Highly Sensitive Refuge
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Do You Crave Deeper, More Meaningful Friendships? You’re Not Alone

For sensitive people, the types of connections we make can either feed us or drain us.

Deep conversations feed my soul. Although I’m an introvert who recharges in solitude, I’ve found there are some people who give me energy. I’m invigorated by people who can talk to me about feelings, dreams, passions, or intentions. In short, anytime someone can hold a conversation that goes deep beneath the surface it gives me life. 

On the flip side, I hate small talk: The weather, how my weekend was, where I got my shoes. You know what I mean. Conversations that barely scratch the surface — because they’re trapped in the cycle of niceties and politeness — give me the same feeling as driving up to Chick-Fil-A on a Sunday. 

If you can relate, you might be a highly sensitive person (HSP) — someone who processes all information more deeply and, for that reason, often craves deeper connection. 

(Wondering if you’re a highly sensitive person? See if these signs sound like you.)

Why Sensitive People Crave Deeper Connection

As an HSP, I used to think something was wrong with me for dreading big social gatherings or networking events where I’d spend the entire night repeating the same introduction — and having the same small talk — over and over again. During those occasions, I’d also feel my body tense while sitting at the dinner table, trying to tune into just one of dozens of conversations happening around me. Because HSPs are more in tune to the subtle details of their surroundings, we often feel overstimulated in busy environments, especially when it means we have to engage in small talk.

Similarly, if I’m around a group of friends — acquaintances, more like — who can’t move beyond small talk to dive into bigger ideas and bigger feelings, I tend to feel exhausted. Research shows HSPs feel emotions more strongly than others because our brains are wired differently. As a result, the types of connections we make with other people can either feed us or drain us. And the more shallow the connection, the more draining it is. 

All of this can leave us feeling lonely — even if we have a lot of people in our life, or even when we’re with others. If you can relate, it might be time to reflect upon your friendships and the connections you’ve formed. Here are six ways you can create deeper, more meaningful relationships — with neighbors, co-workers, friends, and family.

6 Ways to Create Deeper Connections

1. Deepen the questions you normally ask.

We’re taught that small talk is polite. But you can remove it from your vocabulary and change the way you interact with others. 

  • Ask “How do you feel” instead of “How are you?” 
  • Ask someone what they’ve struggled with lately
  • Get to the root of an intention and ask why
  • If you feel nervous about a lull in the conversation, invite the other person in and ask, “What do you think about that?” 

Often, we’ll wait for someone else to take the lead and deepen a moment. But HSPs: you have the power, too! When you ask deeper questions, you open yourself to learning more about the other person and forging a bigger connection. 

For instance, I was introduced to someone who met her boyfriend cycling across the country. My normal, socially anxious response would have been, “How tired were you at the end of the day?” (A fine question, but a surface one.) Instead, I challenged myself to go a little deeper and ask, “What did you find most challenging about cycling across the country?” She shared with me how monotonous waking up and doing the same thing (cycling for approximately 100 miles) for three months straight felt. 

2. Use your HSP superpower to sense what the other person needs.

Sometimes it may feel like a person isn’t interested in carrying on a conversation with you, which can affect us because we tend to absorb emotions more than others. But you can use your HSP superpower to be empathetic about how they might be feeling and take your connection to a new level by addressing it. 

Maybe they also find small talk challenging, in which case move to medium talk by asking the deeper questions mentioned above. Or maybe they’re going through something emotionally difficult — and you can offer to be that kind ear they need. 

Instead of assuming that people don’t want to have a conversation with you, direct the conversation in a meaningful way by using what your superpower has picked up on — or by asking them questions (if appropriate) to get a better sense of what they really need in the situation.

3. Use small talk to get deep — about yourself.

In The Secret Lives of Introverts, Jenn Granneman — the co-founder of this site — invites introverts to be comfortable sharing more about themselves. The same invitation can be extended to HSPs, who are also likely to withhold information when it comes to personal details and anecdotes. 

If your goal is to create deeper and more meaningful friendships, accept the fact that many people will want to learn more about you. Use small talk as an opportunity to share more about yourself, what you’re working on, and what you’re passionate about. This gives people who want to connect with you an invitation to dive deeper because you’re making it clear that’s who you are and what you value. 

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4. Practice radical honesty.

Speaking of personal information: The majority of the world doesn’t process emotions like HSPs, so you may have been told that talking about your feelings is not safe. Put simply, radical honesty is a practice by author Brad Blanton that involves being completely truthful, even when most people would tell a white lie instead. It’s based on the idea that we trap ourselves in a web of dishonesty, which actually prevents others from connecting with us on a deep level. 

Sharing honestly can deepen connections and friendships. Although our natural instinct is to withhold information about ourselves, sharing a true opinion — or how you’re feeling about something — can help two people understand each other much more authentically.

Here are examples of how to be radically honest:

  • “I don’t feel ready to join you at a big party where I don’t know anyone.”
  • “This is hard for me to admit, but…”
  • “I’m having trouble concentrating on the conversation…”
  • “In order to be comfortable, I need…”

We can often carry the weight of the world on our shoulders as HSPs, but it’s important we learn how to be true to ourselves and our own needs. And sometimes this means speaking up — honestly. 

5. Surround yourself with a safety net of people you trust.

While you’re growing your network of deep friendships, you might encounter people who criticize or trigger you. Because HSPs take on the emotions of others, it’s common for them to feel what others feel. For similar reasons, HSPs are affected by triggering remarks. 

Accept that you cannot please everyone — including family. So be selective with the relationships in your life; deep friendships often end up being a matter of quality over quantity. Surround yourself with people who lift you up versus toxic people who are prone to criticize. You can’t always control how other people treat you, but you can control whether or not you continue to make a place for them in your life. 

According to Dr. Elaine Aron, who first identified high sensitivity, studies show that HSPs react strongly to positive environments. Creating your own positive environment will allow your personality to shine — which could include holding small social intimate gatherings full of people who build you up rather than tear you down.  

6. Forgive yourself.

We’re prone to overanalyzing the way we act in situations. So next time you feel trapped in a cage of your thoughts during a new conversation or an uncomfortable one, remember to breathe. Most people don’t pay the same kind of attention to the small details you’re spinning your wheels about.

If you feel nervous or you make a misstep when interacting with someone new or someone you’re hoping to deepen a connection with, be easy on yourself. Friendships aren’t perfect and you won’t be either. Practice kindness — first and foremost with yourself — as you search for and develop greater meaning in your connections.

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