How to Share Sensitivities with Others
Highly Sensitives often grow up learning to hide or minimize their feelings. We get tired of hearing that we’re ‘too’ this or ‘not enough’ that or that we need to just relax and let things go. As we enter adulthood this has become such a habit it can be challenging to shift. As a result, we may not tell others how things are really affecting us, let alone what would help us through it.
Even once you’re aware of High Sensitivity as a trait and realize that it’s not just you, it can be difficult to share your experiences with others in a way that’s helpful, if you share at all. Can we let others in on our world and allow them to be supportive, or at least validating?
Absolutely! Let’s look at how to share sensitivities with others…
First we need to acknowledge the facts about HSP: it’s an inherent trait (not a choice and not a condition or disorder), about 20% of the population is highly sensitive, and it doesn’t require ‘fixing.’ Once you know this, you can start to share it with others.
You can share some basic information, as above, with your friends, family, coworkers or boss, and explain briefly what High Sensitivity means for you: you process information more deeply than most, it’s harder for you to tune things out and let things go, you’re very compassionate and empathetic so what happens to others affects you deeply, you can get overwhelmed easily and it’s important for you to set boundaries, pace yourself and have lots of down time.
However you decide to share this information, depending upon your relationship, letting people know that you’re having a different experience or viewpoint is key to acceptance. For those who are in the 80% some of your behavior can be seen as resistant, intolerant, unreasonable, arrogant, even uncaring or just odd. Letting them into your world just a bit, or a lot, helps them to readjust their filter and see you in a more accurate light.
You can share something like:
“I’m a Highly Sensitive Person, which means that I process everything much more deeply than most people. There are about 20% of the population like me and it’s a genetic trait…it’s just the way we’re wired. It means that I can get overwhelmed by things sooner and need down time to regroup, and experience feelings more intensely and like to take time to consider all sides of a situation. The good news is, the trait has a lot of benefits, too.”
The more you understand about the trait yourself, the more you can offer, of course. Sometimes, though, just presenting the basics lets others realize that your differences are not unreasonable, wrong or in need of adjustment…just different.
One really helpful way to share your sensitivities with others is to provide them with a Sensitivity inventory, after you’ve taken it yourself. You can take Elaine Aaron’s (the psychologist who studied and coined the term HSP), or one from Julie Bjelland an HSP psychotherapist who’s been in the field for many years and has many resources.
When you offer the inventory, then tell your companion what your score was, they’ll probably look at it again and say, “Really?” There are items on the list that they may have never considered were issues for anyone, and they will likely start to see some of your behaviors and reactions in a different way. And because it’s an inventory, available online and in books, it means there must be a lot of people who also experience these things, or it wouldn’t exist.
The inventory can be a great way to open up a discussion about the trait and what it means for you and for your relationship. The other person may never have considered that you had valid reasons for not liking what he does or avoiding things or feeling unaccepted.
If you’re fairly new to the trait yourself you might not yet know exactly what you need from others. It’s important to figure this out by reading and educating yourself, journaling about your experiences, learning to listen to yourself. Even initially though, you can let others know that you definitely need more down time than they do, that some patience goes a long way when they don’t understand you, and that asking how you’re doing, what things are like for you and how they can help is very supportive.
Other ways to share sensitivities with others
Sometimes you might want to shift some relationship dynamics or gets your needs met without going into the whole HSP trait explanation. Here are some statements you can try in specific situations:
“I’m aware of pretty much everything around me, all of the time, and it’s hard to tune out things and focus on just one…can we go somewhere a little more quiet so I can pay attention to you?”
“What happens to others affects me deeply, so there are some things I just can’t hear about (watch, listen to) without feeling very sad (angry, hopeless), and this is one of them.”
“I like to consider all sides of things and process things for a while, so I can’t give you a thoughtful answer just yet. I’ll get back with you.”
“I take in everything deeply and can get overwhelmed by it all so sometimes I need to just get away and regroup. If I leave for a while it doesn’t mean anything about you.”
Once you do learn more about the Sensitivity trait, and about yourself as an HSP, you start to realize what you really need to not only cope, but to thrive. You can start sharing these with others, especially your partner or close friends or boss. You can create a plan ahead of time for how to help you through stressful or emotional events, have an understanding about your boundaries and how to maintain them, and how you can ask for help in the moment.
It’s very helpful to receive validation and support from others, and very important first and foremost, to cultivate your own validation and self-compassion. If this is a struggle for you, or you’d like to increase your understanding of the trait and develop a comprehensive tool box of techniques for calming your nervous system and minimizing the overwhelm, it might be helpful to work with an HSP-sensitive coach or therapist. I’m available for a free coaching consultation to see if we might be a good fit on your journey of self-discovery and self-love.