If you’re a highly sensitive person (HSP), the phrase, “Sorry I’m late, I didn’t want to come” probably resonates with you. The words may make you laugh, but they may also sting because they are painfully true. Perhaps you’ve felt them hovering on your lips as you slip quietly into that social gathering that you so much want to be a part of, but ultimately find to be more exhausting than enlivening.
But of course, your words remain unspoken. After all, you don’t want to be a burden, to call attention to yourself, or to be rude, right?
I hear you, and I get it.
As HSPs, we crave meaningful relationships, but they also drain us. The care we feel for others fosters soul-satisfying connection, yet also weighs on our hearts and minds. When we walk into a room of people, we not only have our own thoughts and feelings, but we also pick up the emotions of everyone around us.
Engaging with others is our superpower and handicap at the same time, often leaving us feeling profoundly conflicted with ourselves and misunderstood by others. What to do?
It’s tempting to deal with the issue by avoiding social contact all together — or even by numbing ourselves to it with addictive behaviors and substances. But those are not actual solutions. Instead, we can find ways to foster connection that nurtures our well-being and serves as a gift we can give to ourselves and to others.
Here are six secrets to navigating your social life with greater ease, confidence, and satisfaction as a highly sensitive person.
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6 Secrets to Navigating Your Social Life as a Highly Sensitive Person
1. Accept your feelings as valid, because they are.
If you’re like me, the apprehension and angst you feel around certain social gatherings can cause you much shame and guilt. You may sidestep these emotions, wondering why you can’t just lighten up, be happy, and push yourself through them. You probably even have a voice in your head that badgers you with questions like, “Can’t you just relax and have a good time?” or “You’re such a loser for bailing at the last minute.”
Let’s quiet that abusive voice and lend some sound reason to it. You deserve better.
Given the fact that we HSPs process everything so fully and deeply, it is totally reasonable that social situations can be inherently overwhelming. It’s essential to who we are. And, once you accept those feelings as valid, they become less threatening — and thus easier to manage.
2. Nurture friendships and social situations that make you feel safe, and avoid those that don’t.
Recently I made plans to attend a dinner party at a restaurant. Once the attendance list hit a dozen people, many whom I didn’t know, I knew that the scenario would be overstimulating for me. Instead of forcing myself to go when my reserves were low to begin with, I contacted the host, informing him that I would not be able to attend, and respectfully apologized for the late cancellation. It felt good to honor my feelings, and thus take care of myself.
Later, I reached out to a few people within that group with whom I feel the closest and made plans for the four of us to meet at a time and place that was quieter and more conducive to conversation. It turned out to be a meaningful evening of authentic connection. That is the kind of connection that HSPs crave — and need.
If I hadn’t honored my limitations and then taken action to arrange a scenario that would work for me, then that enriching night with friends would not have happened. Similarly, you can notice, take ownership of, and make plans around the friendships and contexts that nurture you the most. This is an act of compassion: when you are at your best, you also have the most to offer others!
3. Prepare yourself emotionally, mentally, and physically before a potentially stressful social engagement.
Sometimes we may need to attend social gatherings that are beyond our comfort zones, or we may want to challenge ourselves with new people and experiences.
To lessen anxiety and to make the most of it, prepare yourself beforehand. I find that getting extra rest, exercise, and downtime before such engagements helps me be able to show up, endure, and even enjoy (imagine that!) the experiences.
What helps you be at your best? Prioritize and do that beforehand!
4. Give yourself space and time to recharge afterward.
As HSPs, engaging socially can drain us, even if it energizes us. Therefore, it’s important to recharge after and to not overbook. I find that having space and time to myself after social engagements really helps me push the reset button.
After an evening out, I find it helpful to have the following evening to myself. In this way, I experience myself as my own companion, and someone who is worthy of her own care. You deserve the same! Whether that means an early bedtime or a night of Netflix, it is healthy and empowering to give myself what I need to restore my mental, physical, and emotional energy.
5. Have a back-up plan.
For us HSPs, sometimes our emotions seem to come out of nowhere, making us feel vulnerable and exposed in front of others. Having a plan if this happens can both reduce its likelihood of happening and make it more manageable if it does.
When feelings surface for me, they often manifest as tears, even if I’m happy! This can be confusing for others, let alone myself. I have found the following go-to statement to be a lifesaver when emotions surface: “I’m okay. I’m just feeling a lot.”
It’s effective because it acknowledges the reality of my experience and it reassures others that I’m okay without divulging unnecessary details.
Other tricks include excusing myself to the bathroom or other private area where I can let out a few tears, or making a call or text message to a trusted friend.
This kind of back-up plan is like going roller-skating with knee and elbow pads instead of bare limbs. If you hit some bumps along the way, you know you’re safe and can get back up more readily if you fall.
6. Remember that your sensitive nature can be an unexpected gift to others.
I’m often surprised how even the moments that are most raw and overwhelming for me can end up benefiting those around me — rather than being the disruption to them that I fear.
Last year I went on a pilgrimage with a handful of people I didn’t know beforehand. One evening at dinner, aching for deeper connection with my fellow travelers, I went out on a limb and shared my intensely personal reason why I was on the trip. To my surprise and delight, others around the table expressed sincere thanks for my sharing, and some even eventually shared their own stories.
As HSPs, one of the greatest gifts we have to offer the world is the depth of our experiences, smoothing the path for those around us to access the most deep-seated parts of themselves. Even if others do not respond in this way, it’s important to remember that some will, or will at least consider it.
Highly sensitive people, this is good for you, too. To experience our sensitive nature as an appreciated part of our social circles can remind us that even when we feel vulnerable or misunderstood, our authentic presence matters and is needed.