Some people over-think things, but I think you over-feel things.
That's what a college friend said to me one day. The truth of it hit me hard at the time, I thought maybe I was broken or just over-reacting about everything.
I didn't realize yet what a beautiful thing it is to be sensitive.
It wasn't until 2016 that I started seeing the term "highly sensitive person" start popping up all over my social media feeds. I was excited to learn more and finally get some answers.
The more I read, the more I knew I was a HSP.
Now, at first glance you might think being highly sensitive is all about feelings and emotions. Well, that is a big part of it, but it's so much more than that.
Living as a highly sensitive person has its challenges, but it is a beautiful experience.
Are you trying to figure out of you're a HSP? Or are you just curious about what that actually means? Here are some characteristics of the highly sensitive and how they play out in my life.
You feel emotions deeply
This one is obvious.
If you're highly sensitive, you've got some strong emotions happening. But what some people don't understand is that it's not just an over-reaction. We don't get to pick and choose which feelings we feel strongly... or when.
We feel all the feels. All the time.
And those feelings, good or bad, are probably going to make us cry.
Just about every emotion brings tears to my eyes. But not just that, feelings make my chest tighten up and my heart ache from the shear weight of the emotion.
And this reaction isn't limited to the sad feelings. It's all the feelings: happiness, pride, inspiration, as well as anger, frustration, depression, and even boredom.
Feelings aren't big or small, they're all massive crushing weights.
Each emotion fills up my entire being, and I feel it completely.
You're super aware of your surroundings
Being highly sensitive, I tend to notice everything.
When I walk into a room, or outside, I drink all of it in. I look at everything. And if there are changes in my environment, chances are I'll notice that, too.
Did the AC just kick on? I noticed that. Did someone just slip out quietly (probably an introvert)? I noticed that, too. Is there a rabbit peaking out of the bushes? Yes, I see that.
I notice a lot of things that other people don't.
But being aware of your surroundings goes a little deeper than just being really observant. Each space seems to have it's own energy or personality. Highly sensitive people are keenly aware of that.
There are some places that are inherently peaceful and calm and good. But on the other hand, there are some environments that give off a dark, dangerous, and sometimes evil vibe. I pick up on that.
And I always trust my gut and stay away from the places or things that give me the heebie-jeebies.
(Because, you know, obvious reasons.... I watch too many scary movies)
Watching the news leaves you emotionally drained
When you regularly feel all the feelings, and feel them strongly, listening to bad news or seeing disturbing images can have a really powerful impact. And not necessarily the good kind.
Having such strong emotions can be exhausting, especially when you're spending so much mental energy focusing on negative things.
Imaging watching the news, seeing all the heartbreak and sadness, and then being overwhelmed by those feelings. It's a lot to take in.
And maybe that's a normal experience for most people, but the difference is that for a HSP, those feelings don't just go away when we turn off the tv or change the station. Those emotions stick with us. They're a weight that we'll feel and carry around for days.
I've learned the hard way to avoid the news whenever possible. It's not that I don't care, but because I care too much.
You can "read the room" easily
Each space has it's own energy, and so do people! And often the people create the energy of a room.
Seems pretty obvious.
A highly sensitive person can read the room. They can pick up on shifts in the environment and the overall feeling of a group.
Are people generally having a good time and getting along? We pick up on that. Is there suddenly a conflict or things get uncomfortable? We pick up on that, too.
This goes right along with being overly observant.
We have a kind of 6th sense. We can see the feelings of others, we know if they're uncomfortable, and often we can pinpoint exactly why.
The moods of others impact your own
Not only can a highly sensitive person read the moods of other people, but we feel them, too.
Often, a HSP will strongly identify as an empath. That means we not only notice the feelings of others, but we are able to feel their emotions as if they're our own. This, as you can imagine, can be exhausting and frustrating.
Because we pick up the feelings of others so easily, we have to be really careful who we choose to spend our time with.
If I have a friend who is stressed out, I get stressed out, too. If they're sad and upset, so am I. It's not that I'm trying to make a connection and sympathize with them, but I pick up their feelings like a magnet.
A HSP will also need a considerable amount of downtime. When you have so many emotions happening all at once, and not all of them yours, it can be overwhelming and difficult to tell which feelings are actually yours.
Spending time alone allows us to shed the emotional weight that we've picked up through the day and get in touch with our own feelings.
Art and Music are a spiritual experience
Really, any experience of beauty can have a profound impact on a highly sensitive person.
I believe that music and art are very powerful thing, and they have the ability to evoke strong emotion out of anyone. But because, as a HSP, I feel emotions so completely, enjoying the beauty of these things is a very different experience for me than it is for others.
Often, I pick up on the emotions behind the music, not just enjoying the beauty of it. I can feel what the writer or artist was feeling.
You may have heightened senses
Like I mentioned before, being a highly sensitive person is't all about feelings and emotions. Often, a HSP will have heightened senses.
There's no way you could have smelled that is something I've heard my whole life. I smell everything.
Once, when I was young, I was playing in the basement of our home and I smelled blueberry muffins! My favorite! So I ran upstairs to find out my mom had just put them in the oven.
They weren't even cooked!
(I was actually really disappointed because I really wanted a muffin)
But it's not just one sense. It's all of them.
I've been told I have ears like a bat, I feel everything at all times, I can taste if someone has even touched a pickle and then touched my food. I'm not sure if I actually see things differently than other people... but I have a strong suspicion that I do.
Imagine waking up, walking outside, and seeing everything, smelling everything (public places are hard....), hearing everything, and being constantly aware of how your clothes are touching your body, or how that one hair is touching your forehead...
It's only natural then that I try to seek out quiet places where I can be alone.
Or coffee shops, where the only thing I'm likely to smell is coffee.
You are easily overwhelmed and stressed
As you can imagine, noticing all the things, feeling all the feelings (even ones that aren't yours), and experiencing heightened senses all the time can get overwhelming fast.
It's a lot to take in.
Which means that it is really easy for a HSP to get stressed out.
But it's not just our environment that gets us overwhelmed. As a HSP I have a very low tolerance for being busy or having a lot on my plate.
If I have a long to-do list, I tend to think about all of it, all the time. So if I already have things to get done, and then someone else hands me a project, and then something goes wrong and I get off track with another task.... It's a meltdown waiting to happen.
And I think this goes back to feeling emotions so strongly.
Because, really, a bad day at work or having a lot to do would probably stress anyone out. But because being highly sensitive means that your feelings can so easily consume you, that little bit of stress turns into a big thing really fast.
You just know things
Maybe it's part of being an empath, or maybe it really is a 6th sense that highly sensitive people have, but we just know things.
HSPs can be incredibly intuitive.
This means we can see all sides to a situation, and see other people's motives. We often know things, even when there's no logical reason why we know those things.
Or maybe it's just because we're incredibly observant.
Whatever the reason, the highly sensitive know more than they're letting on. So if a HSP is giving you some insight on a situation or their take on a particular person, you should probably listen up.
We know more than you think we do.
Which also means, don't try to lie to a highly sensitive person. Chances are, we know. And it's insulting.
Being uncomfortable is the worst
Because we're so in tune with our senses (and, you know, they're heightened), if a highly sensitive person is uncomfortable, we can't just ignore it.
The discomfort becomes a nagging distraction.
There are so many days when my socks don't fit quite right and now matter how much I try to fix them, they're just uncomfortable. It is impossible to ignore it and go about my day.
I can't stop feeling it, so I end up obsessing over it.
This applies not only to being physically uncomfortable, but also if we're in an uncomfortable situation. Distress or anxiety is an all consuming experience. And until it's properly dealt with, it won't just go away.
It's not what they say, it's how they say it
Maybe this one is just me, but I pay much more attention to how someone speaks to me rather than what they actually say.
This gets me in quite a bit of frustration with Mountain Man.
He is very literal. He says what he means and he means what he says. End of story.
But what he says and what I hear are two very different things.
And that is true of my interactions with everyone. I pay attention to the tone behind the words, to the context of the conversation, and, most importantly, to the feelings of the other person.
Because, if you remember, I am very much aware of their feelings.
Being Highly Sensitive Is a Beautiful Existence
I'm sure it's clear why being highly sensitive can be a struggle at times. If you've never experienced life in this way, it can seem like such a burden. And for many of my younger years, I thought of it that way, too.
I felt broken for so long. I just wanted to be normal.
But since then, I've come to realize just how beautiful it is to be so sensitive. And I wouldn't trade it for anything.
Our feelings are part of what lets us know we're alive. To be able to experience the world around me so intensely and so richly, to feel so deeply, I feel that I've been blessed to be so very, very alive.
And there are other blessings in the sensitivity.
Because I see so keenly things that are beyond the physical, it grounds me in knowing that there is more to this life. I am a very spiritual person, and I think I owe that to my being highly sensitive.
My sensitivities also allow me to connect more deeply with those around me. It allows me to be more understanding, to build stronger relationships with my friends and family, and has taught me so much about compassion.
Are you highly sensitive? Let us know in the comments!
And remember, being highly sensitive is a gift, not a burden.