Highly Sensitive Refuge
An HSP uses her voice to speak into a megaphone

Why HSPs Can (And Should) Trust Their Hearts  — And Use Their Voices

HSPs have important perspectives to contribute to society. They must protect their process, especially when the world doesn’t.

Highly sensitive people (HSPs) are known to use our sensitivity to promote the well-being of others — we absorb their thoughts and feelings, and lend them an empathetic ear. Unfortunately, however, our modern-day grind culture of rush-rush-rush is particularly harsh toward sensitive types. 

We need time and space to think and process in order to contribute as only we can. Since society today doesn’t tolerate our “different” way of relating and communicating, we are often left out of the conversation. Make no mistake, the world suffers from this as much as we HSPs do.

So it’s time we demand our right to our way in the world, grind culture be damned. There are too many injustices, too many problems, and too much suffering to tolerate HSPs’ perspectives being left out of the solutions.

If you find yourself discouraged and dismayed by your inability to fit the mold the rest of the world insists upon, you’re not alone. If you feel like you have nothing to contribute because you cannot perform the way society expects you to, take heart. The status quo always requires disruption for real change to happen. And to do so, dear HSP, remember these things about your process and voice.

4 Ways for HSPs to Use Their Voice 

1. Trust the process and focus on the task at hand, one step at a time.

While I was in labor with my firstborn, my little highly sensitive child (HSC), the doctor came in and out of the delivery room to see how I was doing and make some small talk. I chose to labor unmedicated and I was totally in the zone, focusing on riding out each contraction, honing in every last bit of energy for the task at hand. Perhaps a non-HSP could have managed a conversation with the doctor at the same time. But talking was a bridge entirely too far beyond what my limited energies could allow. (I mean, there was enough overstimulation around me already — I was about to have a baby!)

So when the doctor popped in and asked how I was, I didn’t respond. I knew I should have. I could feel the expectations of everyone in the room to engage in this social formality. But in that moment, my need to preserve my energy for labor trumped the expectation of responding to his small talk. Rarely have I abandoned my extreme conscientiousness so completely, especially with all those eyes on me, but in that moment, I didn’t have a choice.

For HSPs, our process is crucial if we are to fulfill our mission of society better understanding us in the world. Sensitive people take in sensory intel others miss and often see crucial pieces to the puzzle others overlook. But, as HSPs know all too well, it all comes at a cost: We cannot move through the world like everyone else, because our job is different from everyone else’s. We are doing work only we can do, so our energies must be focused on the task at hand. 

In essence, we are all laboring (no pun intended).

Perhaps the most important thing I learned when preparing for an unmedicated labor and delivery was the importance of each and every contraction. Each one has a purpose, preparing the laboring person’s body, as well as the baby’s position, inching things a little closer, and a little closer, until birth is possible. 

So while you’re in the throes of it, it helps to think of each contraction as one step forward. When each one fades, that’s one down, one fewer ahead of you. This concept of progression was crucial for me. If I got stuck thinking I wasn’t getting anywhere, I wouldn’t have had the mental capacity to see it through. 

An HSP’s process is often similar. Yes, it may take longer than others’. But each and every extra meandering minute is purposeful. You might not be able to see the progress in the moment — it may seem like you’re growing more exhausted, but going nowhere. Yet that’s not true. You’re getting there. And when you are ready, your inner process will yield something important. Something your workplace, your friends, your family, your community, and likely the rest of the world, needs

2. Take your time — it doesn’t mean you’re wasting your time.

Because HSPs tend to be very pragmatic, our own process can feel inefficient. Don’t let that keep you from it, no matter how much society agrees. Not everything in life is efficient, and often the most important elements can be frustratingly inefficient. 

Think of a child learning to walk or talk. Their other developments often regress as they pursue mastery of a new skill. As frustrating as your process can feel, HSPs often have the gift of knowing that, contrary to the values of modern society, productivity and efficiency are not always top priorities. And it doesn’t help that time anxiety may put us even more on-edge.

In her workbook, The Empowered Highly Sensitive Person, Dr. Amanda Cassil compares the highly sensitive mind to a phone running multiple complex apps at once. It simply won’t produce the output at the same speed as a phone running only one or two. 

It truly feels that way for me much of the time. I worry that my inability to keep up — even in conversation with friends (and especially in a group setting) — renders me irrelevant. I’m simply taking in too much information, including all the sensory elements others can filter out. I have to buffer through all of that, while they drift freely from one topic to the next, utterly unburdened by the sensory intel. But the buffering is critical — it’s rendering an important output.

Highly sensitive people, your process is important and you must protect it, whatever the cost. You may have to speak up for yourself at work, demanding some accommodations so you can be at your best. You may require some extra help from your partner so you can have the downtime you need. All of this is for your own personal well-being, yes. But it’s also for the well-being of those around you and the world beyond. 

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3. Lean into your empathic roles, your birthright as an HSP.

Before I knew anything about my highly sensitive trait, I assumed my retreat to silence was a sign of weakness or even unintelligence. Of poor social skills. Of cowardice. I’d always envied those who could respond on a dime, never at a loss for words. (Oftentimes, I’d also resent them for seeing their words as useful until proven otherwise, while I’d dissect every idea I had or every opinion I drummed up to ensure it’s fit for public consumption. Maybe I did this out of a thorough conscientiousness, or self-consciousness, or shyness. It’s probably a mix of all that, and more, as an HSP.) 

I can also hide away in my silence, though — we HSPs value our alone time — and I’m learning it’s not a fulfilling way to lean authentically into my HSP trait. It’s tempting to surrender to the narrative many HSPs have endured our entire lives, that our perspectives aren’t valuable, we are just being “too much,” “overly sensitive,” and “extreme.” That we should stop “bothering” everyone with all our sensitivities. It’s easy to slink back quietly into the familiar shadows. After all, we’ve found solace there our whole lives. Perhaps our non-HSP counterparts are even fine to leave us there, perhaps unaware of what drew us there to begin with. 

On a related note, social media is another way to voice our thoughts — and even empathy (so to speak). I’ve never particularly liked being active on social media, but as a writer, I thought I would enjoy engaging on Twitter. It took me no time at all to realize my highly sensitive mind simply could not keep pace with everyone’s piping-hot takes. Their initial response to new information is just that — a response. As an HSP, my initial response is usually contemplative silence. 

My hot takes usually come to me long after everyone else’s have cooled to lukewarm leftovers. They have moved on, but I keep turning the thing over and over in my head. HSPs love to overthink! Often it’s a sense or feeling that takes its precious time to stake its roots in my mind and soul before blooming into something shareable. Most HSPs have experienced that when they do finally speak up, their perspective is often met with reverence, as something others haven’t considered in quite the same way. 

This is not to discredit the external processors. Twitter continually amazes me at how quickly people can respond to events and topics with helpful and profound observations and direction. But I have to remind myself that just because my perspective might take longer for me to internally process and procure for verbal expression, it’s no less valid or valuable. Often, it’s a vital piece of the puzzle that is needed right alongside the quick clapback. 

It’s our job to find the courage to say: 

  • “Back to this point, I’ve been thinking and…”
  • “About that situation, here’s what I’ve come up with…”
  • “You know, we were talking a while ago about… I wonder if…” 

Listen, if they can share the first thought that pops into their head with confidence, you can share the idea you’ve been stewing on for days (or weeks, or months!).

4. When in doubt, remember that your voice is crucial (even non-verbally).

Stake your claim. Voice your opinion — even when communicating may be difficult. Bring up the issue with your partner or best friend. Say it in the meeting, or email the team when you’re ready. Write your legislator. Share your observations when you’re out with friends (or text one of them later). Don’t count your voice irrelevant just because it’s taken time to form. Remember: Your process is worth trusting, and so is its result. 

Best-selling author and highly sensitive superstar Glennon Doyle compares the sensitive in this world to canaries in a coal mine. Our job is to rouse the others, to make them understand that we can sense something they cannot. 

Whether it’s about global events or an ignored local injustice, a workplace shortcoming or a family issue, we, as HSPs, need to trust our process and use our voices. So give yourself the time and space you need to process. When you’re ready, you’ll know. Trust yourself as the highly sensitive truth-teller you are. You’ve got this. 

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