“I used to dislike being sensitive. I thought it made me weak. But take away that single trait, and you take away the very essence of who I am. You take away my conscience, my ability to empathize, my intuition, my creativity, my deep appreciation of the little things, my vivid inner life, my keen awareness of others pain and my passion for it all. ~Unknown
My phone rang and it was my boyfriend. I slipped out into the hall. “Hey you,” I answered. We’d been texting about getting together that night.
“Why don’t you just come over to my place and I’ll cook?”
“Hey there,” he replied. “I’d really rather go out. What about the Swan? I can meet you there at 7pm.”
“Okay…” I hesitated, “That will work. I should probably get back to work, but see you tonight.”
I didn’t really want to meet at the Swan, a pub near my house. I just wanted a quiet evening at home, but it felt stupid to argue about it.
“What’s wrong with me?” I thought. “Why can’t I enjoy going out for dinner like a regular person?”
I arrived at 7:03 pm and he was already there. We found a table in a quiet-ish area and sat down.
The music was loud and there were what seemed like 100 different conversations happening at once. I was having a hard time concentrating on what my boyfriend was saying.
He got up to go to the washroom.
“My boyfriend’s taking me out for a nice meal,” I thought. “I should be grateful.”
But the chair felt hard and my back felt sore.
“Seriously, what’s wrong with me??” I thought. “I somehow find a way to complain about everything. Why can’t I just have a good time? Why can’t I focus on my boyfriend and the yummy food and enjoy myself? I really am spoiled…”
My boyfriend returned and I ordered a second drink to numb the overwhelm I was feeling and the voices in my head.
Whether to go out or stay in was a constant point of tension between us. He ran his own law office and so worked from home most days. He wanted to get out of the house in the evenings. I worked in an office and was introverted and sensitive, so at the end of the day I really just wanted a quiet evening at home.
It wasn’t until months later when I found a Facebook group for highly sensitive people (HSPs) that I realized I wasn’t the only one who felt like this.
As I scrolled through the posts I found a whole community of people who get overwhelmed by loud noises, fluorescent lighting, and more than one conversation happening at once.
A whole community who can’t watch scary movies, who are very sensitive to other people’s emotions, and notice when others are upset even when they’re pretending to be fine.
I realized that I wasn’t the only one who felt things deeply and who gets overwhelmed by cocktail parties and grocery stores.
As I read through the posts I felt relief flood through my body. I finally understood that I wasn’t stupid or ungrateful or spoiled. I was just built differently. I was just highly sensitive, and so my needs are different than other people’s need.
Like most HSPs, I like quiet. I like warm and soft lighting. I like hiding under the covers. I often can’t wait to get home to the quiet oasis that is my house at the end of the day.
Now with the help of the HSP community and my therapist I’m learning to stop trying to get rid of my sensitivity and how to embrace it.
If you think you might be highly sensitive, here are a few things you can do that might help:
1. Take the HSP test.
Taking the test and getting confirmation that I was highly sensitive helped me accept my sensitivity. If you’re highly sensitive that’s simply a fact and there’s nothing wrong with you.
You can take the test here.
2. Join an HSP community.
Joining the Highly Sensitive People FB group was a real turning point for me in accepting my sensitivity. I didn’t post in the group for over a year but reading other people’s posts gave me confirmation that I wasn’t crazy.
There’s nothing like knowing you’re not alone and others share the same struggles. Joining this group or another HSP community will bring you a sense of peace and acceptance of who you are.
3. Embrace your sensitivity and protect yourself.
I live alone in a quiet neighborhood. I only invite a couple of people over to my house at a time. I politely decline invitations to loud or overwhelming parties.
If you’re highly sensitive you have to be insanely protective of your energy. HSPs are often amazing creatives or healers, but if you’re drained because you aren’t protecting your energy you won’t have much to give back.
I know it can sometimes feel stupid to walk around the city with giant headphones playing white noise or declining an invitation to a friend’s party, but I guarantee you’ll be happier and healthier if you protect yourself.
That boyfriend and I ended up breaking up for a number of reasons, but one of them was that he couldn’t accept my sensitivities.
4. Ask for help from the people you trust.
This might be the hardest one to do. Well, this and protecting yourself are both really difficult!!
I sometimes dissociate if there’s loud music or even something as simple as a very intellectual conversation. The hardest but also best thing to do if this is starting is to tell the person I’m with what’s happening to me.
I might say something like, “I want to stay in this conversation, but I’m starting to feel overwhelmed and am having a hard time connecting. Can we slow things down for a minute?”
The more you can explain to the people you’re close to what’s happening, the more they can help you. I’m learning that most people actually want to help me when I’m overwhelmed but just don’t understand what it’s like or what they can do.
The more you can say things like “I’m feeling overwhelmed. Can we just walk in silence for a minute?” or “Will you just hold my hand for a minute?” or “Can we just turn off the music for a little while?” the more the people who care about you can help.
You’d be surprised, your non-HSP friends want to help you; they just have no idea what it’s like or how they can help.
5. Do things that make you feel happy, safe, and protected.
Figure out what you love and what makes you feel safe and prioritize those activities.
This might include:
- baths with candle light
- hiding under the covers for as long as possible
- walks alone in nature
- canceling a coffee date and staying in
- telling a friend you trust what it’s like to be highly sensitive
- hanging out with other HSPs who totally get it!
I’ve come along way from the days when I would say yes to invitations just to fit in, and my life has transformed into something more beautiful than I could have ever imagined.
I quit my office job with bright lights and lots of other people’s emotions swirling around and went out on my own. I designed my business where I walk outside in nature while helping people out on the phone.
Just yesterday I was out beside Lake Ontario watching a flock of swallows dip and dive and play. And I had this moment where I thought, “Is this really my life? Is this really what I get to do?”
I’ve realized that the more I protect my energy, the more I can really give to the people I work with, and so I am more protective than ever.
As a highly sensitive person, you have a special gift to share. As you learn to accept your sensitivity and protect your energy your life will change. You’ll become happier and healthier and have more to contribute.
By protecting yourself you’re not being selfish or greedy or difficult; you’re actually being generous. The world needs your gifts and when you take care of yourself, you’ll be able to give more and make the impact on the world you were meant to make.