14 Powerful Truths I Struggled to Learn as an HSP

A highly sensitive person reflecting on the truths she’s learned

Here are 14 of the most important truths I’ve learned as a highly sensitive person — that have helped change my life. 

There are some truths I wish I’d come to appreciate earlier in life. From little things, such as how much I hate heels, to bigger things, like how I will always make mistakes, no matter how slick I think I am with all my preparation — I will still make Big. Goofy. Mistakes. 

Being sensitive is one of those truths. But being described as “sensitive” in my day had the connotation of being weak, passive, submissive, and (pearl clutch) emotional. How dare you cry in dodgeball!

At this stage in my life, embracing my sensitivity as part of how I operate in the world has given me more compassion for myself and others, helped me feel more ease and enjoyment, and all-around means I take better care of myself. So, get a nice cup of tea if you like, cozy up, and read on — because I have a few truths that might help other highly sensitive people, too. 

14 Powerful Truths I Learned as a Highly Sensitive Person

1. When someone says to you, “You’re so/too sensitive,” pause. 

Remind yourself that everyone responds to things differently and sensitivity is relative. “Too sensitive” for one person may be “not sensitive enough” for another. If you are hurting, you have a right to responsibly express what is hurting you and seek a path to mutual understanding. Remember: besides emotional sensitivity, you may be more physically sensitive to things like texture or smells. I remember how delighted I was when shopping in a small store, the savvy owner commented, “Ah, I can tell you like the really soft fabrics” and started to suggest some, rather than the perhaps more stylish other blends that subtly bothered my skin. Rather than trying to convince me to buy something that looked great but felt uncomfortable, she let me be me!

2. Being highly sensitive does not mean there is something wrong with you that you need to fix so your family will like you more. 

Research continues to confirm that high sensitivity is normal, healthy, and largely genetic. As a sensitive person, your brain simply processes information a bit differently than other brains do, which in many ways is an advantage. In fact, in their book Sensitive, authors Andre Sólo and Jenn Granneman argue that high sensitivity is an evolutionary advantage that has helped humanity survive — one that is tied to scientific innovation, creativity, giftedness, and compassion. Just because you cringe at the comments made at the dinner table, does not mean that you are thin-skinned, “too” emotional, lacking in humor or anything else.

3. Do not be embarrassed by your displays of emotion. 

Well, those that are ethical and legal, at least! Seriously. You may bawl your eyes out in 30 seconds flat from a Youtube video, feel your heart busting from seeing a baby peek at you, or find yourself snortle-chuckling at some mistake you have made. 

Healthy emotional expression releases stress and helps you connect with your experience so you can make wiser choices. Like realizing that you really like your friends and maybe it’s time to get together. Or that you really love children and want to make the world a better place for them, so you keep on composting, even when it stinks sometimes. Or that you don’t need to be so afraid of making mistakes because sometimes, they’re pretty funny, and it’s worth it to keep on trying. 

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?

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4. Your sensitivity can be strength. 

Your ability to notice the subtle interplay of verbal and non-verbal communication among people around you is a strength you can use to build connection, prevent social disaster, or serve as an ally when you choose. For example, you might notice that someone in your meeting hasn’t said much when they usually do. You might gently inquire in a private moment with them, “Hey, how are you doing? I noticed you seemed quieter than usual today.” 

Sometimes we just need to be reminded that someone actually notices us. What has it been like for you when a sensitive enough person in your life asked how you were doing? I bet it felt pretty good. When everyone else is moving on as usual, your sensitivity can help make you a powerful connector in your community.

(Not convinced? Learn how to access your strengths as a sensitive person.

5. Know your circles of influence and work within them. 

I sometimes find that I have a long mental list of “things I want to change in the world.” I daydream about the impactful letters I write to the government, the millions (that I don’t have) I donate to charities, the pithy comments I make on social media about various social injustices, the volunteering I do… the list goes on and on. If you are like me, this gift of sensitivity makes you want to take on the world. But you cannot do it all. You just cannot. 

Instead, focus on what you can do and learn to practice healthy limits so your efforts are as powerful as possible. What is a change you can work on within yourself? That might mean taking a course in communication, forgiveness, or perhaps learning to find joy. What is one change you can work on in your home? That might mean only buying used clothing or visiting an elder in your family group. What are you uniquely qualified in that will create the change you want to see in your community? Are you an awesome speaker, a great city gardener, a writer?  Maybe you can teach, speak, or share your skills in a way that is mutually beneficial. These are just some ideas, not intended to be prescriptive but rather to inspire some ways of exercising influence that use your precious energy effectively. A light that is plugged in burns longer. 

6. Listen to your desire for beauty. 

Beauty is not optional. I once worked in a basement office with no windows, fluorescent lighting and drab walls. The pay and perks were great but I was utterly miserable and dreaded going each day. No amount of money could override my need for beauty. 

As a highly sensitive person, you may notice that certain environments just suck the life out of you, despite the “perks” of being there. And, guess what: beautiful environments do the opposite, they give you life and energy and power. Do what you can to beautify your space with color, plants, aromas, comfortable cushions, paintings, photographs, and pleasing sounds. Your nervous system needs beauty and will repay you with sanity. 

(I lasted six months in the basement before moving on. I started studying counseling and now I’m a highly sensitive therapist doing what I love. My office is cute too. )

7. Sometimes “sensitivity” has gotten a bad rap in our culture. 

But being highly sensitive does not mean that we are impossible to please, are allergic to everything, or have social anxiety. It just means that we are particularly tuned into information and stimulation coming from the people and environment around us. We all have automatic reactions, for example, we may wrinkle our noses when smelling something we register as unpleasant — and a sensitive person may find it harder to ignore that smell. But we can still function, and even have powerful gifts. What we do with our sensitivity is entirely up to us.

8. Be generous with your affection and affirmations with others. 

You may find you want to tell people how wonderful you think they are, that you admire them, that you feel so proud of them, or are inspired by them. Follow that instinct. Be generous with your praise, stingy in your criticism. Words of affection and affirmation are often more motivating than criticism. As a highly sensitive person, remember, you know how much words can hurt. Use your sensitivity to guide you towards kinder communication that feels good for you and the other person. 

9. Get good sleep — your way. 

As a sensitive person, you may have a tendency to think a lot, especially at night without external stimuli drawing your attention. Set yourself up with a sleep environment that is dark and to the degree that you like, with comfortable bedding. You may find that a bedroom that is too quiet actually makes it harder for you to sleep, so try white noise or listening to sounds you find soothing to your nervous system. One of my favorites is falling asleep to the Levar Burton Reads podcast

10. Create calm centers. 

Because sensitive people are highly tuned into our environment, we may have an increased risk of stress if we do not have enough periods of the right kinds of stimuli to soothe the parasympathetic nervous system. Very simply distilled, the parasympathetic nervous system is our “rest and digest” system while our sympathetic nervous system supports our alert system and includes the “flight or fight” response. When we are going about our daily business, we tend to have a more active sympathetic nervous system. But we need to consciously tend to the parasympathetic nervous system by, for example, taking breaks, practicing low and slow breathing, getting outside in nature, or  taking a nap of no more than about 30 minutes. There are some wonderful 15-30 minute guided naps that offer a great way to rest and rejuvenate the nervous system. 

11. Make time for pure goofy fun. 

As part of your self-care, maintain your mental and emotional well-being by having fun on a regular basis to practice detaching from stimulus. Family comedies can be one way of having a good laugh. 

12. You will have your heart broken and you will be okay. 

You may feel love intensely and the loss of it just as much, but know that you will be okay. Your deep capacity for feeling means you will always have just as much capacity for joy. 

13. Develop a compassion practice. 

Throughout my earlier life I used to hear I’m “too sensitive,” need to “toughen up,” and “stop being so nice.” But, I believe my empathy — though sometimes painful — is one of my strengths. And when a wonderful professor challenged me to focus on one of my strengths, I chose my sensitivity, which led me to Compassion Cultivation Training.

By learning more about compassion, I’ve become better at asking for what I would like to maintain my self respect and joy (still a work in progress), and understand the difference between authentic compassion for others and mere fear of upsetting people. 

Following the lead of my natural empathy brought me to a career I love and skills I need to nurture my humanity. Rather than trying to fit myself in a mold that depleted me, compassion has helped me build a life that energizes me. 

14. Saying “no” is never mean. 

You may have limitless love and caring for the people in your life. You may have the intuition that something seems off. You may want to rush in with all your intuition and wonderful ideas. But… go slow. Sometimes your friend or family member just needs to figure it out. Trust that the aura of your sensitive, caring presence is often enough. You never need to solve someone else’s problems. Do not let your sensitivity become the tool that pries you from your sanity, financial comfort, and ability to take care of your own responsibilities. 

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