Why Sensitivity Matters
Many people who are interested in the things I talk about here on my blog (finding your purpose, making money following your passion, following your intuition, living magically, etc) are highly sensitive people– like me.
If you think you might be a highly sensitive person too, this article will help you discover and honor this trait–whether it’s in yourself or someone else.
So why is this trait so important?
Well sensitives are different—not just any job is right for us, and we are uniquely wired to serve the world in a way that is different from the rest of the population.
That’s why finding our specific purpose in life is so important to us. And we want to be able to make money doing it!
We know that working in a noisy environment, having too many things to do at once, or doing something we don’t feel an emotional connection with is draining (because at the end of the day it’s passion for something that makes all that over-arousal worth it!)
And we especially need to be doing work where we have support—we need mentors who know how to navigate success as a highly sensitive person and a feeling of community with other people like us. (If you’re looking for support from someone who understands the unique needs of a highly sensitive person, check out my Coaching page).
So how do you know if you’re more sensitive than others?
You Might Be a Highly Sensitive Person If…
Maybe you were told you were too sensitive growing up, as many of us are.
It could be because you cry easily—during almost every movie or when you hear about a tragedy on the news. Or you don’t “bounce back” as easily after a disappointment and spend a long time processing and feeling into your experience when everyone around you thinks you should “get over it.”
Maybe you’ve noticed you’re different from most people in that worrying about a situation is sure to make you physically sick or more susceptible to a cold. It might be that you can’t eat certain foods or even drink alcohol without having a reaction (digestive, psoriasis, headaches, etc.) Or maybe you’re more sensitive to sound, temperature, or loud noises…
What’s annoying is that people around you tend to perceive you as “weak” and believe you are “going to become sick or die” if you continue being affected in such a sensitive way. They make you feel like there is something wrong with you that has to be “fixed.”
Well I am here to tell you that if you are a highly sensitive person, there is nothing wrong with you. You don’t have to change who you are. If you know how to care for and respect yourself, you don’t have to worry about becoming sick and dying from your sensitivity either.
If you think you might be a highly sensitive person, you’re in good company. It may feel like you’re alone, but there are many of us!
You can think of being a sensitive as a gift in service to your community. It turns out that having sensitives is necessary for a thriving community, and we evolved for a reason. Sensitives notice subtleties others don’t notice and have been traditionally regarded as “trusted advisers” or “royal advisers” as psychologist Elaine N. Aron calls them. Think consultants, healers, creative artists and musicians. Even though it may feel like a curse, I want to share with you why it’s actually a blessing.
Studies show that 15-20% of the population is considered highly sensitive (50 million in the US alone) and there’s evidence that this trait is genetically inherited.
If you’re not a highly sensitive person, that’s okay too. Sensitive people are not “better” than other people. If after reading this, you decide that you’re not a highly sensitive person, maybe this article can help you better understand someone in your life who is. Nurturing and supporting each individual’s unique traits is what helps our community thrive the way nature intended.
I’ve been highly sensitive for as long as I can remember. I noticed that I cried more easily than others growing up and was constantly being told that I was “too sensitive.”
As I grew older, I compensated by stuffing my feelings down and making decisions that went against what my intuition and emotions were telling me. At times, I may have even seemed “less affected” than expected from outside observers. After all, I had been encouraged not to show my feelings so easily. I got pretty good at hiding them from others and eventually even from myself.
This is never a good idea. Unprocessed emotions find ways of reeking havoc—for me they transmute into tension and digestive issues. For others it’s different—headaches, allergies, reactions to certain foods, susceptibility to colds, etc.
It’s been a journey of self discovery. It started with acknowledging that I’m an introvert. Many people are surprised by that, since I’m very social and I enjoy parties and spending time with groups of people. I do have an extroverted side! But it turns out that what makes a person an introvert is the desire for space and time away from people on a regular basis in order to gain energy.
After embracing my introverted side, I started learning more about intuition and discovered that some people are emotional empaths—sensitive to the experiences of others to the point of actually feeling their emotions and even physical symptoms.
It wasn’t clear that I had this experience right away for several reasons. As a sensitive, I had become pretty good (out of necessity) at keeping myself away from “emotional vampires.” But once I learned about emotional empathy, I started to notice it in my life. I began to notice that sometimes I was experiencing the anxiety of people around me—even if I didn’t have anything to be anxious about! I had to learn to pay attention to those subtleties and ask myself where my feelings were coming from.
A few months later I decided to read a book called The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You by Elaine N. Aron to learn more. It was then that I truly acknowledged and embraced my sensitivity for the first time.
This has been a relief! Now I don’t pressure myself to go out and be social as much (that being said– the degree to which I do go out and socialize may still seem to be excessive to many people). But the difference is that I now see it as a necessity to give myself a few days a week to just stay home and nurture myself with rest and quiet. I’m also more gentle with myself when I find myself reacting to situations that other people may feel are “overreactions.” I’ve learned to take time for self-nurture and care (this is also known as reparenting) without the shame of “You shouldn’t be feeling this upset about it!” Now I simply acknowledge my sensitivity and give myself what I need.
Are you wondering if you might be a sensitive?
There are 3 ways to identify as a sensitive. All of them have something to do with being sensitive, but it’s possible to only be sensitive and not fall into either of the other categories. These are the highly sensitive person, the emotional empath, and the introvert. In my case, all 3 describe me!
3 Ways to Identify With Sensitivity
The Highly Sensitive Person
A highly sensitive person is simply someone who has a more sensitive nervous system. Everyone feels best when neither too bored nor too aroused. Highly sensitive people just have a lower threshold and feel aroused more easily. Many are also very intuitive, because they are more sensitive to subtle information. In some cultures, this trait is revered as a gift.
Please know that you can be a highly sensitive person without being an emotional empath or an introvert (discussed below).
Want to know if you’re a highly sensitive person? Take the quiz!
The Emotional Empath
Emotional empathy is a specific type of sensitivity–it is the ability to feel the emotions and physical sensations of other people. If you are a highly sensitive person, you may also be an emotional empath.
Here is an excerpt from Dr. Judith Orloff’s book “Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself from Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life“ explaining emotional empathy:
“Empaths are highly sensitive, finely tuned instruments when it comes to emotions. They feel everything, sometimes to an extreme, and are less apt to intellectualize feelings. Intuition is the filter through which they experience the world. Empaths are naturally giving, spiritually attuned, and good listeners. The trademark of empaths is that they know where you’re coming from. Some can do this without taking on people’s feelings.”
An emotional empath experiences the emotions and/or physical sensations of people around her as if they are her own. When thin, they’re more vulnerable to unpleasant emotions in others and may overeat to compensate.
An empath’s sensitivity can be overwhelming in romantic relationships–it’s very important for empaths to learn how to manage their emotional boundaries and discuss their unique needs with their partner.
Here is another quote I love from Dr. Orloff’s book: “We’re not sissies. Our systems are just more permeable. Also realize that the fact that you’re the only person feeling something doesn’t invalidate your perceptions.”
Maybe you’re the only person feeling sensitive to the neighbors’ band practice or a family member having the TV on too loud. That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you, and you have a right to ask for what you need.
It may seem strange, but I can enjoy dancing to loud music at a night club, but my ears might feel really sensitive to the sound of the TV first thing in the morning.
2 Tips for Emotional Empaths:
1) Avoid energy vampires
· 2) Breathe through emotions if you notice they are coming from people around you. Experience the emotion like a wave from a detached, observing perspective. If the emotion or physical sensation is too intense, it may be necessary to physically distance yourself from a person.
Do you think you might be an emotional empath? Take the quiz to find out!
This is the one most people are familiar with. If you’re like me, you may feel that you’re equally both introverted *and* extroverted. Or you might think you’re definitely not an introvert if you love being with your friends and going to parties.
The important distinction here, however, is about energy. Extroverts get their energy from other people. They thrive on being in crowds and rarely feel the need to “get away from people and recharge.” They feel energized when they’re around other people.
Introverts give energy. They regularly feel the need to get away from people and have some quiet and “down time.” This is how they replenish—by spending time alone. So as you can imagine, introverts do tend to be therapists, teachers, writers, etc. People that are listening, giving, or doing solitary work. In fact, many are public speakers and performers, and you would never guess they are actually introverts! They are perfectly capable of charming a crowd and being sociable—it’s just that later they need to have some time alone.
So even if you’re friendly, sociable, and enjoy going to parties with your friends—if you regularly need time alone to rest away from people, you may be an introvert!
Being an introvert means that you are more sensitive to stimulation, but it does not necessarily mean that you are intuitive or an emotional empath.
Like highly sensitive people, introverts are often made to feel bad or like something is wrong with them for being different. One third to one half of the population is introverted, showing that most people are extroverted. Until recently, studies have focused on proving that extroverts are happier, and the benefits of teaching introverts to be more like them. I haven’t read the book Quiet (it’s on my reading list!), but my understanding is that it’s part of a revolution, honoring introverts as having valuable qualities much like highly sensitive people do. We are living in an age defined by embracing our truths and gifts and living as authentically as possible—which is awesome for anyone that falls outside the norm!
Around the time I discovered that I’m a highly sensitive person (last summer 2013), I also started to notice more highly sensitive people around me, including clients. After all, like attracts like without us necessarily realizing it!
As I became more perceptive to the nuances of being highly sensitive (becoming overwhelmed easily, more physically affected by stress, etc.), I noticed how I am uniquely able to help my highly sensitive clients.
The first step I take in working with highly sensitive clients is to acknowledge their sensitivity and help them accept and embrace it.
The next step is sharing how to manage sensitivity and setting goals that complement and empower this trait rather than drain it. For sensitives, it’s even more important to strategically break down large goals into smaller steps and do less work with greater impact.
In future articles I will be sharing the benefits of being a highly sensitive person and goal-setting for the highly sensitive person will follow.
Do you identify as being a highly sensitive person, emotional empath, or introvert? If so how do you manage it?
Leave a comment below and share your tips for managing sensitivity and communicating about it with others–your experiences may be helpful to someone else in the community!
Coaching for Highly Sensitive People
If you think you may be a highly sensitive person and want to work on managing your sensitivity and setting goals that don’t overwhelm you, I can help you with that! I love working with other sensitives and showing them how to use this trait for empowerment.
I offer a limited number of free Discovery Sessions per month. Email me at Christina@CoachingWithChristina.com for more information.