Highly Sensitive Refuge
A highly sensitive woman who looks strong and confident, not weak, wearing a pink jacket

How I Stopped Feeling ‘Weak’ as a Highly Sensitive Person

It took time to realize that I’m not weak — and that being an HSP doesn’t have to make us weak at all. In fact, we can be some of the strongest people in the room. It just takes a change in perspective. 

Highly sensitive people: do you ever feel it is your fault you can’t handle a situation? That it is your so-called weakness that means you can’t “handle” certain surroundings? 

Or, do you feel you struggle to keep up, do you feel you need to fit in, to just be like everyone else and move on and stop being so helpless? 

Well, I have — a lot of the time. It took me quite some time to realize I’m a highly sensitive person (HSP) and that I have a different threshold when it comes to how much overstimulation I can take. Since then, I’ve discovered that I’m “different” than non-HSPs, and that’s okay. I have different interests, I need to be on my own (and get alone time), need my space (like quiet surroundings), and need recovery time from social activities. (The “HSP hangover” is real!)

I’ve also discovered I’m not weak — and that being an HSP doesn’t have to make us weak at all. In fact, we can be some of the strongest people in many situations. 

It just takes a change in perspective. 

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How to Stop Feeling ‘Weak’ as a Highly Sensitive Person — And Became Confident

In order to stop feeling weak, I had to learn five difficult lessons. Some of them took longer than others, but together they allowed my HSP strengths lead the way instead. Perhaps you’ll be able to relate — and perhaps, they will help you find your own strength as an HSP, too.

1. Speak up for what you want — and need — at work.

When we’re at home, in our HSP cocoon, we can control our environment a lot more easily than we can when at work. The workplace provides a whole new challenge. 

I have had several different jobs (primary school teacher, after-school care worker, and various secretarial office jobs). At the latter, I discovered the horror of open-plan offices. In the Netherlands, where I live, they are romantically referred to as “office gardens,” as though it is like working in a peaceful garden with big plants and what not. But don’t be fooled!

Instead, they’re big floors with islands made from desks and you can hear everything! The clicking of a pen, coughing, someone nibbling an apple, conversations… you name it. 

I immediately discovered working in such an environment could really cause me to go crazy. 

And I felt weak — weak for not being able to do something that seems so simple and, from the looks of it, comes so easily to everyone else. How is it that they can just sit there, do their work, concentrate, and actually get something done? Meanwhile, I could not concentrate, got irritated, stressed, jumpy, very moody, and extremely tired. (HSPs already need more sleep than non-HSPs, so you can only imagine how much more tired I was from this work environment!)

Both jobs where this happened, I got the opportunity — luckily — to move to a quieter office. But first, I had to speak up and share my “weakness.” I felt like such a loser, a “weak” woman who couldn’t acclimate like everyone else. But you know what? Speaking up for our wants — and needs — is crucial. It’s not easy for us HSPs to create and set boundaries, but once you do so, you’ll see how much it benefits your life. Plus, I was much more productive, which benefited my boss’ life, too.

2. Be strong enough to know when it’s time to leave an unhealthy situation. 

Surroundings are one thing, but the people you work with are another. The personalities and the way the company is managed can be very harsh and brutal — there may be no empathy, no interest in your outside of your work task(s), and unhealthy competition among employees. 

I experienced these things, as well, and again felt weakness creeping into my soul: I can’t handle this situation. I am not strong enough. I want to speak up, but am afraid. And so on…

I felt really uncomfortable and had to put on a smile every day and pretend I wasn’t bothered. But, on the inside, it was eating at me. And I had to once again make a decision: Stay in such an unsupportive work environment? Or walk away?

In this case, I was frustrated and burned out. I decided to walk away and find a work setting that was better-suited for my HSP soul.

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3. Know that your energy and time are precious, so use them wisely.

When I found my current workplace, I was so grateful I did. And then suddenly it hit me: I am not “weak”; I am not a “failure”; I am not at fault in these situations. Just because I don’t fit in well with certain people or cannot work in an open-plan office does not mean I am doing something “wrong.” It simply means that the circumstances don’t fit me. 

For me, it felt like fleeing the situation when I started feeling out of place — like I was running away because I couldn’t “handle” it. But I realize now that this isn’t the case. Instead of looking at it as running away, I decided to look at it from a self-care point of view. I have to leave this place in order to keep my stress level low, keep my sanity in check, and take care of my heart, soul, and dignity. 

I made a choice — I chose me. That is not “weak,” that is bold. It is taking the lead and putting yourself first. I made the choice not to spend my precious time and energy on people — and a work environment — that was not good for me.

4. Focus on what makes you the happiest — and do that.

When I initially would leave bad work situations, I would beat myself up over it. Could I have tried harder? Stuck it out longer? Smiled on the outside even though I was frowning on the inside?

But what would any of those scenarios have brought me? Would that have made me feel less “weak” and made me feel strong? Or made me feel dumb in the end? Dumb for doing something soul-crushing for too long? 

Of course, life throws challenges on your path, and they make you stronger and you grow from going through difficult experiences. But at some point, enough is enough. I started to really reflect a lot on what made me happiest, work-wise. It’s painting in my room, tea and music close by, and just creating something, anything. I’d like to sell my art and make a living as an artist. (And, yes, I see a lot of YouTube content about how to do this, but at this point, this is not my path.) 

Even though I realized certain jobs were not for me, they brought me closer to ones that were — and that’s what matters.

5. Always put yourself first… always!

In our society, highly sensitive people are often misunderstood, which contributes to our feeling weak. It’s as though we have some unspoken pressure to acclimate and fit in — and not show our emotions or sensitivities at any costs.

But now I think: I am just fine the way I am — I don’t have to change. Rather, I just have to find certain elements to surround myself with (like asking for a private office). 

So my advice to you is: Put yourself first. Always.

What do you need? What makes you happy? What kind of people do you want to interact with?

Look for those elements and add them to your life, so you live a content and fulfilling life without feeling you are “weak” and without feeling you need to change who you are. You are just what the world needs. Trust me. 

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