For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a highly sensitive person. It’s something I’ve grappled with since I was a child. I’ve always kept to myself and felt everything deeply. During my teenage years, I was prone to tears caused by all kinds of things, from bullies to television commercials that pulled at my heartstrings. I often used to joke that my superpower was finding a way to cry at least once during every single movie.
In my experience, sensitivity was often something frowned upon. Society views assertiveness and toughness as strengths, and sensitivity is often—wrongfully—seen as a weakness. In the past, when people have learned about my sensitivity, they often used it to their advantage. Sometimes, I even felt like a moving bullseye in target practice. I noticed people would say or do things to simply prompt a reaction out of me. Hurting me was almost too easy.
Recently, I realized there are many other layers to my sensitivity than simply being emotional. Most people hear “sensitivity” and immediately think about a person who can’t take a joke, or someone who cries a lot. However, highly sensitive people are often overwhelmed and over-aroused by their surroundings. We are highly attentive individuals who excel at noticing the details, sometimes too well.
In The Highly Sensitive Person, author Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D. presented a checklist of traits to see if you qualify as a highly sensitive person (HSP). From being affected by other people’s moods to avoiding violent TV shows, I checked almost every box.
Now, I finally realized it was time to embrace my sensitivity. I needed to flip the script on how I, and the people closest to me, felt about it. And this book taught me a lot.
Here are all the things I learned that helped me better understand and love my sensitivity.
HSPs require efficient “alone time” to rest and recharge.
The first time I went to a house party with my boyfriend, I warned him ahead of time: “If I disappear for a bit and you can’t find me, I’m probably just hiding in the basement or a bathroom somewhere.”
I had to explain to him that after a couple of hours of interacting with complete strangers, I need to take a break. Even if everyone is perfectly nice and the evening is going well, it can be overwhelming to take in the noise and new people for too long without resting.
I never understood why I wasn’t able to “handle” busy social interactions as well as others. But it makes sense now: I am easily overstimulated. The noise, the bustle, and the constant need to be attentive and “on” wore me out.
And so, at the party, while the music and voices boomed upstairs, I sought refuge in the basement alone. I closed my eyes. I did breathing exercises. Finally, I rested my face and gave my cheeks a break from forced-smiling so much. Then after 20 minutes or so of sweet silence, I finished my drink, took a deep breath, and went back upstairs.
Like a cell phone battery, I just needed some time to rest and recharge.
Separate from social events, HSPs also require ample alone time to work through their feelings and just think. This could mean a couple of hours a week to a couple of hours a day. Typically, I like to have at least one hour a day to myself, alone, to process my feelings, take a break, and reflect.
We are excellent at self-analysis and dissecting our thoughts.
Because HSPs are so in tune with our feelings, we often have high emotional intelligence. We flourish in times of personal heart-to-hearts and tough talks. We enjoy observing our subconscious and diving deeper into our beliefs.
For this reason, HSPs tend to know who they are better than most people. And that level of honest self-reflection can only be a good thing.
However, the ability to self-analyze can often lead us to be incredibly hard on ourselves. This is something I’ve struggled with greatly over the years.
After reading this book, however, I am finally learning how to forgive myself, treat myself with kindness, and love myself because of my sensitivity, not despite it.
Other people’s emotions, moods, and actions affect us.
Many people may think of this trait as one big character flaw. Because HSPs care so much about others, we often carry the weight of the world on our shoulders. This gets exhausting over time. We also take others’ opinions, actions, and moods more personally than we should.
However, as HSPs, we feel everything deeply, including love. We care immensely for our loved ones and want them to be happy. If put to good use, this trait can be a beautiful thing. It can also be catastrophic if we adopt other people’s negative emotions, too.
In order to avoid emotional burnout, I try to build and define healthy boundaries. This includes narrowing the list of people I spend time and scheduling time to reflect on daily gratitude.
HSPs are complex, beautiful people.
It took me years to realize that my complexities were exactly what made me the beautiful, thoughtful person I am today.
The same people in my life who called me “too sensitive” in the past have then turned around and praised me for being a caring, loving woman and a thoughtful writer.
What they didn’t understand is that I can’t separate the two; those traits go hand in hand.
I am a caring, loving woman and a thoughtful writer because I’m a highly sensitive person. I take pride in knowing that some of the most influential, innovative thinkers in the world are HSPs. And as soon as you—and quite frankly, the world—embrace these qualities for what they are and the goodness they bring, the better off we’ll all be.
Do you consider yourself a highly sensitive person? How have you struggled or grown over the years because of this trait? I want to know!
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Megan Portorreal is a professional writer, editor, and creative in the New York City area. In her spare time, she enjoys reading books, writing about her life, and playing video games.