Highly sensitive people often get the wrong message from society. But what message are we giving ourselves?
Twenty years ago, I first came across Dr. Elaine Aron’s book, The Highly Sensitive Person. I was 32 then and working in a prison part-time, rehabilitating offenders. I was also doing a five-year counseling qualification course at college. It was during one of those training days that a fellow student handed me a copy of the book and said, “You should read this; I think you’re an HSP.” It turned out she was right — I’m definitely a highly sensitive person.
Up until that point, I was just convinced that there was something “wrong” with me, as I felt completely different to my friends and family. I was often told that I was “too sensitive,” and I noticed that I processed my emotions much more deeply than others did, and for longer amounts of time. I also seemed to absorb other peoples’ emotions, and would often feel completely saturated, or like I’d been sucked dry after being with certain people. Not to mention I’d pick up on subtleties that others weren’t unaware of. Environmental and sensory stimuli, such as too much noise or crowded spaces, could leave me feeling frazzled — and I’d need to withdraw into nature or seek solitude to recover and recharge.
After reading the book, it felt as though someone had switched a light on and a huge weight lifted from my shoulders. I finally had some validation about who I was, and that there was nothing actually “wrong” with me: I was simply a highly sensitive person.
The Science Behind High Sensitivity
While everyone is sensitive to an extent, some of us are more sensitive than others. In fact, roughly 30 percent of people are born more sensitive than the average person — and this manifests both physically and emotionally. (For reference, approximately 40 percent of people are average in sensitivity while 20 percent are low in sensitivity.) This trait is referred to by researchers as environmental sensitivity — or Sensory Processing Sensitivity. And, rest assured — all three levels of environmental sensitivity are considered completely healthy and normal.
When someone falls near the high end of the sensitivity continuum, they’re called “highly sensitive people” (HSPs). Often, they will be deeply attuned to their physical environment(s), as well as to the emotions and feelings of others. This is where their high levels of empathy come into play, too. They often have remarkable intuition, are deep thinkers, and pick up on subtle details more easily than others. They also may be particularly sensitive to textures, noises, and other everyday things in the environment that don’t seem to affect other people. And some researchers believe high sensitivity is linked to giftedness. An HSP’s sensitive nature doesn’t just go away — they’re born this way, though they can learn to manage overstimulating situations.
Which brings me to how positive affirmations helped me better manage — and accept — my sensitivity.
How Positive Affirmations Helped Me Accept My Sensitivity
During college, I was given another book recommendation, too, this time about positive affirmations. At the time, we were doing some experiential learning about therapeutic “mirror work,” wherein you look at yourself in the mirror and say a positive affirmation out loud. In other words, a positive, affirming statement. You might say, “I love you” or “You are beautiful.” The idea is to repeat the affirmations often to help challenge negative or unhelpful thoughts and beliefs (many of which you may be unaware of). And with regular daily practice (for a minimum of 21 days), they can help make lasting changes regarding the way a person thinks and feels. Through repetition, the affirmations embed into the subconscious mind. And, eventually, the negative thoughts and beliefs fade as the new positive ones become more believable and authentic.
While you can recite and repeat the affirmations in your head, or even write them down, many experts suggest saying them aloud, as vocalizing them gives power to the words. Some people also find that looking in a mirror while saying the affirmation makes a difference to how effective the affirmation feels. The added benefit of doing mirror work is that it can help with self-love issues.
Granted, positive affirmations are not a “quick fix” — you don’t just recite these statements for a few days and suddenly have a ton of self-esteem and a positive mindset. They take work. Research has found that they can help strengthen your values and can help rewire negative beliefs. Psychologists often have their clients do them, too, for a variety of reasons, from increasing their confidence and self-worth to having them get in a habit of reframing any negative self-talk with positive self-talk.
I have to admit, I didn’t find the mirror work and affirmations easy, for I had low self-worth and a lack of self-love back then. During the break, one of the students shared how she had already started doing mirror work at home. She told us that although she’d initially struggled to look at her own reflection — she hated her looks and didn’t feel good enough — she kept repeating certain positive affirmations over and over again, even though it felt “fake” to do so at first. After a few weeks, her confidence grew, and she started to develop a sense of self-love and self-worth.
After I read the book she recommended, I started to question my own negative thoughts and beliefs about myself and my sensitivity. And I began to practice positive affirmations, too. It made a huge difference to how I felt about myself. My self-worth also increased, and later that year, I was promoted into a senior management role at work.
I also began to implement many self-help strategies — an “HSP mental health toolbox,” of sorts — to manage my sensitivity better while in the prison environment. Throughout this journey, I began to recognize, and embrace, the amazing gifts, qualities, and abilities associated with sensitivity. And I could focus on what brings me joy as an HSP. Furthermore, I no longer felt I had to “hide” my authentic self or my natural intuitive abilities.
During that period, I had also set up a part-time private counseling and spiritual healing practice, specializing in working with HSPs. And I would suggest the use of positive affirmations to my clients, especially if they were struggling with negative self-talk or had self-love issues.
From my own personal and professional experience, I’ve found that there are some universal negative beliefs and thoughts that many HSPs struggle with. So I began to put together a collection of 100 positive affirmations to help HSPs feel more empowered. Here are seven of the most popular ones used by my clients and workshop attendees over the years.
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7 of the Most Powerful Things an HSP Can Say to Themselves
1. “My sensitivity is my greatest strength.”
One of the most important steps in the self-empowerment journey for HSPs is to understand their high sensitivity trait and then reframe certain aspects of it. By embracing their sensitivity, considering it as a gift, and recognizing the beautiful qualities associated with it, they will realize that being sensitive is their greatest strength, not (at all) their biggest weakness.
2. “I love and accept myself exactly as I am.”
This affirmation helps HSPs to transform any thoughts and beliefs around feeling “flawed” or not good enough. Some HSPs who have self-love issues may struggle with this affirmation at first, so they could start off by saying: “I am learning to love and accept myself exactly as I am” and then work up to “I love and accept myself exactly as I am.”
3. “I am learning to listen to my body and my own needs. I am choosing to nurture myself.”
This affirmation helps those HSPs who don’t prioritize their own self-care, or those who feel overwhelmed or frazzled a lot of the time. Setting boundaries can be a challenge for HSPs, but it’s essential for their emotional and physical well-being.
4. “My self-esteem and self-worth are not based on the opinions of others.”
This affirmation is particularly effective for HSPs who have felt criticized, judged, or mocked — either due to being labeled as “too sensitive” by others or when it comes to other areas in their life.
5. “I am good enough, I am worthy, and I deserve the best.”
This affirmation is beneficial for HSPs whose sensitive nature wasn’t nurtured or understood in childhood, and it’s carried over into adulthood. Or for those who have self-worth issues.
6. “I honor and respect myself by having healthy boundaries.”
HSPs are kind, compassionate, caring people. But they can often be taken advantage of because they are natural empaths and “givers.” If they don’t have strong boundaries in place, they can often attract “takers,” or people who can be controlling, manipulative, or overly needy, including narcissists or gaslighters.
7. “I am part of a worldwide community of highly sensitive people.”
This affirmation is useful for HSPs who feel different from their family or friends, or for those who feel isolated or lonely because nobody “gets” them or sees who they truly are. It’s important for sensitive people to know, and remember, that approximately one-third of the population is made up of people just like them. And that there are many HSP groups on social media, such as communities like Highly Sensitive Refuge, where they can feel like they “belong” and can connect with other like-minded souls.
Mel’s insights and 100 associated positive affirmations can be found in her latest book, Positive Affirmations for Sensitive People.
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You might like:
- 6 Daily Affirmations for Highly Sensitive People
- How I Finally Learned to Stop Being So Hard on Myself
- 18 Things That Fill Highly Sensitive People With Joy
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