There’s Still a Stigma Around Being Sensitive. Here’s How to (Actually) Change That.

A highly sensitive person and non-sensitive person looking away from each other

Can understanding the habits of non-HSPs change the way sensitive people are treated?

A couple years after discovering I was a highly sensitive person (HSP), I began thinking about starting a non-profit. Its aim would have been to make the wider public aware of the existence and strengths of HSPs. I wanted to help sensitive people know themselves better, and I wanted the rest of the world to better understand what sensitivity means.

My secret hope was that it would make relationships easier for sensitive people as a whole — but especially for me.

To be completely honest, the reason I found out I was a highly sensitive person in the first place was that my main complaint to my therapist had been relationship issues. After a lifetime of misunderstandings, my dream was to stop being seen as a weirdo. I wanted people to cut me some slack, let me be, and love me just the way I am, Marc Darcy style.

But the problem is, non-HSPs don’t care that much about high sensitivity.

The expression of our sensitivity is often confused with making a big deal out of small details, or being overly emotional and fragile. As a result, non-HSPs may see us as unpredictable or confusing. Sometimes, we’re told to get a grip on ourselves. On occasions, we’re made fun of. We’re keenly aware that non-HSPs generally don’t see past our so-called overreactions — but how can we help them be more aware of the stigma we face?

Like what you’re reading? Get our newsletter just for HSPs. One email, every Friday. Click here to subscribe!

The Danger of Wanting to Be Understood 

Sure, non-HSPs whose loved ones (a husband, a child, a friend) are HSPs may very well want to understand high sensitivity better. People close to me were interested in learning about it and some of them did. Even researcher Elaine Aron, in her seminal book The Highly Sensitive Person, says that she hopes significant others of HSPs will read her work. Likewise, in the introduction of their book Sensitive, authors Andre Sólo and Jenn Granneman state that they hope the book will find its way to “the reader who was handed this book by a friend, a spouse, a child, or an employee. If this is you, someone in your life knows that they are sensitive, and they want you to understand them…. They are asking you to be on their side.” But I wonder how many people have had these books placed in their hands by a hopeful HSP and actually read them.

Because the thing is, understanding us is just not a priority for non-HSPs — when they’ve heard of high sensitivity at all.

We sensitive people do seek to better comprehend ourselves and the world, but many people don’t, or at least not as deeply as we do. To be clear, I’m not coming from a place of judgment or bitterness. It’s just a fact and we must accept that we cannot change it. As painful as it is, we should respect that.

So, what can we do to improve our relationships, then?

I’ve come to realize that we have to change the way we look at things. To stop wasting hopes and energy, and accept that what may be important to us is not important to everybody.

In her book J’ai pas les codes! (“I don’t get the norms!”) published in 2021, French neuroatypical specialist Christel Petitcollin drives a crucial point home: we need to stop believing that knowing the way we’re wired will deeply change the behavior of other people toward us.

This observation may seem bleak, but it’s an opportunity in disguise.

Now we can acquire a new tool to improve our lives: understanding how the rest of the world works and using it to our advantage by embodying it when we need to.

6 Truths About How Non-HSPs Behave

One of the biggest issues HSPs face is social rules. They seem like a game we’re asked to play or a mask we have to put on. It feels uncomfortable and unnatural. We don’t know how to talk about the weather for fifteen minutes straight in shops, we can’t fathom the right answer to a simple “How are you?” question, and we can’t deal with shallow conversations at parties.

What’s essential to grasp is that non-HSPs don’t believe society should adapt to the needs of the individual, but the other way around.

I know it’s painful, and a part of me, as I type this, is still reluctant to the idea, but here it is: in social settings with strangers, going with the flow and following “the rules” smooths things out. A LOT. Thankfully, we’re inherently pretty adaptable and if we learn what to do, we can do it!

And that can unlock something powerful — being able to “blend in” when we need to, for our own mental wellbeing, while letting our sensitive side shine when it’s time. 

Doing that means understanding how non-HSPs behave. But first, I want to emphasize a few things: 

  • First, there isn’t some kind of hierarchy between HSPs and non-HSPs. One is not better than the other. We shouldn’t be judgmental of the way of being of anyone. 
  • Second, I’m not suggesting you play a part: these are only guideposts and generalizations, to help you in social situations that may be awkward or challenging. I’m not telling you to become a different person in order to fit in, but to learn how to leverage neurotypical behavior to help you. 

Now, according to Petitcollin — whose work focuses on “hypersensitive, over-efficient, gifted [people] and other ‘overthinkers’” — here are six vital things to know about how non-HSPs usually behave. 

1. Non-HSPs make small talk to avoid conflict

I know surface-level conversations are boring to you, but deep, meaningful topics can be scary to people you’ve just met or who don’t know you all that well. When you run into your neighbor, go to the hairdresser, or when you’re introduced to someone new at a party, keep it simple: the weather, headlines, the food being served, the decoration of the room — easy subjects. They’re good icebreakers. Besides, harder topics can quickly become polarizing. Keep them for more appropriate settings. Small talk brings peace, ease, and is (mostly) harmless. 

2. They don’t actually expect an honest, full length answer to “how are you?”

Ah!, the “How are you?” conundrum! A truthful overview of your feelings lately is not the goal here. Enquiries about your condition are a convention, another conversation opener. It’s something used to get everyone’s talk juices flowing. It’s a great preamble to a verbal exchange, instead of stumbling into whatever subject from the get-go (that would be weird, right?). With people that are not so close to you, a short answer works best.

3. They enjoy simply being together

HSPs tend to want to come together to be stronger, exchange meaningful ideas, and change the world. Non-HSPs love just hanging around with other people: go to a bar, have a beer sprinkled with small talk or gossip. Most of them love gatherings and large crowds. They want to have fun and clear their heads with easy things such as concerts, fairs, rodeos… whatever as long as they can be together and let their hair down.

Need to Calm Your Sensitive Nervous System? 

HSPs often live with high levels of anxiety, sensory overload and stress — and negative emotions can overwhelm us. But what if you could finally feel calm instead?

That’s what you’ll find in this powerful online course by Julie Bjelland, one of the top HSP therapists in the world. You’ll learn to turn off the racing thoughts, end emotional flooding, eliminate sensory overload, and finally make space for your sensitive gifts to shine.

Stop feeling held back and start to feel confident you can handle anything. Check out this “HSP Toolbox” and start making a change today. Click here to learn more.

4. They just LOVE all the things that hyper-stimulate you.

Within anybody’s comfort zone, stimulation is a good thing: we don’t like to be bored, and we don’t like to be too stimulated either. Most non-HSPs have a higher threshold than us for stimulation (read: having fun). Vivid colors, strong perfumes, catchy music, spotlights: all these things that can send us into a tailspin, they crave. Does that mean we should try and keep up with them when we’re over-stimulated? Of course not, but knowing this can help dissolve a lot of misunderstandings between individuals over what’s fun or what to do together next week-end.

5. What is out of “the norm” is strange to non-HSPs

To this day, I carry the memory of this schoolmate of mine in high school who told my HSP friend and me that we were “not like the other girls”. And let me tell you, he did not mean it as a compliment. Most people aren’t HSPs, so it makes sense that they experience mostly people like them. When they do meet HSPs, we may seem to them like an odd bunch. Remember: HSPs are considered to make up around 30 percent of the population. This means 2 out of 3 people aren’t HSPs. That’s the vast majority: not being an HSP is common and expected. Non-HSPs just don’t include HSPs in their projections and expectations. And remember: society wants the individual to conform to its norms, not to bend itself to fit the needs of the individual.

Which brings me to my last point…

6. They don’t understand you as much as you don’t understand them

A common concern I hear from other HSPs (and I’ve been guilty of this one time and time again myself), is how they can’t figure out how people can be so blind/heartless/uncaring/fill in the blank. By contrast, non-HSPs don’t get why we care so darn much, why we fuss over things they sincerely think are trivial or meaningless, why we are so much, period. See, as human beings we try to make sense of the world through our own perspective and draw conclusions about the behavior of others out of our own experience. That means non-HSPs genuinely don’t grasp where we’re coming from, and vice versa. 

But we have one tool that non-HSPs don’t: we are wired to go deep. We can use our introspective ways and our ability to read people to understand non-HSPs better than they can understand us and, sometimes, better than they understand themselves. That gives us leverage to change the way we are seen and treated — not by demanding it, but by bridging the gap. 

I never did start that non-profit.

Instead, learning about how I’m wired and how neurotypical people live helped transform my relationships with everyone around me, from my neighbors to my significant other. It’s still a work in progress, but I don’t feel as “misunderstood” anymore. Ultimately, I figured it helps a lot to learn how to go on for a few minutes on how the weather’s been terrible lately, and how there aren’t seasons anymore. And then, when my sensitivity does show itself, it’s often accepted. 

You Might Like:

This article contains affiliate links. We only recommend products we truly believe in.