It’s one thing to no longer see your high sensitivity as a weakness; it’s another thing entirely to know your true strength.
If you’ve ever had someone tell you, “You’re too sensitive,” you will likely understand what I mean when I say that sensitivity has been cast down as a personality flaw — at least until recently. Slowly but surely, the tide is turning for sensitive souls, and increasingly people are reclaiming sensitivity as a strength, not a weakness.
However, I’ll be the first to admit that my highly sensitive nature, as much as I adore it, can also create problems. There are times when being a highly sensitive person (HSP) can tip over, and I find myself overwhelmed by my environments, both inner and outer. It’s one thing to own up to high sensitivity and no longer see it as a weakness; it’s another thing entirely to truly know the strength in your own sensitive nature, and harness it for good.
What does it actually mean to be sensitive and work with that side of yourself in a tangible way? Where is the line between being highly sensitive and “overly” sensitive? Here are four practical pursuits you can explore to find strength in your sensitivity, starting today.
How to Tap Into Your HSP Strengths
1. Meet your emotions.
When strong emotions arise in a highly sensitive person, it can feel like something physical is bubbling up inside, and depending on the situation, we walk a tightrope between handling ourselves with calm compassion and letting our emotions explode everywhere. Understandably, the latter can get very messy.
In these times, the people around us may be forgiven for calling us overly sensitive. After all, we’ve let our emotions dominate us, which can potentially hurt ourselves and others. Now I’m certainly not going to suggest you try to stuff your feelings down, hoping they’ll leave quietly on their own. This is something many highly sensitive people resort to, especially when they’ve been reprimanded for expressing their feeling side.
Been there, tried that. It tends to backfire, horribly.
Instead, I recommend a simple process that starts with acknowledging that you are indeed feeling something, and that something has a right to communicate with you. A good starting place to meet your emotions is similar to how we meet people: We tell each other our names. This could be as playful as saying, “My name is Joe (insert your name). What’s your name?” Then you might imagine your emotion replying, “Hello Joe. I’m Sadness, mixed with a little Disappointment.” Maybe you don’t want to go as far as that, but labeling the emotion as specifically as you can is the first step toward releasing it.
Another practice that can help is simply identifying where the emotion is most active in your body. Often, shortly after we locate that emotion, we can feel the intensity lessen, without us even having to “do” anything. In this way, our emotions are more like little kids who want our attention. They want to be acknowledged. Once we do that, they are much less likely to rebel and cause us to make an unwanted public display of our inner world.
2. Express yourself.
One of the strengths that highly sensitive people can really embrace is creativity. It’s difficult to find a famous artist, musician, or poet in history who hasn’t clearly got a sensitive side. The great works of art have virtually all been driven by someone who has felt something, and felt the urge to express themselves. Arguably, this is one of if not the highest outlets for our emotions — creativity.
Even if you don’t regard yourself as a super creative being, there is an undeniable value in expressing our feelings externally in an artistic medium. Art therapy has roots dating back to the 18th century, and the National Coalition of Creative Arts Therapies Association recognizes five other creative therapies in helping people examine their body, feelings, emotions, and thought processes.
So when you’re feeling overwhelmed with your inner world, it may not be the best time to pay your taxes or do long division. It might be a better use of this energy to pick up a paintbrush, a harmonica, or scribble your thoughts down without judgement.
3. Communicate clearly.
While expressive therapies may help you work through your feelings personally, there is an added benefit to expressing your inner world to the people around you. When we let our emotions get the better of us, the danger is we may lash out at our loved ones, colleagues, or random strangers. In other cases, we might shut down entirely, which doesn’t help either: The issue is rarely resolved, and will only return another day to overwhelm us in full force.
Instead of letting either of these scenarios play out, we can find ways to tell those around us what we are feeling as well as what we need. Clearly communicating what you need will most likely come as a great relief to someone, especially if they’re close to you. Even in a work environment, explaining your situation to someone who can help you can be a huge relief to everyone involved.
It can be difficult to communicate clearly when you’re in the midst of an inner storm, and at these times, it can be helpful to go through the first suggestion here (to meet your emotion). Once you understand it better, you might want to express it in greater detail to yourself — writing can often be a very quick and effective way to do this.
When you gain some distance and clarity from your emotional response, you may find the words to explain what you were feeling and what you need to another.
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4. Take time out.
One of the best ways to find the strength in your sensitivity is by realizing when it’s time to take a break. This is going to look different for all of us, and it will depend on your situation. If you’ve had a stressful, overwhelming day at work, give yourself what you need when you get home. It might mean putting on your coziest pajamas as soon as you get in the door, shutting off your phone, and watching your favorite childhood movie.
In other cases, you might need a bigger time out, and you decide to pack your bags and go for a weekend hike. You might want to prepare yourself for time outs by creating your own HSP sanctuary.
Whatever you do, never feel guilty for taking time out. Clearing your head and giving yourself the time, space, and quiet to be with your sensitive nature is a vital part of staying strong, showing up in the world, and being our best for our loved ones.
Finally, remember that these are all practices for us to return to over and over again. No highly sensitive person is immune to overreacting from time to time, nor do we have to be victims to our sensitive nature. All HSPs have a powerful inner strength, and when we acknowledge that and work with it, we get to benefit from our superpowers fully.