one is that HSPs are highly empathetic. We can walk into a room and have a sense of what others are feeling. We can often feel what somebody we care about is experiencing almost as if it’s happening to ourselves. Some of the research is that we have more mirror neurons, or that they are more active than most people, like for most people, their mirror neurons actually take time off, whereas ours are constantly on high alert.
And then the fifth thing is that HSPs notice nuances. We notice the little details that you know, just maybe go under the radar for others.
So – and the ones for me of those that are the two highest are needing time to process. You know, I’m constantly telling people, I am slow. And then someone, like my husband will be like, no, you’re not, you’re smart, you have a high IQ. And I’m like, I’m not talking about smarts, I’m talking about how long it takes me to process something. And to really understand, you know, sometimes I’ll have a gut sense of it, but it takes me time to process backwards to then be able to verbalize what that gut sense or that intuition is about.
And then for the longest time, the way my HSP qualities exhibited themselves was that I was highly overreactive to things. You know, I would have those crying meltdowns, I usually managed to do it where nobody else could see me. But I mean constantly dealing with these overblown emotions I had no idea what to do with. Nobody taught me how to name my emotions. Nobody taught me how to how to metabolize them. And so knowing oh, these emotions are being kicked up and stirred up because of the stimuli. This isn’t me being a drama queen, or an attention seeker. This is literally happening because of the overstimulation.
I’ve been able to learn some techniques so that what – like yesterday, for example, my computer, my laptop went from having 250 gigabytes available to three. That’s bad. And I’ve lost all my data before. And I was able to get it to shut down and then Daniel wasn’t gonna be home for several hours, and I was literally able to go, I don’t think I’m panicking. Whatever happens will happen. I backed it up about five days ago. So I’ll probably lose anything between now and then. Yeah, I think I’m good. I don’t think I need to have a huge emotional reaction. I don’t need to go find my friends, Ben and Jerry in the freezer. Whereas in the past, I mean, my ears would have been ringing and, you know, my vision would have been narrowing, and I wouldn’t have been able to function out of worry. And I mean, it’s just a computer for heaven’s sakes, not even like it’s somebody’s life or death. So you have that whole feeling things intensely and not knowing what to do with those emotions. That’s often one of the major things that people who find out they’re an HSP it’s often one of the things that is the greatest relief that it isn’t them just being immature. There are real physiological reasons, and there are things they can do to tone down that emotional reactivity and metabolize it.
How about you?
Yeah, I’m very keen on nuances, I’m very good at body language, looking at what the person – how they’re holding themselves, how they’re standing, and I really pick up on that. I do get overly stimulated, the way that I need time to process is if if my husband and I are having a discussion where there needs to be a critical decision made. When it comes to that, I have to remove myself even from being in his presence to just put it through my head and think about it without where he’s kinda like, ‘What what are you thinking? What do you want? You have to have an answer, what’s your answer?’
But then I’m quick, I’m not – I don’t take time to process on, you know, just life events and things that are happening on a moment, I can, you know, adjust to that. But if it’s a serious issue, then I really need time to process. One thing I noticed about myself is yes, I will take what you’re feeling, and I will fully be absorbing that and feeling it. And I’ve been able to – one time I was in a church class, and I inserted myself into a conversation, because two ladies were talking. And they were actually talking about someone else and saying, well, I just feel like she should, after a while she tunes out, I’ll be talking to her, and she’ll just tune out and I just don’t understand it. And I said, you know what, I do that too. And they looked at me. And I said, maybe she’s what’s called an HSP. And she’s absorbed so much of what you’ve told her that she has – because I will, if someone talks to me for a long period of time, I shut off. I absorbed enough to process that. I can still hear them talking. But I’m gone.
That’s a beautiful description. And a lot of HSPs don’t realize, if any of your listeners are HSPs – which statistically one out of every five of them are – they’re going to be going ‘What? There’s a name for that. I thought I was just rude. I thought I was just annoying.’ Because if you don’t know that there’s a physiological genetic reason for it, you can think ‘I’m just not loving enough. If I was loving enough, I would listen to every single word they said.’ And when I’m in that situation, I literally feel like my face is starting to melt off. I mean, like, I just feel like I am disintegrating. Because I’ve maxed out.
Yeah. And I’m hoping someone listening can then maybe see ‘Oh, that’s why my friend or my loved one does that when I’m talking. They’re not, you know, trying to shut me up or getting me off the off of their time.’ It’s just yeah, time for a break. And so that understanding, you know, the unique different types of HSP can bring awareness then to how others perceive us. And how we ourselves can see HSP and others, like I said, is instead of the character flaws.
How does that come across for you?
Well, first of all, I cannot tell you what a relief it was to me, but then also as women come – and whether it’s by email, or it’s at a speaking event, and they are discovering that they’re an HSP. And all that really means is that they’re different, but they’re not defective. It is such a relief, because the most common experience is thinking there’s something incredibly wrong with us that is irreparably damaged. Like there’s no hope, it’s not something that we can fix anymore. And that’s a really hopeless place to live from.
And so realizing, okay, I got a few quirks that I can meet – and see that’s the other thing is, for me, discovering I was HSP meant me taking on more responsibility. I spent so much time pretending I wasn’t HSP that I would then have one of my full-on meltdowns, which meant other people had to step in, and basically parent me as a grown adult through it. When I discovered I was like, oh, I have to make sure I’m well hydrated, I have to carry food with me, I have to have my sunglasses, I have to have my Blistex, I have to have my sleep, I have to have my own, you know, and when I could start taking personal responsibility, suddenly the burden was lifted from other people. So I want to get that point in there that learning this does not actually make us weaker, it makes us stronger and more responsible for ourselves.
The other thing that all of this has done is helped me to quit playing the comparison game. I spent decades trying to be just like the other authors and speakers I admired. And I’ve gotten much more comfortable being as you would say, just me. Exactly me. No more, no less. And it has been amazing to see how some people – not everybody, but how some people totally resonate with what God offers to the world through me. And it’s a small percentage of the population. But when one of my coaching clients is describing how she made a change, because of some kind of a conversation we had, and in which I understood where she was coming from, because I had actually been there as an HSP, there really is nothing more satisfying than that, to be able to give that kind of comfort, because I received it myself in such a very specific way.
So I won’t say I’m 100% cured of comparison, I don’t know that on this side of heaven, that’s ever going to happen. But for the most part, and this has been so valuable, I’m too busy. I’m too focused on just being myself on being exactly myself, to have the time or energy to compare anymore. And back, when I used to play the comparison game so much, it was how I filled my free time. And my time was free, because I didn’t know me, I wasn’t spending that time, using the gifts that God has given me. So it is it makes a huge difference to realize, alright, if God wired me this way, then He is going to lead me to use this wiring as a gift for Him.
I like that. And of course, you know, I love that people know exactly who God made them to be –
Not ‘just’ an HSP, I’m exactly an HSP. I love that.
So one of the areas that you have shared with me, with your HSP areas of life, is struggles to set boundaries. Why is that?
Well, first of all, we HSPs are often too subtle in our communication, because we notice nuances that other people don’t. And that’s great. But we expect that they’re going to notice nuances from us. And we don’t realize that they aren’t interpreting us the way that we’re interpreting them. So we have to do what for many of us is very hard, which is to ask for what we want. I can’t believe I just said that out loud. I want to hyperventilate into a paper bag. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, we also have to meet our own needs. And hinting doesn’t count. You know, like if I was driving in the car with you, and you notice me suddenly pulling out, maybe a church program, and going like this? What would you probably do?
Turn on the air conditioning.
Yeah! I’m fanning myself, for those who are listening to the audio here. You’d turn on the air conditioning, and I wouldn’t have to say, Cheri, I’m getting warm, I feel sweat sliding down my back. Would you mind turning on the air conditioning? And to me, fanning myself and you turning it on is magic. Like that is proof that we are good friends, and we are connected, and we have a good relationship. The problem is when I’m driving with somebody who doesn’t pick up on that, and I assume that means they’re a bad person, and we’re not connected. And it’s a judgement about our relationship. And I need to not be subtle. And I need to say you know, I’ve got sweat sliding down my back right now, would you mind turning on the air conditioning for a few minutes? And it’s been harder than I would have expected to actually say the words out loud. So the first step is to be aware of our needs and wants, and then to learn to communicate them clearly.
And then the second thing is being aware that allowing other people to experience the natural consequences of their choices is not the same thing as causing the consequences. Allowing them to experience the consequences is not the same thing as causing it. One of the things I think we put in the book as a primary reason HSP struggled with setting boundaries is that we are hyper vigilant about not hurting others, but allowing someone to feel pain isn’t the same as hurting them.
And I did not understand this while raising my kids. I was so tuned in to their pain, that I made my parenting choices based on not feeling their pain. Rather than understanding that hang on, they need to experience some amount of pain, the natural consequences of their choices, or sometimes artificial consequences that will help them grow and mature. And so I meddled and I was codependent and that actually is one of the dark sides of being an HSP. It’s the dark side of the empathy, is that we are so empathetic that in order to stop the pain of that much feeling for others, we end up inserting ourselves where we don’t belong. And if I could turn back time, which I can’t do, but if I could turn back time, I’d get myself a good spiritual director or a mentor who could help me process the difficulties of watching my child in pain and experiencing that through my HSP empathy without meddling, without stopping these growth opportunities and these maturity moments. And this is one of the reasons I’m so passionate about helping HSPs understand what It means to be a highly sensitive person, because it impacts every single area of our life. It doesn’t just mean we need to keep some sunglasses and Blistex with us. It impacts our relationships and how we interact with each other in profound ways.
Yeah, it’s made a huge difference in my life. And you know, it’s a diverse topic, our Creator is diverse. And so there’s a lot of amazing facts and quotes and different aspects of HSP. In fact, there were so many good quotes that I even made a Google doc of my favorite quotes so that I could find them.
One quote that I really want to unpack “There’s no reason an HSP has to be a fragile snowflake. And there is no reason why others should have to go out of their way to accommodate HSPs.”
Yes, yes, I totally agree. And that is another one of those myths and misnomers. Oh, you’re an HSP. You must be such a snowflake. And like, no. You’re confusing some concepts here.
Let me just tell a story that I think I actually have in the book – it’s just an illustration that I think makes so much sense. And that is, it was a few years ago, I discovered that, whether you like cilantro or not, it actually has a genetic component to it. Like my daughter and I, we think cilantro tastes good. My son thinks it’s very neutral. And to my husband, Daniel, it tastes like soap. Like if there’s cilantro in something, it ruins it for him. For the longest time, he couldn’t understand how we could eat cilantro. And he would say things like ‘How can you eat something so gross?’ And then I read this article that said it’s actually in our genetics. Like, to us, it really tastes good. And to him, it really tastes bad.
And so it’s an example where the identical stimuli, it’s the exact same cilantro goes into our mouths, but then our brains interpret it differently. And here’s the thing, when I make salsa for Daniel now, I just leave the cilantro out. It’s not a big deal. I make it and then when it comes time to put in the cilantro, I keep a certain amount out for him. And then I go ahead and add the cilantro for the rest of us. I’m not going to be like ‘I’m going to force feed him cilantro until he learns to like it. That’s what I’m going to do.’ Like, we wouldn’t do that with somebody with a peanut allergy. In some cases, you know, that could actually kill somebody. But because I know this, I care about him, I want him to be able to enjoy things, I go ahead and do it. It’s not a big deal. And he’s never asked me to do it. He certainly doesn’t insist that I do it. It’s just something that that I do. At the same time. If we go to somebody’s home, and he’s served salsa with cilantro in it, guess what he does? He eats it. And then he might make a little comment on the way home like, wow, that was an awful lot of cilantro in that salsa.
And so there is no reason we have to be fragile snowflakes. We can know these things about ourselves. And we can adapt, you know, like in his case, he could choose not to eat the salsa, that would be another option available to him. And there’s no reason why others should have to go out of their way to accommodate. Absolutely true. Nobody has to go out and accommodate. We need to equip ourselves to meet our own needs. And, not but, and there are going to be those safe people in our lives who would like to know – like, I grew up with a mother who did a lot of hostessing. And she would always, like two weeks before she would have people over, she would call and ask ‘Are there any food allergies or preferences?’ so that if somebody really did have a dietary premise, she wanted them to be able to sit down at her table and do nothing but enjoy the meal. And so she would make all these little extra dishes. And whenever we would visit with Daniel, she would leave the onions out because she loved him. And not because he asked, not because he insisted, because it was a small act of service that she could do.
So it’s true. We don’t have to be fragile snowflakes. We should not be demanding or expecting other people to go out of their way to accommodate us. And at the same time, it is one small way that we can communicate love when we’re aware. One thing my kids do, it’s just it’s so meaningful to me. If I’m anywhere near the kitchen, and they’re about to blend something, they just call out ‘Mom, noise!’ and then I know that they’re going to use the blender. Because if they don’t tell me I hit the ceiling, because it’s loud noise out of the blue and my adrenaline skyrockets and then it takes a while for my heart rate to go down. So it’s just a little loving little thing that they choose to do. Do I expect the rest of the world to accommodate me that way? No. I don’t ask anybody to do it. But when they do, it’s awfully nice. I feel understood. I feel seen. I feel valued for who I am.
I should ask my husband before he starts chewing to say ‘I’m about to chew.’
(Laughs) I love it.
That’s one area of my sensitivity is chewing. And at the movie theaters, before the sound of the movies is loud enough to drown it out, everyone reaching in their plastic baggies for their candy and popcorn, just –
Jackhammer strength earplugs, my friend. Jackhammer strength earplugs and noise-cancelling earbuds, two wonderful inventions.
So listeners, I want you to know that even if you do not consider yourself an HSP, chances are you have one in your life and they might be right beside you.
So as we close, what is the next step that a listener can take, if they think they might be an HSP, or have one in their life?
Well, I guarantee you that everybody has a handful of highly sensitive persons in their life, because like I said, one out of every five, so that’s literally 20% of the population in all countries, all cultures, male and female, are HSP.
So just a few few resources that we offer: you can go to sensitiveandstrong.com and subscribe to the Sensitive & Strong Connection. And in the welcome email, you’ll get a little quiz. It’s a little PDF with some questions, and you can total it up and see if you or somebody you know or love might be a highly sensitive person. We also have a membership community called the Sensitive & Strong Community Cafe and you’re a member of that, which is open to new members. It’s a wonderful community of growth-minded HSP Christian women.
Yes, I do like that cafe it’s it’s a fun place to go on and just read what other people are going through and figure things out. And a lot of times too, I’ll read something and that might not be my area of HSP, but I’ll be like ‘Oh, I think that’s my son. Now I understand what my son is going through.’
Well, thank you so much for coming on here and blessing me and my audience. And you know, if you’re listening to this, go on YouTube and watch it because we’re having some expressive time in our Cheri-tory. So thanks for coming on. And thanks for coaching me.
Ah, thank you for having me. And thanks for being so amazingly coachable. You’re like, oh, can I say this? One of my favorite people to coach ever.
Bye bye bye.
Did you find yourself relating to the five qualities of an HSP? Once I understood that these are an overlay, and not a defining character, then I felt the freedom that Cheri found. Links to connect with Cheri, take the HSP quiz, or learn more about the Sensitive & Strong Cafe are in the show notes.
Cheri also offers a group coaching program called Growing Sensitive & Strong: Five Truth Steps to HSP Freedom. Links to learn more about that will also be in the show notes.
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