Dear World: ‘Sensitive’ Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means

Sensitive doesn't mean what you think it means

As a sensitive person, I’m not a snowflake, but I do feel — and love — very deeply.

What runs through your mind when you hear the word “sensitive”? Do you envision someone whose feelings get hurt easily? Or maybe someone who isn’t good at receiving feedback?

Have you ever heard anyone say, or perhaps you’ve even said it yourself, “Stop being so sensitive!”

What if the word “sensitive” actually takes on a different meaning when it comes to someone who experiences sensitivity on a daily basis?

For a highly sensitive person (HSP), the word “sensitive” can be both a blessing and a curse, as we’re highly in tune with our environment, which means we’re highly in tune  with our environment — having strong reactions to everything from how something tastes to the way fabrics feel on our skin. And let’s not forget the way we have a knack for absorbing other people’s emotions as though they’re our own. (More on that a bit later…)

So let’s take a step back. As an HSP, here’s what it’s like to navigate my day — and what the word “sensitive” actually means to someone who lives it.

5 Truths People Don’t Understand About Being Sensitive

1. Sounds are louder

When I want to explain what sensitivity is like for me, sounds are the first thing I think about. As an HSP, my senses are heightened, especially when it comes to sounds.

I live on the outskirts of a small city and close to a busy road. I hear every car that zooms by and, at times, when someone’s bass is playing really loud, it really gets to me. If it happens enough throughout the day and I haven’t sought out a quiet refuge, I start to feel trapped in my own mind and body.

Ordinary sounds overwhelm me as an HSP; I am so sensitive to them that it gives me anxiety. Instead, highly sensitive people usually crave stillness and quiet moments. We require this to recharge and feel centered.

If more people realized and understood this, maybe the noise of the world would go down a bit. Maybe.

So please, if you’re playing your music loud late at night and you’re around other people’s homes, or if you live with other people, keep in mind that noise may be affecting someone like me more than you know.

2. Your environment REALLY matters

As you may have started realizing, sensitivity has a lot to do with the environment. For example, people who have high levels of sensitivity may not do well in extremely hot, or extremely cold, conditions.

I live in Alaska where there are long, dark winters. Not only is my sensitivity to the cold heightened, but the dark makes me more prone to experiencing seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

It may seem like those of us who are highly sensitive act a bit extreme when experiencing major weather conditions, but for us, the less-than-stellar feelings are real. 

For example, I may not be able to stay at the beach as long as others due to heat exhaustion or too much sun exposure. Or I may want to consume more chocolate in the winter because I know chocolate releases serotonin, a natural mood stabilizer which helps reduce depression and regulate anxiety. (Finally, a science-backed reason to consume more chocolate!)

But on a more serious note (because I’m sure most of us love chocolate regardless of the season), the environment usually affects HSPs’ moods significantly. In these situations, we need to extend a little more compassion and understanding to our highly sensitive loved ones.

If you detect someone may be a bit more sensitive than you — even if they may not realize they’re a highly sensitive person, per se — give them the space to leave early or decline an invitation to do something when the weather is a bit extreme. If they want to stay indoors with a fan or a heater, that’s OK. Trust me, it’ll make us happy.

3. You get so, so many feels

Highly sensitive people tend to be amazingly skilled at picking up on the emotions of others, and animals, too. This is a blessing and a curse. Allow me to explain.

It’s a blessing because being sensitive to others allows us to tap into sharing empathy. With empathy comes vulnerability. And with vulnerability comes progress and deeper friendships and relationships, something HSPs often prefer.

Our world, now more than ever, needs as many people as possible to embrace sensitivity in others. We can learn a lot from those who have the ability to tune in and really sense what someone else is going through. 

Job-wise, highly sensitive people are well-suited for many careers and make great counselors, coaches, teachers, and, overall, incredible listeners. And that is exactly what the world needs: more listeners and fewer people judging others.

But picking up on others’ emotions can also feel like a curse sometimes. Imagine being in a room full of friends and strangers. A highly attuned sensitive person picks up on the emotions of so many people all at once and it can feel overwhelming if we haven’t learned to protect our space. We can easily get mentally and emotionally flooded.

I’m not suggesting that HSPs are mind readers. Rather, for the most part, we tend to feel what other people are feeling, similar to empathy, and that can be exhausting. If we start to feel overwhelmed, the best way we can honor ourselves is to excuse ourselves early. Please know that it’s usually nothing personal; we just need to go regroup.

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4. You connect with people on a DEEP level

Now here’s a big one: We all want to feel connected, right? We all want to belong to groups like friends and family. And I’m sure we all know what it feels like to be left out or not receive an invite to something everyone else seemed to be invited to.

For an HSP, we can internalize a lot when we feel left out. 

It’s personally one of the things I struggle with most. As someone with multiple hobbies and interests, I consider myself outgoing, kind, and fun. But when I don’t get an invite to participate in something my friends are doing, or no one has reached out to me in days or weeks, I feel terrible.

Things like, “What’s wrong with me?” and “No one cares about me” are harmful thoughts that run through my mind. It’s not a pity party. What I’ve come to realize is that when we experience thoughts and feelings, it can all feel very real to us at the time. And thoughts like that are then followed by low moments of self-pity and self-doubt, common feelings among some HSPs.

No one wants to feel isolated. As sensitive as one might be, let me say that again: No one wants to feel isolated. As humans, we evolved from surviving in groups. And to this day, we still want to feel like we are part of something bigger than ourselves.

We all want to feel needed.

Here’s the thing: even if I don’t feel like participating, the invite means so much to me. Just to feel like I matter to others is enough. It’s not the actual act of always saying yes and joining in. It’s more about the feeling of inclusion. 

Since highly sensitive people already tend to feel “different,” like we don’t always fit in with our less sensitive, “tougher” friends, we want more connection with people, not less.

5. You feel, and appreciate, beauty — with all of your being

Sensitivity isn’t always such an intense experience; it can be a beautiful thing when nurtured. 

You see, highly sensitive people are often deeply connected to nature — we’ll see what others may not, like the beauty of a dandelion — we enjoy classical or ambient music, and when we love, we love fiercely. 

More often than not, we find and appreciate beauty even in the mundane.

Sensitive people have so much to offer the world — we’re the peacekeepers and the shoulders people cry on, and we’re the ones people want to live next to because we are respectful of noise levels — but we just need the space to do that. 

All of the above are simple acts that we can recognize and practice to help nurture our fellow HSPs, and in turn, ourselves.

And let me tell you: The more nurtured we feel, the more we can tune in to our gifts, and the more we can be of service to the world. 

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