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When I was really little — I must’ve been around 4 or 5 years old — my parents had to call a tree removal service because a big tree in our backyard was leaning dangerously close to our roof.
I vividly remember sitting on the floor of our screened-in back porch, crying my eyes out as I watched the men cut down that tree. At the risk of sounding like a preschool-aged hippie tree-hugger, I felt strangely connected to that old, beautiful tree in our yard, and I was profoundly sad to see it cut down.
I also remember feeling slightly embarrassed for having such a strong emotional reaction. No one else seemed to think it was a big deal, so why was it affecting me so intensely?
In retrospect, I realize that’s the first memory I have of being a highly sensitive kid.
Looking back, there were lots more signs of this. I was extremely attuned to my friends’ feelings, I came up with elaborate, imaginative stories about my stuffed animals, and I made my mom (who’s luckily a nurse) save a sickly stray kitten with a tiny feeding tube.
All signs of a sensitive, super empathic kid.
But living in a society that tends to think that sensitivity is weak and vulnerable and something to “overcome,” at some point I started to believe it. So I tried to overcome my sensitivity by relying more on my logical mind, which seemed more socially acceptable.
Thankfully, I was never able to fully “toughen up” and stop being so sensitive, and the more I’ve embraced my sensitivity as an adult, the more I realize that it’s actually a superpower.
HOW TO TELL IF YOU’RE HIGHLY SENSITIVE
You might already be raising your hand saying, “Oh, I know I’m a sensitive person! No question.” Or maybe, like me, you’ve tried to separate yourself from your sensitivity because you have a negative perception of it.
Either way, if many of these characteristics ring true for you, you likely qualify as “highly sensitive”:
- You’re hyper-aware of other people’s emotional state. If someone is grumpy or stressed or excited or bored, you instantly know within a minute or two of talking with them (or maybe even just looking at them). Even small shifts in someone’s mood feel incredibly obvious to you.
- You might even take on other people’s emotions. You may find yourself feeling anxious or agitated with no idea why … until you realize, “Oh, I’m feeling my boss’ anxiety about this project.”
- You’re very affected by the weather. Your mood, energy, and productivity may depend greatly on whether or not it’s raining, how early the sun sets, or what season you’re in.
- You feel extremely connected to nature and/or animals. You may even (secretly) prefer nature and animals to being around other people sometimes.
- You’re overwhelmed by too much stimulation. Large crowds, blaring music, and bright lights may feel like nails on a chalkboard to you. Also, having too many “to-do”-list items or an overly packed social calendar can make you feel so overwhelmed that you just want to shut down completely.
- You’re highly affected by caffeine, junk food, too little sleep, or not staying hydrated. When you don’t treat your body well, you feel it … hard.
- You’re very sensitive to negativity. Hearing criticism or negative feedback can feel almost physically painful for you, and it stays with you for days and days. It may also be difficult for you to watch the news, see a horror movie, or be exposed to incessant complaining because it deeply upsets you.
- You have a strong intuition. You likely get frequent “gut feelings” about people, places, opportunities, etc., without being able to fully explain why you feel so strongly about them.
- You have a vivid imagination and are drawn to beauty and creativity. You likely spent a lot of time as a kid “playing pretend,” daydreaming, reading stories, or doing creative projects. And you still highly value creativity, storytelling, and imaginative thinking now as an adult.
I could go on, but you get the idea. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it gets to the heart of what it’s like to be a sensitive person.
You don’t have to have ALL of these traits to be considered “highly sensitive,” but if you have more than half, you’re probably pretty sensitive.
If you didn’t resonate with most (or any) of the characteristics on this list, I’m willing to bet that it made you think of of someone else you know (your child, sibling, partner, friend, coworker, parent) who does fit this description. Sensitive people are more common than you might think, even if they try to hide or dismiss their sensitivity.
YOUR SENSITIVITY IS A SUPERPOWER
I’ve had lots of highly sensitive clients over the years, and I almost always have to assure them that their sensitivity isn’t something they need to “fix.” Then I get on my soapbox about why their sensitivity is such an amazing gift, if they’ll let it be.
Highly sensitive people make for great coworkers, leaders, creators, friends, spouses, parents, change-makers, salespeople … I could go on and on.
Why? Because they so deeply understand and relate to other people.
They can quickly establish genuine rapport with clients, coworkers, or a team of employees.
They can “read the room” in a meeting and adjust their presentation tone slightly to reengage a listless audience or ease mounting tension.
They’re loyal, compassionate friends who will listen deeply to your problems and offer insightful, intuitive wisdom.
They ask thoughtful questions and offer innovative ideas that can transform a project, company, or entire culture.
Their deep empathy and desire to help others can lead to passionate work that brings more positivity, acceptance, or beauty into the world.
Not to be overly dramatic, but without the highly sensitive among us, the world would be a darker, sadder, less beautiful place.
STAYING SANE AS A HIGHLY SENSITIVE PERSON IN A CHAOTIC, LOUD, FAST-PACED WORLD
Like all gifts, sensitivity can become a curse if it goes unchecked. You can quickly get burnt out by too much stimulation, overwhelmed by everyone else’s emotions, and depressed by all of the negativity in the world.
So to protect your sensitivity, without letting it run wild and drain all of your energy, here are a few ways to stay sane as a sensitive person in a crazy world:
- Stop judging yourself for your sensitivity. Hopefully this blog will help you recognize why being sensitive is freaking awesome. Come back and re-read it whenever you need a reminder.
- Establish clear boundaries. When you’re highly empathic, it’s particularly awful for you to be around negative people or “energy vampires” (clingy people who suck the energy right out of you). You’ll need to get good at saying “no” and minimizing contact with people who continually bring you down.
- Remind yourself not to take others’ emotions personally. Because you can feel people’s stress or frustration or sadness so acutely, you might tend to take it personally or feel responsible for making them feel better. Repeat to yourself as many times as you need to, “Their emotions aren’t about me. It’s not my job to make them feel better.”
- Don’t expect yourself to have the same level of energy every day. Because you’re sensitive to so many factors — the weather, how much sleep you got, how everyone around you is feeling, what you ate yesterday — your energy and productivity is going to fluctuate from day to day. Stop beating yourself up about this, and start going with the flow of your natural energy shifts.
- Take extra good care of yourself. Self-care is important for everyone, of course, but especially for highly sensitive people. Make sure to take care of yourself in all of the ways: physically, mentally, socially, emotionally, and spiritually.
- Seek out beauty in your day-to-day life. As a sensitive person, you have a natural eye for beauty, and it can significantly lift your mood (especially if you’ve got some negative people or situations in your life right now). So pay attention to beauty all around you and find ways to bring it into your home and office.
- Have a creative outlet. Write, paint, dance, sing, make music. If being artsy isn’t your thing, then give yourself space for creative thinking, innovative problem solving, or just daydreaming. But find some way to express your creativity and reengage your imagination.
I’d love to hear what you think of this. Do you consider yourself to be a highly sensitive person? Or do you know someone who fits this description? Share your experience with me in the comments below!
IF YOU LIKED THIS, THEN YOU’LL ALSO LOVE …
Kristen (& Rachel)
FREE E-BOOKS … HAVE YOU DOWNLOADED THE FIRST 3 YET?
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