Don’t make these mistakes with your HSP friend, spouse, or coworker.
Highly sensitive people (HSPs) are a rare and wonderful breed of humans who make up around 20 percent of the population (or more). We’re intuitive, deep-feeling, and incredibly conscientious. If you’re an HSP, or if you have one in your life, consider yourself blessed!
(Are you an HSP? Here are 21 signs that you’re a highly sensitive person.)
Since HSPs make up only a fairly small percentage of society, most people around us will be less sensitive than we are. Because of this, we tend to feel misunderstood by them. At one time or another, many of us HSPs have felt like we needed to change in order to “fit in.”
However, we were created highly sensitive for a reason. The last thing we should try to do is change who we are. Instead, it’s important that we inform the non-HSPs in our lives about our unique high sensitivity trait and how that affects us. Advocating for ourselves and our needs is part of being an empowered, confident HSP.
Below are eight things you should never do to a highly sensitive person. If you’re an HSP yourself, you’ll probably find yourself nodding your head with most of the items on the list!
8 Things You Should Never Do to a Highly Sensitive Person
1. Tell us to “stop being so sensitive”
If you’re a highly sensitive person, you’ve probably been told “stop being so sensitive” at least once (or a hundred times) in your life.
Maybe someone poked fun at you and it hurt your feelings. “Oh, it was a joke,” they tell you. “Stop being so sensitive!”
Maybe someone spoke to you harshly and it upset you. “You’re too sensitive. Stop taking everything so personally,” they say.
Maybe you started crying during an argument. “Geez, quit being so sensitive!” they tell you.
Many of us highly sensitive people get used to hearing that we’re “too sensitive,” so we internalize this belief about ourselves. We begin thinking it’s a bad thing; something that needs to be changed about us. However, being an HSP means sensitivity is innately part of you. That means that you really couldn’t stop being sensitive if you tried!
So when people tell HSPs to “stop being so sensitive” it’s not only unhelpful, it’s hurtful. Sensitivity is a beautiful trait. While there are challenges that come with it, there are also many gifts, like our enhanced intuition, ability to notice small details, and the way we see patterns that others often miss. The last thing we HSPs should do is hide who we truly are.
2. Pile too many projects onto us at once
If there’s one way to stress out an HSP, it’s to give us too much to do at once. Highly sensitive people have a tendency to get overwhelmed because of the unique way our brains and nervous systems work. We get overstimulated when we have too much happening at once, which can result in anxiety, stress, and overwhelm.
However, since HSPs have the ability to focus more deeply than others, this means we perform much better when we’re able to focus on one task at a time. Of course, HSPs have the ability to multitask, but it’s more supportive for our nervous systems when we can take things slowly and intentionally. The more stimuli, the more our sensitive souls go into overdrive.
As highly sensitive people, it’s important we know the way our systems work so we can advocate for ourselves. While we may hope our boss understands that we can’t do too many projects, it’s ultimately up to us to let them know. So if you’re feeling overloaded by too many projects, speak up and be realistic about what you can actually manage.
3. Dismiss us and our feelings
Highly sensitive people have a desire to connect deeply with other people. This may look like having meaningful conversations, talking openly about our feelings, and sharing vulnerably. For example, I may share that I’m feeling nervous about an upcoming job interview. The quickest way for an HSP to feel closed off and disconnected, however, is when our feelings have been dismissed, like if someone responded to my job interview nerves, saying, “Oh, quit worrying about it!”
For many HSPs, it can take a lot for us to feel comfortable opening up to someone else. We’re genuine, heartfelt, and the type of person who really means what we say. If we open up to someone, only to have our feelings dismissed, we may feel scared to open up again. So if an HSP trusts you with their heart, don’t take that lightly!
4. Rush us (it will only overstimulate us more)
Along with having too many things to do at once, rushing an HSP is another way to stress us out quickly. When highly sensitive people are under pressure, we get flooded with emotions and overwhelm. If someone is rushing us, it can be hard for us to think straight or perform tasks in the way we’d like to because our nervous systems are overstimulated.
Over the years, I’ve learned that I must give myself plenty of extra time to ease into tasks. When I give myself more time, I can approach whatever I’m doing in a calm, centered manner instead of in a chaotic, frantic way. This even looks like waking up extra early so I can slowly enjoy my coffee, meditation, and journaling before I start my work day. (By the way, mindfulness and journaling are great ways to calm down and center a highly sensitive soul.)
For HSPs, creating extra pockets of space in our lives does wonders for our nervous systems. While it’s inevitable that we’ll be under a time crunch sometimes, the less often we feel like we’re being rushed around, the better we’ll feel.
5. Take advantage of our kindness
Highly sensitive people tend to be kind, heart-centered individuals. We are naturally more empathetic than most, which often makes us the type to put other people’s needs before our own. If we don’t have solid boundaries in place — which can be a challenge for HSPs — we risk people taking advantage of our kindness.
Before I understood my self-worth, I allowed people to take advantage of my kindness because I wanted to be liked. I ended up feeling like a doormat, though, because I was always giving more to others than they were to me. I didn’t have any boundaries and, deep down, I didn’t believe I was worthy of being treated with respect.
For highly sensitive people, having good boundaries and a solid level of self-respect are important for us to truly thrive. If we’re finding our worthiness in other people liking us, it can be easy for others to take advantage of our kind, loving hearts.
6. Lie to us
If you think you’ll get away with lying to an HSP, think again! Highly sensitive people tend to be quite intuitive. We are experts at picking up on others’ body language and notice small details, like the changes in someone’s facial expression or the way they shift in their seat. It’s easy for us to pick up on social and emotional cues, making us excellent at reading people. In other words, HSPs are almost like human lie detectors!
On top of that, HSPs are usually incredibly genuine and appreciate meaningful connections with other people, where we can talk about everything from our greatest fears to our loftiest dreams. This means we will sniff out anything fake or inauthentic pretty quickly, like if someone is pretending to be interested in us, but never actually asks us any questions about ourselves. Keep it real with the HSPs in your life and you’ll have amazing friends in your corner.
7. Expect us to act like a non-HSP
Highly sensitive people become overstimulated by things that don’t bother non-HSPs. For instance, an itchy tag in our clothing or an annoying sound in the attic can drive us crazy. Whether we like it or not, we’re always picking up subtleties in our environments.
For non-HSPs, this can be confusing. For example, I must sleep with a fan running at night. If the room is completely silent, I’m extra alert to every sound in my vicinity, making it impossible for me to sleep. My husband, who is not an HSP, didn’t fully understand this at first. “Why do you always need the fan on?” he’d ask me.
The best thing we HSPs can do is inform the non-HSPs in our lives about our unique trait. After explaining to my husband why having the fan on was so important to me, he understood and respected my needs.
For HSPs, our sensitivity makes our life experience different than other people’s, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong or that we need to change it. As with other things in life, communication is key.
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8. Judge us for needing alone time
Recuperating from overstimulation is a must for highly sensitive people. (An HSP hangover is no fun!) Whether we’re extroverted or introverted, HSPs need more alone time than most. Being in a quiet space with ourselves allows us to calm our nervous systems and return to a centered place. We tend to be happiest when we have an HSP sanctuary that we can slip away to every now and again. During this time, we may meditate, nap, read a book… anything that helps us feel relaxed and less stimulated. When we have a space all our own to recharge, we feel safe and comfortable, and it allows us to show up better in our daily lives. And then we’ll feel like ourselves again.
Before I understood my high sensitivity trait, I’d allow myself to be swayed by friends who didn’t understand my need for alone time. “C’mon! Just come out with us,” my girlfriends would say to me in college. They thought it was strange that I actually wanted to spend a Saturday night by myself. But, for HSPs, having that time alone is nourishing and essential for us (even if it’s on a Saturday night).
In order for us highly sensitive people to truly thrive, it’s important that we create a supportive environment for ourselves. While we can hope the non-HSPs around us can guess our needs, it isn’t realistic. Our experience is unique, remember? Since we only make up about one-fifth of the population, we can’t expect everyone around us to simply “get it.”
So, instead, let’s step into an empowered space and be forthcoming about what we need. Let’s be unapologetic about our special sensitivity trait and lead the way with love. When we take our happiness and well-being into our own hands, everyone wins.
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