Ultimately, telling people you’re a highly sensitive person is your decision — but there are pluses and minuses to both.
Hi. My name is Lacie, and I’m a highly sensitive person (HSP).
Once upon a time, I wouldn’t have even known to say that. Nowadays, I’m pretty open about it, and it feels liberating. Having such a crucial piece of self-knowledge helps me to understand myself better — which then helps me in all other aspects of my life — as well as understand my therapy clients better, too.
Being an HSP entails experiencing what researchers refer to as sensory processing sensitivity, or environmental sensitivity. In essence, this means our sensory experience — whether it be our external senses, like sight or sound, or our internal senses, like our emotions and processing of information — is heightened compared to our less-sensitive counterparts. While being an HSP comes with some difficulties, such as being more vulnerable to overwhelm (seriously, do the lights need to be that bright?!), it also comes with many strengths, such as having a strong sense of intuition and compassion for others.
Now that you know you’re a highly sensitive person, along with all of the nuances of what that means, the question remains: Should you tell people you’re an HSP… or keep it a secret?
5 Reasons Why You Should Tell People You’re an HSP
1. You can help educate others about the sensitivity trait.
Unfortunately, most of mainstream society does not know about high sensitivity, or they misunderstand it. What they may perceive as “weird” or “quirky” are actually normal traits associated with being an HSP.
So when you tell others you are an HSP, this helps to inform them about what it means to be one. Your tendency to cry during sad movies and an aversion to uncomfortable fabrics are no longer labeled as strange quirks, but rather, they’re context for how sensitivity can manifest.
And, who knows? By sharing with others that you’re an HSP, you may help them understand someone else in their life, or even themselves, much better.
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2. You can aim to change the perception of sensitivity.
For far too long, “sensitive” has been a bad word. After all, “you’re too sensitive” has been a statement most of us have heard throughout our lives, meant as an insult. Sensitivity has been conflated with weakness and the implication that there is something “wrong” with us.
Yet, those who love you are able to readily recognize all of your amazing strengths, including those directly connected to your sensitive nature! Chances are, the strengths that you are particularly proud of — whether it be your creativity, your conscientiousness, or your ability to be a supportive friend — are because you’re an HSP, not in spite of it.
So by letting others know you’re an HSP, you can show them all of the wonderful benefits that come with sensitivity. This may change others’ minds that maybe sensitivity isn’t such a negative trait after all.
3. You can help others understand you better.
Knowledge is power. This is true both for ourselves and others, especially regarding important aspects of our personalities. When you share with important others in your life that you’re an HSP, this will provide them with a fuller, deeper sense of who you are as a person. Knowing such information can help strengthen our relationships, as we then understand each other better.
For instance, by letting your partner know that you’re an HSP, this might help them realize how important it is for your surroundings to not be overstimulating. Or, by letting your friends know you’re a sensitive soul, they might be more likely to do an HSP-friendly activity with you, such as going on a nature hike, complete with deep conversations, rather than suggesting activities less conducive to HSPs (please no loud, crowded clubs…) This may also allow you to weed out any potential relationships, whether it be romantic or friendships, in which your sensitivity is not respected as the gift that it is.
4. You can better advocate for your needs.
Although it shouldn’t have to be this way, people are more likely to accommodate your requests to have your needs met when they know the reason. Or, at the very least, they are more likely to be understanding instead of judgmental.
Since part of our sensitive nature is vulnerability to overstimulation, we HSPs may have more needs than most in order to help prevent that overwhelm from taking over. So by explaining to others you are an HSP, this can provide validity to your experience rather than being dismissed as “needy” or “high-maintenance.”
For example, by letting your friend who’s hosting a party know that you will be leaving early in order to protect your energy as an HSP, they are less likely to be offended by your early departure. Or, you may want to request accommodations to your working environment, like dimmer lights or the ability to wear noise-canceling headphones, in order to more effectively perform your work. These requests are more likely viewed as legitimate, given an understanding of your unique experience as an HSP.
5. You can take pride in who you are.
As previously mentioned, sensitivity is something that has, for too long, been associated with negativity, which has resulted in many HSPs feeling ashamed about our sensitive nature. Part of reclaiming sensitivity as a positive aspect of who we are includes finding pride in all that our sensitivity offers us, from our compassion to our attention to detail.
When letting others know you are highly sensitive, you are not only informing them that there is nothing wrong with being sensitive, you are also reinforcing this vital message to yourself. Accepting, and finding strength, in your sensitivity — especially when shared with others — is a powerful remedy for shame.
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5 Reasons Why You May Not Want to Tell People You’re an HSP
On the other side of the spectrum is keeping your sensitivity to yourself. Here are some reasons you may choose to do so.
1. There is still a stigma associated with sensitivity (unfortunately).
While sharing your sensitivity with the right people can be a powerful healing experience, sharing it with the wrong people can be a hurtful one. Once more, the negative associations with sensitivity are still alive and well. That being said, especially in certain contexts, people may automatically assume the worst.
For example, if you disclose that you’re an HSP during a job interview, what the interviewer might hear instead is: “I get overwhelmed easily,” “I can’t handle difficulties,” or “I’m not right for this job.”
2. There are different definitions of sensitivity.
The aforementioned misconceptions of sensitivity make it so any two people could define sensitivity differently. While HSPs may understand sensitivity to mean being more greatly impacted by the positive and negative aspects of our internal and external environments, others may view sensitivity as being reactive or unstable.
So, when you inform others that you’re an HSP, they may not understand what that means and jump to the wrong conclusion about you. This is more likely to be the case when you aren’t able to properly explain what being a highly sensitive person means, which puts the onus of burden on you — which is a lot of pressure! And, to make matters worse, HSPs are not fond of being under pressure. Time anxiety is real!
3. It can be easier to offer others an alternate explanation.
Sometimes, we’re able to have a deep conversation with someone, explaining the depths of our soul and the intimate nuances of our experience. Other times, we’re pressed for time, don’t have a close connection with the other person, or simply don’t have the energy to engage in deep conversation. When that is the case, it can be much easier to offer an alternate explanation rather than informing others that we’re an HSP and what exactly that entails.
For instance, we might tell someone, “Noises tend to be particularly distracting for me; it would help me concentrate if we turn down the music” rather than diving into great detail about being an HSP, our experience with sensory processing sensitivity, and how that impacts our inability to concentrate with loud noises.
4. Others may react poorly, which can be damaging to your mental health.
While we would hope that others in our life would receive this information about us being an HSP well, unfortunately, this is not always the case. There are many people out there who dismiss high sensitivity as some internet quiz lacking scientific validity, as if we were telling them our results from a “Which Friends’ character are you?” quiz. This not only can be hurtful, but may also make us question our own validity as an HSP, which can be incredibly damaging to our mental health.
There are also people out there who might take advantage of the fact that we’re a highly sensitive person. Narcissists and energy vampires, for instance, prey on HSPs since we are easy targets, due to our empathetic and giving nature. The knowledge that we are HSPs in the wrong hands could make us unsafe, which is the last thing we’d want.
5. You don’t owe anyone information about yourself.
Your personal information is inherently yours, and you don’t owe anyone details about yourself. This is especially true when the other person makes you feel unsafe and/or the information you hold feels vulnerable. You have the right to privacy and autonomy, just as you have the right to decide who you let in — and keep out — of each area of your life.
And, for HSPs, setting this boundary can be even more powerful, as HSPs tend to struggle with setting boundaries. At the end of the day, you are the one who gets to decide what aspects of yourself you disclose to others; no one else can make that decision for you.
Ultimately, It’s Your Decision Whether or Not to Tell People You Are an HSP
So, the question remains: Should you tell people you’re an HSP, or keep it a secret? Ultimately, it’s your decision. As the sole person living your life, no one knows you better than you do. You are the expert on you, which means that you are going to be the best decision-maker when it comes to this.
For myself, I approach this on a case-by-case basis. While I tend to be fairly open with the fact that I am an HSP, there are also times when I am more selective about who I disclose that to (for various reasons). It all comes down to the particular circumstance and what feels right to me in the moment.
Remember, nothing is black-and-white. What may work for you in one context may not work in another. And it’s also okay to change your mind.
Fellow HSP, what do you think? Are you open with being an HSP, or do you tend to keep it a secret? I’d love to hear in the comments below!
You might like:
- How I ‘Rediscovered’ My High Sensitivity Trait
- 13 Signs You’re Secretly a Highly Sensitive Person
- How to Reduce Overwhelm as an HSP
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