Most HSPs have been told they’re “too in their heads.” Here’s how to use that to your advantage.
Have you ever been told you are “too in your head”?
As highly sensitive people (HSPs), our nervous systems process everything more deeply and intensely than others, which takes up a lot of internal energy, time, and space.
I know — it’s tempting to see our inner lives as burdensome. High sensitivity is identified by the acronym DOES: Depth of processing, Overstimulation, Emotionally reactive, and Sensitivity to Stimuli. No matter how you slice it, being an HSP is a lot. It’s a lot to handle and a lot to accommodate.
But HSPs also possess a great gift — the wealth of our inner world. Far from being a deficit, Dr. Elaine Aron, who coined the term “highly sensitive person” (also known as Sensory-Processing Sensitivity) calls this our rich inner life. This is the life we live in our minds, bodies, and spirits — rich in the fullness of our experience.
If we nurture our rich inner life, the ROI (return on investment) for ourselves, and the world, is exponential. Here are some ways experts say we can grow the wealth of our inner lives as highly sensitive people.
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15 Ways HSPs Can Cultivate a Rich Inner Life, According to Science
1. Grow the good — focus on the positives, not negatives.
For many HSPs, the first step in cultivating a rich inner life is to trust its richness. When you’ve always been told that your inner life is a problem, or that there is something “wrong” with you, it takes time to see it as a source of wealth rather than a deficiency.
One way to grow the good in your inner life is to use it for… good! Dr. Rick Hanson, a psychologist renowned for connecting ancient contemplative practices with modern neuroscience, advises the simple (yet challenging) practice of consciously expanding good thoughts and feelings. He says that by making an effort to let them linger in our minds, we rewire our brains to strengthen those positive connections.
Since HSPs are naturally empathic and intuitive, we can use these traits to keep focusing on the positives.
2. Navigate the negativity bias and try to come up with why you are thinking negative thoughts.
Research shows that our brains developed a negativity bias as an evolutionary means of survival. Focusing on the bad helps a species survive, but when it comes to thriving, humans need some help countering all that negativity.
Since we process things so thoroughly, highly sensitive people can fall prey to overthinking and our negative bias wiring.
So the next time your HSP inner life is flooded by pessimistic thoughts, try pausing and getting curious about those thoughts. Where did they come from? Are they an accurate account of the facts? Being curious and discerning about our inner lives can be very beneficial — it can enrich our intuition, for instance.
3. Explore your inner parts, all of them.
HSPs sense that a lot is going on inside us. Internal Family Systems (IFS) is an approach to therapy that normalizes the concept that we all have varying internal parts of our psyche. IFS suggests that there are no bad parts of us, only some unhelpful parts that usually develop out of a need for self-protection. IFS seeks to unify our parts so we can experience a healthier relationship with every facet of our being. While IFS is a therapy, exploring the theory, and your inner HSP parts, on your own can be illuminating.
4. Get to know your inner child.
It’s worth getting reacquainted with your inner child — the one you’ve shared your heart, mind, body, and soul with for a lifetime. How does your inner child feel and what do they need? You can give your inner child the connection they’ve always needed through a compassionate inner life.
Psychologist (and “Instagram’s Parenting Whisperer”) Dr. Becky Kennedy suggests that the best thing a parent can do for their child is to simply learn as much about them as they can. So, as an adult, reparenting your inner child with curiosity and connection can bring healing and wholeness to your inner life.
5. Practice the skill of self-compassion.
If there is one thing I believe HSPs need more of in their inner lives, it’s self-compassion. We berate ourselves for not having the capacity to handle what others seem to so easily.
Instead, however, we should appreciate all that we carry as a result of our deeply-processing nervous systems. Practicing self-compassion can start with a simple objection to that critical part of you. Something like, “Yes, others do seem to handle more with ease, but I process things more intensely than most, and that deserves respect and appreciation.”
6. Take a self-inventory and learn more about your personality traits.
In her Highly Sensitive Person’s Workbook, Dr. Aron suggests that HSPs brainstorm at least 50 personal abilities, assets, and strengths (the more, the better!). She says, “this is just an antidote to too much devaluing of who you are.”
Highly sensitive people can also benefit from learning more about their personality traits to understand better what makes them tick. Try exploring a character evaluation you haven’t before. Myers-Briggs, the Enneagram, VIA Character Strengths, or Human Design and Astrology (for the more spiritually minded) are all helpful to highlight our strengths and struggles.
7. “Lighten up and have some fun.”
Do most HSPs get annoyed by this phrase — “Lighten up and have some fun” — or is it just me? I consider myself to be a serious person, something I attribute at least in part to my sensitivity. But research suggests that there are real benefits to prioritizing fun and lightheartedness in life.
A helpful practice is to notice whether something feels expansive or constrictive to you. Expansion feels much lighter and is a lot more fun. Approaching ourselves, and our life, with an open hand deposits goodness into our inner lives.
8. Stroll down memory lane and reevaluate past experiences (both good and bad).
In my opinion, reminiscing is an undervalued pastime. Looking at old photos, recalling a funny story, and reliving a happy moment can enrich our inner life. Allow yourself to enjoy the gift.
Of course, not all memories are happy ones. Rehashing painful moments can plague us, as our sensitive natures acutely relive the memory over and over again. But resist the urge to shut down those memories when they bubble up. Instead, get in touch with what support you need — such as working with a therapist — so you can stay with the memory to help heal it. Healing harsh memories through acceptance and reframing can be a source of strength in our inner lives.
9. Invest in happy habits, like spending time in nature.
Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky is a happiness expert whose research shows that for people with a relatively comfortable quality of life, happiness is determined least of all by life circumstances and mostly by genetics and intentional activity. This means that even as an anxious HSP, there are things I can do to be happier.
Similarly, to increase our happiness, Dr. Laurie Santos recommends “rewirements,” habits that do us good (even if they’re hard to do). Simply put, the key to cultivating happiness is doing the things we know make us happy more (like spending time in nature and eating well) and doing the things that make us unhappy less (doomscrolling or snoozing the alarm for our morning walk). I know, easier said than done — but it’s worth the investment for a richer inner life.
10. Set boundaries for a safe inner space.
HSPs have often endured a lifetime of feeling guilt over their inner lives. Other people may not understand our need for an internal refuge to thrive in a non-sensitive world. So maintaining healthy boundaries in every area of our lives can help protect our inner sanctuary.
Therapist Nedra Tawwab reminds us that our boundaries are about personal needs, regardless of others’ acceptance or understanding of those needs. As highly sensitive people, we can tune into our intuition and set limits that keep our rich inner lives as a source of, rather than a drain on, our well-being.
11. Practice “bodyfulness,” a conscious awareness of the mind-body connection.
Mindfulness has become a household term and we all know it’s important. Bodyfulness is, on the other hand, a term popularized in somatic therapy, which refers to conscious awareness of the mind-body connection.
It’s the way your chest tightens (or throat or shoulders) when you’re angry, or how placing your hand on your heart can soothe you when you’re anxious. Becoming more aware of these connections, and working with our bodily responses, can be good for your mental health and also create a more holistic inner life.
12. Harness daydreaming to guide you toward life purpose and meaning.
I think HSPs get this twisted much of the time — we believe that to find our life’s purpose, we have to stifle our daydreams, going back to that “too in our heads” trope. We can feel like dwelling in our rich inner life is a guilty pleasure.
So when we interact with our inner wanderings in a productive way, they can help guide us to our intuition about our life’s purpose.
13. Practice gratitude for your inner life (and life overall).
HSPs are stuck with our complex, sometimes overly-active inner lives whether we like it or not. Appreciating the richness it adds to our lives will only make it more useful and enjoyable. Research, too, shows that practicing gratitude is good for us. Plus, we can draw from the well of our rich inner world as we manage the overwhelm of daily life.
So when you find yourself in a moment of inner delight, however brief, take a beat. Notice it. Thank your sensitive self for that gift. And if you’re focusing on the negative instead, start thinking of things to be grateful for — it’ll turn your mood around in no time.
14. When you need to, bring your inner life out and share it with others.
HSPs process sensory intel deeply and often far more intensely than we would choose. Keeping all of this to ourselves is a surefire way for our rich inner lives to go bankrupt. We have the right to enjoy the fruits of our inner lives, but we also have the responsibility to share what we notice when it matters.
When it’s bubbling up inside you, let it flow from your rich inner life. It’s supposed to. Share your artistic endeavors, or thoughts and feelings, with others, and you’ll soon see how it enhances your inner life and well-being.
15. Trust the Return on Investment (ROI) on your rich inner life.
As Dr. Dan Siegel, a renowned expert on brain development, says, “The self is not defined by the boundaries of our skin.” While this may leave many scratching their heads, HSPs have always sensed an integration, or what Thich Nhat Hanh called interbeing, with our surroundings.
If we are at inner peace, that peace will flow from us, and through us, to others. Likewise, if we are in inner turmoil, well, you get the idea.
HSPs can trust that our inner lives yield a rich offering to society at large. So the next time you worry about being “too in your head,” consider all that your rich inner life offers you — and all you offer the world — as a result. Neglecting your inner life leaves you with nothing to give. But when HSPs nurture our rich inner lives, we are able to share that wealth with the world. And this is priceless.
You might like:
- For Sensitive People, Self-Compassion Is the Most Radical Act of All
- 15 Simple Things That Make Highly Sensitive People Happy
- How to (Actually) Find Your Purpose as a Highly Sensitive Person
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