If you’re in a relationship with one of the world’s deep feelers, thinkers, and processors, read this.
Compassionate. Intense. Thoughtful. These are just some of the adjectives that describe highly sensitive people (HSPs), the 15-20 percent of the population who live with life turned up more than everyone else.
Why? According to Dr. Elaine Aron, researcher and author of The Highly Sensitive Person, HSPs are born with a unique, finely tuned nervous system that processes stimulation deeply. From sights to sounds to other people’s emotions, HSPs see, feel, and experience it all on a somewhat more intense level than others.
And if you’re like me, all that deep processing means you sometimes feel “crazy,” weird, or broken. For example, “little” things that don’t bother other people — like the repetitive ticking of a clock or a loud, crowded restaurant — can acutely irritate, frazzle, or even overwhelm you.
In a similar manner, other people’s words have a bigger impact. Some days, without meaning to, your significant other’s offhand comment becomes an EF5 tornado that ruins your afternoon. On the flip side, HSPs feel positive experiences deeply, so praise or words of affection can be a hot air balloon that lifts you to the sun.
If you’re in a relationship with one of the world’s deep feelers, thinkers, and processors, here’s what you should know — and how to show your love.
How to Love a Highly Sensitive Person
1. Speak words that lift us up, not drag us down.
As I’ve already mentioned, words really matter to HSPs. We process them deeply, just like everything else. It’s no wonder many HSPs have a natural gift with language; they’re among the world’s most celebrated musicians, poets, and writers.
Take, for example, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Celine Dion, Barbra Streisand, Mozart, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Virginia Wolf, E.E. Cummings, Robert Frost, and many more. All are thought to be HSPs.
Nobody likes to be criticized, but it can be especially painful for HSPs. Even more so when they come from our partner, harsh words and negativity cut right to the heart and lodge there. Tone of voice matters. Connotation matters. Body posture matters.
Of course, I’m not suggesting you walk on eggshells around HSPs, nor am I saying you shouldn’t speak your mind. But please use loving words whenever possible, and avoid pointed teasing, anger as a weapon, and negativity.
Want to make us really feel loved? Speak the words that help us flourish: Praise us when we’ve done something great. Reminisce with us about a special time together. Describe how beautiful (handsome) we look today.
2. Check in on us.
HSPs may not always say when they’re hurting. Some of us have a tendency to bottle up our emotions, or turn the blame in on ourselves. It’s not something we’re proud of, and rest assured that we’re working on it. Other times, we just don’t want to spread the stress or drama around. After all, we know — from firsthand experience — that emotions can catch as easily as the common cold.
Plus, as HSPs tend to be highly conscientious, we’re acutely aware of inconveniencing or burdening others. So if we’re a little quieter or more distant than usual, don’t brush it off. Check in on us. Ask us how we’re doing. It will mean the world to us that you’ve noticed.
3. Indulge our senses.
No, we don’t posses supersonic hearing like Superman, but essentially, our five physical senses are “turned up.” That means we can get great enjoyment from physical pleasures. Each HSP will have their own tastes, so take the time to figure out what does it for yours. A fine meal, a love song from the soul, rich dark chocolate, anything of wonder or beauty or intellect — to us, these are meaning and love and all things good. Don’t get unnerved if there are tears.
4. Check your vibes.
Generally perceptive and observant, HSPs will notice little details about people. Sometimes we even feel what others feel, literally taking on other people’s moods or mental states as our own.
In other words, if you come home stressed, pacing and venting, slamming doors and sulking, we will soon feel stressed, too. If you are positive and resilient in the face of difficulty, we will feel braver ourselves. Almost everyone, HSP or not, experiences this on some level (remember how emotions catch?), but for HSPs, it can be even more intense. So be aware of your vibes.
5. Yes to hugs, kisses, and physical touch.
But do it gently and with consent! According to Dr. Aron, HSPs can feel physical sensations (including pain) deeper than others, so certain “typical” forms of affection or love-making may be too intense for us. (On the flip side, good touch may feel extra good).
And some HSPs just don’t feel comfortable being touched in certain places. For example, my partner often wants to rest his hand on my leg as he’s falling asleep, but for me, it’s too stimulating and distracting, barring me from sleep.
6. Respect our limits.
There will be things that don’t make sense to you. You may not understand why we burst into tears while watching an ad or why we need to leave the loud, crowded party RIGHT NOW. Or why sleep is so damn important to our mental health and wellbeing (personally, I can’t even function without a full night of it), or why “little” things sometimes become such a big deal.
Do your best to not take it personally, and please try to understand that our limits may be very different from yours. That doesn’t make them wrong.
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7. Show us that you notice us.
An HSP will notice when your mood suddenly changes, or if you just didn’t sleep well last night. An HSP will see that leg pain you’re trying to hide, or when stress is piling up. We may say something about it, or perhaps just silently try to make your load a little easier today (with the kids, with chores, or whatever).
But too often, HSPs feel like others don’t return the favor. We’re often left wishing that others could see our needs and emotions as easily as we see theirs.
No, I’m not asking you to be a mind-reader; that’s impossible. Ultimately, it’s our responsibility to speak up for ourselves. It’s on each of us to advocate for our own needs, HSP or not.
Many HSPs will tell you they simply desire to be seen and heard. We know you may never be as attuned to “little” things as we are. That’s okay, because we love you as you are — that’s why we chose you.
We just ask that you try. A little goes a long way. Try to notice your HSP the way he or she notices you.
HSPs, what would you add to this list? Let me know in the comments below.
You might like:
- Why My Marriage Ended: An HSP’s Story
- Why HSPs Hate Busy Schedules and Feeling Rushed
- For HSPs, Compassion Fatigue Is All Too Real
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