Compassionate. Intense. Emotional. Empathetic. Thoughtful. These are just some of the adjectives that describe highly sensitive people (HSPs), the 20 percent of the population who live with life turned all the way up.
Why? According to Dr. Elaine Aron, researcher and author of The Highly Sensitive Person, HSPs are born with a unique, finely tuned nervous system that processes stimulation deeply. From lights to sounds to other people’s emotions, HSPs see, feel, and experience it on a more intense level than most others.
And if you’re like me, all that deep processing means that sometimes you feel crazy — especially when it comes to your relationship. “Little” things that don’t bother your significant other — like the repetitive ticking of a clock or an overcrowded restaurant on a Friday night — can acutely irritate, frazzle, or even overwhelm you. Similarly, the words spoken by your partner can either be the EF5 tornado that wrecks your day or the hot air balloon that lifts you to the sun. Sometimes, being an HSP feels like a blessing, but other times, like a curse.
Are you in a relationship with one of the world’s deep feelers, thinkers, and processors? Your HSP needs to know — and feel — your love. Here are seven ways to show it.
How to Love a Highly Sensitive Person
1. Speak words that lift us up, not drag us down.
As I mentioned, words really matter to an HSP. We process them deeply, just like everything else. It’s no wonder that many HSPs have a natural gift with expressive language; they’re among the world’s most celebrated musicians and writers, for example, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Celine Dion, Barbra Streisand, Mozart, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Virginia Wolf, E.E. Cummings, Robert Frost, and many more.
When it comes to our partner (and others!), harsh words, negativity, and criticism cut right to our heart — and lodge there. Tone of voice matters. Connotations matter. I’m not saying you should walk on eggshells around an HSP, nor am I saying you shouldn’t speak your mind. But please use loving words whenever possible — and avoid pointed teasing, anger as a weapon, and unrelenting negativity.
Want to make us really feel loved? Speak the words that help us flourish: Praise us when we’ve done something great. Reminisce with us about a special memory together. Describe how beautiful (handsome) we look today.
2. Check in on us.
We may not always say when we’re hurting. We know — from intense first-hand experience — that emotions can be catching, and we may not want to spread the stress or drama around. Plus, as HSPs tend to be highly conscientious, we’re acutely aware of inconveniencing or burdening others, so we may keep our thoughts and problems to ourselves. If we’re a little quieter or more distant than usual, ask us how we’re doing. It will mean the world to us that you’ve noticed.
3. Indulge our senses.
Because our physical senses are essentially “turned up,” HSPs can be quite sensual. We each have our own personal tastes, so take the time to figure out what does it for your HSP. A fine meal, a love song from the soul, rich dark chocolate, anything of wonder or beauty or intellect — to us, these are meaning and love and all things good. Don’t be unnerved if there are tears.
4. Check your vibes.
Perceptive and observant, your HSP will notice little details about you, and we feel what you feel, sometimes literally taking on your mood or mental state as our own. If you come home stressed, pacing and venting, slamming doors and sulking, we will soon feel stressed, too. If you are positive and resilient in the face of difficulty, we will feel braver ourselves. I’m not saying to be inauthentic about your emotions (your intuitive HSP will likely notice if you are), but be aware of the vibes you’re giving off — because they affect us, too.
5. Yes to hugs, kisses, and physical touch.
But do it gently and with respect! According to Dr. Aron, HSPs can feel physical sensations (including pain) deeper than others, so certain “typical” forms of affection or love-making may be too intense for us. (On the flip side, good touch feels extra good). And some HSPs just don’t feel comfortable being touched in certain places. For example, my partner often wants to rest his hand on my leg as he’s falling asleep, but for me, it’s too stimulating and distracting, barring me from sleep.
6. Respect our limits.
There will be things that don’t make sense to you. You may not understand why we’ve burst into tears while watching an ad or why we need to leave the loud, crowded party RIGHT NOW. Or why sleep is so damn important to our mental health and wellbeing (personally, I can’t even function without a full night of it), or why “little” things become such a big deal. Do your best to not take it personally, and please try to understand that our limits may be very different from yours. That doesn’t make them wrong or invalid.
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7. Show us that you notice us — and care.
We notice when your mood suddenly changes (even if you’re trying to hide it), or if you just didn’t sleep well last night. We notice when you’re starting to get sick, or when stress is piling up. We might say something about it, or silently try to make your load a little easier today (with the kids, with chores, or whatever). But too often, we feel like others don’t return the favor. We’re often left wishing that others could see our needs and emotions as easily as we see theirs. I’m not saying you should be a mind-reader; that’s not realistic, and ultimately, it’s our responsibility to speak up for ourselves. We simply desire to be seen and heard. We know you may never be as attuned to “little” things like we are, but that’s okay, we love you as you are — that’s why we chose you. We just ask that you try. A little goes a long way.
Highly sensitive people, what would you add to this list? Let me know in the comments.
This post was originally published on Highly Sensitive Refuge, my community for HSPs.
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