“High sensitivity is not a disease or a disorder. It’s not something that needs to be overcome or fixed.”
Do you feel “different”? Are you told you are too sensitive? Things may feel overwhelming, bright lights; crowds and loud noises. If you feel like this, then you could be highly sensitive. These things may trigger you and make you feel overstimulated.
You may feel things deeper than others and be highly empathetic, often taking on other people’s emotions and pain.
You may enjoy being around people and attending events but be emotionally and physically exhausted afterwards and need alone time to recharge afterwards.
According to Psychology Today, about 15 to 20 per cent of the population is thought to be highly sensitive so you’ve probably met an HSP, have one in your life currently or may even be one yourself.
What are the traits of a highly sensitive person?
In short, a highly sensitive person is more aware of and more affected by their environment than the average person. HSPs are more prone to anxiety or depression, and they often feel overwhelmed in busy or chaotic environments.
HSPs are often misunderstood. They may be seen as shy, introverted, or even aloof. But the truth is, HSPs are simply more in tune with their surroundings and emotions than others – in other words, they are very intuitive. They’ll often pick up on things that other people don’t seem to notice such as facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice.
11 ways to support a highly sensitive person
If you’re highly sensitive, you will relate to these points straight away! If you’re not, and live with, or know someone who is highly sensitive, then following these tips will help you to understand and support them.
1. Be patient.
HSPs tend to move through the world more slowly than others. They like to take their time making decisions, and they need time to process their emotions. When you’re dealing with an HSP, it’s important to be patient and respectful of their pace.
2. Help them manage their stressors.
One of the best things you can do for an HSP is to help them identify and avoid their stressors. If they’re constantly being bombarded with noise, help them find a quieter place to live or work. If they’re always rushing from one commitment to the next, help them simplify their schedule.
3. Be aware of their need for alone time.
HSPs have a need for personal space and alone time that may be different from yours. It’s important to respect their wishes and not take it personally if they need some time to themselves.
Give them space when they need it. Sometimes HSPs just need some time alone to recharge their batteries. Respect their need for alone time and don’t take it personally.
4. Help them find an outlet that makes them happy and helps them relax.
HSPs may benefit from things like reading, spending time in nature, practising yoga, or listening to calm music.
5. Celebrate their sensitivities as strengths.
Highly sensitive people are usually deeply empathetic, creative, and intuitive people. Help them see their sensitivities as strengths rather than weaknesses.
6. Be gentle with your words.
Let’s face it, none of us likes to be criticized, right? HSPs are highly sensitive to criticism and even well-meaning constructive feedback can come across as harsh. Choose your words carefully and avoid being judgmental or negative.
Having said that, this doesn’t mean you should tiptoe around them or that you should avoid sharing what’s on your mind if something is bothering you. Just be aware of your words when speaking to them, your tone of voice and even your body language!
7. Listen more than you talk.
This goes right along with #6 above. HSPs are great listeners, and they appreciate it when others do the same. When you’re communicating with an HSP, make sure to give them plenty of opportunities to share their thoughts and feelings. Don’t dominate the conversation; let them lead it as much as possible.
8. Avoid overwhelming them.
HSPs can quickly become overwhelmed by too much stimulation, whether it’s too much noise, too many people, or too much information at once. If you notice that the HSP is starting to look overwhelmed, take steps to reduce the amount of stimulation they’re experiencing. Turn off the TV, move to a quieter part of the room, or limit the number of people involved in the conversation.
9. Show them compassion and understanding.
HSPs feel things very deeply, and they need to know that you understand and empathize with what they’re going through. Whether they’re dealing with happy or difficult emotions, your compassion will mean the world to them.
10. Don’t call them sensitive
HSPs are sensitive. And guess what? They already know it! More than likely, they have dealt with being told they’re “Too sensitive” or “overly sensitive” their entire lives. From teachers, parents, family, and friends – they’ve heard it too many times already – so just don’t say it to them. They’ll be grateful you don’t.
11. Validate their experiences.
One of the best things you can do for an HSP is to validate their experiences. Let them know that their feelings are valid and that you understand what they’re going through. This can be incredibly helpful for managing their sensitivities.
Understanding a highly sensitive person takes a little bit of extra effort, but it’s so worth it. They are beautiful souls who enrich our lives in ways that others can’t, they deserve our patience, understanding and compassion. By following these tips, you can make sure that the HSP in your life feels loved and supported exactly how they need it.
Books to read for highly sensitive people
Highly Sensitive People in an Insensitive World: How to Create a Happy Life.
The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Survive and Thrive When The World Overwhelms You.
The Highly Sensitive Person in Love: Understanding and Managing Relationships When the World Overwhelms You.