HSPs often pay less attention to the words that are spoken — instead, they pay more attention to what is unspoken.
I have always been fascinated by individuality. We all have similar thought patterns, belief systems, habits, and ideas, yet every person is distinctly and intricately made. As a highly sensitive person (HSP), I have a tendency to think more deeply about many ideas, and I am truly astounded at the complexity of our differences. I’ve grown to believe that our differences not only specially mark us, but they also magnify our undeniable greatness as superheroes whose strength is our sensitivity.
Though we may not be able to fly, scale skyscrapers, or bust through brick walls, there is some unique quality living within each of us that allows us to walk through life, heads held high, steeped in our superpowers. As part of the 20 percent of the population that identifies as being highly sensitive, I’ve spent quite a bit of time learning about, understanding, and embracing my own sensitivity superpowers.
One such superpower is the ability to assess, understand, and read my environment by observing people’s body language. HSPs often pay less attention to the words that are spoken, and instead pay more attention to what is unspoken. An HSP easily picks up on the subtle twitch of an eye, the crossing of arms, and the ever-so-slight movements during conversations. Then, we take time and analyze what those movements actually mean in the given exchange.
This is why HSPs are the ultimate body language experts. Our perceptive nature, tendency to absorb others’ emotions, and conscientiousness are just a few characteristics of ours that contribute to us being linguistic experts in unspoken cues.
HSPs’ Perceptiveness Clue Us in to Subtle Nuances That Others May Miss
If I could only pick one acronym to describe many of my experiences as an HSP, it would be “IYKYK.” This stands for “If You Know, You Know.” And HSPs know. Our highly sensitive brains pay attention to subtleties that others miss, and we are often far more ahead of the conversation than those relying solely on spoken words.
For HSPs, it really is all in the details. This attention to detail, in fact, can lead us down a rabbit hole of overthinking (which we are naturally predisposed to doing). It’s the attention to small, subtle things we notice that allow HSPs to use non-verbal cues and body language to decipher situations.
Dr. Angela Wilson, of the Braselton Counseling Group, often looks to body language to determine whether her clients are being deceptive during sessions. Also an HSP, she pays special attention to her clients’ eye movements during sessions, she told Highly Sensitive Refuge. By noting whether a client is looking up, down, or away while talking, Dr. Wilson is able to ascertain a client’s interest in the conversation. Furthermore, a client’s eyes help to determine “whether they are bored or disinterested with a conversation, and — specifically — whether they [are] trying to avoid or run from the topic at hand,” she said. The ability to perceive these subtleties then enables Dr. Wilson to conduct the session in such a way as to achieve the maximum therapeutic benefit for the client.
As a fellow HSP, I also look at nonverbal cues to gauge the authenticity of people I am speaking with — even family members. I attended undergraduate school about an hour-and-a-half away from my hometown. I would often head home for a quick overnight stay when I needed to get away from the hustle and bustle of college life and rebalance my highly sensitive chi. During one of these unannounced, quick visits, I noticed that my mom wasn’t really “on.” Usually, she was very engaged in our conversations, and several times her body language signaled that she was hiding something or disinterested in what I was saying.
After a bit of this empty back and forth, I stopped and asked her what was going on. She looked at me, perplexed. I told her that I felt something was off in my gut, and I invited her to share her thoughts with me. Her eyes glossed over, and she told me that she was going into the hospital the following morning to have some cysts removed from her breasts to be biopsied. She informed me that she had no intention of sharing this with me, prior to my pop-up visit.
Thinking back, nothing my mother overtly said made me suspicious. Yet everything she did not say sent my antennae up. The tenseness of her posture, the rigidity of her demeanor, and her false “engagement” during our conversation all ignited an unnerving knowing inside of me. I now recognize that it was my high sensitivity that enabled me to perceive what I may have otherwise dismissed. Thankfully, my mother’s procedure was successful; and her cysts were benign.
Body language has also benefited me as a mother, deciphering when my children are being less-than-truthful. Many times, asking “Did you finish your homework” is easily answered by the subtle shifting of eyes or a sly lean into a shoulder. Rather than wait for a lie, I’ll give my girls “the look” and they’ll return to their unfinished studies.
HSPs Absorb Others’ Emotions and Rely on Body Language to Determine How to Proceed in Conversations
HSPs can experience the most amazing emotional highs, yet we also trudge through some emotional lows, too. This is because we tend to internalize the emotions of others, and experience both their joys and pains.
When HSPs seek to engage in conversation, the first thing we notice is a person’s body language. These nonverbal cues help to set the mood for the encounter. For example, hunched shoulders, heads held low, and forlorn-looking faces may indicate sadness or disappointment. Without exchanging a word, highly sensitive types ingest these cues, and oftentimes that “sad” energy seeps out and is transferred to the HSP, who’s empathetic by nature.
The same transference of energy occurs with happy energy. Namely, smiling, more relaxed movements and postures that indicate openness let HSPs know that a person is willing and eager to communicate.
High school psychologist Emily Demo relies on her high sensitivity and ability to read body language when dealing with staff and students she encounters and works with, she told Highly Sensitive Refuge. Demo acknowledges that being an HSP enables her to connect and empathize with her students and coworkers at a deeper level.
Demo depends on body language cues to assess how to proceed in conversations, especially ones that could prove less pleasant. “As a mental health professional, [body language] helps me determine how to start [a] conversation with someone,” she said. “For example, if their body language is communicating to me that they may be feeling less-than-excited about our conversation, I may start our time together with an activity instead of talking.”
It is important to read the room before beginning a conversation with someone whose body language is less-than-welcoming. By assessing whether the conversation can proceed positively, highly sensitive people can avoid becoming emotionally overwhelmed. When we recognize less-than-welcoming body language, Demo recommends beginning conversations with questions like, “I notice your head is down, and that makes me wonder if you would like to continue talking or if we should wait to schedule a different time?” This sets a tone for the conversation that communicates that both parties’ emotional needs are important, and dialogue can continue when/once both parties are comfortable.
Being well-versed in interpreting body language allows HSPs to prepare themselves for conversations that could prove emotionally draining by offering us an opportunity to determine how — and if — to proceed.
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HSPs Are the Ultimate Body Language Shift Shapers, Exuding Positivity (Even When We’re Not Feeling It)
When Lady Gaga wrote Poker Face, her muse may have been an HSP. In an effort to present an aura that isn’t off-putting to others, highly sensitive folks dig deeper than what is always comfortably available to us. We know when to hold ‘em, and we rarely let people see us fold.
HSPs are able to read others’ body language easily, but the same cannot always be said for other people’s ability to read ours. We systematically consider the needs of others before considering our own. HSPs make being comfortably uncomfortable in our skin a habit, as long as no one else is inconvenienced. But this behavior can lead to burnout.
However, since HSPs are meticulously conscientious, and we do our very best to project good energy and to infuse a positive spirit into the lives of those we come into contact with. We try to not let our exterior crack, and we aim to avoid mistakes that can affect other people. For HSPs, being criticized is as unpleasant as eating poison, and we will work tirelessly to avoid disappointing others. We would much rather demonstrate empathy toward others and place extreme demands on ourselves. This conscious disregard for our own well-being can be excessively draining for our sensitive minds, but we are often willing to make the sacrifice to benefit others.
There are moments when being an HSP can be exhausting mentally, physically, and emotionally. When I find myself at the brink of exhaustion, I lose myself in the pages of a good book. One of my favorite books is Untamed by Glennon Doyle. In an exchange regarding the heaviness of “the stuff,” Doyle’s daughter, Tish, asks, “Mommy, why does it hurt so much?” Doyle writes:
“Tish is sensitive, and that is her superpower. The opposite of sensitive is not brave. It’s not brave to refuse to pay attention, to refuse to notice, to refuse to feel and know and imagine. The opposite of sensitive is insensitive, and that’s no badge of honor.”
I have read this passage at least a hundred times. It is highlighted and underlined in my personal copy of the book. These words make me feel seen, heard, and understood as an HSP. They remind me of my superpowers.
I’m proud when I walk into a room and immediately feel the energy.
I’m confident when a person’s words say one thing, but their non-verbal communication says another, and I can read the truth through small subtleties to seek the truth.
I’m reassured when I pick up on lies, secrets, and even unspoken pain. I am able to trust myself and my intuition.
The next time you find yourself reading, and fully comprehending, someone’s body language like the pages of a book, know that you’re not reading too much into things. You’re not thinking too much, and you’re not imagining what is not there. It’s your superpowers nudging you on. Your Spidey-senses have kicked it. Your intuition is on the right page of the right chapter of the best book — your highly sensitive book. Head held high, throw on your cape, and press on. After all, it’s the superheroes who save the world.
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You might like:
- 5 Simple Ways to Access Your Intuition as a Highly Sensitive Person
- Being an HSP Is a Superpower — But It’s Almost Impossible to Explain It
- 13 Signs You’re Secretly a Highly Sensitive Person
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