Trust And The Highly Sensitive Person

Because we are all vulnerable, trust is one of the most important issues for human beings and especially for highly sensitive people who have a lot of awareness from all of the energy they take in.

What Is Trust?

According to the Free Dictionary, trust has many different faces. It is:

  • about individual behavior and character as in the reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing; confidence.
  • about expectations: confident expectation of something or confidence in the certainty of future payment for property or goods received
  • about beliefs: one upon which a person relies: God is my trust.
  • about keeping confidences: being entrusted with information, or valuables of some kind
  • about position: the obligation or responsibility imposed on a person in whom confidence or authority is placed: a position of trust.
  • a position in which trust is necessary and assumed: the fiduciary relationship of trustee or the legal structure that protects property of some kind.
  • commercial organizations set up to create monopolies (now illegal).
Trust, therefore, serves many functions:
  • it is an act of friendship. When we consider the needs of others we are acting to create social trust through friendship.
  • it means we can be accepted and heard. Trust is a vote for the good in ourselves, others and life. When we see and believe in the good we are more open to ourselves and others.
  • trust helps us develop confidence in ourselves. When we learn we develop skills and as a result are able to believe in ourselves. When we discover that we can learn one skill, we know that we can learn another skill and so our confidence grows.
  • it is social glue that makes it easier for people to work and live together
  • it can promote prosperity when institutions and businesses are trustworthy because it means people feel comfortable making investments in their communities.

Trust is the foundation of all healthy people, relationships and cultures. Without it no one can really thrive. So why is it such a challenge and even a problem?

Challenges To Trust

The lists above about trust also help us understand why trust can be a challenge:

  • expectations and trust are highly correlated. When expectations are not met people lose trust.
  • beliefs and trust are highly correlated. When people subscribe to the same beliefs there tends to be trust between them.
  • similarity creates trust because we have some confidence about what to expect. It is the basis of conformity and the feelings of safety that come with it. It also means that being different can call up feelings of distrust.

All of these things, expectations, beliefs and conformity are ways to create experiences that give people a feeling of safety. They are not intrinsically “bad” or “wrong”; however in a world that is ever changing and where diversity is reality they can be maladaptive and create problems.

How Trust Can Create Distrust

All social systems create values and goals. They are generally fixed and are like marching orders for everyone. When people conform they feel successful and are appreciated. When they do not they feel like failures and can be marginalized.

What happens when conditions change? It may seem obvious that when conditions change people change with them but that is not always the case and if some adapt and others do not that can be a source of friction. Here is an example.

If you are living in a place where people make a living growing olives and over time the climate conditions make olive growing difficult then you need to find a new occupation. If your family has an olive farm then that might be difficult since there is a huge investment in making olives. Some member of the family will want to find ways to continue with olive farming, others may want to switch crops and others may leave to do something else.

In this case olive farming has been the social and economic family glue. It is what everyone knows and trusts. Change over which no one had any control has destabilized what was a comfortable life. Some will feel that those who do not continue with olive farming are abandoning their family. Those that change may feel held back by those who are invested in maintaining the olive farming business.

The trust in the land, the farming business, the skills that everyone had to work in olive farming, and the ability to depend on each other has been eroded.

Trust when it is attached to a fixed idea is going to be challenged when conditions change. It does not matter what the situation is – change is inevitable as is the requirement that we adapt.

Trust And The Highly Sensitive Person

Highly sensitive people pick up on all of the energy around them and that includes all the discord and trust issues that are expressing themselves in the energy around them. In addition because they are outsiders, they often feel the distrust of people who live from a different set of values or identity. Trust issues, however, are great food for thought. They are like the loose thread on a sweater that if we pull it we can discover a whole lot of things about ourselves and others.

We all want to feel safe. There is nothing wrong with that. However what do we do when the price of that safety is too high? Do we give up too much of ourselves for a safety that is a fiction? Do we give even if we cannot afford to? What do we do when in order to be trusted by someone or a group we have to make huge sacrifices of ourselves?

Where do you draw the line? I would love to hear your strategies and answers.

 

The Loneliness Problem

 

If we took a survey of HSPs, how many would say they are lonely?  Loneliness is not the same as being alone. Being alone and enjoying it come from our full engagement with life.  Loneliness is something else.

Loneliness often feels like we have been graded and found wanting.  It feels like a suffocating prison to which we do not hold the key. When we experience loneliness, we often experience it as a form of rejection. Sometimes it feels like we are in a different place from everyone else, and so we feel the loneliness of our difference. Our inability to find or share common ground can give rise to feelings of loneliness.

Being a highly sensitive person inevitably invites lonely feelings just because of who we are.  Because we perceive and experience differently, we are often at a disadvantage in our relationships. On an interpersonal basis sharing differences in perception and experience is not so difficult.  The greater difficulty comes from not really sharing the language of the competitive culture; our basis for interpersonal exchange is not there. The sensitivities and values difference that come from holistic perceptions and living from energetic experience are hard to integrate into an us vs. them culture.

Highly sensitive people have much to give in a world that often does not want what we have to offer. Our hearts are so big but they are often big by themselves. It can feel like you are out on a limb in a world that wants to chop it down at any moment. Very risky! Yet you cannot do otherwise because you would then be betraying yourself.  So you, therefore, carry the torch even if no one can see it, even when you feel foolish, hoping that at some point the world will stop long enough to see that there is no them and that then you will not be lonely anymore.

10 Ways Highly Sensitive People Turn Sensitivities Into Advantages

 

It can take years to figure out if we are a highly sensitive person. The world doesn’t talk much about this type of person. There isn’t a lot of information out there on the topic. Even when discovering helpful information, we often have to be really suffering before profound and life changing information can sink in deeply. There is no need for suffering though. We can learn how to turn our sensitivities into advantages and live the life that we have always wanted.

Equal Opportunity Emotions

Being highly sensitive doesn’t just mean that our feelings get hurt very easily, though majority of the population would define or explain highly sensitive people that way. It does mean that sensitive people experience emotion on a very deep level, with more intensity than the average person. Not just negative emotions such as sadness or anger, but also amazing emotions like joy and happiness. We don’t just experience emotion as a state of mind either. We feel specific emotions in specific parts of their bodies. For instance, anger can feel like a tight knot in our solar plexus. Love can make our chest open up like a flower. Feeling scared can make our root chakra constrict and close up. How’s that for sensitive? It can definitely be overwhelming at times. Not only is emotion felt more intensely as a highly sensitive person, but the whole world is perceived and processed on a deeper level.

Going through the world as a highly sensitive person can be very challenging. Especially if we haven’t figured out that we are in fact a highly sensitive person. We might wonder why it seems that other people have an easier time than us. Or wonder why we seem to be more emotional than most. Perhaps we feel fatigued or overwhelmed by things that others are unaffected by. This world is not built for sensitive people. In fact, our world is designed perfectly for those who are detached. This is a problem for highly sensitive people.

Picking up on other people’s emotions easily can be a major challenge for us. It is especially confusing for a sensitive child who is unaware of clairsentience and it’s attributes. It can even remain confusing for adults who know they are clairsentient but have not learned how to hold awareness of their emotions versus other’s. Another challenge for us is how draining it can feel…all the time. Particularly after being around a lot of people or environments. We may be the type of person who needs to withdraw from everyone (including our children) on a regular basis, in order to recharge. Do you remember feeling tired or drained a lot as a teenager or young child? Parents of sensitive children are often unable to help because they do not understand the special needs of highly sensitive people. Do you ever wonder how your life would be different now if you were given helpful information about being highly sensitive when you were a child? There is no doubt that raising awareness of high sensitivity is beneficial for everyone. We can always remember we are meant to go through our challenges. We can trust in the path we have taken and feel empowered knowing we are learning how to cope. We are learning how to thrive. We can finally turning our sensitivities into empowering life changing advantages.

Highly Sensitive As An Advantage

Really, it all comes down to this;

Every highly sensitive person can use their sensitivities as an advantage in this world.

Guess what? Being highly sensitive means having access to more information than most other people! Approximately 15%-20% of the population are HSPs. In other words, we have a leg up. We have an advantage over others in many areas of our lives. Why wouldn’t we use this and take advantage of the situation? We certainly have to deal with all the negative side effects from being sensitive, effects that can range from annoying quirks to all consuming phobias. So I say it’s about time we start turning our sensitivities into assets. Using our traits and our emotions to create the exact life we were meant to live! Are you wondering what these advantages are?

10 Benefits Of Sensitivity

10 ways sensitive people use their sensitivities to their advantage:

  1. Being highly liked by most people because of our easy ability to be empathetic towards other’s emotional states, and being good listeners
  2. Knowing right away whether new people in our lives are a good fit for us
  3. Ability to easily sense when people are not being authentic, strong “phony” radar
  4. Lean towards healthy foods/products because we have problems tolerating toxic substances
  5. Understand relationships in our lives on a deeper level, ability to see the big picture easily
  6. Access to higher creativity from being profoundly moved by music, nature and art
  7. Ability to inspire and influence others easily by our experiencing emotions (such as happiness, 7.joy, peace, excitement, etc.) so intensely that it is felt by others
  8. Strong intuition for knowing the right decision to make in new situations or opportunities/circumstances
  9. Entering a room, building, or environment and knowing whether it is a positive place to be
  10. Ability to feel bodily sensations and functions easily and can take action quickly when something is wrong, know the body intimately.

These are just a few of the advantages we can come to enjoy from being a highly sensitive person. They, along with many others, literally help us shape and create the life we want to live. It’s important to note that these sensitivities may not always be assets in the beginning. There is often a steep learning curve when discovering how to turn sensitivities into advantages. And that’s okay. We all at times allow our circumstances to control us, and inhibit or impede our progress. But we don’t have to suffer for years before learning how to use these traits to create our best possible selves. We can fast track. We can listen to our sensitivities and create the life we were meant to live.

Is Contentment Possible?

Do ever get asked a question that hits you like a ton of bricks?

Years ago a good friend of mine asked me something that I’ll never forget.

At the time I was pretty much all over the place. Feeling emotions very intensely, even taking on other people’s stuff. It was a huge energy suck. At the time I had no idea of my HSP trait. I just thought I was a little crazy.

So when I was asked this question it caught me off guard. Like somebody had “found me out.”

“Are you ever just content?”

Of Course, I Feel Contentment!

My first thought when I heard this was to scream out and defend myself: “Yes! Of course, I am!” But I knew it wasn’t true.

So I stood there, kind of stunned.

You see, I was truly all over the map with my emotions. I was in college, stressed to the core, and had zero ways to deal with it.

What was so eye opening about hearing this question was that it brought me face to face with just how stressed I was.

I was either really happy or down in the dumps. There wasn’t much of a healthy middle ground.

Even though I was feeling exposed in that moment, I was grateful that someone had the guts to check in with me at that level.

Where Is Your Contentment?

Now I want to check in with you. Do you ever just feel contentment?

Are you able to be with what is in your life, while still dreaming up whatever is next for you?

Being stressed can make us feel stuck because we are either reaching for the past or the future. Living on an emotional rollercoaster can keep us playing the “up and down” game – happy when things are up and sad when things are down.

But where does that leave you in all of this?

Where is the constant in your life, the underlying sense of “I’m OK”?

And how do you live in that place more often?

Something I love to do to help re-set and actually look at what is going on in my life is to schedule quiet time every day – even if it’s just five 5 or 10 minutes.

Close the door, turn off the computer, silence the phone. Take these few precious minutes to do what feels good to you and recharge your battery. Cultivate the awareness of how you feel when you are about to get into a “burn out” state, and give yourself a break before you begin to get to that state.

If you find yourself easily swayed by whatever’s going on in your life, this is a must. Give it a try and let me know how it goes for you.

What else brings you back to center, to your healthy middle ground? Let me know in the comments. Can’t wait to hear.

The Gift Of Compassion From Sensitive People

I’ll be the first to admit I don’t always handle doctor’s office visits well especially with procedures involving unexpected pain. All too often, there is a sudden cold sweat followed by nausea and lightheadedness signaling I’m getting ready to faint. For the Highly Sensitive, fainting can be our ingrained response to the invasiveness of  modern medicine followed by the emotional recognition of what is actually happening to our bodies. Dramatic as it may seem, I need to avert my eyes when receiving injections lest I find myself requiring smelling salts in the aftermath.

Giving And Receiving Compassion

There is a bright spot in these experiences; whenever my face turns that pasty shade of gray during a procedure, I’m deeply touched by the compassion shown by the nurses who come to my aid. In the face of an environment where people are often at their physical and sometimes emotional worst, nursing is the profession where I encounter the highest number of Highly Sensitive people in the workplace. Perhaps everything is as it should be; our inherent capacity to feel another’s person’s distress brings with it the compassion generated from experiencing that pain first hand.

Always a remembered gift to those receiving it, compassion isn’t something which can be faked. You have it to give or you don’t. While for the Highly Sensitive extending compassion may feel like a second nature, understanding the gift of receiving it sometimes requires a bit more work.

Manny’s Compassion

Some years ago I attended a workshop hosted by author Manny Twofeathers. Manny was standing by the front door of the bookstore as I pulled into the parking lot by the front of the building. He had stepped outside to clear his head after giving intuitive readings for clients most of the afternoon. I was glad to see him again. During a lecture he had presented  few weeks earlier  regarding his experiences with the Sundance Ceremony outlined in his book My Road to the Sundance, he had shown me how to tie a prayer flag for a friend  diagnosed with breast cancer. Taking it with him when he left, Manny mentioned it would be taken to a sacred spot where he would pray for her. That was Manny; in his role as an Elder he extended compassion towards people through actions reflecting  his deep spiritual faith.

At the bookstore that evening,  Manny was hosting a divination workshop based on his latest book; Stone People Medicine. After a brief introduction where he explained the role and use of the stones and cards used in the divination process, Manny had us sit at a circular table. He sat next to me on my left. Handing me the cards and the stones, he told me to read for the woman sitting on my right in order to answer questions she had about her life. His actions startled me, I had expected that he would show us the process by reading for us. Due to my sensitivity I didn’t always like to be in the spotlight especially in front of  a group of strangers. Studying his face for a brief moment, I tried to get a read on his thoughts, but his eyes were hidden behind the deep wrinkles of his face. While I had often done one on one intuitive work for friends, I had never “read” for someone I didn’t know and the thought of it made me  uncomfortable.

Honoring The Gift Of Compassion

Manny watched silently as I consulted the stones and cards to answer the woman’s question. His only  response, when I was done was to ask her if her question had been fully answered. Thinking I was finished, I tried to hand the cards and stones back to him but he wouldn’t take them. Instead, he told me to read for the person sitting next to her. Regardless of my discomfort, the process continued. Manny directed me to read for every person at the table; finally finishing with the owner of the bookstore who was sitting next to Manny. Her reading was the hardest of all;  the divination predicted very dry times ahead, leaving me with a vision of such desolation it almost brought me to tears.

Manny continued the process by having some of the other people sitting at the table read for others.But, I had been the only one chosen to read for all. Although curious about why  he had chosen me to read for everyone, I knew it would be very disrespectful to ask an Elder about his actions. I could feel there was a bigger picture at play here and  for that I was grateful.

After the workshop had ended, I went over to Manny to thank him. Accepting my thanks, he looked me in the eye and said that my visions were very strong. That was his only comment about the workshop. One thing about the Highly Sensitive, we know instantly when someone is not being honest with us. I didn’t get that feeling as he spoke although I had a hard time believing it. In hindsight, the workshop was a turning point in my life and his words would be a source of comfort. Through those words, I began to see myself and my spiritual path in a different light; I knew I didn’t need to hide the intuitive aspect of myself from strangers for fear of ridicule or criticism.

After the workshop, I never saw Manny again. He became ill and died in a Tuscon, Arizona VA Hospital during June of the following year. In my bedroom is one of the dream catchers Manny made and sold while on the road. Due to my strong belief  in the power of our dreams I had purchased it from the owner of the bookstore not too long after the workshop. Hanging above the headboard,  it is a beautiful reminder  of our conversation. Ever silent it protects us from the images contained within the shadow side of our dreams as my  wife and  I travel the terrain of the dreamscape.

Stepping Into The Gift Of Compassion

A few weeks ago while standing in my den, I felt a strong urge to read  My Road to the Sundance over  again. Later that evening, I broke out in goosebumps when reading his words on page 65. Summarizing his insights from an experience where he felt unworthy when asked to pray for a woman Elder after one of the first Sundance Ceremonies, he wrote; ” We believe that sometimes the creator sends a helper to teach us. If she was a helper, I think her mission was to show me I was now ready to help people. In helping her, it gave me confidence in my ability to help others.” 

For the Highly Sensitive, compassion appears in many forms. We don’t always recognize it when it appears. But, the end result is always the same; we are supported through what is experienced as a mental or physical challenge. I hadn’t seen the compassion in Manny’s actions during the workshop because I was too engaged in the energy of my fears. But I saw it then and his compassion is what I’ll always remember about him.

Manny always admonished us to give something back to the world as a gesture of thanks whenever we receive anything in our lives. The law of Karma, as recognized in the ancient spiritual traditions of India reminds us that every choice made creates the landscape of our daily journeys. Both work hand in hand. For the Highly Sensitive, perhaps our naturally compassionate actions is a way of giving back to the world a taste of the  gift we have been given; a way of returning our capacity to feel deeply, to those who need it most.

HSPs And The Struggle With Body Image

Growing up highly sensitive can have its disadvantages, for sure. You already know that, and it’s different for each and every HSP. There’s a lot of crossover between us, but we each get to have our very own unique experience. It’s such a journey, right?

What I want to talk to you about today is what I would consider one of the more common “crossover” themes that we experience as HSPs: poor body image.

More specifically—working on perfecting your body.

Self Acceptance And Body Image

As an HSP, I have a strong tendency to want to be in control. This way I am not so overwhelmed. A certain degree of control is healthy and good. The control I’m talking about today is when the control goes to a place where we are sacrificing health to be perfect.

I’m talking about those of us who feel we need to be a different weight to fit in. I’m talking about the ones who feel like they are struggling on a daily basis with loving their bodies, just as they are.

Years ago, before I knew anything about my HSP trait, I was always trying to “get better.” Somehow I landed on using my body image as a way to improve myself. I could not see what was right with me. When I looked in the mirror I focused on every ounce that needed improvement: the scars on my face, the cellulite on my thighs, the bloat in my belly. I set out on a journey to get better quick—because once I got to that magical place surely I would feel less overwhelmed.

I truly felt like people were fixated on my every flaw, just as I was. I believed my thoughts (a dangerous habit for HSPs) and even got into the habit of creating other people’s thoughts for them. My thoughts were so loud, I felt that other people could hear them and were saying things like, “Yes,” in agreement, “you need to lose a few pounds.”

I often joked around that when I grew up I wanted to be somebody. I lived life from that place of not having enough and not being enough. Happiness was surely on the other side of having attained firmer thighs and a flatter tummy – the elusive perfect body image.

So in the midst of working out and trying to control my every bite with food, tirelessly creating my “perfect body” so that I could finally feel free in my own skin and love myself, my therapist at the time had other ideas. She burst right through my perfect bubble when she said something to me that stung hard.

“Maybe you’re supposed to be a different size.”

Um, excuse me?

“Maybe you’re supposed to be a different size.”

Speechless.

How dare she! Couldn’t she see that my body wasn’t perfect yet? Did she not see how hard I was working?

“Maybe you’re supposed to be a different size.”

It stayed with me like an echo. I couldn’t shake it.

And she wasn’t talking about a smaller size.

Reframing My Body Image

At the time, I was nowhere close to being overweight. But the thing was—I had never (ever!) considered gaining weight. Why would I do that? It went against everything I had ever learned. I needed to control my weight, right? Isn’t that what I’m supposed to do so that I can feel good about myself?

I felt so found out. Did I need to gain weight? It didn’t matter. I was put face to face with a new possibility, which was exactly where I needed to be. Somebody saw me, really saw me, and let me know about something new. The rest was up to me to figure out.

We are saturated with images—daily. We see how we are “supposed” to look, what we are “supposed” to eat, how we are “supposed” to be. The message is seemingly simple: if we succeed—if we become more and more “perfect”—we are granted access to happiness, feeling amazing in our bodies, and feeling loved by everyone around us.

Let me tell you—that is one hard path for anyone to follow, especially if you are an HSP. So why would you want to? It leads to more suffering and more overwhelm. The very things we already often have plenty of in our lives.

Of course, I didn’t get what my therapist said right away. I just took offense to it. I internalized it as I do with most everything and eventually came out on the other side having finally heard what I needed to hear. The message that came through for me was that I get to love myself NOW. In this body. And that I get to love myself in the future—at whatever size body I become.

Somewhere in between now and the future is some “bettering” myself, sure. But the self love can start right now. There’s no need to wait for my thighs to become “bikini ready” (they’re ready NOW when I put on my bathing suit, thanks!)

What do you think? Do you struggle with body image and how do you deal? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Telltale Signs You Are A Highly Sensitive Person

Do you like solitary pursuits?

Do you get overhelmed easily?

Do you hate small talk?

Even if you do, how do you know you are a highly sensitive person?

Traits Of The Highly Sensitive Person

Highly sensitive people get the sense at a young age that they are different. They don’t fit in. They are often not interested in the same things that other people are interested in. They are not motivated in the same way.

This profound sense of being different is life long. It does not go away, and can cause pain when the sensitive person’s difference is treated badly by family, peers, and early authority figures.

There are many reasons that the highly sensitive person will get the message that they are different:

  • physical sensitivities like loud sounds, too much noise, light and tactile or touch sensitivity may cause discomfort or pain, which is not necessarily true for non-HSPs.
  • a highly sensitive person often needs time to themselves to rest after interacting with others. Non-HSPs may recharge by being with other people or in socially noisy environments. (Note: some sensitive people are extroverts.)
  • social interaction can be draining unless it is for a short time with a few people in a quiet setting. Non-HSPs are more comfortable with big noisy social engagements.
  • the highly sensitive person hates small talk, something that non-HSPs enjoy more and thrive on.
  • competition and the highly sensitive person are like oil and water. Non-HSPs are more comfortable with competition.
  • highly sensitive people are sensitive to the feelings of others and some absorb the feelings of others which causes them much discomfort and unhappiness.
  • HSPs are known for their empathy. Empathy in sensitives is more than a feeling for others – it is an active way of knowing the world.
  • HSPs seem to have abilities often associated with being right-brained.
  • HSPs can have strong psychic and intuitive abilities.
  • HSPs dislike pressure, which non-HSPs accept more easily.
  • HSPs need egalitarian or communal social and work environments. Non-HSPs are more comfortable with hierarchical and competitive systems.
  • sensitive people do not like someone standing over them.
  • HSPs benefit from a simple lifestyle. Non-HSPs are more comfortable with busyness including multitasking.
  • HSPs need stillness. Non-HSPs often avoid stillness.
  • many highly sensitive people are introverts; about one-third are extroverts
  • HSPs often feel a deep connection with nature and all the creatures in it.
  • highly sensitive people can be deeply spiritual.
  • many HSPs will have physical conditions and allergies of one form or another.
  • HSPs can form deep bonds with animals.
  • harm and abuse of all kinds are harder for highly sensitive people to heal.
  • many HSPs struggle with relationships and find them difficult because of differences in values, lifestyle and the sensitive person’s need for depth in a meaningful relationship.
  • a highly sensitive person belongs in occupations that bring out the best in them: healing and creative occupations are among the best for HSPs. Most importantly is working in an environment that shares their values and lets them pace themselves appropriately.
  • an HSP’s intuition and sensitivity cause them to have profound insights and has the potential over time to lead them to great wisdom.

Deciding That You Are A Highly Sensitive Person

Dr. Elaine Aron who pioneered the category of the highly sensitive person has written extensively about the highly sensitive trait. Her books are must reading for anyone wanting to know more about the trait. She estimates that 15-20% of people on the planet are highly sensitive. That is a huge number of people: more that 1 billion! Therefore it is highly likely that you may be sensitive or know someone who is.

There are many HSP quizzes online including the one on Dr. Aron’s site which you can take that can help you decide if you are highly sensitive.

However, in reading this list, you will notice how you feel around others: enhanced or drained, your relationship with nature and stillness, your values and attitude about competition and the type of environment that suits you the most. These are telltale signs that you are sensitive. If you are, you have an important journey ahead learning about yourself, and what you bring to the world.

Many see the highly sensitive person as vital to the changes we are making in the world, and I believe that it is true. The wisdom and empathy of HSPs is badly needed.

So although being highly sensitive has been treated as a curse, it is now starting to be seen as valuable as it should be. As our problems get worse and the need for wisdom and creativity rises, being a highly sensitive person will finally be welcomed in the world.

Our High Sensitivity: Both A Gift and Vulnerability to Anxieties

Along with the many benefits of our high sensitivity trait, we may also be especially susceptible to anxieties.

One aspect of a highly sensitive nervous system can be a strong startle response, as noted in an item on the Self-Test on the site of Psychologist Elaine Aron, PhD: “I startle easily.”

Of course, just being easily startled, at any age, is not by itself an indicator of high sensitivity or a ‘symptom’ of anxieties – but there is some research that people who carry a gene that regulates the neurotransmitter dopamine in a certain way have an exaggerated “startle” reflex. Researchers concluded this sensitivity “may, in combination with other hereditary and environmental factors, make them more prone to anxiety disorders.”

From the article: Genes affect anxiety and startle response, American Psychological Association press release.

Dr. Aron writes, “The sensitive types in any species tend to freeze and hide rather than fight or fly in the face of danger. Any of these reactions to danger is all right, but involve different ‘costs’ or put different stress on the individual. Research on other species as well as on humans, including my own research, suggests that the cost for this strategy is being more prone to develop chronic anxiety and depression when exposed to danger generally or to threats from aggressive others.”

From her Comfort Zone newsletter post: A Future Headline: “HSPs, the Key to Human Survival”?

Author Susan Cain notes many ‘shy’ people seek “refuge from the socializing that causes them anxieties. And many introverts are shy, partly as a result of receiving the message that there’s something wrong with their preference for reflection, and partly because their physiologies compel them to withdraw from high-stimulation environments.”

From her book: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

Dr. Aron thinks this is “an enormously entertaining book” but that Cain’s discussion of ‘introversion’ throughout “is almost identical to what has become the standard definition of high sensitivity—deep thinkers, preferring to process slowly, sensitive to stimuli, emotionally reactive, needing time alone, and so forth…”

From my Creative Mind post Are Introverts More Creative?

This brings up the issue of labeling. Many actors, for example, say they are ‘shy’ or ‘sensitive’ or ‘introverted’ and many writers and others use these terms as more or less synonymous; they aren’t, of course.

Dr. Aron, for example, says “Because HSPs prefer to look before entering new situations, they are often called ‘shy.’ But shyness is learned, not innate. In fact, 30% of HSPs are extraverts, although the trait is often mislabeled as introversion.”

From my post: Shyness, Introversion, Sensitivity – What’s the Difference?

What wrong with anxiety?

Ordinary living provides us with many reasons to feel anxious – and anxiety can be a way to protect us from dangers, both physical and emotional.

But mental health challenges such as depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem can interfere with anyone expressing their talents, perhaps especially for those with a “finely tuned” nervous system.

Therapist and creativity coach Eric Maisel, PhD thinks “Only a small percentage of creative people work as often or as deeply as, by all rights, they might be expected to work. What stops them? Anxiety or some face of anxiety like doubt, worry, or fear… anxiety is the great silencer of the creative person.”

From post: Eric Maisel on anxiety and developing creativity.

Dealing with our anxieties

How we think about and label our physical, cognitive and emotional responses can have a strong impact on our acceptance of those responses, versus thinking we need to “do something” about them. Of course, some people have levels of anxiety that may need medical help.

But feelings such as a rapid heart rate, shallow breathing or racing thoughts can be confused with anxiety, and may just be a form of arousal, or excitement. Or too much caffeine: Dr. Aron notes HSPs are very sensitive to it.

She also points out that some items on an anxiety scale or test will sometimes be true for all HSPs, “since we do all avoid risks, which is something like being anxious or worried about outcomes.”

From her Comfort Zone newsletter post: A Letter from Elaine, Happy Summer to HSPs.

In her book “Emotional Freedom” Psychiatrist Judith Orloff, MD writes, “Since emotions such as fear, anger, and frustration are energies, you can potentially ‘catch’ them from people without realizing it.

“If you tend to be an emotional sponge, it’s vital to know how to avoid taking on an individual’s negative emotions or the free-floating kind in crowds. Another twist is that chronic anxiety, depression, or stress can turn you into an emotional sponge by wearing down your defenses. Suddenly, you become hyper-attuned to others, especially those with similar pain.”

From post: Psychiatrist Judith Orloff on coping with emotional overload.

She also gives specific suggestions in her book, and article How To Stop Absorbing Other People’s Negative Emotions.

It can be helpful to acknowledge that our trait of high sensitivity may include vulnerabilities to anxiety and overwhelm, but also offers many ‘gifts’ – such as enhanced creativity, greater empathy with others, deeper appreciation of the sensations of life, and more.

HSPs And Self-Care: Putting Yourself First Is Not Selfish

Highly Sensitive Persons– as a group– tend to be very giving individuals, often putting the needs of others ahead of their own.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with having a giving nature, but the issue many HSPs end up facing is that they “give and give and give” and end up burning out, at which point there’s nothing left for them to give to the people who are– perhaps– dependent on them.

Is Saying “No” Selfish?

Over the years I’ve met a number of HSPs suffering from such burnout. After a brief conversation, it becomes evident that they may be excellent at caring for everyone else, but they are utterly clueless when it comes to taking care of themselves. In fact they would rather just ignore their own needs altogether.

The conversation might continue for a bit, and we discuss how they have to “take care of Bob’s dogs while he’s away,” and are “doing Susan’s overtime at work while she’s recovering from surgery,” and “helping the neighborhood association with their fundraiser,” and then there’s “this and that family event” involving some family members it turns out this particular HSP doesn’t even like.  It quickly becomes quite evident that they are overloaded, overstimulated and frustrated by the sheer load they are carrying, as a result of caring for the rest of the world.

Have you ever considered simply saying no to some of these people?” I will ask.

Oh, no, no… I couldn’t do that!” comes the reply, “they are depending on me. They need me. Besides, that would be very selfish of me!

Respecting Limits Is Not Selfish

HSPs often struggle with poor or “soft” personal boundaries. They especially struggle with taking on too many things in service of being helpful, and fear using the word “no,” even when it is perfectly appropriate to do so.

One of the most pervasive issues we face as HSPs is how to manage overstimulation; how to deal with a life that simply has “too much stuff” in it. There’s lots of advice out there– seminars, workshops, and guidebooks on how to better manage time, and how to “have it all” through any number of time management systems. For an HSP, however, the problem with all these systems is that their focus is on how to juggle “too many balls,” rather than on how to avoid overextending yourself, in the first place– i.e. how to not pick up too many balls to juggle. This is problematic because a central part of healthy self-care for HSPs is about keeping our load down to a manageable size.

When I mention “taking care of yourself” to an overburdened  HSP, the response I often get is that I am asking them to be “selfish.” And that saying no to someone who’s asking for help just can’t– and shouldn’t– be done. Regardless of whether such a response is the result of a helping and idealistic nature or questionable self-esteem, fact remains that we need to take care of ourselves!

Bottom line: What good are you to ANYone, if you’re too exhausted to keep your promises?

It’s Not Selfish To Be At Your Best For Others

Putting yourself first– when it comes to staying balanced and healthy– is not selfish. This may sound painfully obvious, but when I make that observation I am often facing an assortment of protests. So, when I do point out to someone that they must focus on themselves— and objections arise– I like to distinguish between the words “selfish” (as in, someone who is self-absorbed and self-involved) and “self-ish” (meaning someone who takes healthy care of themselves). I also like to use another metaphor, for illustration purposes. Most of us have been on an airplane. Before the flight starts the flight attendants will go through their “safety on board” demonstration. This includes how to use the oxygen masks, in case of a high altitude decompression. The key element to remember, which they always say: “If you are traveling with a child or someone else who needs your help, please put on your OWN mask before helping the other person.

It’s an important reminder that we HSPs must take care of ourselves before we get too busy taking care of others. And if staying healthy requires it, we must be willing to say “no” to the next person or project clamoring for our attention, if that’s what’s required of us!

HSP Toolbox: Mindful Walking

 

As highly sensitive people, it’s easy for us to get stuck in our heads. Sometimes we’re unable to avoid upsetting or overwhelming situations, which influence us to replay situations over and over in our heads. “Did I say the wrong thing?” “Is she angry with me?” These and other familiar scripts rob us of time and energy. How do we break the cycle and rejuvenate?

Mindful Walking

Mindful walking is taking a stroll in nature and gently coaching your mind to stay focused on the present moment and your current surroundings. If possible, make this a part of your daily ritual or self-care routine.

  1. Choose your path. Whether it’s the local park, the beach, or just a few blocks in your neighborhood, choose a path that’s accessible. You can also practice mindful walking in a mall or store, but nothing beats fresh air and sunshine.
  2. Wear comfortable clothing. Avoid flip flops or shoes with little support. Walking shoes are ideal, and barefoot in the sand can be soothing. Dress appropriately for the weather.
  3. Give yourself time. You can set aside any amount of time to practice this exercise, but thirty minutes allows you to really enjoy the experience. Wander for fifteen minutes and use the last fifteen to get yourself back.
  4. Unplug. If you can, put your phone on silent or leave it behind. Sending text messages or checking your social media takes away from the mindfulness practice!
  5. Go for it! Just start walking. Every time you notice your mind wandering to something that doesn’t involve your immediate surroundings, gently redirect your awareness.
  6. Let your senses be your guide. Breathe in fresh air. Notice the colors of the leaves, the sky, the grass, and the flowers. Listen to the sound of your feet hitting the ground. Feel the breeze brush against your cheeks. Tie your mind to your senses so you can stay present.
  7. Don’t give up. Sometimes you’ll notice that you’ve been worrying about something or replaying a conversation in your head. That’s okay! Be compassionate with yourself and kindly bring your mind back to the present moment.

According to the American Heart Association, making a brisk 30-minute walk part of your daily routine can improve blood pressure, reduce risk for conditions such as heart disease, and enhance mental well-being. As for mindfulness practice, the American Psychological Association indicates that it can reduce rumination, emotional reactivity, and stress while improving memory, focus, and cognitive flexibility. You can combine this practice with a breathing meditation and daily journaling to create a self-care ritual to start or end your day.