Highly Sensitive Refuge
A therapist takes off her glasses and speaks to highly sensitive people about the biggest challenges they face

The Top 7 Challenges of Highly Sensitive People, According to a Therapist

For the first three decades of my life, I was convinced that there was something wrong with me. I seemed to feel things more deeply than those around me and processed my emotions for longer. I was highly empathic, but I seemed to absorb other peoples’ emotions, too, which would leave me feeling saturated and overwhelmed

I would also get affected by environmental and sensory stimuli — too much noise or being in crowds would leave me feeling frazzled and needing to withdraw. 

As a child, I heard consistent messages of “stop being so sensitive,” but I didn’t know how to stop something that was naturally a part of me. Instead, I hid my sensitivity behind protective emotional walls, and I learned to “toughen up” to cope with living in a non-sensitive world. 

But then I started training to be a counselor. 

That’s when I learned there’s a trait known as “high sensitivity” — and discovered I’m what’s known as a highly sensitive person (HSP). Suddenly, everything made sense. I wasn’t flawed — being an HSP is not a disorder; in fact, about 15 to 20 percent of the population are highly sensitive people — I just have higher sensitivity to physical, emotional, and mental stimuli.

I decided to dedicate my practice as a psychotherapist and spiritual healer to working with clients who were HSPs like me.

So when I started counseling in my mid-30s, I produced a questionnaire to find out what the main HSP challenges were. Here are the seven biggest ones my clients talked about — and how they learned to solve them. 

7 Biggest Challenges for Highly Sensitive People (and How to Solve Them)

1. We’re emotional sponges

HSPs are, by nature, kind-hearted and highly empathic. People naturally gravitate toward them and tend to pour out their problems to them. But HSPs can also end up absorbing their energies and get deeply affected by other people’s moods. 

So, while the other person often reports feeling better or lighter after speaking to them, HSPs are often left feeling drained or weighed down from taking everything on and absorbing others’ emotions.

Solution:
Take steps to protect yourself and your energy fields so you can avoid soaking up everybody else’s energies. Simple visualisation exercises, like putting yourself in a metaphorical bubble of white or golden light, seems to work effectively. Also, implement boundaries on your time and availability. 

2. Our deep emotional sensitivity

Highly sensitive people can often be touched deeply, even moved to tears, with positive feelings, such as joy, kindness, and love. But they can also particularly struggle with negative emotions, such as guilt, shame, and fear.

As such, they tend to easily withdraw when criticized, judged, or lied to, and it usually takes a longer amount of time for them to recover from such experiences than non-HSPs, due to the depths of their emotional processing. 

Solution:
Try doing self-development work towards accepting and managing your emotional nature. For instance, you can try the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT tapping), wherein you tap various parts of your body in a certain sequence.

3. We may have issues around expressing anger

Expressing anger seems to be a common problem that HSPs struggle with — they see it as being unkind or hurtful, particularly if they have strong spiritual beliefs. However, as the saying goes, “Whatever you resist, persists,” so any build up of suppressed anger may eventually come out in misdirected ways, which may leave HSPs feeling guilty as a result.

Solution:
Learning how to honor your feelings and express them honestly takes practice for HSPs. You can start to do this by “owning” your feelings. For example, instead of seething and thinking “It’s your fault, you make me angry,” try saying, “When that happened, I felt angry about it.” This not only stops the build up of negative emotions, but it makes for more authentic relationships with people. 

4. Feeling like we don’t belong

For highly sensitive people, a feeling that they don’t belong can often start within their family; they feel “different” from them — not only in terms of how they think and act, but also in how they view the world. 

Many HSPs spend their childhoods adapting, trying to be like those around them in an attempt to fit in.

Solution:
Once again, EFT tapping can be particularly helpful for this, because it combines a mixture of psychology and acupressure methods to acknowledge and move through negative thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. It can also help with building self-acceptance by tapping in more positive self-affirming beliefs about feeling different, such as feeling “unique” instead. 

5. Self-esteem and self-worth issues

Some HSPs struggle with low self-esteem, a lack of confidence, or feelings of not being good enough. This most often occurs if their sensitive nature has been criticized or judged from early on in life — if they grew up as a highly sensitive child — causing them to feel embarrassed or ashamed by it. 

As a result, many tend to people-please and/or “fix” or rescue others, which can often be an unconscious drive for trying to get their own unmet needs satisfied. 

Solution:
Start to work on developing self-love — it is the first step towards blossoming and thriving as an HSP. You can start with self-care techniques and go from there.

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6. Having challenging relationships

In my clinical experience, quite a number of HSPs have had a history of difficult romantic relationships due to a partner not understanding their high sensitivity or need for space when feeling overwhelmed. This has often caused a lot of conflict and a build up of resentment for both parties. 

It also appears that in their early relationships, many HSPs tend to try to close off their feelings and wear a “mask” to cover up who they really are for fear of being judged as “too emotional.” As such, their partners are often unable to meet (or even know) their true emotional needs. 

That mask can leave them with partners they don’t feel a true connection with, or even in codependent relationships with needy partners, addicts, or narcissists — situations where there is no room for their own emotional needs to be met.  

Finding nurturing friendships can also be a struggle for HSPs, as they are natural givers and good listeners. This can often attract friendship patterns that are rather one-sided — and when HSPs require support of their own, they can find it lacking. 

Solution:
Start to become aware of the types of relationships you have in your own life. Notice if they are reciprocal. For example, is there a balance between giving and receiving, and talking and listening, in your relationship(s)? If not, start to take steps to bring these back into better balance. 

7. Struggling with health or addiction issues

HSPs are extremely sensitive to pain and can be susceptible to “energy” or autoimmune disorders, such as chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, or insomnia, while others struggle with allergies, intolerances, irritable bowel syndrome, and digestive issues. 

On a physical level, this may be linked to food and chemical sensitivities, but on an emotional level, this can represent problems with HSPs “digesting” other people’s issues and processing them appropriately. 

As a therapist and healer, I have discovered that there is always a link between our mind/emotions and our physical body.                                                                                                                

In my clinical experience, I have also found that some HSPs use substance abuse as a coping strategy for their sensitivity. The substances can include alcohol or drugs (to reduce overarousal, for relaxation, or escapism), but also caffeine (to stop them from feeling drained from being an emotional sponge), or food, such as chocolate (for comfort eating or as a layer of protection). 

Others may use more “socially acceptable” addictions as coping strategies, such as being a workaholic or a perfectionist

Solution:
Reduce or give up using substances and find healthier coping strategies. Ensure that you create a positive self-care routine, such as healthy eating, taking a daily walk or other form of exercise, and adding relaxation methods, like building a mindfulness practice into your day. 

Remember: Being highly sensitive isn’t a flaw or a weakness; it is a gift and a strength. I have spent the last 17 years helping other HSPs to embrace their sensitivity and reclaim it as their superpower. I hope you do the same and reclaim it, too. 

If you’d like to learn more, my book, The Handbook for Highly Sensitive People – How to Transform Feeling Overwhelmed and Frazzled to Empowered and Fulfilled, is full of advice and self-help strategies about embracing your sensitivity and managing it effectively in order to thrive in this non-sensitive world.  

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