As a highly sensitive person (HSP), you're a minority. About 15-20% of the population comprises highly sensitive people like yourself, which may mean that you grew up around people who were not highly sensitive and did not understand your sensitivity. Not having your experience validated can be very difficult and make you question why you do certain things in your life. You may have even gone through periods in your life of wondering what was wrong with you. That's why it's nice to know what daily challenges other highly sensitive people can relate to.
But being highly sensitive is not a flaw. It's simply another expression of what it means to be human. Research shows us that the highly sensitive trait is a normal biological difference in which all of the senses are heightened and felt more intensely. This trait has been identified in more than 100 other species as well. This trait means that you can become overwhelmed quickly, but it also means that you have some unique abilities that most people do not have. For example, you have an innate longing for others to feel equal and connected. You also have a profound distaste for injustice, cruelty, manipulation, and unwarranted criticism. You're also highly observant and curious, which is very adaptive for furthering our species as a whole.
Once you begin to understand that this is a trait you were born with and comes with unique positives, you can better understand yourself. And you can also begin to relate to others who have this trait as well. Here are some daily challenges that highly sensitive people relate to:
1. They Overthink Social Interactions
Do you tend to find yourself overanalyzing details of conversations, people's facial expressions, etc.? This overthinking has a lot to do with your high sensitivity. HSPs often notice cues in conversation that others miss. For example, you may be more aware of someone's body language, facial expression, tone, and voice porosity during a conversation.
In addition, you are very good at picking up on cues of deception or manipulation. But this can also cause you to contemplate small details that may not mean anything in particular. And you have trouble letting go of those details until you've “figured it out”. Details in interactions with other people could stay with you for years!
While this is an excellent trait in many situations, it may help to practice letting go, especially if that person's actions or intentions have no personal bearing on you. In addition, this ruminating tendency can zap a lot of your energy better preserved for other things.
2. They Don't React Well to Criticism or Conflict
HSPs are tender and gentle people who require a different approach from other people. However, conflict and criticism that are seen as everyday communication can trigger highly sensitive people. This fact can be one of the hardest things for non-HSPs to understand and be willing to change.
But understanding HSPs means realizing that raising your voice at them, criticizing them, or getting upset with them can cause them to shut down. This type of interaction can cause the HSP to feel very deeply hurt. And the HSP who is continually hurt will begin to not communicate or interact at all for fear of suffering the same type of treatment.
Workplaces, parents, friends, and partners need to educate themselves on dealing with highly sensitive people. If they do, they will reap all of the benefits that come with knowing an HSP, which include someone who can be highly creative and productive, caring, and attentive in the right environment.
3. They Don't Do Well Under Pressure
HSPs don't do well under pressure. They do their best work when they can take their time on projects. Low pressure and fewer time constraints allow them to display their full creativity and intellect. On the other hand, working under pressure is very distressing to HSPs and tends to cause them to perform very poorly.
This ties into research on performance and arousal. HSPs already experience a baseline level of arousal that is more than most people. So, when under pressure, their arousal is too great for them to utilize their gifts and talents. However, when given time and space to complete their work, they can perform better than non-HSPs in many areas.
When it comes to HSPs, less is more. They often do their most creative work during their downtime so that when they sit down to complete a project, they enter a state of flow and high productivity. Just remember, working with an HSP requires thinking outside of the box. When you give them time and space to do their work, HSPs will more than make up for it.
4. Their Boundaries Are Easily Crossed
HSPs have deep compassion for others, making it harder for them to say no to others. In addition, research shows that HSPs have more activation in their mirror neurons, which leads to a higher level of empathy. They are more emotionally aware than most other people, so they have an innate need to please others.
However, this high level of empathy can backfire. Because of this need to please others, HSPs often say yes even when they want to say no. They don't want to hurt others or let them down. But not being able to say no means that HSPs often have too much on their plate, and they neglect that downtime that they so desperately need to function well.
An HSP that doesn't have enough downtime is not a pleasant person to be around. They get cranky, stressed out, and can snap at others. No rest for the HSP can also mean physical illness, as they tend to carry a lot of stress in their bodies.
One of the greatest gifts you can give yourself as an HSP is to learn to say “no” as much as possible. Preserve your downtime and save the “yes” for when something is significant or aligns with your long-term goals.
5. They Require More Alone Time Than Most
The founding researcher of the highly sensitive trait, Elaine Aron, says that HSPs are different and can't live like other people. We have to make the most use of their nature and not operate against it. She recommends that HSPs have a minimum of 2 hours of downtime a day. HSPs need this time to self to process their thoughts and feelings. For HSPs, doing less is accomplishing more, and they will get their best ideas during downtime.
HSPs also need more sleep than the average person. So it's wise for HSPs to sleep late as often as possible (at least once a week). HSPs have a challenging time functioning without enough sleep. This is true for anyone, but it's especially true for HSPs.
Overall, it would help if you made lifestyle changes that protect your need for more downtime and more sleep. Unfortunately, others may not understand these needs because they are not highly sensitive. Therefore, you should make an effort to identify a few friends and family members who understand the highly sensitive trait and can advocate for and offer support for your differences and needs.
HSPs tend to be highly adaptive and blend in during everyday life. This is why they often fly under the radar at work or in large social gatherings. However, those who live with the HSP or are very close to them are usually privy to their quirks and special needs.
Part of growing as a highly sensitive person is identifying your unique trait, understanding your individual needs, and adjusting your life to fit those needs. The supportive people in your life will recognize your gifts and understand that your needs as an HSP need to be met with careful, gentle consideration to reap the benefits of these gifts.
Understanding Yourself as a Highly Sensitive Person
Highly sensitive people are typically very gifted. But your high sensitivity could be getting in the way of you performing at your best. Part of building on your strengths and growing as a highly sensitive person understands yourself better and working with, not against, your unique sensitivity profile.
If you fall anywhere on the spectrum, you could benefit from learning about your sensitivity and how you can better exist within the world as a sensitive person.
Want to learn more about how you can turn your sensitivity into your superpower and practice more highly effective self-care?
A dysregulated nervous system could further exacerbate your highly sensitive symptoms. Take our FREE nervous system quiz to find out the state of your nervous system. Plus, get a free personalized report.