Think of a time you tried to explain high sensitivity to someone who’d never heard of it before. Maybe it was a friend, family member, or even a co-worker.
And, as you are talking, you can tell from their face that they aren’t buying it.
You might get the following responses:
“What is the science behind Highly Sensitive People? Has it been proven?”
“Sometimes you just gotta suck it up and have a thick skin. Life is tough.”
What they are really saying: “I don’t believe you. This sounds like a made-up excuse to get attention and special treatment.”
This may lead you, the HSP, to feel:
and that the other person views you as narcissistic.
Then, after feeling all those emotions…I get a little irritated.
How can people be so closed-minded? How dare they not take into consideration someone else’s feelings and life experience?
Even my husband, who is very patient and understanding, still doesn’t completely buy the HSP thing.
Slightly-relevant comparison time!
A while ago, I was riding in the car with a friend who has a few kids. She was talking about other moms who complained about something going on at their school and she very angrily said, “I can’t stand them; they should shut up and get over it!”
I was shocked by her passionate response. I wanted to say, “How do you know what they are going through? What makes you think they should have the exact same coping mechanisms as you? And what makes your way of coping the “right” way?”
Here’s how I see things. And I don’t have any illusions that this is some deep, philosophical thought–to me, it’s the logical, obvious way to be:
We’ve all taken different paths to get where we are. You don’t know what someone’s childhood was like. Did they having loving parents? Did they have parents at all? Was their family financially sound, or did they struggle? Where did they live? How much schooling did they have? Did they experience mental or physical abuse? Do they have health problems? Does their dependent have health problems? Have they witnessed a traumatic event? Do they have a mental illness or chronic pain that can’t be seen with the naked eye?
My point is, you don’t know by looking at someone what they’ve been through. I have a friend with chronic, debilitating pain that leaves her depressed and bed-bound some days. But if you just met her, you’d think she looked normal. I also know someone who suffered a traumatic brain injury while serving in the military. You can’t tell he’s injured, but it affected his family life severely.
We cannot expect people to handle things the same way as we do. And that’s ok. Maybe the way we do things isn’t the only way, or the correct way. We have to open our mind to that possibility.
If someone confided in me that they had some struggle, illness, or personality trait that I’d never heard of, my first response would not be, “I don’t believe you; stop whining.”
~~pardon the interruption~~
Ok–I just realized that I might sound obnoxious right now because I keep saying how *I* would do this, and *I* would do that, and that I’m so open-minded, blah blah blah. Yikes! The reason I am writing this post is because I grew up in a very closed-minded community and family. It took a long time for me to snap out of that. And, of course, even today I am not free from judging people! It’s just that I try to open my mind to the possibilities. I really hope you don’t see this post as me bragging about how wonderfully tolerant I am (sarcasm, yes)–it’s rather a rant against people who won’t even try to consider the feelings and unique journey of others.
~~back to the blog post~~
Sometimes when you try to explain Highly Sensitive People to someone, it sounds like you think you are “special” and need to be treated with kid gloves. Like you need “more” than others.
One of my favorite ways to explain HSP comes from Jon, who I interviewed recently about dating his HSP girlfriend. You could try giving this example to someone who doesn’t “get” being HSP:
Imagine that being highly sensitive is similar to the way you feel when you smell dog poop. Your brain goes: “Ugh, that smells like dog poop!” You’re not thinking, “Hmm, I wonder how I feel about that odor…I think I shall turn my nose up at it.” You’re going “Gross, that stinks like only dog poop can!” It’s that same level of instinct–it’s just that with HSPs, the sensitivity levels are turned to a higher dial, through no fault of their own.
Look, I know it’s natural for people to question concepts that seem foreign or weird to them. All I’m asking is that people do it a teeny bit less.
And it could be argued that by saying closed-minded people should accept HSPs for who they are—that HSPs should accept closed-minded people for who they are! whoa. mind blown.
In conclusion, if the person you are telling isn’t open-minded, there’s not much you can do. I personally do not tell most friends–and definitely not co-workers–that I am highly sensitive. It seems too personal, and I don’t need the judgement from them. Unless they seem like very open-minded, accepting people, I don’t want to risk it.
However, if I know someone who seems like they might “get” it–a “kindred spirit”, as Susan Cain writes–I might tell them about HSP. Just because it would be cool to have someone who understood.
What experience have you had when you try to tell someone about Highly Sensitive People? Have there been people who didn’t believe you? Were you able to convince them?
The post got a little long, especially with the interruption (which I thought was funny and different from usual posts. I get your point though. I would love for others to be more open-minded, but I’m so sensitive that I know the people that wouldn’t understand what I am talking about anyhow. Sometimes it’s best to know where people are comfortable, whether being close-minded or not, and just accept them for who they are. That’s all everyone really wants isn’t it? Acceptance.
Hi Sabrina! Thanks for the constructive feedback. Maybe I will go back and edit the post a bit. Even after writing it, I kind of felt like I wasn’t able to really “get out” what I felt. Maybe that’s why I rambled a bit.
You make a good point about acceptance. yes, methinks perhaps I need to edit this post. 🙂
I like the post how it is – I don’t think you need to change much if you do edit it 🙂 I find it so hard not to ramble and use examples to make points, but sometimes it helps.
I like the post how it is too. I like to read a lot so length isn’t a problem for me. I think you made your point well.
Don’t change a thing in your post… after all it is YOUR post. 🙂 Besides there really isn’t anything you could take out and still get your point across.
I don’t tell people that I am a HSP because I don’t want them to attribute everything I do that makes me “me” to my HSPness. (My husband doesn’t let anyone know he is dyslexic for the same reason although in some ways it would make his life easier if people knew.) I fear that they would marginalize my feelings, sort of like when some people assume a women who gets upset about something is experiencing PMS. My feelings are valid feelings no matter why they occur. Also I would feel even more uncomfortable around people I know if they knew how much effort it was for me spend time with them.
Wow, you make such a good point!! Great comparison, too.
Reading your post really made me think about things. I just recently heard of the highly sensitive person and for me it was the biggest aha moment of my life. My son was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 7 and just a few years ago I was diagnosed with it. I was never ashamed of it to me it explained a lot about me. So I was never shy about telling people but honestly that was a big mistake. People close to me started associating everything I did or might do with the disorder. When I was doing research about the disorder I came across an article about the highly sensitive person and I was so excited. This was me completely. Finally I had an answer to why I react the way I do. My point being that I was so excited to have an answer that I wanted to tell everyone close to me so that they would understand me better. So of course the first person I talked to was my husband. He couldn’t deny that what I was reading to him sounded exactly like me but he was still skeptical. As he has always been about the bipolar. He didn’t mean to but just by asking me questions and saying things like ” nobody likes to be judged” and “nobody likes to be criticisized” he squelched my enthusiasm and I shut down refusing to talk about it anymore. I want so badly to be able to tell my husbands family, who I have tried so hard to fit in with, why I react the way I do when I’m around them. But my husband is the most open minded of family and even he has a hard time accepting it. So I know that they wouldn’t believe me and I would just get upset and do or say something I would regret. So like you , I think I will trust my instincts when it comes to telling people about it. The only person I really need to understand me is my husband. I know he will listen with an open mind. I just have to be understanding as well as patient. He’s the type of person who needs time to think and process new things. I can’t give up it’s to important.
If 80% of people are non sensitive types it would be better anyway not to tell them as they would have no concept of how you feel and it would take time to fill them in. I think Kelly is on the right track when she talks about finding kindred spirits or other highly sensitive persons to share your new found awareness. This is more likely to be a positive, fruitful experience.
I enjoyed reading this post. I just recently stumbled across HSP while researching something else. It’s me to a “t” and I was so excited because it explained why I feel the way I do in many situations. I have always been critical of my self for feeling overwhelmed or irritated by things that just seem “normal” to everyone else. I shared this info with a close family member who chose to take it personally and make it about them. I have since decided that I don’t need to let others know and unless they ARE this way or extremely open minded they are going to label me as weird or crazy. Having an explanation for why I am the way that I am (incidentally, so is my daughter) helps me cope a little better and coach my daughter through situations with more compassion and understanding.
I’m so glad learning about HSP has helped you! 🙂 THanks for posting!
Validation… usually people feel more comfortable if they are validated in their feelings and emotions.. but the thing is.. we as HSPs AND NON HSPs should think about one simple fact… our feelings are VALID and TRUE regardless. The fact that we experience reality in another level does NOT mean that level is better.. it’s just different. And if i am NOT impering the other person’s liberties.. then we should be o.k. If a person whines… well… i will have MY chance to it too. If a person is happy and demonstrates it out loud.. they have a right to it as well. IF i have the need to KEEP things to myself.. and not say i am HSP… it’s a God given choice as well. And i have learned i have to come to understand too that how HSPs and NON HSPs are going to evaluate such matters differs as well. If i find a listening heart… and empathic one.. i enjoy it sooo much,because it is like speaking the same language. I picture in my mind that the ones that dont understand us.. are just “speakers of another language” and they have, too, a right to have”their own culture”…and who will question that implies tolerance.. ? and respect? and sometimes we dont even get to understand totally why they do stuff or make such choices..is the same.. a culture can be adapted.. learned … and it is interpreted. But a person from one another will not really “be on the shoes” of the other one ever. Until there is enough knowledge out there in regards to us.. sounds to me.. a lot of things are going to sound odd to people. But i am sooo glad that sharing conveys our innermost questions.. and finally they can be answered.
I’m still getting used to the idea myself. I have spent so many years compensating for it and adjusting to the way the rest of the world naturally does things. I don’t tell many people. Some of my family knows about it. That’s it so far.
The only way I’ve been able to explain it and be somewhat understood is: I have a sensitive nervous system. With sound it’s like if you turned up music loud enough to make you very uncomfortable and had to listen to it for hours and hours like that. It’s like the world is dialed up too high and needs to be dialed back a few notches. When something happens you can’t quit thinking about it until you’ve decided what it means. You feel your feeling three times as strong. All this can be exhausting, so we need to take a lot of breaks to get relief from too much input.
Yes–it’s like the world is dialed up too high. I like that!!
Thank you. Replayed until you decide what it means. Perfect description. Thanks
I have struggled with chronic pain for 9 years now, and while sensitivity to pain is one of the characteristics of an HSP, I sure don’t want to tell people that I’m an HSP. Even though I am. Big. Time. I am sure that my HSP-ness contributes to my inability to get over this chronic pain, but it’s not the only factor. I’m afraid people will blame it on my “sensitive nature” and discount my pain, as if I’m somehow bringing it on myself. My Dad has accused me of being “G*d d*mned over sensitive” on two separate occasions, and he never talks about my pain, so to tell him hey, I’m this thing called an HSP would only confirm his suspicions about me – that I’m weak, or faking it, or a loser. I know that sensitivity isn’t weakness but I still struggle with why I can’t seem to shake this horrible pain.
Hi Krista, I have a friend who has chronic pain and I also feel bad for him, because I feel like people treat him like he should just “stop complaining” and “get over it”. You can’t *forget* constant physical pain, ya know? At least that’s what I think. I really hope you are able to find something to make yourself feel better!! Funny–even right now, I’m wishing there was something else I could say to you to somehow help you with your pain. 🙂
Thanks for the reply. It’s nice to be heard. Frankly when you have chronic pain, there’s nothing people can do for you, so you just want them to hear you and be present with you. Not sure why that’s so hard for people, but it is. So thank you!
Hi, I’m new here but wanted to make a comment because your post struck a chord. I think it sucks when people refer to someone as “weak.” What does that really mean? Where did it come from? To me, weakness, is lack of courage and character, not sensitivity. Weak people are those who put on masks and fake it all the time. But since that’s not mainstream thinking, it’s easier to make HSP people feel bad for being their authentic selves. So, i agree, don’t tell your Dad because he doesn’t want to get it or accept your uniqueness. I don’t have chronic pain but I’m sensitive to pain, esp when it’s cold or is going to rain; have bad migraine and sinus pressure plus unbearable nauseousness. Have you ever read Louise Hay’s book Heal Your Life? It may be helpful.
I just found your website and I love it. Before I would have tried to explain myself, but now that I understand me, I wouldn’t feel a need to explain. Because now I feel more comfortable in my skin because I realize there is nothing wrong with me, which is what I felt all along. Most people are not going to get it and will label me so I don’t see the point. Besides, I truly believe, other people “know” you are different and have a “special gift” but don’t want to acknowledge it because they don’t understand it and, also, they don’t have it. As a world, we are evolving, so eventually people will get it and embrace it, but probably not anytime soon. So rather than sharing, I would prefer to play up my strengths, like being highly intuitive, a deep and abstract thinker, observing subtleties. And what’s wrong with being empathetic? Nothing, other than maybe to know when to turn it on or off in a work type situation. It’s like I have my own superpowers that I have to now learn how to use to create the life and experiences that I deserve to have. This is really cool and I learned about this as I start my second act of life.
I just tell people that I can read minds and see the future..I mean, that’s sort of ish not really but kind of the truth, right?
Anyway, love this: “HSPs should accept closed-minded people for who they are!” — Yes, really, mind blown.
There doesn’t need to be scientific evidence that proves the existence of HSPs. Is there evidence that some people like the color blue, and some people like the color red? (Maybe there is…but let’s pretend that there isn’t). There is no way, today, to scientifically prove or disprove that someone likes the color blue, and yet, it is safe to assume that if someone says they like blue, then they like blue.
If I think the tv is louder than you do, if I can’t make decisions without a million thoughts running through my head, if I would sometimes prefer to read a book over social interaction, then yes, I am likely more sensitive than you.
I just tell people that I’m a passionate person and have instructed my daughter to do the same. People seem to be able to relate to that more than to saying I’m a Highly Sensitive Person. I’m an introvert, so telling every John and Jane what the medical term is for my ‘affliction’ isn’t of interest to me. Just keep it simple and move along. Describing it in a word that leaves little room for discussion is important to me. I can see how Kelly would be more on-the-hook about it though having a blog on the subject.
I can’t really tell anyone about things I experience… I feel alone often. It is not something one wants to be doubted about. It is rare to meet someone sensitive enough to notice sensitivity in others. And most others just think it’s something else… I try to accept it and cope with it. I don’t seek others’ understanding, just to accommodate myself as best I can in the environment. Maybe the future will be different. Labels aren’t the answer.
I live in Sweden where people with disabilities get a salary grant. I first got put on that because, I was bipolar. Now that I am not bipolar I still have it due to my sensitivity. I find it much better at any workplace since I found out about it from a health professional. Now, I can tell people that due to a brain injury when I got hit by a car at 18, I am more sensitive. Lucky for me I work with some of my best friends, inc my bosses. We can discuss my sensitivity on all levels. They love me regardless of anything (and I mean that so very much). In fact I had a conversation with one friend at work yesterday about it. He told me to google hsp, to understand more about myself. I never used that word around him. I tend to just say I am extra sensitive or extremely sensitive. Today I don’t want imagine how much harder life would be if I couldn’t talk about it at work. To me, it is a necessity in order to survive life, and that is very true.
Thanks for the comment, Kristina. Over the years I have heard from many people in Sweden, in particular, and it sounds like sensitivity is a more accepted and known-about thing there! Thanks for sharing!
So happy to find this Kelly and to read the comments of some kindred spirits! Oh and your ‘And it could be argued that by saying closed-minded people should accept HSPs for who they are—that HSPs should accept closed-minded people for who they are! whoa. mind blown.’ made me laugh… haha I’m always thinking/saying things like that. Love it when the thinking shifts up a level:)
HSP has been on my radar for a while but I’ve just had a major breakdown/through with repressed memories flooding back – mainly as a result of a stressful relationship with someone who’s incredible in so many ways but is at the other end of the sensitivity scale. Barely even registering on the scale. It’s fascinating to me, and I can see how it can be both positive and negative. But as well as enjoying the benefits of his trait (he was very laidback!) it caused me a LOT of distress when my feelings were discredited or dismissed because he was fine and assumed that I too wouldn’t/shouldn’t have a problem.I hung in there because otherwise the relationship was very good and ‘I’m too sensitive, i’m sorry, this is my problem’ was my mantra. I started having stress dreams (including night terrors, waking up screaming in another room) and dreams about my mum ignoring my distress. Things started clicking into place pretty rapidly. So much is suddenly making sense. I finally feel like I make sense.I’ve always wanted to study psychology and write and now this has given me an enormous motivation to do it! This is huge for me. And of course I want to share this with people around me and especially my family… but I can see how this might hurt them. They are good people but it’s hard for this not to suggest blame. After reading this and the comments I feel that for me I might just drop in a few comments here and there, which will be more of just a natural thing reflecting how i now see myself and my place and value in the world. But I feel like I don’t need their validation any more. I’ve always been desperately seeking it so this is relief enough – certainly for now, if not forever. I know this is real. I know they probably won’t get it. I don’t need them to get it. I do need them to respect me but they don’t need to see my HSP sealed and signed certificate to do that. The difference is that now I can respect myself, create boundaries based on MY reality and teach other people to respect me.
I know it’s still challenging but I’m in a much stronger position now that I’m not doubting myself. My boyfriend was an extreme case (he wasn’t entirely convinced that emotions were a thing, even though I gave him some pretty impressive displays) so I was massively damaging myself being with him but if I was with someone who didn’t *quite* get it, then I would say ‘Ok, so maybe you can’t understand me perfectly, but can you respect me? Can you give me the benefit of the doubt and believe that I experience the world the way I say I do?’ And if they can’t, then bye bye relationship.
Sorry this has gone on a bit … really looking forward to reading more of your blog…
Wow, I completely know what you are saying. I too had a very disturbing relationship with an extraordinary girl…but also on the other end of the sensitivity spectrum. I felt this girl was totally lacking empathy, she kept hurting me all the time, like taking advantage of my sensitivity. Anyway, now that I know about hsp and being one, maybe the same relationship would be different in the future.
Thanks for this post/comment.
It was awesome to hear your experience. (I’ve just found out that I’m a HSP.) my boyfriend is at the other end of the spectrum as well.
I can’t even imagine how I would explain this to someone…hi, I’m Michel and I’m an hsp. I guess this is some thing that you have to keep for yourself, something to keep in the back of your mind, even if it is so big inside of my head. I feel it is written in my face, but then I feel no-one would believe what I’m explaining to them. I guess it is one of those little secret that makes you richer, a little secret that finally gives meaning to so many things in your day to day life. But then, why would it be so hard to understand…
I am 15…. gonna open this to my sis.
I don’t know how she will react🙄
I’m arriving to this knowledge about HSPs at 45y of age. I took Dr. Aron’s test and I scored very high!! My entire life I was the “too sensitive” kid, teen, then adult. Yesterday, my husband told me I was a self-centered narcissistic person. (It is not the first time.) And coincidently, I found out about HSPs because a panic attack I had with loud noises that wouldn’t let me sleep. (Has anyone had these types of panic attack?)
Sorry to ramble… but as you said, it’s so good to tell someone that will understand.
I’m definitely to ready to tell anyone, not even my husband. But…
It’s been amazing to read your blog and to listen to the podcasts!! I’m learning immensely!
Thank you tons!!
I think the tricky thing about all this is that sensitivity is generally regarded negatively by society, and tagging on ‘highly’ to the term worsens a person’s perception of the HSP. And along with it comes a slew of judgement, maybe pity or like ‘whoa this person is really sensitive better be careful about what I say around her’. Rarely is there understanding and acceptance, which is what we really need. And as a worse case scenario, there are those that would try tk take advantage.
So personally I rarely, if ever, tell anyone I’m a HSP, except for my husband who is wonderfully loving and accepting of who I am. I know this sounds bitter and jaded but it’s really not! I guess it’s just a way of integrating into society and this world that we live in. On a more positive note, my feelings are not based on a person’s action but their intention. And many people come with the best of intentions so it really softens the blow for me, which helps a lot.
Second thing I wanted to say is, I noticed your reaction towards a reader’s comment on how long this was, and the reaction of your other readers. And this is such a familiar situation to me.
I am a content producer and I manage a fairly large online community revolving around my content. Many times I jump to ‘fix things’. Along with that comes those who – with the best of intentions I know – leap in with how I should ‘stay true to myself and not change what content I have’. My thought on this (and usually I just keep this thought to myself just to avoid adding fuel to the fire) is that me wanting to fix things, IS me being true to myself. And I wish you knew that about me, and accept that about me.
I usually end up having to pacify those who get upset about me fixing things – not always fun! But there you go, that’s the life of a HSP (content producer and community manager) for you.
thank you for the thoughtful comment! 🙂
Great post! Don’t change a thing. I have been doing a bunch of research on HSP and definite it fits me. I’m learning to temper sharing it as well. I enjoyed the dog poop analogy and made me realize my own description. HSP is just like my current phone. I go through battery power SUPER FAST! I always have the light too bright, too many apps running, too many windows open(fantasy football, YouTube searches, HSP research, random knowledge, learning spanish, eBay searches), Location on(searching for networks etc). THAT is my HSP experience! I’m still learning what recharges and what drains but at least I’m more aware of overstimulation being different. It’s vital to be alert to what and how much you take in.
I know this post/blog is already a few years old, but thanks for the blog Kelly! So recognizable! I recently figured I am hsp (Im 19 btw). I’ve been having the ‘symptoms’ of hsp since I was very young (age 4/5). Always being the ‘sensitive, emotional’ one. my gosh, how many times I heard my famliy say to me to stop being so sensitive, stop crying, grow up etc. not kidding, every week.
These things only got stronger when I grew older. especially a few years ago. My family went through some hard stuff and I constantly felt the down mood at home. It was suffocating. Constantly trying to help them trying to make them happy and not knowing I unknowingly took over there moods (angry, sadness) which was turned up a few notches for me, which led for me to depression where I cried myself to sleep almost every night (told nobody about that since I didn’t want to bother people).
Then it was fine for a year or two (since things got better at home my depression sorta got away), but then my sister got depression. And yes, you guessed it. I took that mood over plus trying to make her feel better and school leaves me exhausted every day. This took me to a breaking point few days ago.
So today I tried to tell my parents (my mom reacted positive, not completly believing its a thing, although she also thought de description fits me perfectly). but my dad just laughed at me. Saying his usual things like, don’t be so sensitive/exaggerate and made it about him. Never was I hurt more than in that moment. He has always made me feel like theres something wrong with me (me being so emotional). I just want him to take me serious for once.
Now I’m thinking about seeing a therapist since clearly I didn’t gave my past a place. And Im at lost what to do with my situation with my parents and being hsp. Even now I’m catch myself having one of the ‘symptoms’, which is checking like a 100 times if this messages doesn’t have any mistakes in it lol. Anyway, thanks again for this blog and everyone who commented. It already helps me to read Im not alone in this. And it feels therapeutic to write this somewhere I’m sure nobody judge me or tells me off 😉