12 Ideas for Sensitive Introverts to Make a Difference in the World (Without Getting Overwhelmed)

a yellow balloon representing a sensitive introvert making a difference in the world

Headlines are blaring the latest bad news. Social media is lit up with this week’s outrage. And, all around you, you can see examples of people who are suffering, animals and plants that are struggling, and serious needs on so many levels that are not being addressed.

In times like these, you may wish that you had less sensitivity. Life as an empathetic, sensitive introvert — or perhaps a highly sensitive person — is often overwhelming. And that’s even more true when it comes to being the change you want to see.

After all, you may want to take action in some way, but you don’t know what to do that will be impactful without overwhelming you.

You may already have your hands full because your relatives, friends, coworkers, neighbors, strangers, plants, and animals are already clamoring for your assistance.

Or you might feel inadequate because you aren’t the one dragging people out of burning buildings. You aren’t the one rushing into war zones to cover the atrocities.

You might even be falling into despair or anxiety about the state our world is in.

It can all make you want to stay curled up in bed, hidden away from our crazy world. But you need to understand that your sensitivity and introversion are strengths. Being perceptive, empathetic, introspective, and compassionate are skills that the world needs. Desperately.

Here are 12 ideas I’ve used to create change anyway (without the burnout).

12 Ideas for Sensitive Introverts to Make a Difference

1. Get in touch with the activities and skills that bring you joy, meaning, and fulfillment.

Then, use your creativity to turn one (or more!) of them into a community-building effort or a service project that will change minds and hearts.

Design a project that will spread more love. That will soften the divide and reduce the fear. It doesn’t have to grow into a global phenomenon — but it might.

You may hesitate because you feel that whatever you do won’t be grand enough. Won’t be perfect enough. Don’t let that stop you; these projects can and do grow into movements.

2. Use the internet to find people who are already making a difference in the ways that work best for you. Join them.

Have you heard of the Craftivist Collective? They combine crafting and activism to make items for those in need or to create handmade alternatives to consumer products. (They also have a lovely philosophy: “Our gentle protest approach to craftivism aims to change the world with deliberate, thoughtful actions that provoke reflection and respectful conversation instead of aggression and division.”)

A similar group is called Badass Herstory; check them out. I had no idea that craftivism was a thing until a client told me about it!

Of course, not everyone practices the crafting arts. But there are many options — maybe a solar power collective or, if you garden and grow healthy food, a Gleaners Group to provide nutritional fruit and veggies to those in need.

No matter what your passion is, or how “quiet” and solitary it may be, there’s likely a group that could help you use it to make a difference.

3. Start a Silent Book Club in your town.

The idea is that it’s a low-pressure book club that’s focused on reading, not talking. People each read a book of their own choosing, and at least one hour is silent reading in the same room. After the silent period there’s an (optional!) chance to talk about what you’re reading and hear what others are reading — but the reading itself is the main act.

Soothing, right?

But wait, you might say, this doesn’t sound like a service project! Well, first off, spreading the love of reading has got to be a good thing — especially if you’re providing community for people who would be turned off by more discussion-focused groups. And you could certainly choose to read books with a broader social message, adding more tools to your own toolkit and possibly inspiring others during the optional discussion.

You can even start your own silent book club here.


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4. Use art as a way to influence others.

Explore organizations that promote the power of art, such as this one.

Its mission is to: “[P]ersuade by creating moving experiences that prompt people to question the world as it is, imagine a world as it could be, and join together to make that new world real…”

Since so many introverts and sensitive people are creatives, wouldn’t it be nice to use that creative work to also transform lives?

5. Choose to do some deep psychotherapy around family-of-origin behaviors, patterns, and beliefs.

These are the patterns of behavior you learned growing up, the ones that are your default “toolkit” of how you communicate, handle emotions, and get your needs met. They are deep-seated, usually unconscious, and they can be healthy or profoundly unhealthy.

And, spoiler alert, no matter how “normal” an upbringing someone has, most of us have at least some unhealthy patterns. If we don’t deal with them, we end up passing them on to the next generation, perpetuating the cycle.

You can stop the cycle of abuse in your family line. Find your strength and your voice so that you can relate to others from your own self-compassionate place. Ultimately, it’s not only healthy for you personally — it’s also a way of improving the world for others, especially those you live with, work with, or raise from a young age.

6. Join with climate activists in your state.

Find out how to take action that will influence policy and promote real change. Unlike other forms of activism, many (not all) of the best strategies for climate activism are silent — they revolve around the political steps you take to pressure officials, the choices you make as a consumer, and your personal habits.

Want suggestions on how to begin? I recommend reading this book by Mary DeMocker.

7. Start a blog or write a book.

You might choose to become a psychotherapist who works with sensitive, empathetic, rainforest-minded souls. (If these adjectives describe you, you can see my blog here or peek at my book.) In my case, my mission is simple: helping these individuals do their inner work will also enable them to contribute in the outer world.

But even a simple, one-person blog (or Instagram account, Youtube series, etc.) can be a force for change if it inspires and helps others take action. Your focus may be different from mine, but the impact you can make is just as substantial.

8. Remind yourself: Just because you can sense someone’s pain does not mean you’re responsible for fixing it.

When you are highly sensitive, that often includes the capacity to feel the emotions of others. You can walk into a room and sense that someone is angry or grieving. It can be hard to not feel responsible for helping when you can see the problem. But, it is complicated. There is a lot that you don’t know. It is not always the best choice to step in. And you are not responsible for fixing everyone’s pain.

You will need to set limits on your helping. I’m not saying that you should shirk your responsibilities. I’m suggesting that it’s healthy to set boundaries and limits some of the time. You can send love to someone who is suffering without taking direct action. If you believe in a spiritual source, you can send spiritual energy, too.

9. Pace yourself.

Just because you can do some things faster, better, and more easily than other people, does not mean that you always have to do that something.

This may be difficult if you have been the family member who everyone relies on or if you survived in your family by taking care of others. If you are very capable in many areas, it can be hard to know what to do and what not to do.  But it is impossible and inappropriate for you to do everything you could possibly do. Exhausting yourself? Not recommended.

Look for the times when you are drawn to something because it is energizing. Head in that direction. You can be influential and of service while at the same time being motivated and fulfilled. In fact, you will be more effective when your heart is singing.

10. You may need to get toxic people out of your life.

Your ability to effect change in the world isn’t just about the outer work you do. It’s also about whether you have the healthy, safe, calm space in your life to do that work at your best — especially if you’re a sensitive or empathetic introvert with a limited “battery.”

And getting that space may involve disconnecting from some toxic people.

This is not easy. But chances are, they will get help elsewhere if you step away. You may be enabling them by letting them rely on you. You’ll probably feel guilt. Try to let go of the guilt. Get support from friends and skillful practitioners. Everyone benefits when you stand up for yourself in healthy ways.

One of the best resources I can recommend for this is Christiane Northrup’s book, Dodging Energy Vampires.

11. Self-care needs to be part of your strategy.

Ever heard of activism burnout? It’s real. And it’s avoidable.

You are not a wimp if you need to rest. Finding ways to renew yourself will give you the energy and compassion to help when you are really needed. Self-care is not selfish. For introverts, it is particularly important to respect your needs for alone time and for limiting your social activities — and yes, even the most soul-fulfilling activism work can have the same impact on your energy as a networking event, party, or other activity. You need to plan the recovery time you need, and use the methods that work best for you to maintain your energy.

When you are refreshed, you can do your best work. Make a list of things to do that feel nourishing and uplifting. Then make a plan to do them.

12. Determine if you have a rainforest mind. Knowing this will help you navigate with more confidence in today’s challenging times.

People with rainforest minds are highly sensitive, empathetic, curious, intelligent, and socially responsible. They can often feel despair because of the suffering they see in their communities and in their world. They also tend to be perfectionists and introspective. Often they feel lonely because others don’t relate to their thirst for learning and their intense emotions.

You may already know if you have a rainforest mind, but if you’re not sure, this quiz will help.

If this is you, you are not alone! And it will change the way you go about your activism both because you’ll understand yourself better, and you’ll be able to leverage your strengths without the drain and despair.

Seek What ‘Magnifies Your Spirit’ — and Follow It

You’ll need nourishment and nurturing so that you can build your social responsibility plan. Here is some final insight from Maria Popova:

Seek out what magnifies your spirit. Patti Smith [talks about] writers and artists who magnified her spirit — it’s a beautiful phrase and a beautiful notion. Who are the people, ideas, and books that magnify your spirit? Find them, hold on to them, and visit them often. Use them not only as a remedy once spiritual malaise has already infected your vitality but as a vaccine administered while you are healthy to protect your radiance.

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Paula Prober is a licensed psychotherapist, consultant, author, blogger, and tango dancer in private practice in Eugene, Oregon. She consults internationally with gifted adults and parents of gifted children. Her book, Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth, was released in June 2016. She blogs at Your Rainforest Mind, a blog in support of the excessively curious, creative, smart, and sensitive. Paula’s new book, Journey into Your Rainforest Mind: A Field Guide for Gifted Adults and Teens, Book Lovers, Overthinkers, Geeks, Sensitives, Brainiacs, Intuitives, Procrastinators, and Perfectionists, will be released by the end of June 2019. You can find it on Amazon here.