When I first learned about what it meant to be an HSP and an introvert, it was life changing. But I had to find a way to explain it to the person who has to deal with me the most, my partner. How could I explain that there’s nothing wrong with me, but that I’m just different, and my desires and needs are just as valid as a non-HSPs?
It’s often not easy to explain the concept to others, especially those who are skeptical of “self-diagnoses.”
I’ve created this post to outline how I would explain HSP to my partner for the first time, if I had the chance to do it all over again.
I just discovered something called Highly Sensitive People (HSPs), and I think I am one. I want to explain what it means because it is important to me.
Imagine if you experienced every smell, sound, and emotion ten times more intensely. That’s being highly sensitive.
I know that the phrase Highly Sensitive Person might sound negative—like people who cry a lot, get offended over little things, and are overly dramatic. But that’s not what it is. HSPs have “sensory processing sensitivity,” which means we process the stimulus around us at a deeper, more intense level than others.
Discovering I am highly sensitive has changed the way I see myself. Instead of wishing I was different and wondering why I can’t be “normal,” I realize that I’m not weird or wrong. This is such a relief. It’s a huge weight off my shoulders and helps me accept myself for the first time in my life.
And you—being a person who cares about me—I hope you will come along on this journey with me, since it will make me happy to know you care enough to try to understand.
Being sensitive means being more aware of everything around you—physical surroundings, other people, and, yes, emotions. Sensitivity doesn’t mean weakness—that is a common misperception. Sensitive means insightful and observant, and I really identify with those traits.
Here are some aspects of Highly Sensitive People that you may have noticed in me:
- We think deeply. It can take us a long time to make a decision because we are carefully weighing all options. We hate making mistakes.
- We feel empathy for other people and creatures very strongly, sometimes as if the pain of others is our own.
- We may be bothered by physical discomforts, like temperature, uncomfortable furniture, and lighting, and we can’t stop thinking about it until it’s resolved. The feeling gets bigger and bigger inside our brain instead of going away.
- We may be easily startled by sudden or loud sounds.
- We often feel a strong connection to animals.
- We are conscientious and aware of others’ moods and emotions.
- We may be deeply moved by music, nature, or art.
- We don’t like having many things to do at once, and can feel overwhelmed easily.
- We don’t like violent or gory movies or TV.
- We are often introverted (but not always).
And if you aren’t convinced that being highly sensitive is a real thing—here are a few more examples:
Imagine you accidentally cut yourself, and you felt pain. Then imagine that someone else had the same injury. They might feel that pain differently than you. We might not all feel things the same.
Okay. Now imagine you are walking down the street and you smell dog poop or rotting garbage. You don’t think, “Hmm, how do I feel about that?” Instead, you have an instant, strong, negative reaction! This is what it is like to be highly sensitive. We have instant, strong reactions to things. We cannot stop or control a gut feeling. We do not decide to be more or less sensitive just like people don’t decide that poop stinks!
(For introverted HSPs) And you know how you love to go to parties, go to the bar, and hang out with people? Well, I don’t like to do those things frequently. My desire to not do those things is just as valid as your desire to do them. Neither desire is wrong. Hopefully we can find a compromise so both of our needs are met.
All I ask is that you take these things into consideration. Your understanding of high sensitivity is very important to me. I’m happy to have learned this about myself, and hope you are, too.
It’s hard to predict how your partner will react to this initial conversation. You may find that he or she needs time to process this new information, or perhaps it clicks right away and answers many questions for them. Either way, it’s likely that this new understanding will serve to improve your relationship as you work on compromise and happiness for both of you.
If you want to read more, check out this interview with people who are in relationships with HSPs.
Another great option is to have your partner watch Dr. Elaine Aron’s documentary movie, Sensitive.