One clear sign you’re in a healthy relationship as a highly sensitive person is you don’t feel you have to hide your sensitivity.
Healthy relationships are crucial to our well-being. In fact, research suggests that meaningful relationships are one of the most significant contributors to our overall happiness. Relationships are arguably even more important for those of us who are highly sensitive people (HSPs). In part, this is because we feel things more deeply, including our connection with others, and feeling supported and understood by others is invaluable to the human experience. As a psychotherapist, I know this can make a big impact for my clients.
However, it is also necessary to note that the health of our relationships determines whether or not we will experience the benefits described above. Just as healthy relationships can add to our contentment, unhealthy relationships can promote stress, low self-esteem, and even depression.
Therefore, it is important to know the signs of being in a healthy relationship, especially as a sensitive person. Although society tends to prioritize (heteronormative) romantic relationships, the following list can be used for any sort of relationship: family, chosen family, friendships, and even professional ones. As a psychotherapist, here are the 10 signs of a healthy relationship that I look for and you can apply to your life, too.
10 Signs You’re in a Healthy Relationship as an HSP
1. You truly listen to and hear each other.
You’ve probably heard before the importance of communication in relationships. This is because communication really is the foundation of any healthy relationship. After all, how can we meet each other’s needs if we do not know what is going on? Knowing that someone is actively listening to us and really hears what we have to say is essential for an HSP. Since we are a minority of the population — up to 30 percent of people are likely HSPs — we are already prone to feeling misunderstood by society. Therefore, it is imperative that those closest to us are willing to understand, instead of assuming, our reality for us.
2. You are compassionate and supportive.
HSPs are compassionate by nature. In order to thrive, we need others to show us that same compassion in return. Sensitive people tend to shut down when others have cold and harsh attitudes that are lacking in empathy and caring. Compassion also holds that relationships are a two-way street. HSPs are naturally caring, and therefore run the risk of giving much more than taking.
Plus, sensitive types can often be hesitant to talk about ourselves, as we do not want to burden or trouble others. This means that it is essential for others to invite us in, check on us, and ask us how we are doing. Indeed, HSPs require this emotional support in any relationship. Although this balance can fluctuate periodically depending on circumstances, overall, there should be that mutual support in which all people are there for each other.
3. You experience “sympathetic joy” — you find happiness in each other’s happiness.
Most of us are familiar with this experience: We finally achieve that huge accomplishment we’ve been working so hard for. However, instead of celebrating with us, we can tell that the other person is resentful. This is the opposite of sympathetic joy.
“Sympathetic joy” is a Buddhist term, which is essentially when we find happiness in each other’s happiness. This is especially important for HSPs. Since we absorb other people’s emotions, our joyous experiences can quickly be brought down by others’ negativity. Conversely, our happiness can be heightened when others celebrate with us. Sympathetic joy is also a good indicator of support within the relationship.
4. You respect one another’s boundaries.
Boundaries have become a popular topic of discussion recently, and for good reason — they help to stabilize us and prevent us from becoming burnt out. Because our sensitive nervous systems are more susceptible to overwhelm, HSPs in particular can benefit from setting boundaries. Unfortunately, however, setting boundaries is difficult for most of us, since HSPs are prone to people-pleasing. We are more likely to feel guilt or shame for setting boundaries, and the slightest hint of disappointment or pushback from others can trigger those feelings.
Therefore, it is vital to have others in our life who are understanding and will respect our boundaries. When we are feeling overwhelmed, frazzled, or depleted and need to recuperate, we need for those close to us to honor and encourage us to listen to our intuition. Likewise, if there is a line we are not willing to cross, such as not wanting to watch horror movies, needing to go to bed by a certain time to ensure adequate sleep for our overstimulated selves, or not overworking, it is critical that others don’t pressure us to abandon our needs.
5. You make room for emotional experiences.
It’s no secret that we HSPs feel our emotions deeply. Unfortunately, this may result in those who do not understand this tendency to accuse us of being “too emotional” or of “overreacting.” Needless to say, this does not feel good. Sensitive people crave deep, meaningful connections, in which our emotional experience(s) will be validated, not criticized. It is important that others in our lives understand that, as an HSP, we are likely to feel our emotions more frequently and more deeply.
During these vulnerable moments, instead of trying to change our emotional experience (i.e., “It really isn’t that bad! Look on the bright side!”), HSPs need to be supported and affirmed while still having space to feel our feelings (i.e., “I’m so sorry, that sounds really difficult. No wonder why you’re feeling upset. I’m here for you.”).
6. You do nourishing activities together.
Spending quality time together is one of the five love languages. When we spend quality time with someone, we deepen our connection through that shared activity. The key word here is “quality” — staring at your phone isn’t going to cut it. For HSPs, we are geared toward activities that nourish our souls instead of ones that overwhelm our sensitive nervous systems. Therefore, it is essential that others in our life understand this and are willing to go at our pace.
For instance, most sensitive people would feel overstimulated doing activities such as going to a club or attending a crowded event. Instead, most of us would rather connect by grabbing a beverage at a cute coffee shop, watching a favorite movie together, observing artwork at a quiet museum, or getting out into nature and hiking. Such activities allow us to better be in the moment, rather than becoming frazzled by our environment and the noises and people in it. For HSPs, this also helps promote meaning in our relationships.
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7. You fight fairly.
No matter the type of relationship, arguments are bound to occur from time to time. This is not inherently unhealthy; rather, it’s how you argue that matters. HSPs in particular hate conflict, so it’s critical that when arguments do arise, they are handled in a healthy way.
First, it’s crucial to stay as far away as possible from “the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” aptly named to signify the likelihood of relationships ending. The Gottman Institute, prominent experts in relationship dynamics, identifies the Four Horsemen as criticism (i.e., attacking the other person’s character), contempt (i.e., treating the other with spite, meanness, cruelty, and disrespect, all while assuming superiority), defensiveness (i.e., not taking responsibility, always blaming the other person), and stonewalling (i.e., not listening, not responding, and shutting down).
Additionally, it is also important to use the “I feel” statement correctly. Although many people are familiar with the benefits of using “I feel” statements, they are often used incorrectly. Instead of “I feel [emotion] when you [action]…,” some use “I feel like you…” This puts the onus back on the other person, the opposite of what is recommended, rather than remaining in your own experience. There is a difference between: “I feel sad when you spend that extra time at work because then we don’t get to spend quality time together” versus “I feel like you don’t care about me. I feel like you only care about work.” If “I feel” is followed by “like,” it can be replaced by “I believe,” “I think,” or “it seems” — or it can be eliminated altogether and still leaves a complete sentence. That way, the “I feel” statement is not being used as intended.
Finally, it is also crucial to remain honest while kind. Since HSPs are intuitive and process our surroundings deeply, we can often tell when someone is withholding information or not being fully honest.
8. You have the ability to compromise.
As much as we would love for everything to go our way all the time, that just isn’t possible. This is where compromise comes in. Compromise is especially helpful in HSP-non-HSP relationships, since the need to do so will likely come up more often. For instance, since HSPs are easily overstimulated, compromises will likely need to be made in terms of environment, such as lighting, temperature, cleanliness, and volume.
Further, sensitive types will need time to destimulate and recharge our batteries more often than non-HSPs, so this means compromising in terms of the activities we do together, too. For example, we might compromise by agreeing to go to a certain event a non-HSP chooses, but then we’ll need to rest in our HSP sanctuaries the next day.
9. You have common goals.
In order for any relationship to be effective, there needs to be shared common goals. For HSPs, we need to be connected by our common goals to be secure in our relationship. For a romantic partner(s), this will likely include the topics of career, children, finances, and living situation. For friendships, this may look like ensuring you are on the same page of wanting someone to know on a deep level and support each other as opposed to a casual buddy to hang out with. Professionally, there is a reason “future career goals” is such a common job interview question! Aligned goals indicate a better fit, period.
10. You can be your authentic sensitive self.
As HSPs know, our society undervalues and misunderstands sensitivity, so it can be difficult for us to give ourselves permission to truly be ourselves. For our relationships — those we choose to invite in — it is vital that not only is our sensitivity understood, but also that we feel valued as a highly sensitive person.
It is shaming to hear the message that we are being “too sensitive” and need to change, since this is at the core of who we are. Healthy relationships can be a safe haven for us to be our sensitive selves without inhibition. When we are valued for who we are, this promotes a sense of belonging, and ultimately, well-being and contentment.
My fellow HSPs, what would you add to the list? Feel free to share in the comments below.
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