While highly sensitive people are often misunderstood by others, animals seem to just “get” us, no questions asked.
Have you ever felt different? Misunderstood? Had trouble fitting in and connecting with others?
As a highly sensitive person (HSP), this can be an all-too-common experience. After all, since we are the minority of the population (around 30 percent), the rest of the world seems to not quite “get” us. What’s more, society tends to judge sensitivity as “bad” or “wrong,” further contributing to our sense of isolation.
It’s no wonder then that social relationships can be difficult for HSPs. Not only do we often feel misunderstood, but we also tend to fall into the trap of people-pleasing if we lack strong boundaries (which can be difficult for HSPs). Plus, we can feel guilty for “burdening others” whenever we have a problem we want to talk about. And, overall, we don’t always have others in our life who truly “get” us.
This can mean that, as HSPs, we spend more time by ourselves. And while I enjoy alone time as much as the next person (who am I kidding — more than the next person), I also can’t deny the importance of connection. As a psychotherapist, I recognize that we need connection in order to thrive, and that lack of connection is associated with loneliness, depression, social anxiety, and shame (to name a few). So this is where animals come into play (both literally and figuratively!).
The Significance of Connecting to Animals
While the rest of society tends to judge and misunderstand HSPs, we can find solace and comfort in the presence of animals. Indeed, I have found this to be profoundly true in my own life.
As a child, nothing made me happier than connecting to animals. I spent hours playing and cuddling with our pet cats, dogs, and gerbils. I pleaded with my parents to adopt every single animal in need of a home that we encountered. I even went vegetarian (and eventually vegan) at a young age because I could not stand the thought of contributing to animal suffering in any way.
Knowing what I do now, I believe my deep connection to animals is due to my highly sensitive nature. I’m not only a proud dog mom to a rescue pup, but I feel a bond to others’ pets, too. And, as it turns out, HSPs tend to have a special connection to animals.
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7 Reasons Why HSPs Have a Special Connection to Animals
1. There is no pressure to talk (which can often be overstimulating for HSPs.)
As HSPs, our sensory processing sensitivity means that the stimulation we encounter sounds louder, looks brighter, smells stronger, and generally just feels more intense — meaning that we are more likely to become overstimulated.
To prevent or remedy this, having a quiet environment can be essential. Yet when we’re with others (especially those who aren’t HSPs), they may not understand this, resulting in us feeling pressured to talk.
However, with animals, there is no pressure to talk. The silence is never awkward. You can sit on the couch, just cuddling and enjoying each other’s company. As a result, you’ll feel your sensitive nervous system destimulate.
2. When you do need to talk, animals are good listeners.
Sometimes, we just need someone to listen. Yet, as alluded to before, this can be difficult for HSPs, due to the fear of burdening others or feeling misunderstood by those who we are hoping will support us during our time of need.
In my experience, animals are some of the best listeners there are. They are kind, attentive, and don’t interrupt (like so many people do). Neither do they judge, nor offer their unsolicited advice (when what you really need is to know that somebody hears you).
Usually, we HSPs are known for our excellent listening skills. So it’s nice to be on the receiving end of things when we’re with animals.
3. Animals provide plenty of laughter.
As highly sensitive people, we are both deep feelers as well as deep thinkers. This means that we are more likely to be stuck in our own head, making it difficult to “look on the bright side” and “stop taking everything so seriously.” And while being deep feelers and thinkers can contribute to our HSP strengths, like compassion and creativity, if we stay in our heads for too long, this can also negatively impact our mental health.
Laughter is a perfect remedy for this, as it reminds us of the joys in life and gets us out of our head for a while. Anyone who has owned a pet — or spent more than five minutes watching animals on YouTube — knows that they are a terrific source of laughter.
I know for myself personally, my dog is the biggest source of laughter in my life. At least a few times per day, I find myself laughing at her antics, from the goofy way she plays with her toys to her uncontrollable excitement for our daily walks to other little quirks she has. If laughter is the best medicine, then animals are the pharmacy that we should all be visiting.
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4. They help you “play” and get in touch with your inner child.
Children are innately drawn to animals. There is something about being in that innocent stage of life that makes animals so alluring. (See? There’s a reason why children want to bring home all the animals.)
Due to this, when we interact with animals, it helps us connect to our inner child. As HSPs, this can be an important step in healing childhood wounds, as this is usually around the time when we start to internalize messages that our sensitivity is “wrong.”
This also helps us access a more carefree and uninhibited part of ourselves. Because animals are naturally playful, regardless of age, they engage us in play, as well. Even just seeing an animal — whether you’re meeting a friend’s pet or you spot an animal in the wild — delights us in a way that takes us back to our childhood years.
5. Interacting with animals puts your HSP compassion to good use.
One of the reasons HSPs are so connected to animals is due to our heightened compassion. Indeed, when Dr. Elaine Aron and her research team were putting together the HSP scale, a commonality among those they interviewed included a greater sense of empathy for animals (compared to that of non-HSPs). And connecting to animals provides a wonderful way for us to utilize our HSP superpower of compassion.
For those of us who have the time and resources, rescuing a shelter animal helps to not only give an animal in need a loving, stable home, but can also help save a life. (Deciding to rescue my dog from the shelter is one of the best decisions I have ever made.)
If you are unable to make that commitment, fostering an animal can help provide a short-term home for one looking for their forever home. Along the way, you can perhaps help them heal some physical and emotional wounds.
Volunteering is another great option to help animals since HSPs are perfectly suited to do so. Our sensitive nature aids us in connecting to these animals, helping them feel safe and secure by being able to determine how they’re feeling and what it is they need. All we have to do is pay attention to their body language.
6. Being with animals promotes mental well-being.
As a psychotherapist, I believe that animals make natural therapists — or, at the very least, are therapeutic to be around. Not only do they make us happy, but they also help us feel better when we’re down. And there’s ample research to back this up: one scientific review found that spending time with animals can alleviate symptoms of mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety, PTSD, and various personality disorders.
Other studies have shown that owning a pet has a myriad of benefits for our mental health, including reducing worry; increasing feelings of comfort; mitigating feelings of isolation and loneliness; providing emotional nourishment through social interaction; distracting from physical symptoms; and even bolstering one’s sense of identity, self-worth, and existential meaning. Such beneficial impacts on our mental health is especially important to HSPs, since, according to Dr. Aron, HSPs who experience adverse events while growing up are more vulnerable to poor mental health later on in life.
This is likely due to numerous reasons. Firstly, we do not have to worry about being judged when we’re with animals — we can show up as our authentic, HSP selves. Additionally, animals seem to have an innate sense of when we need comforting. In my personal experience, my sweet dog comes to my side when I cry to support and reassure me. Moreover, research indicates that interacting with animals releases oxytocin, also known as one of the “feel-good” hormones — more specifically, the “love” hormone.
Finally, studies show that having a pet helps counteract feelings of depression and loneliness associated with losing a loved one. This one hits home for me. About a year ago, I moved to a new place where I didn’t know anyone. A few days later, I received news that my grandmother had suddenly, and unexpectedly, passed away. I was, of course, heartbroken. My wonderful dog could sense something was wrong, and provided me the comfort and emotional support that I needed. Knowing she was there made me feel less alone during a difficult time, and I cannot imagine having gone through that experience without her.
7. Animals provide important lessons about life.
If you spend enough time with animals, you will likely learn important life lessons in the process. For instance, my dog reminds me to enjoy the simple pleasures in life. Although we begin each day with our walk, she bursts with excitement every single time, as if she is doing this for the first time and this activity is the most incredible event that she has ever experienced.
On these walks, she will literally stop to smell the roses (and grass, and bushes, and trees, and fire hydrants, and… well, you get the point!). Although this is a daily occurrence for her, she does not treat it as routine, but rather, something to be enjoyed and cherished. (If only we humans did that more often, too!)
Animals also epitomize learning how to trust and love again. My sweet dog had been abandoned twice before I adopted her, and there are, unfortunately, countless horror stories of animals living in abysmal conditions before being rescued. Yet with enough encouragement and nurturance, these animals are able to trust their owners and love once again. This is especially relevant to HSPs, since narcissists tend to take advantage of our kind and caring nature, mistreating us in the process and leaving us hurt as a result. And if these animals are able to find trust and love in others again, so can we.
As writer Anatole France once said, “Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” Indeed, although this is a universal statement, I believe this to be especially true for us highly sensitive souls. Our sensitivity helps us form a special connection with animals — one that both animals and our HSP souls can benefit from.