highly sensitive peopleThink 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:

Embarrassed,
marginalized,
defensive,
bothersome,
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.”

Right???

~~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.

Love that.

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?