If you’re someone who feels overstimulated in hectic environments, who seems to feel things more deeply than others, and who needs time alone to recharge — you might be a highly sensitive person.
Highly sensitive people (HSPs) are born with a gene that makes them more sensitive to all types of sensory input, including sights, sounds, and even the social cues of people around them. Up to 20 percent of the population has this beautiful trait, which means that almost everyone knows at least one HSP. Nonetheless, there are plenty of people who just… don’t get it.
If you’re highly sensitive like me, you know the pain of being treated like a nuisance because of your personality. You know it’s not a choice or a lifestyle, that you can’t just “toughen up” or “get over it.” And you know that your sensitivity, while not always convenient, is also a powerful strength.
So here’s what we wish our loved ones knew — especially those who haven’t yet grasped what it means to be an HSP.
Wondering if you’re a highly sensitive person? Find out here.
7 Things Your Sensitive Loved One Needs From You
1. Give us time
A highly sensitive person’s brain processes every piece of new information much more deeply than others’ do. This means we often need more time to process all the information we’re taking in. For this reason, it’s helpful to give us more time to make decisions, learn new things, and say what we want to say. Being rushed is very stressful for us!
Simply by giving an HSP a little more time to get back to you, or letting us know you aren’t in a rush can be a huge relief for us.
2. Give us space
Sometimes an HSP needs to withdraw and spend some time alone. This can be hard for loved ones to accept, but giving an HSP that time and space to recharge is crucial to our wellbeing.
Why? Well, an HSP’s brain is designed to process information very deeply, and we get easily overstimulated if we don’t get alone time to “come down” and recharge — otherwise we burn out. This recharge time can look different for every HSP. For some, it’s going for a nap. For others, a walk in nature will do the trick. Others wish to curl up with a soothing book and pet their cat.
Whatever it is, give them the space to do it. We’ll come back to you afterwards.
3. Give us peace
Peaceful and quiet environments are where HSPs thrive. If you suspect there’s an HSP in your home or workplace (and with roughly 1 in 5 people falling into this category, it’s likely there is) keep this in mind when you’re on the phone, listening to music, or chatting with others.
Other environmental shifts that can help an HSP are softer lighting, no extreme odors (even fragrances you like), and reduced clutter. But you don’t have to try to guess what will or won’t bother an HSP — simply ask us if a fragrance is too strong, or a room is too bright, and take us seriously if we say it’s a bit much.
4. If you have to criticize, criticize carefully
Included in the stimuli that HSPs process so deeply are your words. When an HSP is criticized harshly, their “emotional brain” lights up, and HSPs tend to feel all emotions very strongly — including negative ones.
While a non-HSP might be able to rationalize their way out of taking critical words too harshly, an HSP finds this much more difficult, and the result can be a strong emotional response. In other words, the same words may hurt us more, even if they were meant constructively. This doesn’t mean you should never criticize an HSP, but it can be very helpful to pause and consider your words carefully before sharing your views with them.
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5. Ask us where we want to meet up
For HSPs, certain social environments are more taxing than they are enjoyable — especially loud, crowded spaces. If an HSP in your life tells you they can’t meet up, it may not be that we don’t want to socialize. It may be because we know that the environment will not bring out the best in us.
Loud clubs, chaotic restaurants, festivals, and busy bars are generally not the best places for highly sensitive people to hang out. Instead, consider our needs: less stimulation means a longer “battery” and less stress to derail our time with you. We might prefer a quiet café or a stroll in the park. We do still want to spend time with others, but in a place where we can fully be ourselves and do what we do best: connecting.
6. Let us come and go as we choose
You might have been out with an HSP at a venue you thought they’d enjoy, yet they still chose to leave earlier than you expected. At times, an HSP might cut an evening short, sometimes without an explanation. We might quickly go from being cheerful and chatty to clamming up and looking sullen.
Usually, this just means we’ve reached our stimulation “limit” for now, and we need to be somewhere less stimulating and more peaceful. Don’t try to keep us — even if you think the fun has just begun. And please, don’t pressure us or berate us or question our reasons! We’ll appreciate your understanding, and likely be back to socialize again in no time.
7. Never, ever say these words…
“You’re too sensitive.”
Sure, being highly sensitive is what makes us unique, and it’s a trait that can come with its disadvantages. We know that we sometimes feel overwhelmed by strong emotions, take time to make decisions, or struggle in certain situations and environments.
However, telling someone who is usually well aware of these issues that they simply need to “toughen up” or that they are “too sensitive” really doesn’t help. Being a highly sensitive person isn’t a choice or something that a person can change.
Instead, an HSP needs your support and understanding. If you offer it, the highly sensitive person in your life will feel much more stable and secure, and you may not even notice any more problems. Then, you might see (and help your HSP loved one see) what a blessing it can be to be sensitive.