What It’s Like Being a Highly Sensitive Person in a Caring Profession

IntrovertDear.com highly sensitive person caring profession

I am an English teacher and a highly sensitive person (HSP). That sounds like an introduction at HSP Anonymous, but seriously, it needs to be said.

I am in a caring profession — teaching. Those of you in a caring profession know just how heavy our days can be. Caring all day every day is just plumb exhausting, isn’t it?

In addition to loving people all day, I teach English, which means I also love words. This, my friends, is a double whammy. I live and die by words. Happy words = a happy day. Mean words = a bad day.

I have always been sensitive to the words spoken around me, about me, over me, to my face, behind my back, what I read, listen to, or watch. As an HSP, the words in my life affect me to the utmost degree.

Thus, I cry at Hallmark movies. I cry when my students write beautiful words. I definitely cry over coworkers and bosses and other work “word drama.”

It all leaves me sometimes asking my husband, “Can I just go lie down? I can be with the family in about thirty minutes; I just need some time to recover from my day.”

Maybe you are like me:

  • You drive to pick up your child from school in utter silence, just to have a break from the cacophony of words that have been hurled at you for the duration of your work day.
  • You listen more than you speak, especially come nightfall, because you are word-laden and feeling heavy.
  • You would rather write or text because you can curate your diction for your friends and family.
  • Sometimes, if you are caught off guard, it takes you too long to form proper sentences out loud, so it is best to have time to think and compose your words.
  • You almost always let your phone go to voicemail. You have to think of exactly what needs to be said in response before calling back.

And those are just ordinary days.

My Caring Can Only Do So Much

Let’s talk about big moments in the caring profession. I was named Teacher of the Year (TOY) in my former school district, and I literally had the out-of-body experience of having no idea what I said when I was called to the microphone. You might be thinking, Shouldn’t you have prepared a speech?

Nope. Because I never saw it coming. The greatest honors in my professional career have always been absolute surprises to me, because I rarely see anything positive coming my way. Often, I am too busy chewing the cud over my latest blunder. Yes, friends, I am 150 percent hard on myself about everything. Everything.

I have rarely gotten the things in my career I really wanted, pursued, and made myself perseverate over. I never wanted TOY — honestly, just Department Chair would have been nice. Oddly enough (or maybe not — maybe this is the crux of my problem), the things I obsess over are the small potatoes instead of the big picture.

Is it in my highly sensitive nature to obsess over things I cannot control? I know those of you in caring professions — the social workers, nurses, counselors, pastors, and professors — know what I mean. We work in the field of making humans’ lives better, easier, or just plain different. Yet we control absolutely none of the outcomes. We know good and well we can’t, because we cannot even completely control our own.

On the upside, sometimes our students, clients, or patients take our bait and accept our help. But mostly, what can we even control? Not much. That’s the rub as an HSP in a caring job — my caring can only do so much. I have to make peace with the end of my road every single day, and definitely every single June and August as a teacher.

But you know, it sure would be nice if being conscientious was valued in my field — when did mediocrity become so cool?

Rejection Spins Me Into a Trap of Overthinking

Pray tell, how in the world do you get ahead when you care too much about words and people? That is not a rhetorical question. Please email me if you have figured this out, because I am a youngish (mid-thirties) mom and wife who aspires to move a little up the proverbial ladder. And can I be honest? I want to be “comfortable enough” to not think twice about adding guacamole to my Chipotle order or upgrading my Great Wolf Lodge room without having to sacrifice something else.

So I went for a promotion. I studied the office politics. I created a portfolio and binder of artifacts for my interview. I got my nails done because manicures matter — they correlate to self-confidence in my book.

Nevertheless, I did not get the job. Can I just go lie down?

As a fellow HSP, you probably already know how many hours I fretted and texted and asked for reassurance from loved ones and hugged my dog with anxious cleaves over this opportunity! My chickens had already been counted. They always are, because we HSPs often go that extra mile down Fantasy Lane. When we wind up on Rejection Way, the cul-de-sac of Self-Loathing, Chocolate, and Whatevers is just oh-so-depressing.

When rejected “big” at work or otherwise, I go into full-on Word Attack mode, culling through every conversation, text, or email. I think over what I said or did not say to who and why. It is a tangled mind trap I weave when I am rejected.

Maybe it is because I care too much, and I should not care that much about work. I need to find the off valve and only care to the millionth degree about home and family.

Ha! If only I could. I genuinely love kids and words. I just do. Teaching is my thing. I tried selling insurance — not for me. No metaphors, similes, or genuine human connection there. Sorry, Proverbial Charlie. I am an educator through and through.

So here I go again, back to my classroom with little pay, and as you probably know, dear reader, little respect from the greater part of society. Frankly, sometimes it seems the respect from students is waning as well. Even administrators are fewer and farther between who truly get the real deal teachers anymore — the ones who worry because they care.

Care About Your Own Well-Being, Too

Do you know where all that overthinking landed me? Square One. And that is really okay. I will continue doing my best in my classroom. I will continue to be 100 percent me — an HSP, and a very conscientious, loving, hard-working, word-loving lady.

The best I can do (the best any of us can do) is to try to make each place and each day better than we found it, and to lay down the burdens we have falsely heaved upon our shoulders. I love myself as an HSP, and you should too. Frankly, if there were more of us HSPs who were confident in our sensitivity, we would speak up, and there would be less injustice in the world.

Part of making the world less cruel begins at home where we truly care with all our might about our own well-being. As CHSPs (Caring HSPs), if we could love ourselves, we…

  • Would not feel guilty for needing peace and quiet.
  • Would carve out much-needed time for self-care, doing more blogging, meal planning, yoga, cardio, Netflix, and rolling on the floor laughing with our children, pets, and/or significant other.
  • Would appreciate our Special Forces level of conscientiousness when it comes to preparing for job interviews, holidays, vacations, or new school years, and by golly, the world would become a darn well-oiled machine. No, just kidding. Things would still go awry. But, if we could love ourselves for our planning skills, we would sleep better at night because we trust our faithful work ethic.
  • Words might not sting as badly.

Words can bring life, and words can kill, so in 2018, my resolution is to only speak words over myself that speak life. It is time for those of us in caring professions to care as much about our own well-being as we do for those we care for day in and day out.

And then by all means, go lie down in a quiet room for awhile. You’ve earned it. 

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Read this: 27 Things People Don’t Realize You’re Doing Because You’re an HSP

Image credit: @kay.vandervort via Twenty20

  • Devon Cornelius

    Jo, I loved reading this! How often I’ve experienced similar feelings but couldn’t place their meaning or cause. You’ve captured it so well. Thank you for sharing this. I hadn’t considered myself an HSP until now.

  • Kira Wagner

    I totally hear this. I am a empath, INFJ, HSP who is also a veterinarian (the field is full of land mines labeled compassionate fatigue and scarier ones too…). I am laying down but my phone has been buzzing constantly with work stuff.

    To address one of your concerns, I think it comes down to acceptance. Accepting your behavior/responses and knowing you’d still do the same thing even if given a chance to do it differently.

    Keep up the awesome!