How To Explain Being A Highly Sensitive PersonMar 09, 2023
I swear, almost every single day I receive a message or comment from one of you asking me...
"How do I explain being a highly sensitive person?"
"No one seems to 'get it'," you tell me.
"It's like they don't think it's a real thing..." you share disappointedly.
And some of you even tell me that you've attempted to share about your sensitivity...
Only to be met with eye rolls, confusion, or maybe even worst of all... "Sounds like you just think you're a 'snowflake'."
UGH! It can be so frustrating and invalidating. It can further drive a wedge between us and the people in our lives, making us feel even more alone and misunderstood.
So, How Do We Deal With It?
First, let's think about a few things...
1) The majority of the population is NOT highly sensitive. HSPs make up around 15-20% of the population, so while we're a decent chunk... most people will not understand our lived experience.
2) Most of us have been conditioned to see sensitivity as a negative thing, right? We hear phrases like "toughen up" or "get a thicker skin".
In general, people are uncomfortable with emotions (this is a whole post in itself) and any sign of them is often viewed as a weakness. There just isn't a great understanding of sensitivity and all of the benefits of this trait.
For more on this, check out this article I wrote for Sensitive Refuge: Why the 'Dictionary Definition of Sensitivity Harms HSPs
3) The term highly sensitive person has only been around since about 1991 when it was coined by Psychotherapist and Researcher, Dr. Elaine Aron.
Even though high sensitivity has been around since the beginning of time (literally, HSPs were often well-respected healers and spiritual guides because of our strong intuition and emotional intelligence!)... this trait is still wildly unknown.
So, with this in mind...
It's not super surprising that when we tell someone, "Hey, I'm a highly sensitive person!"
They're like, "Umm... what? So you just cry all the time?"
We Are Hoping For People To Validate Us
Okay, now hang with me here because this is really, really important.
A lot of times, we approach the topic of explaining our sensitivity to others with a deep desire for them to accept us... to give us that validation that we are, indeed, "good enough".
We crave for them to be like, "Hey, that's awesome! I love that about you!" so that we can feel validated and affirmed for who we are.
And while I WANT this for us... I want people to be open-minded, loving, and totally accepting of us. It's just not always going to be the reality because it's complicated (see the three points above).
What I've noticed (and have done myself) is expected others to fill this void within me.
Let me share a story that illustrates this.
And then I promise, I will share tips for you to explain sensitivity!
I Didn't Accept Myself
I've always been an emotional, sensitive person... obviously. And as a kid, I was creative, a dreamer, and I had a strong imagination. (Let's be real... still do!).
My brother, on the other hand, has always been very science-minded and book smart. Today, he's a chemical engineer and works as a scientist.
We're opposite in almost every way!
I can't tell you how many times we got into arguments because he thought my ideas about spirituality were "dumb". He'd roll my eyes at my "fluffy" ideas and my big emotions.
So, naturally as we do, I began to view myself as "less than". I thought of myself as this messy, emotional, overly sensitive person.
Into adulthood, I carried these beliefs with me. Over and over and over again, I unconsciously tried to gain approval from others to fill that void of feeling "less than".
This looked like...
- Getting into a career as a retail analyst which was ALL logic to prove that I actually AM smart in the "traditional" sense (I actually am very strategic and did well in this job...)
- Meeting my now-husband who's a very logical-minded attorney and always wanting to impress him by doing well in my job (spoiler alert: I never needed to do this)
- Always measuring my worth by how well my business was doing - what the numbers looked like to affirm that I was actually smart and "good enough"
Do you see what I'm saying here? We often (unconsciously) seek out experiences and situations to help us fill that void within us. I was constantly looking for someone to validate me and affirm that "Hey, Alissa, you're smart! You're good enough."
But because I didn't actually believe that about myself in a meaningful way... it never felt like enough.
A Healing Experience
In January of 2019, I started my blog lifebyalissa.com. Long story short, I'd been working with a holistic doctor to help with my chronic digestive issues and in working with him, I was opened up to an entirely new way of seeing the world.
I was introduced to the power of our subconscious beliefs, nervous system regulation, and opening myself up to a spiritual connection.
My world was rocked. I was growing, evolving, and healing as a person. And through my new blog, I was obsessed with sharing my experience with the intention of inspiring others.
With each blog post I wrote, I shared my sensitive heart. I was open about my emotional nature and my spiritual beliefs. I wasn't holding back.
For the first time in my life, I was beginning to really, truly accept myself.
It began to not matter so much what other people thought of me... because I liked me.
And then, that Christmas, something really special happened.
My brother and his girlfriend at the time (now wife!), were visiting from North Carolina and we were doing our family gift exchange.
"Here's your gift, Alissa," my brother said to me with a smile.
I had no idea what to expect. I hadn't told him anything specific that I wanted...
When I opened it, tears sprung to my eyes.
It was a beautiful journal with a third eye on the front.
"I know you like to journal and meditate, so I thought you'd like this," he said genuinely.
I couldn't hold back my tears. Even as I type this, it makes me emotional. Because in that moment, I felt so deeply seen and accepted. For exactly who I was as a sensitive, deep-feeling, spiritual person who had beliefs that were different than his.
And my point in sharing this is that it's no surprise that his true acceptance of me came after I'd accepted myself.
Accept Yourself First
So, when you're approaching the subject of explaining your sensitivity... I encourage you to keep this in mind.
Do you accept yourself as you are?
Sometimes we're afraid of not being accepted by others... or being judged by others...
Because we're actually not accepting who we are and we're judging ourselves.
[If this is something you want to work on and change, I highly encourage joining us inside of the Sensitive & Soulful Vault because it's an entire roadmap to loving and accepting yourself as an HSP.]
So, when I share all of this with you... I share it with so much love, empathy, and compassion.
I know how hard it is when the people around us just don't "get" us. I've felt the pain of being deeply misunderstood and lonely.
And I also know that I experienced a ton of healing when I finally decided that it was time to accept myself for exactly who I was.
How To Explain Being A Highly Sensitive Person
To make it super, super easy for you... I've actually created a free PDF guide for explaining your sensitivity to non-HSPs. You can literally share this document for the other person to read themselves, OR you can use it as a guide to help you have the conversation with confidence.
You can grab the guide by clicking HERE.
A few quick tips:
Approach the conversation with confidence and self-acceptance.
- Take the HSP self-test together:
Share the facts + research about the HSP trait (you'll find this in my new guide!).
Give examples. "You know how I always need alone time? That's because I take in so much stimulation and need time by myself to recharge."
Be patient. There's a lot of conditioning around the word 'sensitive'. It may take time for people to really get it. If you get it, that's what matters!
Share my free HSP guide with them. It explains the HSP trait in a quick, digestible way + includes additional resources to learn more!
I want to wrap up this post by saying... I see you. I know that being a highly sensitive person can feel like a challenge sometimes.
But I truly believe we were created this way for a reason. And if it takes a while for you to feel understood and seen by the people in your life...
Please know that you ALWAYS have a place here in the HSP community. Here, you're always accepted exactly as you are.
You're in good company here, my friend.