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.
See the podcast episode related to this blog post.
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.
photo credit: Peter Hellberg via photopin cc
Thanks! This really helps start the conversation with people around us that may not understand HSPers. I like that you made clear the being more sensitive does not equate to being weak because it is easy to assume that in an extroverted world
Explaining myself to my boyfriend was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, especially because he’s from another outcry and culture; even people in my own culture don’t understand HSP. With alot of examples and readings he began to understand and thought about the times he noticed things bothering me, lights, smells, noises and so on. He realized it all added up, and hes constantly looking out for me now. It’s a beautiful experience to find someone who gets it and accepts you for who you are.
Thank You for posting! My BF and I are currently in this challenging phase of my HSP trait making me appear bothered in situations and him always thinking that I’m being dramatic or negative (without him fully understanding or reading about how HSP works). He doesnt like to read so I have struggled with trying to make him understand the trait without him thinking that im being a “brat”. Maybe this will help? #fingerscrossed xo
I’m crossing my fingers for you, too! 🙂
Tears of recognition reading this and other posts. Thank you for putting all this out in the world!
Once I found out about HSP I immediately recognised myself. I immediately understood why I’ve always felt this way. And then I talked about it with my boyfriend, happy that I discovered this. He was disappointed. He thought it was an excuse to how I react sometimes, to how I am. He thinks that we (people in general) can change our characters, our personalities, and I agree with him. But he thinks that this is a character thing, not something really deeply inside of me. He thinks that I could change if I’d want to, but doesn’t think I should anyway, because he loves me the way I am. But hearing from him that he didn’t believe HSP was a real thing hurt me. I’m thinking how to try this conversation again, maybe I said things wrong the last time. I’ll try again, because it’s important to me that he understands. I don’t need the understanding of other people, I only need his. How could I start the conversation this time? Any advice Kelly?
P. S. : thank you for your podcasts, I sometimes listen to it while I cook.
Hi Giulia! Thank you for your comment and I’m glad you like the podcast & blog! I can relate because my husband reacted similarly when I first told him about HSPs. I could tell he didn’t “buy” the HSP thing. It took him a while. There are a lot of ways to approach it–here’s one. If you love someone, you want to be the best for them. You want to know what they like/dislike, how to console them, how to make them happy, how to be strong when they are weak. I think if your partner tells you they are highly sensitive, you should want to learn about it so you can love your partner better. However, that’s maybe easier said than done. A lot of people, when they hear something like “I’m a highly sensitive person” they think it is an excuse for undesirable behavior. My question to your bf is–why doesn’t he believe you about this? Why does he think you’d want to rely on this HSP thing as a crutch? Also, why would a bunch of people on the internet invent this silly HSP stuff if it wasn’t real? Doesn’t he see that being this way is difficult for you? Imagine how amazing it would feel to ACCEPT yourself and have your loved ones accept you, too. He probably doesn’t realize how hard you are on yourself and that you want so much to feel normal and accepted.
Thank you so much for your reply. So yesterday night I re-tried to talk about it with him. I only saw your reply now, so I did it all by myself. It turned out he understands and believes that HSP is a real thing and not an excuse, or a personality feature. When I told him about the nervous system being more receptive he said “so that’s why you don’t like sudden loud noises or lights”. The first time he said that I shouldn’t believe everything I read, and that I shouldn’t recognise myself in a category of people, that I should think by myself. Well, when I learned about HSPs I certainly didn’t start to “think as an HSP” or “act as an HSP” or even block myself in this HSP thing. I was just happy that I discovered the reason I am this way, now I don’t have to ask myself “why do I cry so easily? Why is it so difficult to talk about my feelings?”; I never thought it was related to my sensitivity to bright lights and loud noises. I thought it was just a psychological thing, that I could have changed someday. I find it difficult to talk about myself, and my feelings with anybody, and I hate to get misunderstood, he is the first person who I talked with about how I feel sometimes, and about myself saying everything that passed through my mind actually, even with tears from the effort of just talking. This helped me understanding myself better. He is very empathetic, so I knew he would understand me at some point. He’s always been very careful talking with me, making jokes, because of my sensitivity. Now that I discovered HSP I understand why I am this way (and have always been as a child). I’m happy of how I am, it’s difficult sometimes, my heart hurts a lot, my face burns because of my attempts of holding back my tears, but I’m happy. And I’m happy he finally understood me. I think that when you are in front of something you don’t know, you don’t are and therefore you can’t understand completely, you get scared and then try to refuse to believe it. Thank you Kelly, for your advice (that will be useful for someone else as well) and even just your work, it gave me the strength to deal with this conversation again, and win. Sorry for this very long reply. Thank you again.
I’m not a young person so this information was a wonderful gift that I never thought I’d receive. I have always been the “odd” artsy one in my family. I was loved and cared for well but I always seemed to be overly elated or dismally distressed over beautiful or sad stories or pictures. I was teased, particularly by my older sister and my mother but it was never so cruel that I couldn’t retreat in my own hobbies or talents. I loved drawing and coloring and would often have friends over to draw or color. It was pretty limiting as far as number of friends but it was okay with me. To this day, even in my retirement these and other “artsy” activities and friends are what I gravitate to. I can’t tell you how much I appreciated your insights into this condition which I share with my daughter. We are normal! And this is a wonderful discovery. It reaffirms in me the things we like to do together and the things we avoid if at all possible. My husband too is learning that he’s a bit like this himself and that much of his working life was a very big act for him. That is probably why he always longed to come home and relax. This really interesting stuff. Donna Gilmore
Thank you, Donna! I’m so glad it resonated with you. 🙂 I grew up thinking that “artsy” activities were silly and of little value. It took my well into my adult years to realize that it is important, valid, and worthwhile! 🙂