Highly Sensitive Refuge
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6 Key Pieces of Advice for Younger HSPs

Being a young HSP isn’t easy — are all your “big emotions” due to your age… or being a highly sensitive person? Here’s how to tell.

I still recall sitting in a therapist’s office hearing the words, “I think you’re a highly sensitive person (HSP). It’s a gift.” 

“A gift?” I sputtered. “Then why does it feel like a curse?”  

How many of us HSPs have uttered those words to a therapist or someone else? Until that moment — and until I began doing some research — I had no clue I was a highly sensitive person or what it entailed. All I knew was, I’d been sick of people saying, “You’re too sensitive.”

But the more I read, including books by Dr. Elaine Aron, who first studied the highly sensitive temperament trait in the 1990s, the more I identified with being sensitive.

And it suddenly all made sense, why my emotions were often so over-the-top. Like the way I’d been fearful in school, when there’d be too many people and lots of commotion. Or when criticism would hit me so hard, to the point I’d immediately feel like I was swept into an emotional vortex, unable to focus. Or when I’d avoid violent movies and TV shows. Or when I’d get rattled (and highly annoyed) at noise I heard on the street while walking.

Discovering That Being ‘Different’ Is Not a Bad Thing

I always knew I was somehow “different” — I just didn’t know why, and no one in the ‘70s or ‘80s, when I was growing up, could offer me any clues as to why, or how to cope. It was as though they thought if I just “worked on” my responses to my emotions — or on my (sensitivity) traits hard enough — I could simply “overcome” them.

Yet, decades later, I was still struggling with managing my often-shifting, and overwhelmingly big, emotions. I’d encounter an angry person, hear a random mean comment from a stranger, have a negative customer service experience, or feel angry over small upsets (anger I often couldn’t shake for a day or more). Or I’d have an emotional upset with a close friend consume me for days, followed by a day of an “emotional hangover” before I’d feel back to normal. 

I still struggle at times. But here are some things that finally helped me, much to my relief, and that I’d tell younger HSPs.

6 Key Pieces of Advice for Younger HSPs

1. Read, read, and read some more about being a highly sensitive person.

If you suspect you’re a highly sensitive person, read all about it! (You can also take the test Dr. Aron developed to determine whether you are, too. It can be found in her book, The Highly Sensitive Person, or you can find it online.) 

Then get clear in your own mind that yes, you are an HSP, and yes, it explains a lot. Instead of fighting it, accept and embrace it. This way, you can find coping strategies. For instance, environmental psychology can do a lot when it comes to being places that overstimulate us — or avoiding them.

As HSPs, we’re naturally curious, so seeking to better understand ourselves — and our newfound trait — will probably be more appealing than not. I also found these books helpful: The Highly Sensitive Person’s Survival Guide by Ted Zeff, Ph. D., Thriving as an Empath by Judith Orloff, MD, and The Emotionally Sensitive Person by Karyn D. Hall, Ph.D.

2. Lean into your sensitivity and think of how it helps, not hinders, you.

Be sure to start embracing your sensitivity as a gift, rather than viewing it as a curse, because it really is. Lean into it. Think about all the times it’s helped you, not hinders you. Perspective matters a lot here. 

Perhaps your intuitive powers have even saved your — or someone else’s — life. One time, I was convinced there was something seriously wrong with my spouse’s car based on a mysterious creaking noise I could hear when we drove it. My persistence in demanding to know what caused it, despite everyone else’s skepticism, potentially saved us from potential lethal consequences.

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3. Have grounding rituals ready for when the overwhelm gets to be too much.

It’s good to have a “coping skills toolkit” ready for those days when everything seems to be too much. For some people, this can mean meditation; for others, it can mean getting out in nature. Personally, I recently bought myself a necklace with a healing crystal. While I don’t think it has any magical powers, I’m thinking perhaps by touching it when I start to feel overwhelmed will help ground me. 

I also keep relaxing jazz music on in my kitchen throughout the day — science has shown calming music is soothing for HSPs. And I love to burn scented candles with scents like vanilla, sandalwood, jasmine, or lavender. In addition, I turn a fan on in my bedroom for white noise and retreat there when I need to — my very own HSP sanctuary.

I’ve carefully curated my social media feeds, too, in order to screen out much of the current news and clickbait sites that try to keep us revved up on anger and other strong (unhealthy) emotions. And I rarely watch regular television; instead, I watch movies or shows on platforms like Netflix or Amazon Prime Video, where I have more control over what I see.

4. Stop taking responsibility for others’ happiness or problems.

Yes, you must stop taking responsibility for the happiness and problems of those around you.  This was a hard one for me. Responsibility-taking and people-pleasing were ingrained habits.  I’d grown up with troubled parents, and I’d felt responsible to meet their emotional needs, particularly in my teen years, when I should have been learning how to take care of my own.  

And, as an HSP with amazing intuition, I could often sense danger where others could not. And still do. So I often feel a strong duty to warn others of things (like the car example I gave above). While I’m often right, the other person usually doesn’t agree or isn’t in the right frame of mind to hear it. So I’m learning to temper the need to “fix” their problems. That person has their own life journey, and learning from their mistakes is part of that.  

I’ve also decided it’s okay to work on my little corner of the world to make it better rather than taking on all the world’s problems. (Many of those problems can only be solved by governments or large institutions anyway.) A little perspective is good. Remember that.

5. Look for, and appreciate, the high moments.

Until the last few years, I didn’t realize how high some of the good stuff could make me feel.  And they were often simple things — sitting on my porch with my coffee looking out at my container garden, tending to my flower garden, taking a trip by myself, where I scheduled things to do and places to stay that I knew I would find pleasurable, or going to a local music festival, where I bought myself a few trinkets that made me feel pretty or I thought were intriguing.  

Point being, soak up all the good feels — of which there are many.

6. Take responsibility for your emotions and focus on making yourself happy.

Perhaps the most helpful tip of all to me is a commitment to taking responsibility for my own emotions and making my own happy, whatever that looks like. When I was younger, I think I was looking for the next relationship to “save” me. And, at times, I think we need that, if only for a while. Sometimes, we really need to lean into someone else — be it a significant other or friends — to help us through particularly rough patches.  

But the more I’ve stopped looking to someone else to make me happy — and made my own happiness —  the happier my life has become. Plus, the more I feel able to give to others when they need me.

HSPs, what would you add to this list? I’d love to hear in the comments below!

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