“She’s just so sensitive,” he says, folding his napkin into smaller and smaller squares.
“No matter how hard I try to help, all I ever do is say and do the exact wrong things.”
He reaches for his coffee, takes a swig, and looks up.
“It seems like I just make things worse for her.”
He gulps more coffee, pauses, then continues.
“She says, ’Don’t walk on eggshells around me!’ but it’s the only thing I can do because she’s always sensitive about everything.”
I smile. “It sounds like when you try helping her, you end up hurting her — without meaning to or ever understanding why.”
He bangs his empty mug on the table like a gavel.
“I love her, but I do not understand her. At all.”
He reaches for another napkin and begins folding it into precise squares.
In a voice so low, I have to lean forward to hear, he says, “I just hate that I keep hurting her.”
How to Support Your “So Sensitive” Someone
If you are the parent, spouse, friend, or other family member of someone who is always sensitive, the conversation above may ring true.
Perhaps you’ve never spoken any of it aloud, but maybe it’s similar to what you would say … if you felt you could say something without making things worse.
Here are three ways you can support the Highly Sensitive Person in your life without over-helping (read: fixing) or unintentionally hurting them.
1 — Recognize that your normal is not her normal
You do many things automatically that your HSP either can’t do or can only do with enormous effort.
- Transitioning quickly from one task to the next.
- Screening out scents and sounds.
- Moderating your own emotions.
- Detaching from other people’s emotions.
- Ignoring unnecessary details.
What’s normal for your HSP — the way her brain is wired and the way her genes are geared — includes:
- Processing experiences deeply and slowly.
- Becoming overstimulated by sensory stimuli and relational input
- Reacting strongly to her own emotions and the emotions of others
- Empathizing with people — this includes people she loves, people she’s in the room with, people she sees on the news
- Sensing the subtle
For someone who is always sensitive, recognizing that your normal is not her normal is a true gift.
Acknowledging her normal as valid is pretty much a miracle.
2 — Ask curious questions
One way to validate your HSP’s normal is to talk about it.
Discuss her HSP-ness as a fact you’re learning about, rather than a problem you’re trying to solve.
I know: it’s so tempting to not go there for fear that you’ll make things worse.
But here’s what actually makes things worse:
- pretending her HSP traits aren’t real
- ignoring her so sensitive reactions in hopes that they’ll go away
- denying that being a Highly Sensitive Person is a thing
- believing (secretly or aloud) that being always sensitive is all in her head
Develop the habit of asking truly curious questions in a neutral voice, such as:
- “It’s been a couple of days since ____. What new realizations have you had about it?”
- “The restaurant was loud even for me last night. What was it like for you?”
- “How are you feeling about the [latest family crisis or world tragedy news] right now?”
- “I feel like I’m missing something about this [work of art, music, movie]. What are you sensing in it?”
Your sole goal is to listen.
Not to correct or solve or fix.
If she tears up, tell yourself: This is not a problem. This is her normal.
Hold space for her.
To communicate that you are there for her — right there with her — you might move closer, put your arm around her, or even hug her.
Not to signal, “That’s enough. Calm down. Dry your eyes and put on a happy face.”
But to show her that she’s not too much for you.
3 — Reframe your frustrations
HSPs are frequently misinterpreted and, thus, misunderstood.
One of the best ways to support the so sensitive person you love is to reframe your frustration.
Instead of thinking, “She was so withdrawn at the party last night. Everyone thought she was downright rude. I was so embarrassed!”
You might tell yourself, “I worried that she was withdrawn at the party last night. But now I’m wondering if she was feeling overwhelmed by so many people and so much noise?”
You start to assume she’s being aloof.
Then you stop, reframe your frustration, and realize she’s acting bewildered.
Note: #3 works best when you’ve had lots of practice with #1 and #2.
We Need All Types: from the Always Sensitive to Not So Sensitive
One of the most freeing discoveries for an HSP is the realization that she’s “different, not defective.”
That she is “fearfully and wonderfully made” by God, just the way she is.
We all are.
1 Corinthians 12:4-6 (NLT), tells us that are different kinds of spiritual gifts … different kinds of service … different ways in which God works.
But the same Spirit is the source of all gifts.
We all serve the same Lord.
And it is the same God who does His work in each one of us.