For HSPs, spirituality can involve so much more than belonging to a church. It simply means connecting with something higher than ourselves.
Disclaimer: I don’t intend to offend anyone who belongs to the religious sect I mention in the following article. Everything you read is based on research and personal experience.
For most of my life, I was religious, but I only started unearthing my spirituality a couple of years ago. I was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness and was encouraged to cultivate a relationship with my heavenly Father. I was taught that He loved me and wanted me to make it to the paradise earth He would create, where no one would ever age, get sick, or die.
It sounds like a nice sentiment, but my entire experience within the faith was about fear. I was constantly terrified because I fell short of the religion’s high expectations. We were taught that “the wages of sin is death.” My terror was fueled by graphic depictions of judgment day, where sinners were to be destroyed. To this day, these chilling images are burned into my memory (and even more so because of my highly sensitive brain).
Being one of Jehovah’s Witnesses means a highly regimented life that involves several weekly meetings and an obligation to complete missionary work for as many hours as possible during the month. The high-status members of the congregation, called pioneers, were “spreading the word” as much as seventy hours per month.
None of this suited my need for solitude or my distaste for telling others how to live their lives. As a highly sensitive introvert, I never felt good enough. By the time I graduated from high school, I had given up on my religion, yet my intuition told me that giving up on my faith wasn’t the right decision for me.
Why I Didn’t Give Up on Faith
Learning more about what it means to be a highly sensitive person (HSP) has taught me that being guided by spirituality is just part of my character. (Are you a highly sensitive person? Here are 21 signs that you’re an HSP.) Dr. Elaine Aron’s research reveals that I’m not alone. In her book, The Highly Sensitive Person, I read about the natural affinity HSPs share with spirituality, and Dr. Aron identifies some repeated experiences she had while interacting with HSPs in her work:
- The first occurred at the first HSP gathering at the University of California in 1992: Before she gave a speech, there was what Dr. Aron describes as a silence that resembled the atmosphere of a deep forest. Calm but remarkably alive. She observed that the once-ordinary assembly room was transformed by the presence of the individuals occupying it. Without saying a word, the HSPs had a profound, otherworldly effect on her.
- Dr. Aron mentions the considerate nature of HSPs in the way they think of others regarding even the smallest issues. In her courses for HSPs, she noticed that most highly sensitive people embraced her invitation to rest in silent meditation during sessions, whereas others responded with confusion, and even distress.
- Dr. Aron found that HSPs spoke about their spirituality as if it represented a core part of their identity, with lots of thoughtful insight to which they undoubtedly dedicated time and consideration. “With the others, when I would ask about inner life, philosophy, relationship to religion, or spiritual practices, suddenly these voices had new energy, as though I had finally gotten to the point,” she wrote of her soulful conversations with HSPs.
Of course, I know that many people manage to find real fulfillment in their devotion to organized religion, but I’ve learned that spirituality can involve so much more than belonging to a church. It simply means connecting with something higher than ourselves. To some of us, that means doing yoga; to others, it’s attending a mosque. Whatever the outlet, the end goal is achieving a sense of wholeness that seems to escape other people. Here are ways I think spirituality benefits HSPs.
5 Ways Spirituality Benefits Highly Sensitive People
1. It gives HSPs a sense of purpose, which highly sensitive types love.
HSPs seek purpose. Sometimes this desire feels like a burden. One of our definitive traits is depth of processing. On her blog, psychotherapist April Snow explains that highly sensitive brains have a larger insula, the region of the brain responsible for self-awareness and perception. We are constantly taking in a lot of information and we think very deeply about whatever we absorb. This can make it difficult for us to exist in the shallow waters of everyday life.
That’s where faith comes in. Faith, in all its forms, can help us establish that sense of purpose many of us crave. Through spiritual practices, we can seek — and find — a deeper, more satisfying meaning to life that makes it feel more fulfilling.
Similarly, Berkeley’s Greater Good Magazine suggests cultivating awe, gratitude, and altruism to connect with a higher purpose. All three of those sentiments can be developed through practices like volunteering and daily thanksgiving, as they foster a sense of being a part of something bigger than our own existence.
2. It helps alleviate stress and anxiety as we focus on positivity, like gratitude.
Highly sensitive people are more vulnerable to the effects of stress and burnout. For me, stress manifests through extremely uncomfortable bodily sensations. I’ll never forget eleventh grade, when I was taking a course that I hated and was panicking about getting into my universities of choice. I had terrible gastrointestinal symptoms and believed I was terribly ill. I later learned that my body was screaming for relief from the immense pressure I was putting on myself.
I wish I had known the value of spiritual practices back then that I now turn to for stress relief. I never knew the power of my inner strength until I started my (almost) daily gratitude practice. Since the stress of high school, I’ve dealt with many taxing situations, like being out of work and enduring family tragedy. I surprised myself with how I dealt with these trials, as I was able to find joy in every moment despite the difficult circumstances. My spirituality taught me that happiness comes from within me.
Spirituality can build our resilience by helping us deal with anxiety in a healthy way. Many spiritual outlets encourage us to surrender the problems we can’t control to a benevolent higher power, which allows us to focus on finding solutions instead of dwelling on negativity. Research, too, shows that the ritualistic nature of spiritual practices can be extremely stress relieving.
3. It strengthens relationships, and HSPs do enjoy connecting deeply with others.
Spirituality encourages many pro-social behaviors that can help highly sensitive people have an easier time navigating their relationships. Because HSPs need a lot of downtime, we may tend to neglect connecting with others even when isolation is eating us up. Most spiritual beliefs make relationships a priority, many referring to all human beings as part of a global family.
Despite our penchant for hermitting, HSPs usually have a lot of love to give, and a spiritual outlet can open doors to deeply enriching connections through charitable activities, group worship, and a general commitment to being there for the people in our lives. HSPs often have no trouble giving of themselves — we’re known for our empathic natures — but receiving support can be difficult. So being part of a spiritual community can teach us how to rely on our support systems when in need.
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4. It inspires creativity, which comes naturally to highly sensitive people.
In the first chapter of The Highly Sensitive Person, when describing the basic nature of the trait, Dr. Aron highlights the fact that many HSPs are right-brain dominant. This means that thought processes are less linear and more synthesizing, which fosters a more big-picture, intuitive, and creative style. It’s no surprise that many artists and other creatives are highly sensitive. In a chapter about thriving at work, Dr. Aron says, “Almost all HSPs have an artistic side they enjoy expressing.”
The tie to spirituality? I believe exploring spirituality can open up a whole new world of creative insight. In the animated movie Soul, creative flow is depicted as an elevated, transcendent state. Spirituality is the perfect avenue for HSPs to dive into the ocean of the subconscious and find inspiration within. Through this exploration, highly sensitive people can discover themselves and the world, creating something beautiful in the process.
5. It celebrates sensitivity — it helps you pick up on subtle energies around you.
In recent years, sensitivity has gained more exposure through the internet and illuminating new research, which has been a blessing to many HSPs who felt like something was wrong with them before they came to understand their trait. Still, we are not the majority, as we only represent around 20 percent of the population. Plus, sensitivity is still misunderstood in society, often mistaken for weakness. This leaves many highly sensitive people with the idea that they are lacking in some way because they function differently from the majority of other people.
In the realm of spirituality, sensitivity comes in handy. HSPs have the innate ability to pick up on subtleties others miss, and looking beyond the material facilitates transcendence. Most spiritual traditions provide a refuge for HSPs, where their loving, compassionate, and giving natures are cherished instead of outward characteristics, like being attractive or wealthy.
Just imagine the possibilities!
Spirituality Can Be Your Stronghold as a Highly Sensitive Person
When I decided to embrace my spirituality, I became more grateful, more resilient, and less stressed. Every day, new challenges still pop up, but because of my faith, I’m confident in my ability to face them. As a person who tends to lack self-belief, like many other HSPs, unfortunately, a spiritual practice — in the form of gratitude, affirmations, and meditation — has worked wonders for my happiness and has gotten me into a flow state.
Being highly sensitive is a gift, and spirituality can help us uncover the many blessings life has to offer if only we dare to claim them. Especially in times of civil unrest and global emergency, we should permit ourselves to draw strength from every support available, and you should know that the most powerful strength lives inside of you right now.
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You might like:
- How Spiritual Direction Can Help HSPs in Troubled Times
- 4 Ways Being Highly Sensitive Is a Divine Gift to the World
- How Practicing a ‘Flow State’ Is Revolutionary for HSPs
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