January 8, 2015

The Upside of Being a Highly Sensitive Person.

I never used to think of myself as “sensitive.”

And whenever someone accused me of it, I took it as a bad thing. I got defensive. I pretended to be harder than I was. But when I look back as far as I am able, I must admit that I have always been sensitive.

I’ve never been able to watch horror movies (except sexy vampire flicks like Interview With A Vampire). They always make me feel very anxious, sometimes to the point of inducing nausea and tremors. I’m not a “thrill-seeker,” nor am I a huge fan of big, loud parties or large crowds. In both instances, I will likely end up feeling really overwhelmed, dizzy, anxious and in need of escape after only a couple of hours.

While I am most comfortable in my home, I still find myself completely overwhelmed by my two children (who are five years and 18 months old), and my husband who is wonderful, but who suffers from PTSD. If I don’t get time alone each day, I tend to become irritable, frustrated, easily triggered and disconnected.

Regarding my empathy—which is defined as “the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions”—I don’t just share someone else’s emotions, I absorb them.

This is fantastic if I’m around a high-vibration soul who is pure joy, love, and openness. But in those daily moments when my children are having a tantrum, or are afraid, or when my husband is frustrated or distant, I take in all of it. I don’t want to, it just happens. I end up feeling completely drained, exhausted, empty, overwhelmed.

This probably sounds like a shitty way to “be,” right? Well, sometimes it is, because I haven’t yet learned how to “turn it off” when I need to. I’m not sure how to block unwanted emotions from others—although I am learning slowly, but surely.

On the other hand, I have found that being highly sensitive to others gives me the wonderful ability to anticipate someone else’s needs.

For instance: our five year old came down with a cold. She was feverish, congested, and just feeling lousy. So I made her a spot on the couch by laying down a super soft blanket, and tucking it into the cushions really well so it was perfectly smooth and wouldn’t come undone. I topped that with another super soft blanket that was warm, but not hot, and heavy enough that she would feel comforted, but not overly-so.

I put on her favorite movies, fixed her a cup of bone broth, made her a little plate of snacks, and gave her a favorite stuffed animal. If she wanted to take a shower, I let her take as long as she needed. If she wanted to get up and play, I let her burn up some energy.

I knew what she needed. And I knew that she knew what she needed too.

By the next day she was feeling much better, and I felt that some of it was due to her feeling cared for, comforted, and allowed to do what her body needed to do to get well.

In another instance, a friend of ours who is pregnant and living in a yurt called and asked me what she could trade me to use our bathtub. “What the hell do you mean, ‘trade’? You don’t have to trade anything to take a bath here. Come on over!”

She felt a little nervous about asking, and said she was afraid I’d think it was weird. Um, no!

I’ve been pregnant twice now, and while I am well aware that there are lots of women who live in yurts and other simple shelters with no running water or electricity, I personally love my hot showers, and needed them often on days when I felt nauseated, exhausted, or sore.

So we set up a time for her to come over, and before she got here I cleaned the entire bathroom from top to bottom. I removed all of our personal effects and stored them in the closet. I set up a little table beside the bathtub and placed a candle (adorned with some ornamental crab apples that my daughter picked from our tree out front), a large shell containing three turkish figs, a piece of coconut dark chocolate, five essential oils she could choose from to add to her bath, and a crystal goblet of ice cold raw milk (her favorite drink).

I knew that if it were me, I would want to be pampered and taken care of, and I wanted that for her too. I happily watched her little girl while she luxuriated for as long as she wanted to, and when she emerged from the bathroom she announced that she hadn’t felt that well in a long time.

I love that about myself.

I can say with all honesty that I am highly sensitive, and it’s not a bad thing.

It can be overwhelming, yes. It can make certain situations pretty f*cking uncomfortable, yes. But on the brighter—more important—side, it allows me to care for others in my own way by tapping into their needs and desires, and then creating a space for them to be nurtured.

So if you happen to know (or get to know) someone who seems withdrawn, needs a lot of space, is uninterested in noisy crowds or parties, and is one of seemingly few people who don’t love zombie movies, they may not actually be the “weirdo” you think they are. They may just be a highly sensitive empath with the ability to make you feel more at ease and more nurtured than most anyone else you know.

You just have to allow them as much time as they need to trust that they can show this vulnerable side of themselves. Give them that time and, most probably, you’ll discover it was so worth it.


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Author: Lindsay Lewis

Apprentice Editor: Hilda Carroll / Editor: Catherine Monkman

Image: Mayastar Lavi / Flickr

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Gab J Mar 22, 2016 9:21pm

Oh my I love this. I feared that id be alone forever been this way but reading your experience I see you have a life full of people and I really admire your honesty, that you are still learning about getting it under control. I really needed to read this today. Thanks <3 <3

Erynn Dec 8, 2015 2:35pm

I have always been referred to as "sensitive" and only until lately have I felt a negative connotation to the word. But I am coming into my own recently and have realized that being sensitive to situations and others emotions is absolutely not a negative way to be. I actually find myself using that same sensitivity to feel for those who can not suspend their ego enough to relate to people in situations that they have not lived themselves. I am grateful to be "sensitive" or "emotional" especially in a world where truly connecting with others seems to be a dying opportunity. Thank you for shedding a positive light on a personality that is often patronized.

jenn6270 Nov 25, 2015 6:36am

Wow! This article resonated with me so much. Thank you!! I am a highly sensitive person who lives the way you described. My son, age 8, often says, "mommy, I love being with you because you just know what I need even before I know it". He appreciates and responds positively to my attention to detail, especially his emotional needs, physical comfort, sights, sounds, tastes "just right" kind of approach. Here is my dilemma (putting out some personal fears so be easy on me please): I tend to do this for the adults in my life I care for yet they seem "unphased", as if they could care less or worse, they have made somewhat sarcastic comments like "just ask jenn, she will make sure all is perfect"… What I am saying is, I know part of this is "just me" and I notice more, think about more, feel more in many instances, but I would also enjoy some gratitude from others at times. I feel depleted when there does not seem to be a "give and take" at times. I do not do things FOR praise or a returned favor but when it is one-sided so often, I feel empty and uncared for myself. It seems I have not found another HSP to befriend… do like-minded people in this regard tend to seek out one anoother or is the HSP partnered up with those who "need" them, only to take more than they give? And how does the HSP find their own interpersonal/friendship/romantic needs met with such personalization, attention to detail, and care? Peace.

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Lindsay Lewis

Lindsay Lewis is a woman of many hats: Mother, Wife, Domestic Goddess, Customer Service Representative, Artist, Musician, Farmer…. and so on and so forth. In a quest to figure out exactly who she is, the written word has proven most valuable in putting the pieces together. Whether recording dreams, journaling, meditating, working with crystals, smudging, writing for creative, pleasurable, or professional means, it all entwines together to unleash the Self that fear once enslaved.