Highly Sensitive Refuge
Based on recent comments, Dolly Parton identifies as a “very sensitive person” and is likely an HSP.

Dolly Parton Is a ‘Very Sensitive Person’ — and Possibly an HSP

Dolly Parton is a sensitive, deep-feeling human being who uses her sensitivity to make a difference in the world — and she is proudly on the record as a “very sensitive person.”

Dolly Parton: she’s the larger-than-life superstar who created mega music hits like Jolene, 9-5, and I Will Always Love You. We know her as a country music legend and the savvy businesswoman behind Dollywood… but, what about as a highly sensitive person?

At first glance, you might not assume the vivacious Coat of Many Colors singer could possibly be sensitive, let alone highly sensitive. She seems to always be on-the-go and so comfortable in the limelight — which is full of stimuli that can easily overwhelm us highly sensitive people (HSPs).

However, in the media, especially lately, she’s been open about her sensitivity and deep-feeling, open-hearted nature.

In her latest book, Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics, Parton says: 

“As a songwriter and as a person, I have to leave myself wide open. I suffer a lot because I am open so much. I hurt a lot, and when I hurt, I hurt all over because I cannot harden my heart to protect myself. I always say that I strengthen the muscles around my heart, but I can’t harden it.”

While we can’t say for certain that Parton is an HSP, it’s apparent (at least to me) that her true nature is one of deep sensitivity and empathy. It doesn’t seem she’s turned away from these traits, either. In fact, she actually works with her deep-feeling gifts in order to create a positive impact on the world, as all of us highly sensitive types should do.

Parton States That She’s a “Very Sensitive Person”

“Seriously, I am a very sensitive person. I feel everything to the core,” Parton said in an interview with Closer Weekly.

She was referring to a difficult period, during the 1980s, when she was struggling both personally and professionally. It was a brief time in her life when she’d actually contemplated suicide. Parton, a woman who always appears to be cheerful and sparkly, has had her share of darkness.

“I don’t mind telling that story,” she said. “Of course, people make it a big deal, they are shocked at that, but I think it’s good for people to know that everybody goes through this kind of stuff. I do believe, though, that God puts those things in my life, too.”

Knowing that Parton is a deeply sensitive person, it makes sense why facing challenges could weigh so heavily on her. Highly sensitive people tend to be more affected by difficult circumstances than non-HSPs because of the way we’re prone to overstimulation. When we’re dealing with challenging situations, it can become incredibly overwhelming and heavy, sometimes leading to depression.

Although she’s dealt with her fair share of challenges, Parton’s career is one that, to say the least, has been truly riddled with success. The question that begs to be answered is: How has she been able to manage it all with her sensitive nature?

In a podcast interview on Brené Brown’s podcast, Unlocking Us, Brown asks Parton if she’s had a price to pay for “keeping her heart open.” Parton responds, saying, “It’s like I said in there,” referring to her book. “When you hurt, you hurt all over. I’m just the kind of person that rather than lashing out at something that hurts me, I usually cry about it and pray about it.”

In the podcast interview, Parton also explains how difficult it is for her to have tough conversations with her employees. “I would prefer that people do what they say they do … and then when they take my kindness or my sensitivity for weakness, that’s a big mistake, because I’ll go with you a long way, but I’ll call you on it,” she tells Brown.

As the owner of multiple companies, having difficult conversations and confrontations are likely an inevitable part of Parton’s life. Although she finds these situations uncomfortable, and sometimes painful, the benefits she gains from being sensitive seem to far outweigh the drawbacks of it.

How Parton Uses Her Sensitivity to Make a Difference

Highly sensitive people tend to be more empathetic than most. Our deep way of experiencing life tends to soften us toward others because we can understand — and even feel — the pain someone else is going through. The ability to feel strong emotions can be a huge benefit for HSPs as artists, too.

In an interview with Irish Times, Parton references her period of depression in the 1980s, saying, “I was there, so I know how everyone feels. I’ve been where everyone has been, and it makes me able to write, and communicate, with people more than most people.”

Although Parton’s ability to feel deeply seems to be what’s caused her the most pain, it’s also what makes her music so wonderful. Her empathy is the gift that connects her with her listeners in a profound and meaningful way, I think. In fact, it appears that she takes great pride in staying open-hearted in order to keep creating and helping others.

Similarly, in the podcast interview with Brown, Parton says, “I feel I have to feel for everybody, and I’m sure you’re the same way. You have to allow yourself to be open — and you can’t just shut these doors because you want to and you’d prefer to, maybe, but that’s not how you’re going to become a good quality human being that’s going to be able to serve humanity in the best ways you can.”

Serving humanity seems to be important to Parton. In 1995, she started an organization called Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library with the purpose of providing free books to children. The inspiration behind starting this organization? Parton’s father, a man who’d never learned to read or write.

In her Songteller: My Life in Lyrics book, she recalled saying, “Daddy, there are probably millions of people in the world who don’t know how to read or write, who didn’t get the opportunity. Don’t be ashamed of that, instead, let’s go do something special.”

To date, Imagination Library has provided 150 million books to 1.6 million children across the world. It’s beautiful, the difference that can be made when sensitive people lean into their empathy in order to make the world a little brighter.

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Parton’s a Quiet Person Who Appreciates Life’s Simple Pleasures

“I think probably people don’t really know what a quiet person I am,” Parton tells Brown in their podcast episode. “I’m so centered within myself,” she continues, “And when I don’t have to talk … I feel like I’m always having to be ‘on’ because somebody wants me to be on or they’re wanting something from me … But I’m basically like, when I go home, I’m very quiet. I’m very still within myself. So, I think people would be surprised to know what a calm person I really am.”

Quiet, calm, sensitive, empathetic. Despite Parton’s colorful, bold appearance, these traits seem to describe who this superstar is at her core. In her song, Just the Way I Am, her lyrics describe feelings that many HSPs can probably relate to. (I know I can!)

And even though you may not understand me
I hope that you’ll accept me like I am
For there are many sides of me, my mind and spirit must be free
And I might smile when other folks would frown
I don’t know why, it’s just the way I am
I might go out chasing butterflies
And if I fail to catch one I might cry
And if you want me you might find me in the meadow walking ’round
I don’t know why, it’s just the way I am

These lyrics give us a glimpse into who Parton really is and her sweet appreciation for the simple things in life. In her interview with Brown, she shares that one thing that brings her the greatest joy is simply sitting on the porch swing with her husband, watching the sunset. Parton also says that she keeps a tape recorder and a notebook next to her bed, just in case a song comes to her in a dream. She seems to be naturally creative, another trait of an HSP.

An appreciation for the small pleasures in life is another characteristic that highly sensitive people have in common. Having vivid dreams is another. While we can’t say for certain that Parton is an HSP, we can confidently say that she’s a sensitive, deep-feeling human being who uses her traits to make a difference in the world. She’s an example of what’s possible when we lean into our sensitivity and use it for good.

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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