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9 Struggles Only Highly Sensitive People Will Understand

It’s as though all highly sensitive people speak a common language — and share many of the exact same struggles.

Are you someone who gets emotional easily? If so, it can be overwhelming, not to mention tiring. It can leave you wondering why you are more sensitive than they are — you’re so deeply affected by things when others seem to just shake them off. 

People often point out sensitivity in others as though it’s a weakness and there is something “wrong” with them. (It doesn’t help that society misunderstands sensitive people, too.) But, the truth is, nothing is “wrong” with highly sensitive people (HSPs).

I mean, everyone is sensitive to an extent — some people are just more so than others. Nearly 30 percent of people are born more sensitive than average, both physically and emotionally. (While about 40 percent of people are average in sensitivity, 20 percent are low in sensitivity.) Researchers refer to this trait as environmental sensitivity — also known as Sensory Processing Sensitivity. And don’t worry: All three levels of environmental sensitivity are considered normal and healthy.

Those who fall near the high end of the sensitivity continuum are called highly sensitive people. As a result, they share many characteristics in common, including: they are often deeply in tune with their physical environment; they easily pick up on (and absorb) others’ emotions; they often notice the “little things in life,” subtle details others may overlook; and they may be affected by textures, noises, and other environmental factors that non-HSPs may not even notice. Furthermore, they tend to be creative, empathetic, and deep thinkers. Some researchers also believe high sensitivity is linked to giftedness.

If you’re wondering how you “became” highly sensitive, you were likely born this way — and it continued to develop as you got older. You will remain sensitive for life — although you can always learn how to better manage overstimulation, regulate your many (powerful) emotions, and use your smart, sensitive mind to your advantage.

Of course, if you’re a highly sensitive person, you know there are both highs and lows that come with the trait. Here are nine struggles you may relate to as a highly sensitive person. 

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9 Struggles Only Highly Sensitive People Understand

1. You’re very self-critical — you have high expectations and are hard on yourself.

As a sensitive soul, you tend to be very hard on yourself, setting high expectations and sometimes seemingly unattainable goals and standards. And, when you’re unable to meet those goals, you criticize yourself. 

In a way, you set yourself up for some real challenges while putting little emphasis on any success you have along the way. And, ultimately, your view of accomplishment — and way of doing things — leaves you feeling like a failure because you feel like you just aren’t good enough to accomplish anything. It’s a vicious cycle. 

Of course, the solution is letting go of perfectionism, but this is not easy for HSPs.

2. You fear rejection — you like opening up to others, but the vulnerability can scare you.

You have a tough time dealing with rejection, and your overstimulated (and perhaps anxious) nature only makes it harder. It pushes your feelings to another level. Of course, this comes into play regarding romantic relationships, too.

When you get involved with someone new, you want to open up — but the fear of being vulnerable can spark feelings of uneasiness and insecurity. As a result, you may find it difficult to fully trust the person (at least at the onset).

In general, highly sensitive people are more prone to relationship anxiety — they’re afraid of rejection, and their feelings for someone can be so overwhelming, it can scare them.

HSPs can fear rejection in other areas of their life, as well. For example, it may prevent you from going after a promotion at your job or from starting that side hustle you’ve wanted to do for as long as you can remember. 

3. You take things personally and don’t like criticism (even if it’s well-intended).

While everyone sometimes thinks about things people say to them, sensitive people can hang onto the words longer than others. For example, let’s say a supervisor gives them unwarranted feedback on how they can improve on something at work. Even though the supervisor is just trying to help — they’re not yelling or upset — the HSP can take the input very personally. To them, it’s not simply feedback, but feels like criticism.  

Since highly sensitive people are already self-critical (see point #1), they feel even worse when critiqued by others. It almost serves as a kind of confirmation for the self-doubt they may already have.

4. Your stress becomes physical pain, such as a headache or digestive issue.

When your highly sensitive soul is in overdrive — usually due to too much overstimulation and overwhelm — stress starts to eat away at you. And this can manifest physically in

the form of headaches, digestive problems, and other issues.  

It can all start with an isolated incident that causes you to be upset. Or it can happen over time, when an accumulation of stressors becomes too much. 

To combat this, you can try a grounding technique, like a breathing practice or meditation.

5. You have a surplus of emotions that can bubble over anytime.

Highly sensitive people have a very strong connection to their emotions, and even seemingly insignificant situations can shake them up. 

Of course, everyone has their moments and can become upset when something major happens. But sensitive folks are frequently affected by even the smallest things, from a touching TV commercial to a comment someone makes (to them or someone else).

Similarly, since they absorb others’ emotions as though they were their own, this could weigh on HSPs emotionally, too — it’s hard enough keeping their own emotions in check, but when you add other people’s? It’s an easy way for sensitive people to become emotionally flooded.

Want to reduce stress and thrive as a highly sensitive person? We recommend these online courses from psychotherapist and sensitivity expert Julie Bjelland. Click here to learn more.

6. You are easily distracted by external stimuli — environmental factors are often triggers.

As I mentioned in the previous point, even the smallest things can become stressors for those who are sensitive, and this is also the case with stimuli since HSPs process things more deeply than others. 

Various environmental factors, such as loud sounds, bright lights, and smells, can be triggers and distractions. Thus, these stimuli can be a shock to your sensitive system. 

7. Group outings challenge you — you usually prefer deeper, one-on-one interactions.

As a highly sensitive person, you tend to be much better at one-on-one interactions. It’s just easier for you — they’re more focused and you can have deeper conversations and connections. 

When others join in, things can get a bit messy as you find yourself struggling to be heard in a group of people. For this reason, group outings usually leave you feeling exhausted and may cause you to have an “HSP hangover” the next day.

8. Driving or traveling can be stressful since they’re both full of unknowns.

Driving can be yet another daunting challenge for sensitive people. This means trips may take longer than they should because you opt for side streets rather than dealing with the stress of freeway traffic.

Traveling is hard for HSPs, too, as it’s often full of change and unknowns, which HSPs are not big fans of (especially if you’re traveling with other people). 

9. Social media often makes you unhappy — it’s a funnel of negative news and comparing yourself to others.

As a highly sensitive person, you already have a hard enough time living in the real world — but once you hit social media platforms, like Instagram or Facebook, it just goes further downhill. In a virtual world, everyone’s life seems perfect (“seems” being the key word!). So you may easily get sucked into comparing yourself with others. This is quite detrimental for your mental health, as it fuels thoughts of inadequacy. 

Plus, social media tends to be full of a lot of negativity, like violent-filled news stories which are tough on sensitive brains. (I suggest greatly limiting the time you spend on social media sites, especially before bed.)

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