Why Do Highly Sensitive People Struggle to Find Meaningful Relationships?

A highly sensitive person looking lonely because they cannot find meaningful relationships

HSPs tend to have high emotional intelligence. So why do we struggle to find real human connection?

Last December, my fiancé and I celebrated the purchase of our first home. I was ecstatic to be back in the downtown area where parks, festivals, and all the best food are only a short walk away. Since we expect to live here for a while, I decided to put forth an effort to get involved in my community and hopefully meet new friends — something that’s always been a challenge for me. 

As many remote workers know, working at home can make it all too easy to procrastinate. For me, as soon as writer’s block hits, those dishes in the sink become more inviting. So, I began working at a coffee shop to keep myself out of the house. There were several cute ones in my neighborhood and the nearest one was very affordable. Perfect, right? 

Yet the last time I went to my neighborhood coffee shop, I left crying. Why? Well, besides getting work done, I realized I was going there in the hopes of making new friends in my new neighborhood — and it was not working out. Instead, tears welled up in my eyes after an employee and her friend looked at me, looked at one another, and then giggled. Ouch.

If I’m being honest, there has never been a time when I didn’t feel out of place, causing me to react strongly to social rejection (real or imagined). Now that I’ve forged a satisfying, profound relationship with my fiancé (which has come with its own challenges), I also long for close, positive friendships. 

I am not the only one who faces this struggle, though. The difficulty I’ve faced reminds me that highly sensitive people like myself often struggle to find meaningful relationships — romantic or platonic. It’s also taught me a lot about why we struggle to find such relationships, and how we can overcome that struggle and connect with people anyway.

Do Highly Sensitive People Struggle Socially?

As a highly sensitive person, your awareness of stimuli is heightened. The trait is also called environmental sensitivity or sensory processing sensitivity. According to Andre Sólo, coauthor of the bestselling book Sensitive, environmental sensitivity is not a disorder but is better described as a healthy neurobiological characteristic that has both advantages and disadvantages — one that Sólo says has played a crucial role in our evolutionary history as humans. 

(If you’re not sure whether you’re a highly sensitive person, you can take the test here.)

There is no question that highly sensitive people (HSPs) are seen as “different,” however. Sólo says only about 30 percent of people score as highly sensitive, and they often stand out. “There is nothing about being sensitive that automatically makes you struggle socially,” Sólo told me. “In fact, sensitive people are often big on empathy and emotional intelligence, which can be an advantage. But they also have big emotions, deep minds, and what can seem to others like quirky habits.” As a result, Sólo says, highly sensitive people often face a stigma. 

That’s especially challenging because HSPs often derive great pleasure from their rich inner lives and appreciate the deep conversation and emotional understanding — needs that leave us craving human connection. 

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Why Are Deeper Relationships So Important to HSPs?

As a highly sensitive person, relationships can present a confusing paradox. It’s very possible that social gatherings can be quite overstimulating for you. On the other hand, you could feel a deep desire to forge strong, intimate bonds with romantic partners and friends. Why is that? 

Well, as highly sensitive people, we tend to experience emotions intensely and often want an outlet for what feels like a flood of emotions. For this reason, we’re wired to prefer depth. Small talk and frivolous gossip alone won’t satisfy you. They can even tire you out. 

To an empathetic HSP, a meaningful relationship provides a much needed receptacle for our intense need to care for others. In addition, deep bonds enable us to get the sort of care that we need but often don’t find. 

Why Do HSPs Struggle to Find Meaningful Relationships?

Though we want and need them intensely, relationships present a unique challenge for highly sensitive people. Have you ever faced any of these challenges in your relationships with partners, friends, and family members? 

Your Need Lots Of Time Alone 

As we discussed briefly, the HSP brain works harder than the non-sensitive brain to process stimuli from the environment. Though this deep sensory processing occurs unconsciously, it still causes us to expend energy. That’s why oftentimes, HSPs will need plenty of time to retreat and rest.

 In my experience, just uttering a couple words can be exhausting when I feel the need to be on my own. Unfortunately, my friends, partners, and family members don’t always understand that solitude is not a want but a need for me, causing confusion and hurt on both sides.

You Need Reassurance To Ease Your Relationship Anxiety 

On the other hand, because of our exceptionally busy minds, HSPs can be prone to overthinking and as a result, relationship anxiety. Fear of rejection and  intense emotional responses can make even the smallest doubt into a disaster for us. 

For this reason, highly sensitive people may find themselves needing a lot of reassurance from partners to ensure that they are still loved, accepted, and respected. Over time, this can lead to a codependent dynamic. 

Your Idealism Can Give Rise To Impossibly High Standards 

We are often described as dreamy and idealistic. This has always been one of my favorite parts of being an HSP as it injects a much needed sense of magic and wonder into life; however, it can also mean holding myself and those around me to extremely high standards. As an HSP, your tendency for perfectionism can leave everyone involved feeling as though nothing is ever good enough. 

You Fall for Toxic Dynamics 

HSPs tend to be givers in relationships and as a result, can attract those who only want to take. This includes narcissists, high conflict people, and other types of toxic partners and unsafe friends. Our ability to empathize deeply with others and desire to heal them can cause us to be attracted to these types even though they don’t have the capacity to be in a healthy relationship. 

Because we can be perfectionists, we can suffer from low self-esteem which others can often detect and take advantage of. Sadly, we can get trapped in toxic relationships because we don’t feel as though we deserve any better. 

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?

That’s what you’ll find in this powerful online course by Julie Bjelland, one of the top HSP therapists in the world. You’ll learn to turn off the racing thoughts, end emotional flooding, eliminate sensory overload, and finally make space for your sensitive gifts to shine.

Stop feeling held back and start to feel confident you can handle anything. Check out this “HSP Toolbox” and start making a change today. Click here to learn more.

How to Finally Find Meaningful Relationships

For some of the very same reasons we tend to struggle, HSPs can thrive in relationships and friendships. With that being said, effort is often required to activate the HSP powers that many of us are unaware of and sadly, repress. 

Here are the four keys to finding and maintaining meaningful relationships as an HSP:

1. Address Your Trauma 

When trauma occurs, particularly during childhood, relationships are greatly affected. Many of us unconsciously re-enact traumatic patterns from our pasts in our current relationships, even choosing our partners based on our comfort with betrayal, abandonment, abuse, or whatever we experienced. 

In addition, trauma affects highly sensitive people differently. It can have a stronger grip on us and in many cases, creates more adverse effects in our lives. When you resolve your trauma, you free yourself from harmful dynamics in your past. 

You start choosing better for yourself, finding peace, and getting the healthy love you deserve. For me, speaking with a therapist was a transformative decision for releasing my trauma and starting fresh. 

2. Explore Your Interests

I know it’s annoying to hear but it’s true that when you stop fixating on what you’re missing, it can suddenly materialize in your life. I believe that’s partly because of the Law of Attraction but in a relationship context, being happy with your current life (single or not, with zero friends or ten) has a magnetic effect on those around you. 

Instead of obsessing over how you’ll meet your soulmate (as it’s so easy to do), try focusing on yourself. As an HSP, you’ll likely benefit from enriching your inner life. Start exploring your interests and allow yourself to get lost in them when possible. Trust that the joy you’ll derive from doing things that you love will attract exciting things. 

3. Be Courageous

As you strive towards better relationships, it’s very likely that you’ll need to step outside of your comfort zone. After my move in December, I found this to be true and I can’t say that I regret it. 

My neighbor kindly greeted us during the final inspection of our house. Shortly after we moved in, she knocked on the door and delivered a plant with a card. I knew the right thing to do was to express my gratitude with a similar gesture but I was afraid of saying the wrong thing and experiencing social rejection – a common thread in my life experience so far. 

One weekend, something came over me and I decided to bake some fruit squares, write a thank you card, and knock on my neighbor’s door. The result? An extremely pleasant conversation with my neighbor and her husband and now, a regular walking partner who I look forward to seeing on most days of the week. It’s scary to put yourself out there but that’s not a good enough reason to avoid great opportunities to connect.  

4. Accept Yourself 

When you struggle with relationships, it can be easy to assume that there’s something wrong with you. After all, we often hear that humans are social creatures. When I think of that expression, I ask myself: “What am I? An alien?” Of course, the answer is no. 

Being highly sensitive does not render a person too different to be loved or any less deserving of meaningful relationships and I know that internalizing that can be much easier said than done. If you struggle to feel comfortable with who you are as I do, directing acceptance and compassion inward is a great place to start. Remember that the most important relationship is the one you share with yourself

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