Research indicates that our intuition is guided by our unconscious mind. Here’s how HSPs can tap into it.
I walked into my office at 6:30 a.m. The sun was barely over the horizon, but I was already at work — and had left this same room less than 12 hours earlier.
I felt slightly dizzy from lack of sleep and a little sick from the donut I’d eaten in the car. But I had to get a few hours of work in without the story of a client’s trauma wafting in from the next room or the knock of a coworker who wanted to talk about agency issues. And I stayed late for the same reason.
Although I worked my “dream job” as a community organizer at a victim’s advocacy agency, I knew it wasn’t sustainable. Managing a department and running the agency crisis line meant working extremely long hours on top of being on-call regularly.
The agency culture gravely under-valued self-care, so I was having trouble fitting therapy and mediation into my schedule. What’s more, my position required daily public speaking and community outreach, where I had to be “on” for long periods of time.
It was all challenging, especially as a highly sensitive person (HSP). Plus, even though deep listening and absorbing others’ emotions was a great characteristic of mine — particularly in my field of work — it also caused me to feel mentally and emotionally flooded. I was exhausted, overwhelmed, and burnt out.
But because I had spent my whole life ignoring my intuition, I barely recognized its direction to stop. Instead, I attempted to protect myself from pain by building up a protective shell of people-pleasing. Inadvertently, I’d silenced my intuition in exchange for external validation.
Months later, when I found myself bawling in the fetal position on the kitchen floor, I knew I’d hit my limit. This time, I had to listen to my intuition.
I quit my job and moved home. The relief I felt from trusting my inner voice was so intense that I decided I would never return to that feeling of burnout.
What Exactly Is ‘Intuition’?
You know when you have to make a decision and you naturally know what to do? That’s your intuition at work, a gut feeling that you should choose A, not B (or vice-versa). Or maybe you choose B — a higher-paying job, let’s say — even though you know A — a lower-paying job — would make you happier in terms of the work involved.
Research indicates that our intuition is guided by our unconscious mind; we “just know” that something is good or bad for us.
And when we bring our highly sensitive selves into the picture, listening to our intuition should be a no-brainer, right? After all, we HSPs already tend to process things more deeply and have a knack for paying attention to every little detail, which we can interpret as strengths when it comes to listening to our inner voice.
But when we choose to deny or dismiss that intuitive filter, we lose trust in our perceptions and discount our experiences. This can cause a pervasive feeling of instability and confusion, leading to cycles of overperforming, people-pleasing, and perfectionism — that can eventually end in burnout, like in my case.
Why Listening to Your Intuition is So Beneficial to HSPs
Our intuitive sense is a crucial guidance system, and it’s especially beneficial for HSPs to listen to what it tells us.
The more in touch I have become with my intuition, for example, the more it acts as an emotional anchor for me. It allows me to discern emotions and impulses that are not mine, and I can sense when I am reaching out and trying to fix other people instead of holding space for their pain.
I have also felt a profound sense of safety and peace — trusting my intuition has allowed me to find a quiet place under the chatter of my easily overwhelmed HSP brain.
By trusting the filter of my intuition, my life has gained new clarity and stability that wasn’t accessible when I lived in the frenzy of people-pleasing and feeling as though I lived at the office 24/7. Through trial and error, the five practices below have enabled me to regroup with my intuition, and they can do the same for you.
5 Easy Ways to Strengthen Your Intuition
1. Give your mind more rest than you think it needs — and release the productivity mindset.
HSPs usually need more sleep than non-HSPs, and reconnecting with your intuition is the process of learning to respect your energy rhythms and bodily needs over the desire to cross things off your to-do list.
Allowing yourself to rest requires unlearning society’s obsession with productivity; releasing this mentality involves disconnecting your self-worth from your production.
Every time you feel an urge to take on more, say, “I am not meant to live in overwhelm.” And when your body is screaming at you to stop — stop.
For me, it took months of consistent rest, like naps (several times a day) to get back in touch with my internal compass. And I am continually shocked to find that the less I push myself to overwhelm with all the tasks I think I “have to” do to be productive, the more I accomplish.
2. Stop feeling guilty for putting your needs before other people’s.
As you step back from your usual frenzy of doing, you will most likely feel that you are letting people down. HSPs tend to be sensitive to others’ needs and expectations; feeling like you’re not meeting them can stir up a lot of guilt.
When this guilt sensation arises, look at the fear behind that guilt. This process of releasing guilt (and the fear behind it) requires the patience to lovingly sit with the young aspects of yourself, terrified that trusting your intuition will let others down.
But when you can acknowledge and sit with the fear, the grip of guilt naturally begins to release.
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3. Make time be alone and let your mind run — especially in nature.
It’s no secret that many highly sensitive people need alone time, and it’s crucial for rebuilding this bond with your intuition, too. It’s necessary to get time and space away from others’ perceptions of the world in order to feel your own.
Especially since we HSPs tend to take on others’ thoughts and feelings, we need time to ourselves to disconnect from them and connect with ourselves.
And the best place for alone time? Outdoors. Research shows that spending time in nature is highly beneficial — there is something about spending time among trees, water, and mountains that echoes your innate rhythm and helps you reconnect with a deeper part of yourself.
4. Connect with your body through a self-care tool, like embodied meditation.
Connecting with your body is essential in order to help discern between your intuition and your desire to please. When you live in a sea of people-pleasing, you often disconnect from your body so you can meet expectations without the interruption of your own needs.
One thing you can try is embodied meditation, the art of mindfully reconnecting with your body. Your body holds unexplored emotions and deeper understandings, along with your felt sense of people and situations.
There are many accessible embodiment practices, including yoga, breathwork, body scans, and self-massage. While these practices can seem strange and intimidating at first, their benefits — especially when you do them regularly — are life-changing.
5. Harness introspective practices, such as journaling.
We HSPs are usually big thinkers, so doing something introspective can help us better process our thoughts and emotions. One way to do this is through journaling, a potent way to connect with your intuition.
HSPs sometimes have a propensity for self-criticism, and this critical internal voice from your “rational” side can block incredible intuitive insights or creative exploration.
But writing can open you up to realizations that you wouldn’t otherwise tap into. There is something about writing whatever arises that allows you to express your feelings without interrogation from your “rational,” more critical side.
And, soon, you’ll discover that seeing your intuitive responses in writing helps you get in touch with your internal guide.
You might like:
- 5 Ways to Access Your Strengths as a Highly Sensitive Person
- Being an HSP Is a Superpower — But It’s Almost Impossible to Explain It
- Sensitive People Are ‘Big’ Thinkers in a ‘Small’ Thinking World
A version of this article has been previously published on the author’s blog, Rewilding with Intuition.