A while back, a non-HSP with a highly sensitive ex-girlfriend left a comment wanting to give some advice based on his experience with his ex.
The comment is too long to paste here in its entirety, but it’s under this post if you want to check it out.
And if you don’t feel like clicking over, the gist of his advice for HSPs was to:
- Work on increasing your emotional intelligence
- Ignore your sensitivities and focus on other more important things
I found this man’s comment troubling, not because all of his suggestions are terrible (they are not), but because I think there’s a crucial part missing. And without that part explicitly stated, the implication is that we should just be able to think our sensitivities away. That if we would just try harder to control our minds and our emotions and our selves, all would be well.
Now, I don’t really care what this man thinks about HSPs (obviously not very highly 😉 ), but I do care about my fellow HSPs getting the advice they need to feel well.
And that’s why I felt compelled to get on my soapbox once again and write this article. 🙂
Yes, working on your mind and the way you perceive things can be tremendously helpful
Emotional intelligence refers to your ability to:
- be aware of your own emotions and recognize them as they are happening
- manage your emotions in a productive way
- be aware of other people’s emotions
- successfully navigate interactions with other people even when there are emotions involved
I don’t think anybody would deny that these are super useful skills. In particular, I have found it helpful to be able to sort of observe myself from the outside. As in “I can tell I’m really overwhelmed with emotion right now. This is when I need to feel the feels, write it out, take some time to process. This is not the time to interact or problem-solve.” And then later followed by “I can tell my body is calm and my mind is clear. Now is a good time to brainstorm solutions and discuss issues with other parties involved.”
Similarly, practicing meditation can be great for clearing an overwhelmed mind. Personally, I’m not into long sessions and I don’t follow a particular routine, but I like to do mini-meditations on an as-needed basis.
I have also found great benefit in cognitive techniques for managing stress and overstimulation. Like questioning your automatic thought patterns and deliberately thinking through fears and worries.
But even with all that being said, what I wish everyone would understand is that…
You can NOT think your sensitivities away
You can use emotional intelligence and meditation and visualizations and cognitive techniques to help reduce stress and help cope with being sensitive, but being a highly sensitive person is a physical reality that you can’t think your way out of.
High sensitivity is not “a mental condition”. It’s a genetic trait that makes your nervous system more sensitive to various stressors.
No matter the mind-control techniques you employ, your nervous system will still get fired up in response to stimuli. Your body will still release cortisol under stress. Your senses will still be overwhelmed by flickering lights, loud sounds, and chemical smells. You will still pick up on other people’s moods. Going to the mall, a kid birthday party, or an amusement park for an extended period of time is still going to leave you exhausted.
This is a reality that you should not ignore. Believe me, I tried the ignoring strategy for years and it failed miserably, resulting in both mental and physical illness.
To heal myself, I had to understand that…
Maximizing your well-being as a highly sensitive person requires physical self care more than anything else
Faced with the same level of activity and stimulation, an HSP’s body will get more fired up and expend more energy than a non-HSPs body. Therefore, an HSP is going to need more down-time and rest to recover. Without that extra down-time and rest, the HSP will be vulnerable to excessive stress, burnout, and all the mental and physical health problems that follow.
And you know what? All that “mind work” – while beneficial – also takes its toll. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to spend every waking moment visualizing and rationalizing and calming myself down.
So let me tell you that…
It’s a-okay to give yourself a freakin’ break!
Take advantage of personal growth and mind tools that are out there.
But also know that you don’t have to be trying so hard every second of every day.
You don’t have to be everything to everyone.
It’s okay to close the door, dim the lights, and take a break.
It’s okay to take time all by yourself, away from all stimulants and stressors, to just be and enjoy life.
It’s okay to rest.