Why Being an HSP Kind of Sucks
4 uncomfortably comfortable truths of highly sensitive people.
I think I became highly sensitive in my mother’s womb.
She was loud and impulsive and very uncomfortable in her own skin. She was one of those sensitive people that pretend they can handle anything. She put on a tough girl suit whenever she showed her face in public — but in those quiet moments, she was a frightened little girl hiding behind the living room chair. Being in the womb, I sensed all that — and more. As a fetus, I learned this world was an overwhelming, sometimes frightening place.
According to Dr. Elaine Aron’s research, Highly Sensitive People (HSP’s), make up 20% of the population. When you’re highly sensitive, the world is often chaotic, a jumbled maze of noise. When 80% of that world operates on a different frequency, the world suddenly becomes as loud as a death metal concert to a newborn baby. If you’re not sure if you’re highly sensitive Dr. Aron has a quick and easy online test to determine if you’re an HSP.
I’ve spent the past 20 years trying to get cozy with the HSP in me.
It’s been a difficult journey. A lonely journey. An often uncomfortable, labor-intensive, inexplicable journey. Then there are those diamond in the rough moments where you meet another HSP and time suddenly stands still. Words fall by the wayside and intuition speaks through the pulse of the moment. When HSP’s unite, they finish each other’s sentences; they enter the eye of the storm where clarity, connection, and pure presence are suddenly all that exists.
But the majority of the world isn’t highly sensitive (or so Dr. Aron’s research says). This makes being an HSP more of a curse than a blessing most of the time. Why is that so? Read on.
Why does being an HSP sometimes suck?
#1 This world isn’t designed for us.
80% of the world is not us; that’s a fact. This world is full of human-made noise. From blue light to the hum of machines, highly sensitives are affected by everything. Too much idle chatter or multi-tasking can send our systems into overdrive. There is a science fiction book called The Kin of Ata are Waiting for You by Dorothy Bryant that was given to me by my mom’s bestie years ago. Ironically, my loud, often insensitive mother was friends with a highly sensitive soul who just got me. Her bestie gave me the book that spoke to my highly sensitive self at a time when I felt like I had been cursed by the gods for all eternity. The Kin of Ata are a highly sensitive people that hibernate in holes in the ground when their nervous systems go into hyperdrive. The Kin stay in the dark, warm, quiet hole until they feel renewed again. I remember finding their burrowing ritual so soothing to my easily stressed twenty-something soul. I found it so soothing in fact, that I started to imagine myself burrowing when I started to get triggered by the loudness of life. I keep this book on the bookshelf by my bed and just looking at the title in anxious moments calms me. HSP friend, do you have a book that soothes you too? If so, please share in the comments — I’m sure I’m not the only HSP constantly craving more tools to assuage my sensitive nervous system.
#2 Not many people get us.
My HSP friends and I don’t need to see or communicate with each other daily. We know and honor each other's needs for space. HSP’s love personal space — and lots of it. Months, even years have gone by without seeing one of my highly sensitive friends; but when our worlds collide again, we sync back up as if no time has passed. But in this great big world, my HSP friends are few and far between, which is why I have put tremendous effort into carving out a community for myself, both virtually and in real life. There are days when the most nourishing interactions I have are texts or emails with other sensitive souls. Sometimes even a random heart emoji during a stressful moment is just the balm I need to remind me that I’m not floundering alone in this often harsh, grating world.
I spent years being called too sensitive, too dramatic, too anxious, too this, too that. I still struggle with that “I’m too much” mantra in moments where I feel like the only sensitive soul for miles around. This is where the hard work comes in. This is where boundaries matter. I spent years learning to say no to jobs, people, and circumstances that made me feel like too much or not enough. I went back to school to find a profession (counseling) that felt like just the right fit for my feelings-based self. I’ve learned to carve out a comfortable community that makes me feel needed, connected, and supported. However, in order to find what felt right, I had to wade through the often incredible discomfort of saying no thank you and dealing with the insensitive, sometimes hostile responses of the 80%. I’ve learned to make self-compassion a priority, which has put my old habit of people-pleasing in the no longer useful compartment of my brain. Changing habits takes time and lots of trial and error. I’m still a work in progress, and will always be.
#3 Fatigue is my middle name. What’s yours? Anxiety? Overwhelm? Withdrawn?
I get drained when my system goes into overdrive. Overdrive for me looks like too much of anything. Too much social interaction. Too much screen time. Too much driving. Too much errand running. Too much of something means too little recharge time. My energy levels depend on what I call my reboot time. Reboot time feels like a comfy cave like the Kin of Ata hibernate in to recharge. Reboot time in winter is me sitting on my couch with a heating pad on my back and a laptop on my lap, writing away or listening to a guided meditation with my eyes closed, wrapped in a fuzzy blanket. Reboot time is me, myself, and I with no set agenda. Reboot time is anywhere from five minutes to a full day. Without it, I’m easily fatigued, anxious, overwhelmed and withdrawn. Highly sensitive buddies, you feel me on this?
#4 Everything that we see, hear and do affects us — intensely.
There is a podcast that I love called, The Anxiety Coaches Podcast. This podcast resonates with the therapist in me who wants to offer anyone struggling with depression and anxiety basic psychoeducation on how the brain and body respond to stress. I highly recommend this podcast to highly sensitive folks. We have control over how we respond to stressors. I’ve personally learned that I can’t watch or read negative news, intense psychological thrillers or horror-based shows or movies. Positive Psychology has found that we need to counter every negative thought with three positive thoughts. Three positive thoughts for one negative thought?! I think this finding might be even higher for highly sensitive folks who are fine-tuned to the mind’s negativity bias, which kind of sucks, doesn’t it? I have always wished for thicker skin. I spent years of my life in denial of my sensitivity. Unfortunately, denial for me looked like repression. Repression made me depressed instead of anxious, which totally sucked my life force energy away, making me sleep a lot! Once I started to be honest about how I was feeling, my depression turned into heightened anxiety. Anxiety pushed me to find coping tools like yoga, deep-breathing, nature walks, meditation, inspirational reading, and the list goes on.
Being an HSP is a gift, right?
In this deafening world we live in, being an HSP often sucks. Being honest about the curse of my highly sensitive nature has set me free. Admitting it sucks has allowed me to find the tools necessary to savor my life, one mindful moment at a time.
If you’re struggling with your highly sensitive nature, know that you’re not alone. There is a community of support here for you one comment, email, text message, or a phone call at a time. I’m here for you. You’re not alone.
We will all have moments where we will feel like we are solo mutants floating through space. Those are the moments that force us to do the work. The work is as simple as it is challenging. The work requires us to wrap our longing arms around our anxious soul and ask:
What will comfort you right now?
Listen hard. The answer will always come.
That soothing embrace is always there for you, like a warm, dark hole in the ground, there only for the purpose of reminding you:
Dear HSP, you are enough.
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