My experience as a highly sensitive Latina is different from what you might expect — and sheds light on the struggles all HSPs deal with, regardless of race.
In my culture, la familia (the family) is everything. You’re expected to spend all your time together — working in the family business, eating and socializing together, taking trips as a family, and more. Desperate to please my family, I would agree to these expectations, but suffer in silence, fighting off a migraine due to overstimulation. I’d return home and require days to recover and feel back to myself again. I’d vow to speak up, but would feel like I had no other options.
As an introverted, highly sensitive Latina, I desperately needed time alone to recharge, but this was diametrically opposed to family expectations. It was considered downright rude that I would leave an event early, even if it was essential for my sensitive nervous system.
“Are you mad at us?” — my mother would text me this after I left a family event early because the loud music was causing a sensory nightmare.
“Why aren’t you proud of who you are? Of us?” — my tia (aunt) would plead.
It became apparent that to please my family, and honor cultural expectations, was to be at the expense of my mental and physical health.
When I tried to set more boundaries to honor my sensitivity within my family, it was a constant barrage of questions and judgments: “You don’t need a break from family,” said my loud, extroverted father, a man who could be around people 24/7 and never tire from them.
I deeply wished I didn’t have to choose to be Latina or a highly sensitive person (HSP). Finally, I realized that I didn’t have to. But it took a while…
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Being Sensitive Among a Family of Non-Believers
Nearly 30 percent of the population is made up of sensitive people — and I’m one of them. But if you took one look at my boisterous Puerto Rican family, you wouldn’t even know that HSPs exist.
Growing up as a sensitive, introverted girl in a large, loud Puerto Rican family left me confused about who I was — and where I fit into my culture. The pressure to follow social expectations, attend loud gatherings, and conform to the fast-paced life left me overstimulated and miserable.
Even before I discovered I was a highly sensitive person, I felt at odds with my culture and questioned if I was “Latina enough.” Before I go on, let’s first talk more about what it means to be “sensitive.”
What Does It Mean to Be ‘Sensitive’?
Being “sensitive” is a personality trait. Scientists define high sensitivity as taking in more information from your environment, processing it more deeply, and doing more with it, according to Andre Sólo and Jenn Granneman, coauthors of Sensitive and founders of Sensitive Refuge. Sólo says that the sensitive brain is actually wired to process all information more deeply — which causes it to spend more time and mental resources doing so.
Because of this deep processing, sensitive people tend to have certain characteristics. Many are creative deep thinkers who pick up on subtle details and nuance, and make connections that others don’t see. They also tend to have high levels of empathy, because they process emotional cues more deeply, too. And many are very in touch with their physical environment, noticing even the smallest changes around them. These are all advantages, of course, but the sensitive brain can get overstimulated, too, especially when in loud, chaotic, or emotionally intense environments… and this is where my family comes into the picture!
Could I Be Highly Sensitive… and Latina?
As I started to notice the signs that I was a highly sensitive person and honor that my brain works differently than less-sensitive people, I felt like I couldn’t also be Latina. My parents told me being highly sensitive was “a white thing” — implying that I was less Puerto Rican if I had this trait. I struggled to find information about highly sensitive Latinx that spoke to my experience — or not — and which didn’t put me into a box.
Adding to my struggles, I noticed the founding research around the HSP trait is based on the English language — and primarily made up of non-Latinx researchers. There are certain things that don’t translate between the two languages or across cultures. I hardly saw any Latinx public figures, or even trusted family members, who were highly sensitive. So where did I fit in?
Expanding the Definition of Sensitivity to Honor the Entire Latinx Diaspora
My experience as a highly sensitive Puerto Rican woman is different from a Spanish woman, a non-binary person from Guatemala, or even a Puerto Rican man. This means that even as we expand the exploration of high sensitivity into the Latinx community, we have to honor the massive and far-reaching diaspora of our experiences.
Thankfully, in the past year, progress in HSP research, and ideas like cross-cultural validation, are starting to include non-English speakers and people outside the United States. This is expanding how high sensitivity looks across languages, cultures, and identities.
Need to Calm Your Sensitive Nervous System?
HSPs often live with high levels of anxiety, sensory overload and stress — and negative emotions can overwhelm us. But what if you could finally feel calm instead?
That’s what you’ll find in this powerful online course by Julie Bjelland, one of the top HSP therapists in the world. You’ll learn to turn off the racing thoughts, end emotional flooding, eliminate sensory overload, and finally make space for your sensitive gifts to shine.
Stop feeling held back and start to feel confident you can handle anything. Check out this “HSP Toolbox” and start making a change today. Click here to learn more.
The Struggles and Gifts of Being a Highly Sensitive Person
Regardless of your gender, race, or cultural identity, I bet you can relate to my story because being a highly sensitive person comes with universal challenges. While you might find joy in the small things, you have to be constantly mindful of overstimulation. You crave deep, meaningful connections, and can’t stand when people are inauthentic, fake, or abusive.
Even within high sensitivity, you can be high-sensation seeking and enjoy the thrill of intense, exciting events (followed by lots of rest.) Or you might be an extroverted highly sensitive person, with the capacity for many social relationships, as long as you are intentional with your alone time. And you may still be exploring if you’re introverted, extroverted, or an empath.
All in all, these factors add an additional layer of exploration and struggles if you’re exploring high sensitivity within your cultural identity. For example, certain cultures (like mine!) reward extroversion. If you’re an extroverted HSP, it might have taken you longer to realize you were highly sensitive because it was easier for you to blend in. At the same time, you might feel more confused that you’re not like a typical extrovert. We all play certain roles in our families, and it’s not easy being sensitive in one that doesn’t believe in it!
How I Honor My Sensitivity and My Latina Identity When They Feel Worlds Apart
As I learned more about being highly sensitive, something clicked for me. I realized the more I “hid” my sensitivity and tried to fit in, the more miserable I became. But what was the point of my family only getting the worst of me? Why would I suffer in silence when I was a grown adult?
I realized I had a choice. I didn’t have to follow the mold of what was expected of me, as a woman, a highly sensitive person, or as a Latina. I realized that I could create my own story of what it meant to be a highly sensitive Latina.
When I was ready to ditch the stories I was told, I started to listen to podcasts and read a ton of books with different perspectives. I already had a thirst for travel and visited new countries. With each new destination, I talked to people from different cultures and countries to see that the expectations from my family were not the only way to exist.
I learned there were different ways of life beyond what I knew and what I had been told. I didn’t have to live how my family expected me to, but could do what worked best for my sensitive soul. I loved my family and the rich culture of my heritage. Yet I decided to forge my own path of what it means to be a highly sensitive Latina.
Boundaries Are My Best Friend (Plus, Sweatpants)
Over the years, I’ve found that what I need to be truly happy with my sensitive nature is living alone, slow-paced travel, honoring my needs, plenty of rest, and small doses of social events. More often than not, these needs are at odds with my Puerto Rican family’s lifestyle.
But that’s okay. I still love my family and I now choose how I spend time with them. I practice boundary-setting with them so they can get the best of me, but also so that I can get the best of me.
My parents still don’t understand my needs as a highly sensitive, introverted person. But that doesn’t mean my needs aren’t valid. What’s important to me is that I feel connected to my family and my heritage. I can still be a proud Latina without having to do everything that is expected of me. I am not less Latina because I am highly sensitive.
Denying Your Sensitivity Can Harm Your Mental Health — But You Can Change That
Even as high sensitivity becomes more well-known, you may face a similar struggle as I have. Your family may not “believe” that you’re an HSP. Your culture might not “allow” you to be sensitive. Your community might say you’re “too sensitive.” But I’m here to tell you that your needs are 100 percent valid.
As a licensed therapist who specializes in highly sensitive people, I see how the desire to be perfect and fit in makes my HSP clients unhappy and exhausted. They often come to me feeling lonely, miserable, sick, and burned out. The good news is, as they learned about the HSP trait and started to approach their mental health through a different lens, they started to feel happier, healthier, and more joyful. I have no doubt this is possible for you, too.
Check out my free mini-podcast, Become a Radical Introvert: How to Find Peace In A Fast-Paced World, to discover how to fully honor and celebrate your sensitivity today.
You might like:
- As a Highly Sensitive Person of Color, I Don’t Fit Anyone’s Cookie Cutter
- These Are the Roles HSPs End Up Playing in Their Families — And How to Change Them
- 7 Little Things That Make Highly Sensitive People Happy
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