HSPs are often told they are not “normal” and they need to “fix” their sensitive traits. Here’s how to respond, and even thrive — in ways less-sensitive people can’t imagine.
“Stop being so sensitive — it is just a movie.”
“How will you deal with life in the future if you can’t bear watching someone in pain?”
“Why are you crying… again?”
These are sentences that most of us who are highly sensitive people (HSPs) have probably heard at some point — or at many points — in our lives.
I know that when I was younger, I was sure that being “too sensitive” was one of the many things that was “wrong” with me. In high school, being physically slow, and emotionally sensitive, was all I needed to be called “weak” among my classmates. In the deep desire to be liked and accepted, I tried everything to change myself, including forcefully numbing my emotions so that I could stop my mind from feeling deeply and pretending to not care about anyone or anything.
Learning I Am a Highly Sensitive Person
Today, I am 28 years old. A couple years ago, I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and Anxiety Disorder. Seeking professional help not only helped me recover and manage my depression and anxiety symptoms, but also set me on a path of self-awareness. I learned new things about myself — including the fact that I’m a highly sensitive person. Finally, I had a name for how I was feeling and the way I reacted to things — there was nothing “wrong” with me, after all! I’ve also learned to embrace my sensitivity and see it for all the wonderful characteristics it provides me with, from using my power of intuition to noticing all the beautiful subtleties in life.
Before we get into how HSPs can better cope in a non-sensitive society, what does it mean to be “highly sensitive” in the first place? (Personally, I know I would have liked to know more about this years ago!)
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The Science Behind Highly Sensitive People
Although it’s safe to say that everyone is sensitive to a point, some of us are more sensitive than others. Nearly 30 percent of people are born more sensitive than average, and this means both emotionally and physically. (While about 20 percent of people are low in sensitivity, around 40 percent are average in it.) Researchers call this trait environmental sensitivity (or Sensory Processing Sensitivity). And, not to worry, all three levels of environmental sensitivity are healthy and normal.
So where do highly sensitive people (HSPs) come in? They’re adults and children who fall near the high end of the sensitivity continuum. And there are common traits you’ll see from one HSP to the next, including: they are deeply in touch with their physical environment; they feel others’ emotions as though they’re their own; they’re extremely empathic when it comes to others; they notice the smallest of details; and their sense of intuition is very strong. (There are many more gifts that come with being an HSP, too — the aforementioned are just a few!)
In essence, stimuli that may not affect others will affect a highly sensitive person, like light and chemical sensitivity, noise, materials and textures (like the fabric of a sweater), and so on. And some research has found that high sensitivity is linked to giftedness.
If you’re wondering how one “becomes” sensitive, you’re born that way — and then your high sensitivity usually develops further over the course of your life. Even though highly sensitive people get overstimulated easily, there are ways to manage it and better regulate their sometimes overwhelming emotions. Sensitivity has many advantages, once you learn to accept and embrace it.
In my journey of self-discovery and self-love, I thoroughly learned what it means to be a highly sensitive person — and how to make the most of it, not see it as a “flaw.” If you are reading this article, I am assuming that either you are an HSP or you know someone who is (or who may be). In any case, I want to share three things that have been helping me live in the world as an HSP, since highly sensitive people are often misunderstood by society. And I really hope we can change that.
3 Ways HSPs Can Cope in a Non-Sensitive Society
1. Accepting your sensitivity will set you free.
In the culture of “Be strong” and “Just let it go,” HSPs are often told they are not “normal” and that they need to “fix” their sensitivity trait. Studies show that HSPs do not have a personality flaw or disorder — we just process things differently. To my engineering friends, I explain my sensitivity to them using the analogy that the algorithm written in an HSP’s brain is just different from the majority — but that doesn’t make it “wrong.”
Practicing self-love, gratitude, and self-compassion has helped me accept my trait instead of trying to fix it. In my opinion, no feeling or emotion is incorrect. So whenever I feel something that doesn’t seem logically in sync with what the world has taught me about feelings, I simply welcome the feeling and accept it unconditionally.
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2. It’s okay to be misunderstood — not everyone will “get” it.
After becoming aware of the traits of highly sensitive people, I tried to explain it to my friends, family, and colleagues. I let them know why I feel so deeply about my friendships, why I need downtime, and why sensitive topics (like watching a female character going through a miscarriage in a movie) make me feel sensations in my stomach and mind (even when I have never been pregnant).
Recently, I came across a quote by Ana Verzone, a spiritual mindset coach: “One of the most relaxing things you can do for yourself — better than a spa vacation in a remote mountain area — is to let people be wrong about you.”
So now I have come to terms with this, depending on the situation and/or person. There are times when I delay my explanations and there are times when I let people take initiative and ask me more about it. But when nothing works, I accept being misunderstood. Not everyone will “get” us, and that is okay. All we can do is try.
And, to me, no matter how much you try, there will always be people in your life who will not understand why you react to certain situations in a certain way. There will also be situations when people around you, with the best of intentions, will not be able to understand your state of mind. Gradually and slowly, you need to learn to be okay with that.
3. Remember: “This too shall pass.”
A lot of times, when my feelings become too deep, and when the situation becomes too overwhelming for me, I remind myself: “This too shall pass.” In situations where my feelings are overwhelmingly positive, this quote makes me grateful and keeps me grounded. And in situations where the feelings are overwhelmingly negative and difficult to handle, this quote reminds me that the feelings are temporary and there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Try it for yourself and see what happens!
Transience is the only constant in nature. It is said that no matter where you are in life, it is all temporary — and will change whether you want it to change or not. In my opinion, it is true for feelings, as well. Reminding myself of transience helped me cope with anxiety, depression, and the uncertainty of life overall.
It’s All About Trial and Error — What Works for Me May Not Work for You
These are my ways of coping with life as an HSP, but as we all know everyone is different and what works for me might not work for you. So please feel free to think about your ways of living life as an HSP — living your best life.
We are all different, yet similar. But one thing is for sure: You are not alone in this. Remember, nearly 30 percent of people are HSPs, and given that the world population is nearly 8 billion, that means there are a lot of us HSPs out there!
My fellow highly sensitive souls, what coping mechanisms would you add to the above? I would love to hear in the comments!