Highly Sensitive Refuge
A highly sensitive person sitting on the floor laughing with a good friend while they work on a craft together.

How to Be a Good Friend to a Highly Sensitive Person

Your HSP friend is looking to see if it’s safe to be emotional with you — and whether they can open up.

During these times of politics and pandemic, a lot of sad and disheartening news is making the rounds, and it’s impacting people’s mental health. It can push someone to suffer from anxiety, depression, or a myriad of other mental health-related issues, even if they never have before. 

While a non-HSP may watch the news and not be affected, if you’re a highly sensitive person (HSP) like I am, you may find yourself overthinking, absorbing the suffering you see on social media, or even feeling traumatized; tragic stories may even bring you to tears.

And — because not everyone is as sensitive as we are — it may feel like no one understands. 

That’s where we really need to turn to our most trusted loved ones, and even more importantly, it’s when we need them to really hear us. 

If you think or know you have a friend who’s highly sensitive, we may not exactly be updating our Facebook status to reveal how we’re truly feeling for all to see. But highly sensitive people need certain things to be happy, including permission to get emotional and let all our feelings out, and close, meaningful relationships. That’s where you come in — it’s time to check on your HSP friends and give us the chance to open up.

How do you do that? Every sensitive person is different but, as an HSP, I know I’d appreciate a non-HSP friend considering these seven things.

How to Be the Friend Your HSP Really Needs Right Now

1. Don’t assume your highly sensitive friends are OK right now, even if they aren’t talking about it.

We all love to share amazing pictures on social media, but we are also aware of the truth that those photos are not the complete picture of our lives. There are happy, good times, and there are also not-so-happy, low times (which we usually don’t share online). 

So, just by looking at those pictures, don’t assume that all is well with someone. Instead, think about when you last spoke to your highly sensitive friend; if it’s been a while, it’s time to reach out.

Personally, I used to hesitate reaching out to friends and loved ones because I didn’t want to burden them with my problems. But then I realized keeping my issues to myself was doing more harm than good. Had I confided in them sooner, they could have helped me sooner. 

2. Be the first one to reach out to us — especially if you haven’t heard from us in a while.

Yes, it is that easy: text, message, or call your HSP friend who’s been MIA lately; don’t wait for something bad or good to happen first. Instead, contact them without any reason. 

Especially during the current times of social distancing when physical contact is much less common than before, it is more important to keep a check on your highly sensitive friends, particularly if they live alone. If you’re feeling mentally and emotionally flooded as a non-HSP, imagine how they must feel.

Though nothing can be as good as meeting someone in person, any contact is better than no contact — and you can always set up a video call or a socially distanced walk. I believe that every small step that we take toward kindness and compassion toward someone has a bigger impact than we think it does.

3. Be open and loving, and invite us to talk about deep topics.

Despite many people’s claims of being open-minded in our modern world, there are still many taboos in society. Depending on where you live, topics like sexuality, mental health, and domestic violence, among others, are still not talked about openly; your highly sensitive friend may not even be able to talk about being an HSP with their loved ones.

But friends like you can be a refuge for them. Make sure to make them feel safe, emotionally, confiding in you, that you are there for them unconditionally. Don’t just ask, “How are you?” but open-ended questions like, “How are you feeling lately?” or “How did ‘x’ make you feel?”

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4. Help us see any stumbling blocks we’re not seeing on their own.

Some HSPs may show signs of depression and feeling low and some may not, just as some may express it in words and some may not. So, you have to be observant: Listen to your highly sensitive friend’s words, as well as their silences. 

Most HSPs value having close friends to confide in, which will encourage them to open up and be vulnerable. If you’re just as open and vulnerable, it will pave the way for them to be, too: Be the type of friend you wish you had.

5. Be an active listener and non-judgmental so we know we can trust you.

The more your HSP friend trusts you, the more likely they’ll be to open up to you. 

While it’s human nature for us to have opinions about things, that doesn’t mean we need to be judgmental, which may offend someone without our realizing it. The best thing we can do for our highly sensitive friend is not to speak, but to listen. 

Before telling them your opinion, ask them if they even want it; they may just want their problems to be heard with patience and compassion.

6. Maintain a supportive perspective — even about rough topics.

We all know those people who seem to complain 24/7; when you’re having a problem, would you reach out to them, or a friend who has a more positive outlook on life?

Chances are, your HSP friend will want to reach out to you if they appreciate your glass-half-full approach on life. That way, they’ll likely feel more comfortable confiding in you, knowing you’ll make them feel better by seeing the world through a more positive perspective.

7. Follow up occasionally about the “big” things on your HSP’s mind.

While it’s wonderful that you were there for your highly sensitive friend, don’t just disappear afterward. Instead, make sure to follow up and see how they resolved a problem they told you about or see how they’re feeling next week. 

And don’t wait for them to reach out to you; take initiative and reach out to them. It takes a lot of courage to open up and talk about your vulnerabilities and fears, and if you contact them first, they’ll likely know they can trust you as a friend who will be there for them. And that’s all any of us want, right, HSP or not.

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