I yearned for internal and external calm, but was profoundly clueless as to where to begin — even as a trained therapist.
Over the last 16 years, I’ve worked as a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) in various mental health venues.
As I slowly started to find myself incredibly exhausted and drained by that which I loved so much, helping people, I learned I was a highly sensitive person (HSP). I was quickly becoming overwhelmed and mentally and emotionally flooded — which can happen to any HSP — and I realized I needed to be mindful of my energy reserves. But how?
HSPs tend to absorb others’ emotions, and this can be challenging when you’re a mental health professional — you want to be there for your clients 100 percent, but must also learn how to not take the job home with you.
I yearned for internal and external calm, but was profoundly clueless as to where to begin — even as a mental health professional. This just goes to show that many of us who are HSPs can benefit from some strategies to get more peace in our lives.
Luckily, I’ve found a few ways to find that peace and “water” my HSP garden.
4 Ways to Create Peace, Not Overwhelm, as an HSP
1. Start taking advantage of therapy and the new perspective it offers.
It wasn’t until I entered therapy eight years ago that I realized there is a space just for me in this big world. Who would’ve thought?! A place where I could literally and figuratively close the door on my outside world for 50 minutes a week and speak candidly.
As a highly sensitive person, therapy taught me that there is always the opportunity to reparent ourselves and craft a life more aligned to who we really are. That I didn’t need to be ashamed of being highly empathetic; there was nothing “wrong” with me. After all, being an HSP is not a disorder; 15 to 20 percent of the population is made up of HSPs.
Therapy profoundly awakened parts of me that I didn’t even know existed and helped me confront my intersectionality needs (which was ironic since I professionally guided others to examine themselves on a daily basis).
It’s allowed me the opportunity to learn about the inhibitions I (and others) placed on me as an African-American female. Limitations which hindered — but didn’t stop — my flourishing, an important distinction to make.
As a woman of color, I lived and operated under the “Strong Black Woman” narrative for years, delusionally believing that I can do it all on my own and suppress my true self. Lies. And therapy has helped me see that.
I’d recommend therapy to everyone, HSP or not, and many local providers offer sliding scale or low-cost fees; some are even free. Check out faith communities, too. And you can find HSP-friendly therapists here.
2. Learn to create — and stick to — the boundaries that keep you whole.
After many years of therapy, I realized my utter lack of boundaries with everyone in my life. You know the struggle, always giving but never being replenished or fully known. Not only was I a social worker in my day-to-day life, but in my off hours I still felt like the therapist/case manager for other people’s lives. (I’m sure other HSPs can relate!)
The most frustrating aspecting? I wasn’t obtaining full gratification in my personal relationships. People were excited by my energy and how I was able to speak to them and their needs on a deep level — a trait many of us HSPs cannot help — but I always felt like something was missing in the dynamic. Me.
The result? I started to feel angry and resentful that I poured so much into others; but due to their emotional bandwidth not matching mine, they were unable to reciprocate in kind. I felt a deep and lonely void. I knew something had to change.
So, I started saying no. I started walking away. I cared less.
I started holding people accountable for their feelings while simultaneously not feeling guilty about asserting my needs or ruminating about their reactions to my boundaries.
Hear me clearly, as HSPs, we are not responsible for people’s emotions. Yes, we absorb them — a lot — but we still have the right to say “no” to situations and relationships that don’t serve us.
I felt tremendous guilt immediately after setting boundaries and telling people no; I would feel their pain, confusion, and longing for human connection. I wanted them to have all of those things, but I couldn’t give anymore of myself to them.
When we articulate our boundaries in a respectful, yet assertive, manner, it becomes a teachable moment to either strengthen our relationships or further reveal the dysfunctionality of them. Which one sounds more peaceful? The beauty is that we get to choose because it is our life to live.
Boundary work is one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever had to do. Why? My change forces others to change and evaluate their insecurities and projections. I’ve lost friends and have strained family relationships. Deconstruction and rebuilding is not an overnight process, but it remains worth it because I feel more at home within myself and among others who can truly accept me for my highly sensitive self.
3. Outfox your inner critic by starting to play more.
Within each of us is an inner child and critic who doesn’t just go away.
Remember how fun it was to play as a kid? As we become adults, many of us lose that childlike mystery, wonder, and playful sensibility. I know if I’m not exploring the world around me and catering to the fun that my inner child needs, I become a fragmented version of myself.
As I’ve grown more comfortable in my HSP skin, I began to dream, listen, and trust myself more — and would slowly act on my inclinations.
For example, I’ve always wanted to draw, so I bought a cheap sketchbook from Amazon and I’m taking an online drawing class. I. Love. It. I feel alive. Now, I’m not going to quit my day job to become an artist, but that is OK — I’m drawing for fun. Plus, HSPs tend to be creative and this allows my creative side to shine.
I’ve also missed dancing during quarantine. So I found some African Dance Classes on YouTube and, a few nights a week, I dance in all my fullness! When the world reopens, I’m going to attend classes in person.
Had I not listened to my inner child, I would’ve missed the opportunity to “play” in such meaningful ways.
I think that is one of many struggles I’ve had as an HSP. I really desire x,y, and z but in order to have x, y, and z, it requires listening to myself and my energy. If my energy feels depleted from work or from the world around me, I’ve got no desire to play. But they will continue to gnaw at me until they’re fulfilled.
When I work with my clients, I often ask, “If time, money, or commitments were not a hindrance, how would your life be different? What would give your life awe?” I ask you the same thing, but with a twist: “If energy or anxiety wasn’t an issue, how would you play?”
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4. Learn to be OK with the uncertain, the unacknowledged, the unknown.
The desire to be in control and in the know about our lives can be stressful, and I find this especially true as an HSP. Many of us cherish our routines and take time to adapt to change. In a world that’s so full of change these pandemic months, it’s not easy to embrace the unknown.
Remember the Magic 8 Ball as a kid? I’ve often wished there was such a device for life where I can just ask all my existential questions and, on cue, the 8 ball will respond (preferably with answers that I like!).
Unfortunately, that is not the way life works (dannnnggg it). Since I’m able to detect patterns in people, places, and things — down to minute, HSP details — it makes me eager for what is next in my life and the world at large.
I also have an urgency to make the world a little better using my HSP disposition as the gift that it is: it’s a blessing being so empathetic toward others (as long as I make time for “me” time, too).
As I’ve grown wiser, I’m coming to terms with not needing to have it all figured out. After all, being flexible builds our emotional resilience. This vantage point has made all the difference and I’m calmer and less stressed. Of course, I still want to know what is up on some days!
But I give myself permission to be open to what surprises life will render. Some are great and some are downright crappy (real talk), but I will no longer allow my circumstances and emotions to dictate my sense of being. And you shouldn’t either.
You might like:
- What to Do When You Feel Overstimulated and Overwhelmed
- 5 Essential Things to Tell Your Therapist If You’re Highly Sensitive
- How to Build Emotional Resilience as a Highly Sensitive Person
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