The more you try to “fit in” and hide your HSP needs, the more inauthentic you’ll feel — and it’ll only do more harm than good.
How many times have you paused before expressing a need, wondered how it might sound — or how it might affect somebody else — and then decided to bury it instead? Will they think I’m needy? Will I sound like a drama queen? Will I come across as weak?
As a highly sensitive person (HSP), you might have been told you’re “too much”. As a result, sometimes our highly sensitive gifts aren’t recognized, or fully understood, by others — and we become skilled at hiding our needs, often subconsciously.
In the past, I’ve tried to shrink my highly sensitive traits, make them less obvious in hopes that they’re more palatable to non-HSPs and our busy, extroverted culture. I didn’t want to be the “boring” one who turned down invites all the time. Instead, I’d push aside my need for alone time on weekends and go-with-the-flow dictated by my more outgoing friends. I don’t think I’m alone in this, either — after all, we are social beings and want to fit in. And to fit in, we often deny our sensitive sides.
My hesitancy to share my true needs isn’t unfounded either; like many HSPs, I’ve experienced chronic invalidation in the past, mostly from those closest to me. It’s no wonder HSPs might feel that hiding our needs is easier than the alternative!
What Do HSPs Need Anyway?
Research shows that nearly 30 percent of humans experience sensory processing sensitivity — in other words, they’re highly sensitive people. This sensitivity trait is backed by research.
Although each highly sensitive person is unique and may experience their sensitivity in different ways, there are a few core needs that HSPs often share, including:
- Alone time to process their thoughts and experiences
- A calming environment (free of chemicals, harsh lighting, you name it)
- A space (like an HSP sanctuary) for deep thinking
- Downtime between work and social events
- Movies and TV shows that do not contain violence
- And basically anything that decreases overstimulation instead of increasing it
Why HSPs Feel They Have to Hide Their Needs
We HSPs often internalize our needs to protect ourselves from the anticipated hostility of others — we’ll do anything to avoid conflict! When we do this too often, however, we deny our body and soul’s basic desire to be heard.
When I reached my thirties, my body reminded me of the adage: “What we deny, multiplies.” HSPs may deny their needs as a defense mechanism, but that doesn’t mean they’ll disappear. Often, the opposite becomes true and your HSP needs will find different ways of getting your attention.
In my case, I became plagued by optical migraines and developed skin irritations I’d never had before. Now I can see that these worrying symptoms were my body’s way of forcing me to listen to my need for balance in my life. Without realizing, I’d been denying my HSP needs for too long. So here are some reasons we HSPs must no longer hide our HSP needs.
4 Reasons Why You Should Not Hide Your Needs as an HSP
1. Even though you often put others first, your needs are just as valid.
Highly sensitive people sometimes view our needs as less valid because we’ve been conditioned to believe that our sensitivity is a weakness. Yet a belief doesn’t mean fact. I’ll be the first to say that if you’ve grown up believing the needs of others are more important, it takes practice to put yourself first.
In psychology, there is a concept known as “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs” and it theorizes that every human being must have the basic physiological needs for survival, before advancing to safety and security needs, social needs, and esteem needs. Physiologically, we must have food, shelter, breathing, and water. And to feel in control of our lives, we need health, financial security, and a safe environment.
Beyond the basics, everybody has needs that are unique to them. We can demonstrate our needs by having boundaries (which are not always easy for HSPs to enact, I know!) and also listening to that voice inside us that has our best interests at heart. You know, our intuition — it instinctively knows what conditions we need to thrive and shine.
And even though we often put others first — and absorb their emotions as our own — don’t forget that our HSP needs are just as valid as anybody else’s. Let this be your guiding light.
2. By identifying your needs, you can set yourself free.
Highly sensitive people experience stress more than others because of their finely tuned nervous systems. So ignoring our needs is a source of stress. We feel like we’re not in control of our lives, develop a negative view of others, and undermine ourselves and our capabilities. In short, stress dilutes our wonderful HSP qualities. (And why would we want to do that?!)
We can quieten this stressor by giving our needs air time and recognizing them. In my experience, sometimes our needs are so buried that we have difficulty identifying them or verbalizing them to others. To get to the crux of our needs, we need to bypass the rational thinking mind to access the good stuff and set ourselves free.
Being creative is one way to uncover our needs in a non-judgmental way. We don’t have to be an artist — all we need to get started is an open mind! Even doodling on a scrap piece of paper and letting your mind wander can help your wants and needs surface. Paper crafting and creative journaling works for me. Taking this quiet time for myself — and letting my instincts lead — often means this “blank space” gives my mind the calmness necessary to hear my needs and desires, which makes me feel lighter.
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3. You’ll be able to (finally) let go of any guilt you’ve been holding onto.
Guilt is a slippery, uncomfortable feeling. As empathetic beings, HSPs often get emotionally “flooded” due to all the intense feelings they experience. This can mean we feel guilt more often than not.
An example of this was when I confided in a friend that “I probably blew this out of proportion, but the way I was treated at home as a child made me feel unseen, as though my experiences didn’t matter.” My friend picked up on how I started the sentence with an attempt to invalidate myself. (In case you weren’t aware, many HSPs suffer from chronic invalidation.)
Now I’m more aware of this and I can’t urge this enough: You have nothing to feel guilty about when asking for something or asserting your needs, my fellow HSP! Becoming aware of how much guilt we carry around when expressing our needs is the first step to loosening the slack. The fact that you feel guilt in these situations says far more about the effect other people, or society, has on you, than it does about you as a person. Remember that!
4. You’ll be able to live a more authentic life.
When we live in line with our values and purpose, and feel loved and supported by others, we can live our best life. We can only get to this point by living authentically, and that means listening to — and acting on — our needs, even if it feels exposing and unfamiliar to begin with.
As an HSP, authenticity is one of our true values and secret powers. When I compromise my authenticity for the sake of office politics, for example, I feel a semi-physical sensation, a withering inside that seems to gnaw at my gut. I’m a realist, too, so I get that that’s the way it has to be sometimes in an environment and culture I don’t have control over.
In my personal life, however, I surround myself with authentic people and friends. For instance, when we go hiking, they stop every five minutes to marvel at the sunlight caught on a bird’s wing or at the sweet scent of a rose. These are things my HSP self would take note of, too. My friends who let me be who I am, completely, sensitivity and all. I urge you to find those who help you live a full HSP life — in full technicolor!
At the End of the Day, Keep Honoring Your Sensitive Side
Every new year, I create a vision board and stick photographs, typography, and postcards on it, all of which signify ways I want to live in the year ahead. This year’s vision board is awash with the calming greens and blues of nature, but at the center is this quote: “Whatever satisfies the soul is truth.” (Yes, Walt Whitman said that.)
No one else will take it upon themselves to honor your every need — and how could they possibly know every nuance of your being anyway? So you must honor your needs and be your best advocate. By taking the courage to express your needs — and acknowledge them — you can do justice for yourself and let your highly sensitive side shine.
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