When I learned that I am a highly sensitive person, a lot of things clicked for me. This is why I always felt so different and misunderstood. This is why I appreciate beauty and nature, as well as feel emotions strongly. This is why I so often cry when I’m both happy and sad. The list goes on. I’ve had to work very hard to learn to embrace the incredible parts — and the challenges — of being highly sensitive.
And it’s something that not everyone understands. Highly sensitive people (HSPs) are not very common — only 15 to 20 percent of the population. Our nervous systems are wired to take in more detail and process everything a little more deeply, which means we tend to be very creative, empathetic, and tuned-in. But it also means we get worn out and overstimulated easily. That’s not always easy for other people to understand and accept.
It’s not always easy to explain, either. Unfortunately, some people don’t even believe that high sensitivity is a real thing — or they simply believe you’re being “dramatic” or “too sensitive.” Some people just won’t get it, and that sucks… but many people will.
If you’re reading this right now to better understand and care for an HSP in your life, believe me, it means the world to them. Here are 10 ways to care for the highly sensitive person in your life.
Not sure if you’re a highly sensitive person? These signs will help.
10 Ways to Care for an HSP
1. Ask them what helps when they’re overwhelmed… before they’re overwhelmed.
When I am too stressed out, overwhelmed, or in a state of panic, I can’t really effectively communicate my needs. And that used to mean that my fiancé didn’t know how to help me. The result was that my panic made him panic — which didn’t exactly make things easier for either of us.
So, I’ve had conversations with my fiancé about what to do when I get in that state. Often, I just need a hug and someone to listen or someone to be next to me. And, personally, I need to remember to drink water (the more you know!). Now, he’s really able to help me in the way I need, even if I can’t tell him in the moment.
Let me tell you, it makes a big difference.
2. Let the HSP handle the atmosphere.
Most people don’t really care about the lights, the music, or other external factors. They might have a preference, but generally, they roll with it. Highly sensitive people are different — our sensitive nervous systems are greatly affected by these things. Loud noises, bright lights, itchy clothing, and more can make us feel very stressed and overwhelmed. We generally can’t stay in these types of environments long without burning out, and if we stay longer, we really crash or get irritable.
The solution? If you don’t mind, just let your HSP handle the lighting and the music when you’re together, or come up with a compromise. Another option: If you’re out at a restaurant and the TVs are blaring, maybe you could ask the waitress to seat both of you somewhere that’s quieter, especially if you notice your HSP getting irritated or overwhelmed.
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3. Be their advocate.
There is nothing that will endear you more to an HSP than calmly, accurately, and wholeheartedly speaking up for their needs.
Many highly sensitive people, myself included, absolutely hate conflict or criticizing others and shut down at the thought. Yet we’re often in a position where, if we don’t speak up for our needs, those needs just aren’t going to get met — and people aren’t always understanding when we do so. It’s a recipe for anxiety.
If you can help your HSP out when dealing with healthy conflict, please do so. You don’t necessarily have to fight their battles for them, just be a stand-in to help ease the situation. It can be as simple as backing them up (“Yeah, it really is pretty loud in here, can you just turn it down a little?”) or being the first one to say something (“Pardon me, but it’s pretty cold in here. Is there a way to adjust the AC?”).
4. Speaking of helping…
As a highly sensitive introvert, phone calls stress me out. Sometimes I feel comfortable enough to call and make an appointment if I have to, but if my fiancé can do it, it really takes the pressure off. Maybe your HSP doesn’t mind phone calls, but something else causes them to panic. Help them out with that instead.
5. Learn their love language.
The five languages of love are an idea from author Gary Chapman. The basic idea is that there are five main ways you can express your love, and most people tend to prefer one or two of those “love languages” over the others. The five languages of love are gifts, physical touch, acts of service, words of affirmation, and quality time.
I think knowing someone’s love language is helpful for any relationship. Their preferred love language tells you not only how they’re most likely to express love to others, but also what will feel most meaningful when it’s given to them. One person may be head over heels if you give them flowers or a book (“gifts”), while another person may be unimpressed but would really appreciate some help around the house (“acts of service”).
While it’s helpful for anyone, it’s especially useful for HSPs — both because we so often feel misunderstood, and because we value a deep connection with our loved ones more than almost anything else. You can take this simple quiz to find out your primary love language.
6. Don’t be annoyed if your HSP suddenly gets quiet or even “disappears” for a few days.
Highly sensitive people are often confused with introverts. They’re not the same thing, but they have something in common: both need a lot of quiet downtime. For HSPs, though, it’s because we need time to process things and avoid overstimulation from doing too much — even if we’re extroverts.
This is just part of the package deal, and the HSP in your life will be grateful if you’re cool with it. Don’t make us disappear unannounced to get our quiet time — give us our space.
7. Be honest with them.
Many HSPs can cut through the B.S. real fast. Because our brains are built to process social cues and we easily read people’s emotions, we’re sort of like a walking lie detector. And since it’s so obvious to us, dishonesty really rankles us. Do yourself a favor and just be honest from the start, okay?
8. Resist arguing about politics, religion, and other touchy topics, unless your HSP likes that sort of thing.
Remember what I said about hating conflict? Arguing about opinions is the worst kind, because it never gets anywhere — especially charged topics like politics and religion. (Also, showing compassion toward your HSP’s view is much more likely to bring them around than just arguing them into the ground.) I know I don’t mind talking about this stuff with a close friend, but arguing with someone who will just talk over me will make me leave the room very quickly.
9. Let them make the plans if possible.
HSPs can get overwhelmed easily and get anxious if we don’t know the plan — whether it’s for a night out or a whole travel plan. We generally aren’t fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants people, and that’s okay! On the other hand, we do tend to be very good at planning activities and trips that everyone will love, because we care so much about the needs of others. So, involve your HSP in making the plan or, if you’re not the planning sort, ask them if they’ll take the lead.
10. Just love and accept them.
That is really all we need. You don’t need to coddle us or treat us as if we’re different, just accept our quirks and love us for our sensitive, caring selves. I promise your HSP will love and accept you right back!
HSPs, are there any steps I left out? Let me know in the comments.