An Open Letter to the Highly Sensitive Introvert About Authenticity

Dear Introverted Sensitive Soul,

Introversion combined with high sensitivity is beautiful, and beauty is sought after by others. When others pursue you, because you feel the need to make them happy, you decide to do things you don’t want to do and go places you don’t want to go. You say to yourself, “I only have to pretend for a little while and then I can retreat and recharge. I don’t want anyone to think I’m selfish.” Afterwards you feel drained and resentful of yourself and maybe the other person, but you dare not admit it, lest you come across as ungrateful or unwilling to compromise.

So what’s the problem here? The problem is not that you are an introvert; the problem is that because you are highly sensitive, you don’t like it when your introversion lets people down. So you continue to pretend. You don’t want people to be disappointed in you. But, my dear beautiful soul, to disappoint others for the sake of authenticity is an act of self-love.

Growing up was confusing for me and just about everyone else because people saw me as an enigma. Teachers saw that I was usually smiling or laughing; church members noticed that I could carry on mature conversations; friends knew that I could make anyone around me feel comfortable; and mom and dad knew that I had deep empathy for others. On the other hand, teachers wondered why I didn’t socialize more with classmates; church members wondered why I always went straight home after the service; friends wondered why I rarely went to parties; and my parents wondered why I spent so much time in my room (talking to my imaginary friends).

When you are sharply attuned to social cues and body language, as highly sensitive people are, you can’t help but notice when people are disappointed in you. Sometimes they even say it out loud. I remember a friend telling me, “You’re so independent,” and it wasn’t a compliment. Here are other examples:

“Why do you need so much time alone if you say that you love people?”

“Carla, you really need more friends.”

“Why are you so quiet?”

“I don’t understand why you respond to my texts but you won’t answer my calls.”

“Are your classmates being friendly to you? I’ve noticed that you’re by yourself a lot.”

“Carla, you are constantly withdrawing into your room. You might have a social problem.”

“Why won’t you come with me to the barbecue. I want to show you off!”

“You really need to get over yourself and get out of the house.”

“You’re an introvert? I’m surprised!”

It’s funny now but it wasn’t funny then! I’ve had to painstakingly process my introversion along with other aspects of myself that have been deemed socially unacceptable. Authenticity is a process. There are people such as Teal Swan who can explain the authenticity process much better than I can, but here’s my streamlined technique:

1. Get Fed Up

A desire for one thing usually arises from a desire to not have something else. My desire for authenticity arose from my desire to no longer be phony. I was exhausted. After a while, people pleasing literally made me sick. Headaches, stomach aches, sneezing attacks, you name it… these were all my body’s ways of trying to get me to stop pretending. I simply had to stop. At one point I remember hearing my heart ask me, “Why are you making yourself miserable so that everyone around you can be happy?”

2. Get Reacquainted

You would think that as introverts, we know ourselves well because we spend so much time alone, but that’s not necessarily the case. Sometimes it gets so hard dealing with people’s reactions to your complexity that you start to deny your complexity. We start to suppress the unacceptable aspects of ourselves so that we won’t have to deal with rejection. This only causes more fragmentation. So I encourage you to get reacquainted with those things you’ve abandoned. Is it weird that I’ll watch Star Trek: The Next Generation and The Real Housewives of New Jersey on the same day? Sure but who cares! The fact that I like those two shows is part of what makes me who I am. Besides, what you are is never all you are.

3. Get Romantic

You know what I realized? No one will ever know me like me and no one will ever understand me like me. I also realized that the cells in my body love me; they work hard for me every day! I started to whisper, “I love you,” to myself so that my heart, body, and mind know that I appreciate them. While I’m brushing my hair: “I love you.” While I’m driving to work: “I love you.” While I’m in the shower: “I love you.” This creates a nurturing environment in your body where authenticity can thrive.

4. Get Used to It

This is hard to say, but eventually dear one, you’re going to have to get used to letting people down. Your need for alone time will disappoint and your honesty will offend. You may even lose friends. So get ready for it. The path of authenticity is not one for the faint of heart but it is one that will preserve your heart. I make jokes about how I don’t socialize or answer my phone when I’m around others but I’m dead serious! You can be true to yourself without being rude, but disappointment is inevitable. Why is it inevitable? Because no one understands you like you. No one knows what you need like you. And no one will be with you throughout your whole life but you.

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Read this: 12 Things a Highly Sensitive Person Needs


  • Quinn says:

    I had to leave a comment on this. I’ve been like this since i can remember and i’ve even gotten “Are you your mother’s child?” since my mom is a party animal and i’m not. I recently started to get out there a bit more and meet more people, Suffice to say thats hard work. Back to the point, your article really resonated with me. Thank you Carla!

  • I’m so glad it you enjoyed it Quinn! It’s funny how people put others into boxes. Thanks for reading!

  • Cara says:

    Carla this was truly inspirational. Its unreal how so many things you said were things that i needed to hear at this very moment. You have a true gift and I look forward to reading more.

  • edith says:

    Thank you so much..I never realized I was an introvert until I decided to read my niece’s, who’s a highly sensitive person, feed..and it took me most of my life to finally admit that i was never weird and that I know what I really am, I’m enjoying the kind of freedom I’ve never felt before. Again, thank you very much.

    • Edith, Freedom feels great doesn’t it? Freedom has always been one of my core values and I was in chains until I realized who I was and what I needed. Enjoy the freedom that being true to yourself brings!

  • Dori says:

    Thank you for writing this – it is exactly what this INFJ needed to hear today!

    Just two days ago, I was with a group of classmates/friends who are planning back to back “study parties” all weekend (Friday-Sunday). I let them know that I’d be there Friday night for a few hours, but that I couldn’t make the weekends. I was flat out told by one classmate that I was really disappointing her by not agreeing to all three days. Another said, “You’d better not skip out on us over the weekend!” And still another, “I thought you were a total extrovert – these parties should be right up your alley!”

    I felt terrible. I had worked hard all year to please them and everyone else around me, and in one moment had made them all unhappy. I felt almost physically sick about being such a let down to everyone, and started to doubt my ability to be a decent friend. Then I realized that I was falling into my usual self-trap – people please until burnt out, then feel badly about my shortcomings. Well no more! Reading your article was a major eye-opener.

    I’ll be working on my authenticity and self-acceptance a lot in the coming months. It’ll be tough, but worth it! Thanks again 🙂

  • Yes Dori! Thank you so much for sharing. You know what I realize about people? Once they start to like you, they tend to want you to serve them and that stresses sensitive people like us out! I am an INFJ too and I used to think that my life purpose was to help people. Now I realize that my life purpose is to express myself openly and honestly and if people are inspired, great! On the other hand, if people are disappointed by my self-expression and authenticity…they’ll be okay!

  • forest says:

    INTJ here. My ENFP girlfriend discovered the term HSP after being frustrated with my behavior. I am glad she cares enough to do so, but I am somewhat offended by the term “Highly Sensitive Person” or “Extra Sensitive Person” since It connotes an undesirable affliction as opposed to a trait with positive/negative components.

    I spent enough time learning to relish the fact I am an introvert in a world which attempts to suppress it. Now I have to justify being “extra” or “highly” sensitive too… when I am often accused of being the opposite and consider myself rational?

    There needs to be an adjustment to the terminology.

  • I agree Forest. These labels carry connotations that are not necessarily true, but don’t feel like you have to justify yourself. The more I learn about myself, the less I need to justify myself to others and just be me!

  • Amy A says:

    I’m so messed up about this article. I found this when a friend was talking about MBTI and I looked at my own again and found this website and then this ‘letter’ and I…shoot, it hits so close to home that I am in between emotions and can only sit here. I almost wanted to scream ‘shut up’ while reading the part about what others say.
    Shoot! I don’t know how to survive being authentic!! People can be so cruel and just …boring? Not multi-faceted for sure! I have geek friends and then I have rom-com friends and rarely are they the same thing and they look at me so weird when I bring up anything else I might like!
    I have to sit on your words and come back. Thank you for writing this….I’m just trying not to be afraid of this.

    • This is all part of the process Amy! My husband is an extrovert and for the first two years of our marriage I felt like I had to push through and go to every event that we were invited to because I didn’t want to keep offending people. You may feel very different from others but that’s because you are on a different journey than others. If everyone is driving their car on a highway, and you’re up in a spaceship, of course you feel different and of course you are afraid!

  • SerenaJoy says:

    You captured my life arc. I only started to truly understand myself as introverted once I hit my forties, because I do care very much about other people and many of the people I care for and am related to are extroverted, essentially party animals of multiple generations. It hasn’t been easy striking a balance and figuring out a way to gracefully decline invitations and deflect what I consider excessive social demands.

    • This is so deeply true. I remember being in my twenties when a mentor told me that she wasn’t truly comfortable with herself until she was in her forties. I think there’s something about turning forty that sends off a signal saying, “We refuse to be people pleasers. We simply cannot!” I love it.

      • Cornelia says:

        I only want to say Thank you!

        I’ve been struggling with exhaustion for a while now and been very ill, not really knowing – or maybe not just accepting – why, and never really feeling truly understood. I know I have to change something, but I haven’t known what or how. My friends and family always have a lot of opinions of how I should live my life and what I could change to feel better, and I always have tried to please them, believing that everybody else knows best, and tried to do as they say but it never helps and I only feel worse. Often I just put on a smile and pretend that I’m OK, making everyone happy, knowing that the 80% not highly sensitive persons won’t see that inside I’m a wreck.

        Your article was spot on.

        Thanks to you I now realise that my high sensitive INFJ garden is full of rare and beautiful flowers that most of the people don’t even see and that I’ve always let everyone step wherever they please and rearrange it to fit themselves. No wonder I’m exhausted. I understand that it’s up to me now to build a fence to protect what’s truly me and not to feel bad when I see and feel the disappointment or disapproval of the ones who won’t understand.

        Once more, thank you! I see a lot of hard work in front of me, and I really hope that I can achieve my goal to be more authentic, knowing that I’m not alone.
        Love Cornelia

        • Thank so much for your comment! It really touched me because of your vulnerability. For some people, vulnerability means being more humble or less judgmental, but for people like us I think it means speaking the truth instead of being nice all the time. It’s hard but like you said, you are not alone! Be encouraged on your journey.

  • Loronda says:

    I absolutely love this article, I spent to much of my life people pleasing, doubting myself and allowing other people rejection of me turn me into some on that I am not in order to feel accepted. It really has taken this year of my life to build my self esteem up by loving on myself, being accepting of who I am.. So over being phony.. Thanks so much I cried as I read this, you really spoke to me!

  • knottynut says:

    Thank you for writing/sharing this!

  • Nessie says:

    This is beautifully correct. One of the worst types of inner prisons is when one forces a facade on themselves just so they can please society.