What It’s Like Being a Highly Sensitive Introvert

A woman reflects on what it's like being a highly sensitive introvert.

Dear world,

I have an announcement to make. I am an introvert. I know you often see what you think is the opposite. Vivacious, bubbly, often prone to chattiness (ick), and not particularly shy at all. I know these things look far more extroverted than introverted. But, sweet world, I’m only like this about 15-20 percent of the time. When we part, I am left far emptier than when we met. Social interaction sucks the life out of me. I leave happy, but drained. Desperate for silence and to be alone.

I’m okay though. I’m not upset or angry (unless I’m completely drained). As an introvert, I just need space. Silence and alone time re-energizes me and makes me ready for the next time we meet.

Up until I was about 30 years old, I actually thought I was an extrovert. Ever the social butterfly and always up for a party. Eight years into my 30s, I’ve realized I’m almost completely the opposite (since introversion/extroversion is on a scale, I think of myself as about 75-80 percent introverted).

And through some further navel gazing, I’ve also discovered that I have lots of characteristics of a highly sensitive person (HSP). I know… when I first heard this term, I, too, thought it sounded like a big fat crock of crap. However, it’s an actual real life, scientifically validated, and fairly widely recognized personality trait.

What Is a Highly Sensitive Introvert?

If you haven’t come across this term before, here’s the lowdown:

  • Chaotic environments with lots of noise tend to overstimulate and overwhelm HSPs.
  • Too much going on at once is just downright yuck!
  • We love the status quo — changes in routine and new things often rock our boat.
  • It annoys the crap out of us when too many people want too many things — all at once. Our brains literally cannot compute and we go into lock-down. The other day, both my children were asking different things, the TV was on in the background, and the cat was meowing rather loudly for food. I had to close my eyes and cover my ears with my hands. Brain does not compute! It took all my strength to regain some kind of composure and adult myself out of that situation instead of throwing a tantrum like my inner girl really wanted to do.
  • Our nervous systems take a regular beating and we startle fairly easily.
  • We can be sensitive to smells, noise, and textures. Noise is always the biggie for me here, but I’ve also always had a super sleuth nose, and I’m prone to tactile sensitivity. Certain fabrics literally rub me the wrong way!
  • We have pretty complex inner lives. I could happily talk to myself for days on end (it might be a sign of getting older that I’m not even embarrassed to admit this), and have frequent “meetings” with myself to sort and file my thoughts.

There are other characteristics of the HSP, but the ones above are the most pertinent for me. Apparently, another characteristic is not liking violent movies. This is the only one I completely part ways with. You can’t beat a good zombie movie (I binge watched the Resident Evil trilogy when I was heavily pregnant with our first. Best. Trilogy. Ever.).

You Can Curate a Life That Respects Who You Are

Part having kids, part growing older, I’ve begun to get to know myself. Marrying into a big family, some extroverted, some not, made family get-togethers and holidays hard for awhile. I couldn’t figure out why I just wanted to escape after dinner, or sometimes after half an hour! I would literally sometimes just walk outside or to another room just for a few breaths. It was perplexing. I loved my family and I loved hanging out with them. Was something wrong with me? Long social get-togethers, like a weekend away, would sometimes leave me so drained that I felt physically and emotionally wrecked.

But, thankfully, I’ve figured out there’s nothing wrong. I’m just an introvert who also happens to be highly sensitive (about 70 percent of HSPs are introverts). And here’s the kicker: I’m totally okay with who I am. It means I’ll say no to social engagements more often. I know when I’ve had enough and need to retreat for a recharge. For me, this usually means recharging in silence, often in the company of the natural environment (forests are my thing). And silence is… well, let’s be honest, pure frickin’ GOLD.

I also suspect that these ingredients of my makeup — introversion and high sensitivity — are probably why a slower, simpler pace of life resonates so deeply with me. Knowing how you are wired and being brave enough to utilize that knowledge cuts a whole bunch of extraneous crap out of your life. You can curate and create a life that accepts and respects who you truly are.

Do you know where you sit on the introversion/extroversion scale? See signs that you’re an introvert, or take a deeper exploration of your personality type here.

Maybe you recognize some of the characteristics of the HSP in yourself? You might not like the idea of putting yourself in a box or labeling yourself, but I think boxes and labels can sometimes be helpful. I think these are valuable pieces of knowledge to have about yourself and will empower you to be the best version of yourself.

Check out our community and blog just for highly sensitive people, called Highly Sensitive Refuge — because we believe the world could use a little more of what HSPs have to give. 

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