Real talk: Being sensitive can sometimes be very lonely.
Take me, for example. I’m a highly sensitive person (HSP), which means I respond much more strongly to everything around me: sounds, touches, subtle changes and, of course, people and emotions. That can make me feel “different,” to say the least, and I crave deep connection and the comfort of other people. But like most most HSPs — whether they are introverts or extroverts — I also need alone time to avoid overstimulation and maintain my health. All of this can work together to create a vicious cycle of loneliness — and, for the longest time, I couldn’t get free of it.
And that’s serious. Right now, rates of loneliness are at an all-time high, and because humans are social creatures, loneliness can be debilitating. Research shows that it can cause health issues, stress, anxiety, depression, or even dangerous behavior. And, when you’re sensitive by nature, your personality itself can shape your loneliness, causing it to take on a more insistent form.
Here’s a look at why HSPs might struggle with loneliness, and what we can do to break the cycle.
Why Being Sensitive Can Feel So Lonely
Highly sensitive people are wired differently, not only at the level of the brain and nervous system, but also in terms of our social and emotional needs. We crave deep, meaningful connections with other people, but it’s not always easy for us to get them. Why? A few reasons…
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Our need for solitude can become our default state.
When you’re designed to process everything in your surroundings, you are more easily stimulated and stressed out — even by regular things other people seem to have no trouble with. And one of the best cures (or preventatives) for overstimulation is, well, simply spending some time alone. While necessary for our mental health, solitude can sometimes feel isolating for both extroverted HSPs and, perhaps surprisingly, even for introverts — especially since we need to be alone so much.
Don’t get me wrong: I thrive off the freedom that solitude provides. However, when taking alone time turns from self-care to a default habit, we lose opportunities to create intimacy. It’s important to honor our psychological needs, but it’s also important to remember that we’re not meant to exist alone.
We hold other people’s emotions — and it can feel like we’re carrying the weight of the world.
For most people, loneliness means an absence of something. But for HSPs, loneliness can sometimes mean the opposite. For us, loneliness can feel like an overabundance of emotion, of feeling too much in contrast to others around us who don’t share in that fullness.
And HSPs are easily influenced by other people’s emotions. Our empathy and sensing switches are always turned on, and we soak in every obvious and subtle detail. Holding and feeling deeply so many emotions can easily turn into an overwhelming, lonely task when it feels like we’re the only one having this experience. The loneliness intensifies when we don’t have an outlet to release these feelings or we get shamed for being too sensitive.
We feel like outsiders in an “insensitive” world.
Since at least 20 percent of the population tests as highly sensitive, HSPs are not rare — but we feel rare. In general, society still values toughness and practicality over sensitivity in many social environments, from politics to business to education. In fact, one of the earliest major studies on high sensitivity found that HSPs are very conscious of being different in terms of their needs, their priorities, and the way they arrange their lives compared to others around them.
In other words: When you experience the world through a more sensitive filter, the validity of your experience is often sidelined by people who don’t understand your sensitivity. We HSPs are more easily overstimulated, and not everyone is willing to hold space for our sensitive feelings. The natural conclusion many HSPs reach is that we’re better off alone than misunderstood, so we withdraw.
This is a tragedy, because perhaps the single biggest thing that drives most HSPs is a need for meaningful connection. One of the main reasons that HSPs might feel lonely is that their interactions and relationships are lacking substance — and our constant sense of being an “outsider” only makes this worse.
Unless we can stop withdrawing and get the meaningful interactions we crave. And I believe there are ways HSPs can do that without getting overwhelmed.
You don’t need to isolate yourself because you think you’re too needy, too different, too ‘much’ for the people who don’t get you.
4 Ways to Break the Cycle of Loneliness — Without Getting Overstimulated
1. Join an online community.
For those who may not possess a large network of friends, have a difficult home life, or struggle with social anxiety, joining an online community can be a comfortable way to engage in meaningful conversations. There are many Facebook groups (including our own refuge for HSPs) and online support groups that can provide a sense of community. It doesn’t have to be an HSP group; you can find great connections based on similar interests, career pursuits, or even shared traumas.
2. Team up with other HSPs.
Soothing yourself and “coming down” from overstimulation doesn’t have to happen alone. Sometimes, it can be nice to join up with a fellow HSP, or a close friend/family member you’re comfortable being around. This way, you can get your fill of human connection without worrying about people misjudging your needs. Plus, it helps to have someone hold you accountable for any isolating or negative behaviors you may gravitate toward — and other HSPs understand these behaviors better than anyone else.
3. Sign up for a class.
Signing up for a writing, cooking, art, or dance class makes it easier to find friends with similar interests. Classes a great option for people with social anxiety because they’re less overwhelming than your typical social function. They have a definite start and end time, and everyone will mostly be focused on learning and doing the activity, which leaves less room for something HSPs hate: shallow small talk.
4. Start a conversation, and play the role of listener.
This one might take some more confidence, but many HSPs have great listening and observational skills. Take advantage of them and ask your coworker about their scrapbooking hobby he mentioned once. Or start a conversation about the new photo of her camping trip you saw on her desk. In a work setting, this can occasionally turn shallow relationships into deeper friendships. And, in many group settings, it can get someone talking about much deeper topics — the kind you find more interesting than the weather.
HSP, You’re Not Too Much
It can be easy to let your self-perception become skewed by your needs or feelings when they sometimes seem so demanding. Your unique quirks and needs may require you to spend more time on your own… and that’s okay. You should take care of yourself in the ways that feel right. But remember:
You do not need to isolate yourself because you think you’re too needy, too different, too much for the people who don’t understand you.
There are people out there like you, and people who want to understand you. Don’t let an insensitive society’s view of you — or more importantly, YOUR OWN view of yourself — condemn you to a life of loneliness.