5 Things You Need To Know To Survive And Thrive As A Highly Sensitive Person, With Michele Lefler of Living Moon Meditation
Know who you are. It’s important to know and recognize what makes you a highly sensitive person. You can’t take care of yourself if you aren’t aware of what makes you special. Each HSP is different. Knowing what makes you overly stimulated helps in knowing what soothes you.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Michele Lefler, a highly sensitive person and owner of Living Moon Meditation, a lifestyle business where she works to help other highly sensitive people thrive.
As a child, Michele Lefler always had an intense pain in her heart whenever she saw someone suffering. It didn’t matter what type of suffering the person endured, or even, in fact, if they were suffering at all. If her child mind perceived a person to be suffering, she would feel pain herself. As she grew older, Michele spent many years hardening her heart and turning away from that type of response.
As an adult, Michele now knows that her response was a classic feeling for an empath - a highly sensitive person who can feel or discern the emotions and feelings of others. She has spent the last several years cultivating a return to her empathetic nature.
While she was hardening herself and driving away her true nature, Michele was also focused on a path of pure intellect and driven nature. It was her goal to not feel or heal, but to constantly seek to do more. In short, she was doing everything in her power to kill her feminine nature and elevate the masculine qualities within herself.
In December 2017, Michele suffered a major health crisis that resulted in having heart surgery at age 37. She was so run down that she experienced a freak complication from a virus that resulted in pericardial effusion- a buildup of fluid within the sac surrounding the heart.
That health crisis alerted Michele to the need to get serious about slowing down and being more mindful of her body and mental health. She had been practicing meditation for several years but did not have a routine practice. Michele has since developed her practice, and although it’s still not where she wants it to be, she is mindful of the fact that it is a work in progress. Michele has also experienced a redevelopment of her sensitive nature, and she works with others to help them embrace their highly sensitive nature.
Today Michele lives a vibrant life in south central Pennsylvania with her husband and their dog, Lucy.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and what you do professionally?
Well, first off, I am a highly sensitive person. But that doesn’t define my entire life. I’m also a librarian, a small business owner, a community volunteer, and so much more. I’m the director at a smallish public library in Pennsylvania, and I own a small business called Living Moon Meditation. I work with others to develop the life they want in this crazy busy world we live in.
Can you help define for our readers what is meant by a Highly Sensitive Person? Does it simply mean that feelings are easily hurt or offended?
Being a highly sensitive person doesn’t really have anything to do with being offended. In its most basic sense, it is being overly stimulated by sensory input. That can lead to being hurt or offended, but the offense is just a reaction to being highly sensitive.
Does a Highly Sensitive Person have a higher degree of empathy towards others? Is a Highly Sensitive Person offended by hurtful remarks made about other people?
Sometimes yes to both of those. Being a highly sensitive person is an individual thing. What makes one person highly sensitive may not be what makes another highly sensitive person tick. Some highly sensitive people are more empathetic for sure, but not all. Some HSPs are simply sensitive to the amount of light around them or sound levels, etc. For them, they might not notice the subtle nuances of another person’s feelings. In that case they may not be offended by hurtful remarks.
Does a Highly Sensitive Person have greater difficulty with certain parts of popular culture, entertainment or news, that depict emotional or physical pain? Can you explain or give a story?
Highly sensitive people usually do, in my observation and personal experience, have difficulty with the things that make them highly sensitive. But again, that’s an individual response and can’t be said of every HSP. For me personally, I have trouble watching the news because I feel it in my bones. So, I just don’t watch the news. I also have trouble with certain forms of entertainment because I’m highly sensitive to lights and sounds.
Can you please share a story about how a highly sensitive nature created problems for someone at work or socially?
I’ll give another personal example here. This one relates to my professional experience. I have trouble conducting performance reviews for my employees. I feel it when they react to constructive criticism. This is one of the most dreaded aspects of what I do. I love helping my employees grow, but when they first hear something that could be changed, yeah, I feel that.
When does the average person’s level of sensitivity rise above the societal norm? When is one seen as “too sensitive”?
Well, this all depends on in what manner you are defining “sensitive”. If you mean in terms of the basic definition of an HSP then it would be above the societal norm when your response to sensory input affects your life in a way that is contrary to the societal norm. For instance, if you don’t like to go to concerts because of the lights, noise level, and crowds you are probably an HSP. If your meaning behind the question is in reference to the all too popular response to someone who calls you out for negative remarks, then it gets more difficult to define what the societal norm is. These days we see a lot of people calling others snowflakes and overly sensitive simply because they are called out for political remarks. In that case it’s much harder to define what the societal norm is.
I’m sure that being Highly Sensitive also gives one certain advantages. Can you tell us a few advantages that Highly Sensitive people have?
Highly sensitive people are very good at noticing the nuances behind what other people say. They don’t just hear what is being said, but how it is being said. HSPs are also often great appreciators and supporters of art. Many artists are HSPs themselves. But those who aren’t creators are often supporters and patrons of the arts. They can find great beauty in things that most people are repelled by.
Can you share a story that you have come across where great sensitivity was actually an advantage?
One of my clients is an HSP which makes her an excellent judge of character. This was especially good for her in an instance when a new neighbor moved into her community. He was a con artist, and everyone just loved him. She didn’t know what exactly the issue was, but she just got a bad feeling around her. Her high sensitivity saved her family a lot of money and heartache when many others in her community were scammed.
There seems to be no harm in being overly empathetic. What’s the line drawn between being empathetic and being Highly Sensitive?
As I mentioned before being highly sensitive is an individual trait. Not all HSPs are highly empathetic. I would say that all empaths are highly sensitive people, but not all HSPs are empaths. If you feel the feelings of others you are an empath. You also generally have other characteristics of a highly sensitive person. But, not all HSPs can read the emotions and feelings of those around them.
Social Media can often be casually callous. How does Social Media affect a Highly Sensitive Person? How can a Highly Sensitive Person utilize the benefits of social media without being pulled down by it?
Highly sensitive people are generally affected by the extreme casualness of social media. People often say and do things on social media that they wouldn’t in real life. So, the HSP will respond to what is posted, and it’s often not nice. I have a love-hate relationship with social media. I hate the way I feel when I see many things posted, but I love that it’s such a wonderful resource for me as a small business owner. With social media I can block or unfollow people that cause me the most distress with what they engage in. I don’t have to be friends with everyone just because I know them in real life. I’ve been culling my friends list lately, and it’s something I do often. I don’t have to be the most popular woman out there. My mental health is more important to me than the number of friends I have.
How would you advise your patient to respond if something they hear or see bothers or affects them, but others comment that that are being petty or that it is minor?
I tell my clients that they know what is best for them. They are the one living in their skin and with their perceptions. No one else has the right to tell them they are overreacting to something. I advise them that they have the power in how they respond and who they interact with. It can be hard to do in the moment, and sometimes in the moment isn’t the best time to do it, but the best advice I have is to evaluate the situation and the importance of your relationship with the person. Then, make adjustments accordingly.
What strategies do you recommend to your patients to overcome the challenges that come with being overly sensitive without changing their caring and empathetic nature?
I recommend that my clients embrace who they are. It’s harmful to our inner being when we try to deny or change who we are on a soul level. There is nothing wrong with being an HSP. But it can be a challenge. I suggest that each of my clients get to know who they are and what triggers their sensitivity. Once they know what makes them highly sensitive, they can be prepared to either avoid or minimize triggers. I also suggest that they can make suggestions for ways to interact with others that are better in alignment with their personal nature. For instance, if they want to meet with someone, suggesting doing so in a park might be better for them (and more conducive for the meeting) instead of a crowded coffee shop. The best strategy is to know who you are and what you need as a highly sensitive person.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a Highly Sensitive Person? Can you explain what you mean?
The whole political thing and calling each other snowflakes, etc. is a huge myth. If someone calls you out on something you don’t have to agree with them but calling them overly sensitive isn’t the answer.
HSPs aren’t all dramatic crybabies. Sure, some are, but we are all different. Some of us are very strong and outspoken about the causes that matter to us.
And, as I’ve mentioned several times already, there is no standard to being highly sensitive. It’s very individual.
As you know, one of the challenges of being a Highly Sensitive Person is the harmful, and dismissive sentiment of “why can’t you just stop being so sensitive?” What do you think needs to be done to make it apparent that it just doesn’t work that way?
We need more education about what high sensitivity is and what it means to be a highly sensitive person. People often think we can stop or turn it off if we want to because they just don’t know what it means. We need to have some sort of way of educating society about what it means to be highly sensitive.
Ok, here is the main question for our discussion.
Can you share with us your “5 Things You Need To Know To Survive And Thrive As A Highly Sensitive Person? Please give a story or an example for each.
- Know who you are. It’s important to know and recognize what makes you a highly sensitive person. You can’t take care of yourself if you aren’t aware of what makes you special. Each HSP is different. Knowing what makes you overly stimulated helps in knowing what soothes you.
- Embrace your sensitive nature. Once you know who you are it’s important to love yourself. Embrace your highly sensitive self and treat yourself with love and respect. Don’t try to hide or change who you are. Ultimately you can’t and trying to do so will only make you miserable and may even cause harm.
- Create healthy boundaries. Know what triggers a reaction for your sensitivities and create boundaries for yourself. If being around certain people always sets you off it’s ok to limit or not be around those people. I have a personal boundary of not shopping in certain stores as much as possible. I know which stores have lighting and sound issues that cause problems for me. I avoid them if I can, and when I can’t I make sure to soothe myself afterward by taking enough down time to recharge.
- Practice meditation. There are so many whole life benefits to meditation and there is no where near enough time or space in this interview to list them all, so I won’t even try to. I will say that meditation helps to create a quiet space in our minds to help soothe and recharge after our sensitivities are triggered.
- Practice good self-care. It’s important to take care of yourself. Make time for you. This would be the number one because the tips I mentioned above all boil down to taking care of yourself. They are forms of good self-care.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
My greatest gift would be inspiring each person to embrace a life of service. There are so many ways to serve others and so many worthy places to do so. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you have in life. Each one of us can serve others.
How can our readers follow you online?