Highly Sensitive Refuge
a sensitive person is not upset by other people

How to Stop Letting Other People Upset You When You’re a Sensitive Person

I’ve always been extremely sensitive. Born with the cord around my neck and struggling to breathe after coming into the world head last, my first few moments here were spent in hyper-vigilance. I was the baby who had wide eyes but didn’t cry or make a fuss, I was told. Instead it seemed I was more interested in making sure everyone around me was okay and ensuring everything and everyone was safe.

Without a conscious awareness of this, I grew into an adulthood of crippling perfectionism and high anxiety. Because it had never felt safe to be inside my body, and due to my deep lack of self-love, a variety of addictions (substances or relationships) were my tools to self-soothe. If you’ve struggled with addiction too, you know these crutches would eventually no longer hold me up.

A low point for me was the return from a trip abroad where I had become enmeshed in two emotionally abusive relationships after the breakdown of another relationship. It seemed I could outrun my struggles with substances, but love addiction and codependency had a stronger hold, since I was less familiar with how to deal with them in healthy ways.

My eagerness to be liked and accepted just bounced from one thing to another until there was nothing left to do but to face all of myself with unwavering honesty. It was in the depths of hopelessness and despair that I began to touch to edges of the power of neutrality, knowing never again could I afford to let my system become so reactive to the external.

As I began my journey into healing, trained as a yoga and meditation teacher, and started exploring the coaching world, I couldn’t understand why everyone told me I had this soothing presence and gift of making them feel at ease, and yet couldn’t create that for myself. I didn’t seem to be able to escape the pendulum swing of my internal system from depressed and anxious to “firing on all cylinders.”

That is, until I learned the life-guiding principle of neutrality. Here’s what I learned, and how you can stop other people from derailing your mood (and life), too.

“You have to get to a point where your mood doesn’t shift based on the insignificant actions of someone else.”

James Allen

What Is Deep Neutrality?

After a particularly spiritually traumatic and challenging year of travel, I decided to book a session to have my Akashic records read. If you’ve never explored this type of work, it’s actually something that each of us can do ourselves, but sometimes if we’re struggling, it’s helpful to have a guide. Mine was a Shamanic practitioner and Reiki healer based in Canada. He was the first person to remind me of the gift of deep neutrality when it came to effectively managing my energy as a sensitive person.

I’m naturally creative, and have always been drawn to challenging the status quo and looking for more interesting ways of doing things. I’ve come to learn that addiction is the dark side of creativity and usually pours out in very unhelpful ways when we’re suppressing what comes as second nature to us. If I don’t nurture my creativity or if I spend time around anyone who tries to dismiss it, things can rapidly become very heavy indeed.

Realizing the importance of neutrality was the gateway to freeing myself from unnecessary stress, hurt, and anxiety. Deep neutrality means feeling a sense of ease and peace with whatever comes toward us. It’s being the barometer for what’s going on around us rather than becoming personally identified and swept up in the chaos of it. It’s a healthy sense of detachment from which we’re able to masterfully hold space for all the aspects, emotions, and perspectives of what we’re experiencing — without getting knocked over by the energy of it.

In short, cultivating neutrality allowed me to stop caring so much about what everyone thought of me, or what they wanted for my happiness, without becoming “cold.”

‘Don’t Allow Others to Control the Direction of Your Life’

Philosopher James Allen wrote:

“Self-control is strength. Calmness is mastery. You have to get to a point where your mood doesn’t shift based on the insignificant actions of someone else. Don’t allow others to control the direction of your life. Don’t allow your emotions to overpower your intelligence.”

I come back to this steadying quote any time I feel myself being pulled outwards and into the vortex of other people; a common challenge of highly sensitive, empathic beings. I realized that the majority of my major life decisions were being made somewhere at either end of that pendulum swing, and as a result, I kept crashing because my sensitive system couldn’t keep the positive energy going. Equally, I couldn’t deal with the sense of being swallowed by negativity.

Cultivating deep neutrality has allowed me to make balanced decisions and reminded me that I need a lot of space before I make my moves. HSPs, perhaps you can relate to my need to steep in my own energy for a while, away from other people’s opinions before I’m ready to interact, speak my truth, or reengage.


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I’m Less Affected By a Spiteful Comment or Triggering Remark

I used to think this craving for space and calm made me weird. Why couldn’t I just flow with things from moment to moment like everybody else? But as I realized that rolling with the punches and meandering didn’t necessarily mean good decisions were being made (i.e., working in organizations where the leaders I was supporting barely knew themselves, and spending time around people who were often in fact completely lost), I began to understand and embody the powerful gift of deep neutrality.

Not only was it the place from which I would make my most conscious, responsible, and beneficial decisions, but it was also the new place I could call home within myself. As soon as I understood where this energy resided in my body, I was less and less affected by a seemingly spiteful comment or triggering remark.

Developing a flowing river of neutrality also aided me in being more at ease with discomfort. It meant I could be in environments that I had previously tried to shield myself from, or worse yet, avoid altogether, resulting in isolation and loneliness. For example, I would frequently avoid loud or busy environments with a lot of people like public gatherings or places where people are drinking. Although I’m still not a fan of office environments, there was a time when I would go out of my way to ensure I was able to carefully avoid anywhere I would feel self-conscious if there were too many human beings and too much conversation.

Now I can bring curiosity to the feelings within my body when I’m around tense or nervous people. I can read the negative energy of a room as a barometer simply taking the temperature, while understanding that just because my surroundings are anxious, it doesn’t mean that I myself am also anxious.

It goes without saying, however, that none of this is easy in the world we all live in. Maintaining and returning to neutral when we’re overloaded, and even getting to know what neutral feels like for each of us, takes time, deep self-acceptance, trust, and patience. But if I can do it, so can anyone else, and my intention is to instill the knowing that it is possible for you, too.

How to Cultivate Deep Neutrality

Here’s how I learned to cultivate deep neutrality:

  • Reading texts like the Tao Te Ching, the ancient Chinese text that illustrates the “middle way” when it comes to dealing with life’s challenges
  • Practicing meditation and breath work; both of these bring me back to the present moment, allow any “edges” I’ve built up during the day to soften, and allow me to see what’s really important, what actually needs to be dealt with, and what can simply just be let go of
  • Choosing curiosity over reactivity in moments of stress; kind of like an internal, “Is that so?” when someone attempts to offload their anger onto me or offers an uninvited comment or piece of unsolicited advice. This one isn’t always easy, but it’s definitely saved me from engaging with people who would have previously wasted my time and drained my energy.
  • Taking exquisite care of my body and learning to soothe my nervous system on a daily basis, which included dropping caffeine and practicing mindful self-compassion
  • Developing strong physical practices like boxing and high-intensity yoga to feel more empowered, facilitate regular healthy release, and manage my anger, reactivity, and stress

When I first started doing this, I worried that developing a neutral stance to everything life brought my way would make me seem boring, distant, or emotionless. In fact, the opposite has occurred. My neutral stance before I decide how I make my next move has offered me more time, space, and energy for what’s actually meant for me — as opposed to missing the things in life that were truly going to nourish me because I was too wrapped up in the things that didn’t.

Highly sensitive, deeply intuitive, and empathic people weren’t put here to continuously put out fires. I believe we were brought here to bring gentleness and a sense of ease to chaos, and to learn to walk through the fires with grace, demonstrating to others how to do the same.

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