Highly Sensitive Refuge
A highly sensitive person with a friend

What Highly Sensitive People Value Most in a Friend

Healthy HSP friendships deeply support each other, using listening as a two-way street. 

Developing meaningful, lasting friendships as a highly sensitive person (HSP) can be challenging. HSPs need many breaks from social interaction, they are easily frazzled by last-minute plans, and they rarely care about shallow meet-ups or canned conversations. Plus, the settings that others might enjoy, such as clubs, bars, or loud concerts, can be a sensory nightmare when you’re highly sensitive. 

Connecting with other people who get or share these needs might feel like searching for a needle in a haystack. (Or perhaps something more pleasant than a needle because, as an HSP myself, I know HSPs are more sensitive to pain, too. Perhaps a feather? A puppy? Anyway, you get the idea.) Point being, sensitive people crave deep social connections, and we get a lot of fulfillment from supporting other humans. But, at the same time, we’re easily overwhelmed by social activities and drained by those who don’t require the amount of alone time we do.

If you’re an HSP who has struggled to make friends you feel comfortable around, you’re not alone. The good news is that you can develop friendships with like-minded people that feel right; it just might take some time. It also helps to know what you value most in someone you call a friend. And those who are friends with an HSP can provide the most support by understanding what sensitive people need most from a friendly relationship.

With that in mind, let’s look at some of the friend qualities that mean the most to HSPs.

6 Qualities HSPs Value Most in a Friend

1. They feel most comfortable with friends who respect their boundaries.

One thing I value about my best friendships is the mutual respect for space and boundaries. We often plan get-togethers well ahead of time, and plans are low-pressure, perfect for my HSP brain. Spur-of-the-moment or last-minute plans leave me anxious and frazzled, mainly because I do best when my day (and week) is planned out early. 

A good friend also gets the importance of mental health. If someone needs to cancel and spend time cuddling with their pets for the evening instead of being social, that’s understood and encouraged. Demanding that the friend get out — no matter what — is a recipe for burnout and distrust. HSPs value people who recognize the need for downtime as much as they do.

2. Mutual sharing is also crucial (no energy vampires allowed!).

Sensitive people appreciate friendships that feel respectful and laid-back, listening to each other’s needs. Respect is also about giving as much as you get. HSPs tend to be exceptional listeners; we like to help others work through things they’re struggling with. If the relationship is imbalanced, the HSP might become an off-the-clock therapist, meeting the friend’s needs but feeling drained in return. These are known as energy vampires, and HSPs are especially vulnerable to them.

Healthy HSP friendships deeply support each other, using listening as a two-way street. HSPs often put others’ needs above their own, doing whatever they can to help a friend feel better. A highly sensitive person needs friends who appreciate their care, won’t abuse it, and are happy to reciprocate.

3. Listening without judgment lets HSPs be themselves in a friendship.

HSPs care a lot about what other people think of them. It’s because we care deeply about others’ emotions and feelings, and we don’t like upsetting anyone. Therefore, an HSP might hide their actual emotions and feelings if they feel the other person will judge them.

HSPs tend to have non-traditional jobs, passion projects, and alternate ways of looking at the world. They’re also (obviously) more sensitive than the average person and need space to express if something upsets them or they need to vent. 

A true friend will listen and encourage their sensitive friend to do what makes them happy, even if they don’t fully understand it. Basically, HSPs need a friend who will let them be themselves — because that’s what the friend will get in return!

4. Deep convos are always better than casual chit-chat.

Superficial relationships are surface-level, ripe with polite “how are yous” or uncomfy workplace gossip. While every relationship will have a bit of that, HSPs often find shallow interactions draining and unfulfilling. 

Instead, sensitive people tend to value friendships that aren’t afraid to go deeper, covering profound topics like: 

  • What matters most to us during this short stint we call life
  • What makes us most excited each day
  • Traumas we’ve experienced (and how they’ve shaped us)
  • What we’re reading right now (and what it’s teaching us)
  • Our favorite childhood memories
  • Belief systems or philosophies we subscribe to
  • What needs to change about mental health awareness
  • What the world needs to be more compassionate

HSPs spend a lot of time thinking about things they might not feel comfortable voicing to loved ones. Friends who will have those deep, often tough, conversations are precious in an HSP’s life.

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5. We appreciate friends who notice when we’re MIA.

Sensitive people often retreat into their own minds (and homes) when they’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed. When I’m going through a lot, I know that it feels like I only have energy for work, quick meals, and caring for my dogs. 

Even if I truly need someone to talk to, the process of reaching out feels heavy, and I worry about burdening other people with my problems. Plus, the act of actually opening up can be tough in its own right. Some HSPs struggle with anxiety or depression, but they might struggle to voice it to anyone.

Sensitive people know that everyone is preoccupied with their own lives, which is often why we don’t talk to others when we’re feeling too much. So, it means a lot when someone takes the time to simply reach out and check on us if they haven’t heard from us in a while. 

A simple text or message saying, “Hey, just thinking of you! How have you been feeling?” can mean the world and help the HSP get out of their shell. (And just know that we sensitive types value the message sincerely even if we don’t answer right away — because, for me, even answering a text or an email when my energy is drained feels like a monumental task, and it can take some time.)

It’s always a good rule of thumb to check on your friends if they’ve been absent from social media or haven’t contacted anyone. And this is especially valuable for HSPs. Friends can check in and then ask about scheduling a social activity at a later date, even if it’s a video call. Any amount of contact shows the friend cares, encouraging the HSP to feel comfortable enough to reciprocate.

6. Like-minded friends feel like home for HSPs.

Highly sensitive people value friends who “get” them — and what better situation for that than a friendship between HSPs?

When I connect with other HSPs (online or in-person), I can often sense they’re one before they even say so. It’s probably because HSPs are highly in tune with their environments, picking up on other people’s subtleties and reactions. 

Connecting with other HSPs often feels like a sigh of relief or a warm hug at the end of a long day. It’s easier for us to open up and relax around those who understand (and also experience) our high sensitivity. There’s less pressure to explain what makes us tick or apologize for “being too sensitive” because the other person knows what it’s like! 

Now, of course, no friendship is perfect. We’re all human, including HSPs and non-HSPs. And because we’re imperfect humans, it can take time for sensitive people to find like-minded friends and develop the types of friendships we value most. But knowing what matters to us in a relationship helps us seek out others who are probably looking for the same thing — which seems an excellent path to healthy, mutually fulfilling friendships. 

Want to reduce stress and thrive as a highly sensitive person? We recommend these online courses from psychotherapist and sensitivity expert Julie Bjelland. Click here to learn more.

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