Do you believe there is something wrong with you because you have been told that you are “too sensitive?” If you have the gift of high sensitivity, or if you are partnered with a highly sensitive person, it’s vitally important to understand this soul gift.
Hi everyone. Dr. Margaret Paul here with the Inner Bonding Podcast. And today I will be talking about what it means to be highly sensitive person, what the challenges are, and how important it is to value this gift.
Many of us, when we were growing up, frequently heard, “Don’t be so sensitive,” or “You are too sensitive.”
When I heard this – over and over – I assumed it meant that there was something wrong with me. Because most other people didn’t seem to have my level of sensitivity, I thought I was an alien.
It’s important to understand that the kind of sensitivity I’m talking here is the kind that was researched by author Dr. Elaine Aron. She has discovered that 15-20% of both the human and animal population, are born with nervous systems that are more sensitive to various kinds of stimuli than the rest of the population. In indigenous societies, these highly sensitive people were the shamans and medicine men and women. Our left-brain society has diminished the value of high sensitivity and has even, at times, ridiculed it.
What I’m not referring to is the kind of sensitivity that occurs when the wounded self is in charge and you take everything personally – when people need to walk on eggs around you because you are so reactive and you blame them for your feelings.
Reading Elaine Aron’s book, The Highly Sensitive Person, was life changing for me. If you haven’t read her book, I strongly recommend that you do, or at least take the free Highly Sensitive Test by putting HSP test into a search. http://hsperson.com/test/highly-sensitive-test/.
While being highly sensitive is a gift, it isn’t an easy gift, because 80-85% of people experience life differently than you do, which can lead highly sensitive children to feel very different than other kids and to assume, as I did, that there is something wrong with them.
I’m talking about this because the majority of people who find their way to Inner Bonding are highly sensitive or are with a highly sensitive partner or have a highly sensitive child, and many of them believe that there is something wrong with them for their sensitivity, or there’s something wrong with their partner or their child.
The more you read about and come to understand your high sensitivity or the high sensitivity of someone you love, the easier it will be for you to cherish this gift.
It’s important to learn to Love yourself with your high sensitivity, which means that you learn to deeply value your ability to perceive subtle energies – both positive and negative. It means that you deeply value your perception of people’s feelings and moods. It means that you deeply value your rich inner life, and how profoundly you are affected by art or music, and by the environment you are in.
You also need to learn to value how easily you can become overwhelmed, and make sure you set up your life in a way that isn’t overwhelming. Highly sensitive people can become easily frazzled when too much is going on at the same time, or you have too many things to do at once, or people are making too many demands on you at the same time. One of the reasons I’m a list-maker is that knowing exactly what I need to do at any given moment of a workday keeps me relaxed rather than overwhelmed. People around me know that they can’t throw too much at me at once, and they respect this – because I respect it.
Another thing is that I don’t watch violent movies or the news. I glean news from others but watching the news can scare me and keep me up at night. My nervous system can’t manage the violence that is generally part of the daily news, nor can I handle hearing about people’s meanness to each other. If I’m going to watch anything on TV, I want it to be something inspiring or about nature or animals, rather than something scary, which the news often is.
One of my highly sensitive clients said to me, as I was helping her understand her high sensitivity, “I’ve been trying to put my square peg into a round hole all my life. I do get overwhelmed when people come at me with too much yet haven’t created the boundaries to avoid this. Out of my fear of rejection, I’ve tried to push myself to be different. I’ve allowed myself to be cajoled into watching violent, heartbreaking movies, even though they leave me terribly upset. I’m going to honor that preference from here out.”
I’m deeply grateful for my high sensitivity because it enables me to do the work with others that I do. While I used to wish I could just let things roll off my back like so many others can, I now fully accept that not being able to do this is part of the package of high sensitivity, and I fully accept this as intrinsic to who I am.
Loving yourself means cherishing all aspects of your essence, including your high sensitivity. I hope, if you are a highly sensitive person, that you learn to value this gift in yourself, and if you are not a highly sensitive person, I hope you learn to value this quality in others – particularly if you are partnered with a highly sensitive person.
Many of the highly sensitive people who are drawn to Inner Bonding are people who had painful experiences regarding their sensitivity during their growing up years. As a result, instead of valuing this wonderful gift, they think there is something wrong with them for their sensitivity. When 80-85% of other people are different than you and if no one in your family learned to value your sensitivity, it is easy to conclude that there is something wrong with you.
Highly sensitive people have different levels of sensitivity in different areas. Some are very sensitive to sound, or to light, or to smells and taste, or to fabrics and textures. Some are highly sensitive to energy – to electromagnetic energy or to people’s energy. Some are highly empathic and are very sensitive to feelings – both human and animal. Some highly sensitive people feel overwhelmed by the energy of having a lot of people around. Some are very tuned into the energy of spirit and have an easy time hearing or even seeing spiritual beings, or to seeing the aura of our soul that is around us.
I want to share with you some of the great value that I have discovered in being a highly sensitive person.
I was an only child born into parents who both had a very low level of sensitivity. As a result, my level of sensitivity was an enigma to them, and probably a bit scary for them. One of the forms my sensitivity took is being able to deeply feel what others are feeling. When I felt my parent’s feelings and asked them about it, they would get very flustered and go into denial about what I was experiencing regarding their feelings. As a result, I learned to mistrust this empathic ability, and spent many years of inner work reclaiming it.
Now I know it to be a great gift, as there is no way that I could be doing the work that I do if I did not have high sensitivity to people’s feelings. In addition, while I know that everyone has the ability to access their spiritual guidance through their intent to learn, I have been able to develop this ability to a very high level. In my work with people, I not only hear my guidance, I hear theirs as well, and am guided by spirit in all my work.
Instead of thinking of your sensitivity as a liability, I encourage you to learn to deeply value and utilize the gift you have been given. You ARE different, but in a very positive way that can enhance your own and others’ experience of life.
Alana asked me the following question:
“My whole life I have felt that I don’t fit in with others – in my family, school, work – and while I have a pleasant, friendly demeanor, I also have an underlying self-consciousness, and end up attracting rejection. Aside from my children and pets, I’m quite alone…and lonely! How do I tackle this dynamic?”
There are several issues here that need attention.
When someone says, as Alana did, “My whole life I have felt that I don’t fit in with others…” I not only suggest that they to read “The Highly Sensitive Child,” by Elaine Aron, but also “Quiet,” by Susan Cain. Often, when people feel they don’t fit in, it is because they are highly sensitive introverts. Being both highly sensitive and an introvert, as Alana likely is and as I am, can lead to feeling that we don’t fit in. These books were so helpful to me in understanding why I always felt so different than most other people.
What’s important for Alana is to stop judging herself and rejecting herself and start learning to value her high sensitivity and introversion. Others tend to treat us the way we treat ourselves, and the fact that she says she has “…an underlying self-consciousness” indicates that she may be judging and rejecting herself for her high sensitivity and introversion. Self-consciousness comes from self-judgment, and self-judgment is a powerful way of rejecting oneself.
Even though Alana says she has “a pleasant, friendly demeanor,” what others likely pick up is the energy of her self-rejection and then she ends up, as she said, “attracting rejection.”
To tackle this dynamic, she needs to learn to fully value and accept herself. This means accepting that even though she IS different from others, she needs to learn to value these differences instead of judging them.
I would not be able to do the deep level of healing work I do with people if I were not a highly sensitive person. I would not have the depth of understanding that I do, of human behavior, if I were not a very observant introvert. I deeply value these qualities within me, and if you identify with these qualities, I encourage you to learn to value them within yourself.
Many people in Inner Bonding Village have responded to articles I’ve written regarding this topic of high sensitivity. I’m sharing some of their comments here because their experiences might help you to understand some of your experiences.
Rachel said: “Its only recently I started to learn to see and value my sensitivity and learn to respect it also – most of my life I always thought I had to be like the others and thought there was something wrong with me – I forced myself a lot to do things that were against my nature and the negative impact it has been for me. I’m grateful to Inner Bonding and to be able to be more in touch with myself and value this highly sensitive side of me.”
Lily said: “I use to feel shame about my sensitivities, I am now so proud to be highly sensitive. Where I can get into trouble is when others don’t feel as deeply as I feel, and I have some judgments. Then I remember I am the minority!”
Erin said: “One of my issues with high sensitivity is melding myself with other’s perspectives when I am too deeply attuned to them. I focus entirely on attuning to their inner experience, to the point where I start seeing it as my own reality. When others are in a darker space, that leaves me feeling heavy. I have a hard time separating what is “reality” vs. what is just this particular person’s experience – and finding my sense of self again afterwards.”
Maddie responded to Erin: “I have the same problem. I feel scattered when around folks with ADD, depressed around depressed folks, and so on. I’ve read Judith Orloff’s book on protecting oneself as a HSP. I still have to be rather selective about who I hang out with. I belong to several fun clubs where I’m often at events with people I don’t know. I have to honor my desire to switch tables when the vibes from people feel toxic or I just don’t enjoy the event.
Maddie went on to respond to Erin’s difficulty regarding what is her reality and what is someone else’s reality. She said, “I’ve had the same issue in the past, but now I tune into my body, my feelings, and my guidance and I trust that more than anyone else’s reality. When you deeply trust your own inner knowing, it becomes easy to know reality. I find that my feelings and my guidance let me know instantly what the truth is, so I need to notice it immediately. When you are an empathic person, it’s too easy to bypass your instant knowing and then merge with the other person. This is when empaths have problems. We need to stay vigilant with ourselves to not merge with others.”
DeeDee came into the discussion and also responded to Maddie: “Yes, that’s exactly it. It feels like being at the mercy of an emotional whirlwind, and suddenly I feel like I am a completely different person. I watch a dark film and suddenly I am dark, I hear an upbeat song and suddenly I am super into life. I speak with a paranoid person and fears go nuts. It is emotionally exhausting. When you are an empathic person, it’s too easy to bypass your instant knowing and then merge with the other person. I get an initial gut feeling, and then bypass it for the sake of connecting with the person. I need to endure the feeling of disconnection and loneliness with others, in order to remain connected with myself.”
Brenda chimed in: “I have been remembering how my sensitivity was often a problem when I was a child. I was unnerved by large gatherings of people, wanted to hide away, and I was always forced to come out and hug people I didn’t know or didn’t even like. I hated that. And I was very sensitive to the emotions of others. Mama always told me not to hold people accountable for things they didn’t say, even if it was clear what they were feeling towards me. That confused me. I always fantasized about being able to heal people empathically: I thought my awareness ought to be good for something. I think that even contributed to my codependency: if I could heal or ‘fix’ someone, then I wouldn’t have to keep feeling their pain and upset. I never succeeded in fixing anyone, but I still try, far too often.”
Angie shared and asked for help: “I volunteer in a senior center and yesterday, my last client was quite hostile and condescending. I physically felt her energy shoot right into my center, causing me to feel outside myself, unable to concentrate, being psychically ‘whacked.’ I maintained ‘control’ but realized later that some of the things I said came from being angry at her hostile put-downs. What can I do to protect myself so that when this happens, I am exposed to someone’s angry energy, I am not so affected? This has been a problem all my life. I end up getting physically sick and growing up wished I didn’t feel things so acutely. It seemed that others in my family and peer group had a tougher skin growing up. I was always told I am too sensitive.”
One of our Inner Bonding Facilitators, responded:
“Hi Angie. When someone is hostile and condescending to me, I know I have choices. I can see if the person is open to learning about why he or she is so hostile. I can also set a boundary that if the behavior continues, I will leave. Often someone who is acting condescending is closed and in a very wounded state, so I need a strong inner loving adult to remove myself from the situation. I find that no matter what I choose I still need to remind my inner child that this isn’t about him. The more you stay connected to your feelings so you know what doesn’t feel good and the more you stay connected to your guidance so you know what loving action you need to take, the more your inner child will feel protected!”
Another Inner Bonding facilitator responded to Angie:
“I can relate to how you feel when someone is hostile toward you. Just a couple of weeks ago I felt as though my spirit was sucked right out of me after someone’s hostile comment. I came home and I called a friend and did Inner bonding. I realized that it’s about her and her woundedness and has nothing to do with me. I cannot abandon my inner child when someone is very aggressive toward me. I also have to be careful not to judge myself when I am feeling hurt. That’s the signal to choose an intent to learn. I am also a sensitive person, and it has taken me a while to learn how to stay connected to my core while being ‘attacked’ verbally. I have learned not to take their wounded behavior personally. Before I see someone who might be hostile, I prepare myself by breathing and connecting with my core. If you can imagine a clear plexiglass shield between you and this person while it’s happening that helps too.”
Another member responded to Angie: “I can relate to your situation. I too have been told I am too sensitive. I do not like confrontation and can feel negative energy. It’s uncomfortable for me, and I’m not sure how to make myself feel safe. I like the suggestion about the clear wall. I was just in a living situation with my sister-in-law that ended in a negative way. The energy was really uncomfortable for me for a few months while we were searching for our own apartment. I wasn’t sure what to do at the time. I just kept to myself and didn’t say much. I usually don’t know what to say when I find myself in a discussion that is emotionally charged for me. I have a tendency to just cry. I start to feel hot and trapped and feel that I need to escape. I’ve made some progress in discussing with my husband and others when there are differences. but I’m not where I want to be.”
Highly sensitive people do have a tendency to cry and feel trapped when they have not yet developed a loving adult to step in to taking loving care of themselves – to either speak up with an intent to learn or speak up and disengage.
Another member offered this help: “I don’t know if this helps, but a facilitator recently gave me some good feedback about this kind of thing. She made this whirling motion with one hand, and then the other hand was steady, and said to set my intention on remaining calm (like the steady hand). Seeing hostility simply as agitation of the spirit, and as a lot of loose, unhinged energy helped me take the scariness out of it and seeing my goal as ‘staying calm’ gave me an emotional direction that somehow made sense. Sometimes ‘staying in my power’ or ‘staying detached’ doesn’t make sense to me, but ‘calm’ is an emotional state that I can recognize and navigate towards. No matter what someone is coming at me with, if it’s agitated, whirly-burly energy, I can choose to stay calm in the face of it, or at least attempt to. Maybe if you find ways to calm yourself, even just by saying ‘I’m staying calm,’ you’ll experience some relief.”
Another of our facilitators responded to Angie: “One of my family nicknames was ‘the princess and the pea’, which translates as, ‘too sensitive’. You were very sensitive as a child and you were exposed to harsh anger, AND were shamed for the feelings this stimulated in you. Given this, it is not surprising that anger ‘whacks’ you now. You are energetically returning to these very scary childhood times.
“Do you have a connection with your guidance with whom you feel very loved and safe? If you do, I would encourage you to relax yourself, and with your guidance for company, go back to a time when you were yelled at and shamed. Then take loving adult action on behalf of yourself as a child. You might tell the angry adult to stop, and physically remove your child to a safe place and then comfort her. You might tell her you are going to do your best from now on to stay with her and protect her so she never has to feel that horrible sick feeling again. Your guidance can help you.
“In addition, it can be very helpful to have your guidance continually with you as you go through the day, if there is a chance you will be encountering the kind of anger you described. You can even create or ask to meet additional spirit guides that your inner child feels especially safe with. I recently met a black panther that now goes with me everywhere. The feeling of safety my little girl experiences in his presence is quite tangible–exactly as if she had a real panther ready to protect her.”
Another member wrote: “I bought ‘The Highly Sensitive Person’ quite a few years ago. I read a bit of it, took the test and realized that I am highly sensitive. That’s as far as it went. This weekend I took the book down from my bookshelf and started to read it again. I realize I have an aspect of my wounded self that has been both abandoning and resisting this part of me, just like my mother did. I am aware of a strange confusion inside of me that is waking up. How could I have spent so many years being against myself?”
I responded, saying to her: “Since you were brought up in a family that was not highly sensitive and did not support high sensitivity, you likely felt you needed to suppress who you are to feel a part of your family. Our society does not support high sensitivity so you might have felt you needed to be different than you are to not be alone. We all have a deep need to belong, so when our high sensitivity is not valued, we learn to abandon that part of ourselves.”
I hope, if you are a highly sensitive person or you live with a HSP, that you learn to honor and value this gift. Rejecting your high sensitivity is rejecting a very wonderful aspect of yourself.
I hope you join me for my 30-Day at-home Course: “Love Yourself: An Inner Bonding Experience to Heal Anxiety, Depression, Shame, Addictions and Relationships.”
You can learn so much about loving yourself and creating loving relationships from my recent books:
- And my newly released book, How to Become Strong Enough to Love: Creating Loving Relationships Through the Six-Step Pathway of Inner Bonding
And we have much to offer you at our website at https:www.innerbonding.com.
I’m sending you my love and my blessings.