Highly Sensitive Refuge
A strong highly sensitive person

Here’s How Being Highly Sensitive Can Make You Stronger, Not Weaker

Being highly sensitive is what makes you present to the human experience — and offers you a greater purpose in the world. 

Have you found yourself, in the depths of your soul, wondering why you feel everything so deeply and why that mind of yours is constantly working on overdrive to answer one question: “Why am I like this?”

It’s a feeling that sticks on the days you feel overstimulated in your own environment of day-to-day activities. You feel drained and need to retreat to your sacred place of solitude. You wonder why most people can’t relate and they often try to tell you how to be everything but how you’re feeling, saying something like, “Don’t be so sensitive.”

But, lately, I’ve begun to accept being a highly sensitive person (HSP). So I feel things more deeply, or process things longer, than a non-HSP — so what? Now, instead of feeling ashamed for being “different,” I embrace being an HSP. But I didn’t always feel this way.

Growing Up, I Never Felt I Belonged

As a child, I was often shamed for being emotionally expressive, sensitive, and soft-spoken. I was told that I wouldn’t make it in this world if I didn’t have the qualities extroverts do, like thriving around groups of people. 

I heard things like this time and time again from the people closest to me, which I subconsciously absorbed, leading me to eventually have little confidence and a low sense of self-worth, common among HSPs, I’d later learn.

I grew a deep dislike for who I was, so I became incredibly reserved. I told myself it wasn’t safe for me to reveal my “sensitive” layers to anyone, that being emotional and sensitive was a weakness. The once playful and compassionate child quickly became a recluse and ashamed.

But Everyday Life Slowly Revealed My HSP Gift

Growing up, I was also the little girl who would beg her parents to let me go sit with an elderly person I’d see dining alone. Or there was the time I begged my dad to stop his car to help two women on the side of the freeway whose car was on fire. And I was also the child who hid her tears anytime she saw someone with a physical ailment. 

I saw myself as a girl who wanted everyone to feel that they had a place in a world that often seemed cruel. But I also saw myself as someone who’d feel immense joy from the smallest things — the smell of the ocean breeze, the laugh of a loved one, a bloomed spring flower, or a perfectly sunny day. I could cry at the thought of any of those images.

As a teenager, I expressed my deepest self through creativity. I did everything from art, writing, and learning how to play guitar to eventually taking up photography. 

I started shooting street photography on film of people in their element, photographing things most people wouldn’t. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was another key sign you’re an HSP: seeing beauty in things other people would easily overlook. The more people didn’t understand my highly sensitive side, the more I found refuge in my photography classes.

In essence, I was the girl who noticed the subtleties. I was an observer of my environment and, through my observations, I picked up patterns, details, scents, and changes in people’s energies. This, too, led me to grow a deep compassion for people and to always extend my empathy to others. 

Everyday Life Also Revealed My HSP Struggles

Even though I didn’t even know the term “highly sensitive person” at the time, the gifts of being one also presented the struggles of being one. 

For instance, I became a people pleaser to overcompensate for my lack of self-worth, eventually disconnecting to who I truly was. I found myself overextending every bit of my being to everyone else’s needs, except mine, so I could feel appreciated and seen as meaning something to them — someone worthy of love and appreciation instead of someone flawed for being “too emotional” or “too sensitive.”

Ironically, people often came to me with their problems — HSPs can’t help but take on others’ emotions and feelings — but I later realized these were unsafe friendships: these same “friends” would also put me down for being my true self and expressing my feelings.

The more I’d experience these types of friendships, the more I’d keep the deepest parts of myself hidden in future relationships. I needed to feel completely safe, seen, and understood, which I hardly ever felt. It was a vicious cycle, but I had my breaking point and learned that enough was enough.

How I Learned to Get My Power Back

I didn’t know I was an HSP until a year-and-a-half ago after going through a painful relationship and breakup — one that threw me into the deepest descent of my life at the time. 

I found myself feeling the harshest emotions I’ve ever felt, ultimately realizing that this feeling was familiar: It was activating dormant wounds that I had experienced growing up, having always been shamed for who I was for my highly sensitive nature. I finally understood why I fell into the same patterns with familiar people. 

The kind of awakening I experienced was something inevitable, one that could not be predicted or controlled. It was like seeing a glistening jewel in desert sand that was just waiting to be picked up. 

It taught me that wherever I felt emptiness, there was also a capacity for space to transform. That transformation took me deeper into self-sufficiency, compassion, and love. The rebirth of that playful, warm, confident, and energetic little girl — sensitivity and all — was reconnected to again. I decided not to hide my high sensitivity, but to embrace it and use its gifts.

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How to Use Your Power of Sensitivity to Heal and Help Others

In my relationships, I learned the hard way to establish boundaries, find sacredness in my solitude, and relearn the power of my intuition. I also learned to focus on deeper, more meaningful friendships, and have learned to let go of toxic people.

Now, instead of being ashamed by my overly sensitive self, I love that I’m a highly sensitive person — including being innately attentive, empathetic, and understanding of people’s emotions. 

Because of these qualities, I have strengthened my intuition and have become much more perceptive and receptive. My natural ability to listen, accompanied by my strong memory, grants me a high perception of others, the ability to see the uniqueness in people’s complexities, and allows me to grasp their intentions and energies within seconds. 

Although my ability to unconsciously absorb others’ emotions is often draining — it’s easy to get mentally and emotionally flooded, and fast — knowing that I can help others makes it worth it. With my innate empathy, I like being able to relate to their struggles and comfort them as best I can.

Too often, our world has applauded the absence of feelings as a strength when, in fact, it is the complete opposite. Avoiding emotions causes a disconnect; it’s no wonder there’s an epidemic of loneliness, anxiety, and depression in the world. 

Instead, it’s our duty to strengthen our communities through meaningful connection with our incredible HSP awareness. If our words and actions are not rooted in empathy and compassion, we are doing the world a disservice. 

Being emotional is my strength, and it is yours, too. It is what makes us present to the human experience and we should see it for the gift it is as it helps us be of service to the world and others. 

Want to reduce stress and thrive as a highly sensitive person? We recommend these online courses from psychotherapist and sensitivity expert Julie Bjelland. Click here to learn more.

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