Highly Sensitive Refuge
two HSPs are cautious about depleting their energy

HSPs Aren’t Unsociable, We’re Just Cautious About Depleting Our Energy

Highly sensitive people crave meaningful friendships because they help replenish our energy.

Bright lights. Laughter resonating in the air. My ears ringing from the aftershock. I rise from my chair and carefully examine the card, a six of hearts, in front of me. I hesitate before I proclaim with confidence, “Higher.”

The card on the top of the deck is flipped over. It’s a seven. I forget if it’s a spade, club, heart, or diamond because I’m so disoriented from the loud cheers that have erupted from the spectators. Because I know it will be a long time before my turn rolls around again, I decide that now would be the time to slip into the bathroom for a quick breather.

Tonight, I’m enjoying playing a friendly game of cards, but the volume of the group is too loud for me. As a highly sensitive person (HSP), high-volume sounds induce significant discomfort. It might seem like no big deal to most people, but what’s considered “loud” to someone is “very loud” or even “too loud” for me. I can tolerate it, but only in small doses.

Aside from the overstimulation from the noise, I am also bored. Incredibly bored. This group is fun to be around, but I don’t have a lot in common with them. To me, they come off as shallow, almost as if they are hollowed out versions of a more interesting persona. Like society came in and scooped out all the substance from their minds — from their conversations.

I sneak out of the room and immediately sense a presence behind me. My boyfriend has followed me, like an alert service dog who doesn’t want to interfere with my daily living but must stay present to make sure I don’t walk into a busy street. 

He asks that question that’s often exchanged between the two of us: “Are you okay?” 

“Yep.”

“Are you having fun?”

“I am,” I say. “But I just feel like I don’t know these people very well. They’re your friends, not mine.” Even though I have known them for over a year and share plenty of laughter and adventures with them.

“But you have fun with them, too. They’re not your friends?” he asks.

I shrug and pause to think about my response. “Well, I just feel like they’re surface-level friends.”

That’s all they are to me. They’re fun to be around, sure, but I don’t sense that I can go deeper with them than just casual enjoyment. I can’t grab their hand and wander into the caverns of their mind. I can’t meander down the rarely visited passageways of their thoughts and explore new ones, unearthing beliefs and feelings they never knew they had. I want to talk about the stars, and weird coincidences, and the arts, and social issues, and how I swear I only get this patch of eczema on my elbow when I’m stressed, and… and…

But when I’m with them, we talk about the weather. Or their plans for the weekend. Or how tired they are even though they had a shot of espresso in their caramel macchiato.

I don’t know about you, but I need more than that.

I Want Friends Who Dive Below the Surface

Though I only recently learned I am an HSP, I’ve always had the signs: I startle easily, feel uneasy with loud noises and unpleasant textures, and have discomfort in unfamiliar situations. My mom recently told me that she was concerned about my social abilities when I was in elementary school — around 1st and 2nd grade. Which, I feel for most children, is prime time for making friends. Not me. I was always cautious about who I let in, and I could sense who those people would be before I even fully got to know them.

Throughout my social life, I have always been drawn to people who come off as “quiet” or “soft-spoken.” My first friend in elementary school (the reason my mom stopped worrying about my social abilities) never spoke in class. I never even heard her voice until I had her star as a guest on my pretend talk show at recess.

She and others like her have always intrigued me. I don’t want to “coax them out of their shell,” but rather, I want to retreat into their intricate minds with them. They are content to observe the world around them. They can slink into the background of a crowded room without physically moving there and take on the role of observer.

And they think about what they see. Reflect on it. Take these formless findings and mold them into ideas, manipulate them into different shapes and forms until they draw a defined yet flexible conclusion about it. I am intrigued by their introspective abilities because they’re like mine.

And, I have thoughts of my own. Thoughts I want to share. How can I do that with someone who never dives below the surface?

These are the people in my life who I’m missing. These are the types of conversations I’ve been lacking — and it is taking a toll on my mind. Despite all outward appearances: adequate Instagram followers, numerous Snapstreaks, and regular invites to weekend outings, I’m starting to feel like that 1st grader my mother worried about. I’m now concerned about myself socially because of the absence of substantial human interaction in my life.

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As an HSP, I Notice Everything

As an HSP, many social interactions are highly stimulating for me. I am extremely in tune with my surroundings, and I notice everything — from the slightest change in your tone to the way you cross your arms or lift the corner of your mouth in the subtlest smirk when I mention an attractive coworker.

Sometimes, I can even sense your feelings radiating from you in the same way you feel a light breeze, just potent enough to move the strands of hair at the top of your head. I can feel your stress from a hectic morning wafting toward me, brushing my senses in a way that is subtle, yet distinct at the same time.

Even though I can sense your mood, I don’t tell you that I already know how you’re feeling. I usually let you lead the way in these conversations because that’s how I show respect for your space. Then, simultaneously while I’m conversing with you, I’m off in my head reflecting:

Her torso is facing me, but her feet are not. Maybe she’s as bored with this conversation as I am. But then again, she did seem a little off this morning — not like her usual demeanor. Should I break off the conversation, so we can both have a productive day at work? That could help her regroup and gather herself. But I don’t want to be rude.

Her hair is lighter since the last time I saw her. It looks like she colored it…

Why do I have “Amish Paradise” by Weird Al Yankovic stuck in my head?

Here, Take My Energy. I Trust You.

For these reasons, any social interaction, but especially the first contact I have with someone, can be draining. As an HSP, I am retaining and interpreting so much stimulation from the outside, and it can be exhausting, both mentally and physically. I have had days where I come home from a day full of meeting new people or engaging in small talk, and I’m so tired that I can barely keep myself standing. My head feels heavy; my mind is shut off.

This has been happening more and more lately. I’ve grown weary of it. I need more, and as I am continuously learning about myself, I’m starting to understand why. There is a connection between these social desires — my urge for profound conversation and relationships, and my hypersensitivities.

I believe that, as an HSP, I desire friendships with people who are open-minded and can respect the energy I give them. They are perceptive and maybe can even empathize with the sensory overload I often experience.

We HSPs crave meaningful friendships because they help replenish our energy. Where shallow, surface-level exchanges leave us feeling drained and empty, meaningful conversations and interactions reignite that spark. They are that strong thrust in the ignition that gets our minds roaring with ideas. I feel it in my chest, a swell of excitement and passion that grows and spreads to the rest of my body — to my hands, my feet, my spine. My brain shakes the dust off old connections, expands on previously considered ideas, and even forms brand new connections. It’s energizing and inspiring, and it’s exactly what I need.

Where the world in which we live focuses heavily on the external, it is refreshing to retreat within ourselves and get back in touch with old ideas, feelings, theories, even our very selves. And when you stumble upon someone who understands that practice, who values that desire and maybe even practices it themselves, it’s unbelievably invigorating.

HSPs aren’t people-haters. We aren’t depressed. And no, we don’t think we’re better than you or that you aren’t good enough for our friendship. We are simply more intentional about how we spend our energy because, after all, there’s only so much to go around.

It’s a practice that I think the rest of the population could enjoy. If we all were intentional about our conversations, with whom we engage and for what length of time, we could all live more purposeful, passionate lives.

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