One thing I wish I’d known while growing up as a highly sensitive person is that there is no such thing as “normal.” It’s what’s “normal” for you.
Growing up and navigating childhood and adolescence is hard enough without being a highly sensitive person (HSP). When you are one, every emotion you have is magnified.
Every argument your parents have sends chills down your spine. Every not-so-positive note from a teacher makes you feel like a total failure (HSPs react strongly to criticism, even if it’s well-meaning). Every unreciprocated crush feeling like the world is tumbling down and taking you with it. And that same, never-ending chorus keeps repeating in your head on a daily basis: What is wrong with me?
That’s what growing up as a highly sensitive person feels like. That fear, that continuous anxiety, that guilt, that complete lack of control over your reactions and your surroundings — those are the feelings and experiences that mark most days of an HSP’s childhood.
If only we’d have known — and understood — what was happening to us, think about how much better life could have been. Unfortunately, in most cases, we had to learn the hard way. Even though I can’t go back and say all that to my younger self, here’s what I wish I could tell those precious, sensitive teens who are as lost as I once was.
7 Things I Wish I’d Known Growing Up as a Highly Sensitive Person
1. “There’s nothing wrong with you.”
First and foremost, the most basic sentence I wish I had told myself every day: “There is absolutely nothing wrong with you.” I know it’s not easy to see there is nothing “wrong” when you’re crying in the bathroom during your lunch break because you got a B instead of an A and don’t understand why this feels like the end of the world. I also know it’s not easy to understand why you can’t watch certain scenes from movies, even though nobody else seems to have a problem with them. And I know that it’s not easy to see when you feel so raw and vulnerable, but remember — you are not “crazy,” you are not a failure, you are not doomed and destined to be unhappy forever.
These are just the things you repeat to yourself because you don’t understand the power of your own brain. You don’t understand that the reason you feel everything so intensely is simply because your central nervous system is more active than those of non-HSPs. That’s all there is to it. It’s not a disease, it’s not a disorder, it’s not a flaw — it’s just a unique characteristic of your brain — a sensitivity trait — that does not make you any worse than others. And you’re alone – definitely not alone: Research states that nearly 30 percent of the entire population identify as HSPs.
2. “There’s no such thing as ‘normal.’”
Speaking of better or worse, how about we just stop worrying about the labels and accept the fact that there is no one good way to feel and behave? There is no “normal.” There is not a single person on this planet who doesn’t struggle with their own twisted issues. There is not a single life that is lived problem-free. And that’s okay.
We all question our reason for being, our feelings, our sanity. That’s just what being human means. Nobody is better and nobody is worse. There aren’t any guidelines that tell you what to do and how to react. If you feel like crying at the slightest inconvenience, then go ahead and cry — we HSPs have big emotions and shouldn’t be ashamed to show them. For example, when I was growing up, I always felt like crying when I heard teachers screaming at other children and would often excuse myself to go to the bathroom so that nobody noticed. It made me feel wrong and inferior, when in reality I was just very compassionate and empathic toward others and didn’t need to hide it at all. I’ve since come to realize it’s an HSP superpower.
Don’t worry about what others might think. There is no such thing as “normal.” It’s what’s normal for you.
3. “Things will get better.”
What strikes me most when thinking about my HSP childhood and teenage years is how unhappy I was. Being a kid is supposed to be fun and carefree, but when you’re sensitive, it may mean a lot of fear, worry, and loneliness instead. When you can’t participate in playtime or parties because the noise and abundance of stimuli is overwhelming, it’s easy to feel alienated and imagine that you’re going to stay that way forever.
For me, though, being a grown-up turned out much better than everything I’d experienced as a child. Growing up meant having a deeper understanding of my feelings and reactions. It meant more control over my surroundings. It meant coming to terms with my weaknesses and strengths. And, most importantly, it meant recognizing the gifts that highly sensitive people possess. Which leads me to my next point…
4. “With high sensitivity comes so much power.”
There’s no arguing that being an HSP can be very challenging. High sensitivity affects almost every single part of your life. Relationships, careers, education — all of that is inevitably marked by your low tolerance to stimuli. Since you have a hard time accepting criticism, it may affect your ability to handle any remarks from your boss. Or since you feel everything so intensely, you may struggle with rejection from partners.
Nonetheless, it is incredibly important to remember that with every bad thing comes an amazing one. Because being highly sensitive means feeling everything more powerfully than others. It means more love, more joy, more appreciation for beauty, art, and nature. It means being able to “read” the emotions of others since we are body language experts. It means empathy. It means close and deep relationships with people in your life — forget the idle chit-chat. It means enjoying the simple things that are invisible to others. It means an array of wonderful experiences that can make for a truly unforgettable and exciting life.
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5. “You are in control more than you think.”
When I was younger, I’d often felt powerless. I felt like my emotions and my surroundings ruled me. All it took was a snide comment or a small inconvenience for my entire mood to change. Someone would say something and I’d analyze it for hours. Somebody I talked to seemed sad and I would quickly become sad, as well.I thought I would always be a slave to my reactions.
Now that I think about it, I realize how wrong I was. Yes, as a child you don’t have as much control over your life as an adult. But that doesn’t make you captive. There’s still plenty you can do to regulate your own thoughts. Going to therapy, journaling, engaging in physical activity, practicing mindfulness and trying breathing exercises — all those small things that could help you understand yourself just a little bit better. And then there’s the biggest power you own: the power to choose how you want to use your gift of high sensitivity. It’s up to you whether you’ll become its victim or you’ll learn to turn it to your own advantage. You can do this by embracing how it makes you unique and sets you apart from others — like how your intuition guides you to make better decisions, how you’re able to appreciate beauty in small things other people neglect, or how you have the ability to be an amazing friend and partner.
6. “Being highly sensitive can make you more prone to depression and anxiety.”
Research has found that being highly sensitive can make you more prone to depression and anxiety. Though it may not be uplifting in and of itself, this is definitely something I wish I had known when I was younger. Because for me, being highly sensitive came with a lot of mental health issues that went unnoticed for too long a time. When I turned 23, I started therapy and realized, as shocking as it was at that moment, that I had been growing up with depression.
Like many others, I’d always imagined that depression meant not being able to get out of the bed and living under a dark cloud of tears and sadness. I didn’t know that there are different kinds of depression and that you can very well live a “normal life” and still be depressed.
My therapist helped me recognize just how much of my behavior (such as being lethargic, numb, or insanely tired with no physical explanation) was due to being ill. She also pointed out there are some characteristics that make people more prone to depression, and a lot of them (such as being self-aware or triggered easily) are shared by HSPs. Had I known I was more prone to depression and other mental health issues, I would have done more to treat them earlier. Knowledge really was the key to my recovery.
7. “You can handle being an ‘adult’ and everything it entails.”
Being highly sensitive usually makes you very self-aware. That’s why, as a teenager, I was painfully aware of what I thought were my “shortcomings.” I knew I had an insanely difficult time accepting criticism, I knew I couldn’t handle rejection, and I knew that the smallest obstacles felt like the end of the world to me.
So every now and then I would ask myself questions like: How on earth am I going to survive as an adult? How am I going to have a successful career if that means dealing with criticism from a boss? How am I going to have meaningful relationships if that means a lot of rejection and hurt?
As the years went by, however, I discovered those things just… happened. I stopped being so hard on myself, got to know myself better, realized my HSP strengths, implemented coping strategies, and, little by little, those things that once seemed insurmountable turned out to be bearable.
I know your story will be different from mine — and I can’t guarantee you will enjoy your future job or adult life — but I can definitely give you hope that it is possible and within your reach.
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