If you’ve always thought of yourself as different, and you found the world to be a looming and sometimes uncomfortable place to be, then you might be a highly sensitive person (HSP) like me. And, like me, if you’ve never quite been able to put your finger on who you are, or you found yourself suppressing your sensitive side, then it may have taken some time for you to come to this realization.
I am a highly sensitive person. The moment the penny drops can be both a wonderful opportunity and a terrifying prospect. Here, I’ll share with you all the thoughts that went through my head the first few moments and days beginning life as a newly discovered HSP.
‘I Found My People’
One of the most incredible things we can feel as human beings is a sense of belonging. To our family, to our friends, to our loved ones, and to the world. But as HSPs, living in a culture so focused on being “out there,” belonging isn’t something we feel often.
However, the moment you dip your toes into the huge sea of online resources created for and by HSPs is amazing. Because that water is warm and inviting, and you wish you had dived in sooner.
You might find yourself nodding incessantly while scrolling through an article online, or not believing your eyes as you watch a video that describes you better than you could have described yourself. I found myself grinning stupidly on the subway as I listened to episode after episode of the Highly Sensitive Person Podcast, enjoying how comforting it felt to relate to someone so completely.
Cherish those moments when you feel like a wolf who has finally found its pack, or a lone mountain climber stumbling into camp. Because it must have been a long, hard journey to get there.
That journey is by no means over yet.
‘My Future Looks Hopeless’
Your worst fears have been confirmed. Your friends, your parents, that ex — they were right. I’m sensitive. Highly sensitive. And it feels awful.
When I first accepted the fact that I am an HSP, the color drained from my world. When I first read that, on average, HSPs are less happy in romantic relationships than non-HSPs — even though they crave intimacy and deep emotional bonds — my stomach lurched. It felt like my life had already been written for me, and it was chapter after chapter of emotional pain, along with constant overthinking and never fitting in. The first few days after accepting the fact, I stayed in bed more than usual.
But soon the sulking stopped. As I cautiously opened my laptop and waded into the waters of the HSP sea, another thought popped into my head.
‘My Future Looks Bright’
Yes, you’re different. To be exact, only one in five are like you.
But that doesn’t mean it’s time to pack up your bags and call it quits. Because you can make it work. If you’ve felt helpless for much of your life — and chances are you have — then the knowledge of your sensitivity should give you some control.
With time to think and advice from others, you’ll start to see your new discovery as a boon rather than a curse. Those things you thought were wrong with you? They’re not wrong, and they’re most certainly not your fault! This world you feel so ill-fitting in? Time to start cutting yourself some slack and surrounding yourself with like-minded people.
I used to beat myself up for being so sensitive. I thought something was wrong with me. I used to think I was anti-social because I disliked small talk, and that I was boring, because my mind went blank in crowded rooms. Whenever I felt overwhelmed by a situation, I pushed myself even harder. And of course, no good came of it — it only made things worse.
After some self-reflection, I decided to try some new tactics. Things like taking a “time out” at parties and sitting in an empty room when I felt overwhelmed. Drinking cider instead of vodka and tea instead of coffee (HSPs can be sensitive to alcohol and caffeine). Preferring books to bars and Netflix to nights out. Soon I felt as though my days were becoming easier and my mind was becoming lighter.
Of course, there is a fine line between appreciating your sensitivity and living life as a hermit. As Elaine Aron describes in her book, The Highly Sensitive Person, there is a danger of living a life that’s “too in.”
If you’re reading this in the wake of discovering your HSP-ness, take a few days to appreciate your gift. Appreciate how vividly you experience the world and how deep your mind goes. Enjoy the strength of the stimuli around you and how empathetic you can be. When you feel overstimulated, take time to recover. Put on your long socks and PJs, boil the kettle, and relax.
‘What Do I Do Now?’
Learning that you’re an HSP is a huge discovery. There are endless online articles to read, videos to watch, and shelves of books to devour. You might find yourself wanting to reevaluate your whole life with this new perspective you’ve acquired. Perhaps most of all, you want to meet other people like you.
That’s a hefty to-do list. No matter how hard you try, you won’t finish it for a while.
Embracing your sensitivity can feel like a huge milestone, but it’s not going to change your life overnight. You might find yourself brimming with an excitement for life that you’ve rarely ever felt. You might have the desire to explore coffee shops, libraries and parks, and all the quiet places in the world. Or, you might find the weight of the world on your shoulders and the rest of your life already written.
Most HSPs appreciate both the positives and negatives of their trait. Fundamentally, it is a neutral one, like having brown eyes or being left-handed. But if you’ve recently learned this about yourself, it may seem all too much. It might be hard to see how perfectly the pros balance the cons.
Take solace in the fact that life is a marathon, not a sprint. Whatever happens, there are people out there who are just like you.
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