7 ‘Rules’ for Introverts and Highly Sensitive People to Protect Their Energy

a highly sensitive introvert protects her energy

Anyone is welcome in my world, but they must follow a few rules, because I’m choosing to no longer be manipulated or shamed for being sensitive.

I am a highly sensitive introvert, and if I’m being honest, it’s not easy being me. I am not like most other people, and sometimes I don’t fit in. I have little patience for shallow conversation, arbitrary rules, loud and disorganized environments, hate, or purposeful unkindness. I feel it immediately when we connect, and I am hyper-aware of it when we don’t. I am interested in conversations that get to the root of things. I am not interested in listening to what you think I want to hear.

That being said, I have not always been able to express these preferences. I grew up believing I was too sensitive. I formed thick barriers around myself to guard against emotion. Emotion, in my world, could and would be used against me.

Unfortunately, blocking mad or sad feelings also blocks happy ones. At that point in my life, I was not a happy person. Trying to fit in and make people approve of me was exhausting. I was not able to say no because I wanted other people’s approval, and I ended up resenting the demands that I allowed others to make of me.

A Life-Changing Realization

Later in life, I learned that I’m both an introvert and a highly sensitive person (HSP) — and this changed everything for me. To put it simply, introverts get drained by socializing, while HSPs get drained by their environment. If you’re a highly sensitive introvert, you get drained by both. About 70% of HSPs are introverts, so a lot of us fall into both categories.

(Here are some more signs you are an introvert and signs you are a highly sensitive person.)

Today I’m working toward living an authentic life, and for me, that starts with self-care. Despite all the cheerful photos posted on Instagram, self-care was a new term for me. I’ve since learned that good self-care isn’t just a bubble bath — it’s also about setting the right boundaries. Now anyone is welcome in my world, but they must follow a few rules. I’m choosing to no longer be manipulated, guilted, or shamed into doing things that don’t align with my vision for a healthy life.

You know the craziest part? I have much better relationships and a stronger sense of belonging now. So, here are seven “rules” that I follow to protect my energy that I hope will help you, too.

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7 ‘Rules’ for Sensitive Introverts

1. If you’re not nice, you don’t get to take up residence in my world.

If you’re a sensitive person, other human beings are the brightest “things” on your mental radar, all on account of our unique brain wiring. So when someone makes passive-aggressive comments, sensitive people notice. Personally, I usually don’t acknowledge those comments, but you better believe I caught them. Likewise, when the conversation veers toward gossip, it can be easy to get sucked into the negativity, and it always makes me feel awful just for having participated in any way.  And, if you talk down to me or make me feel judged for not liking what you like, that’s not okay either.

Sure, I will be gracious to you if we come in contact, like passing each other in the hallway at work, but you are not welcome in my home, nor will I attend any of your social functions. The energy that emanates from negativity is like poison to sensitive people, and it’s dangerous to our mood and outlook to absorb. So, fellow HSP, avoid these exhausting people at all costs.

2. No takers.

Many sensitive people and introverts tend to be givers by nature. Empathetic and caring, we want to lend a hand (or ear) whenever possible. But there will always be some people who abuse our generosity. These people are called takers, according to psychologist Adam Grant, and they focus only on getting as much as they can from others. Spending too much time with them actually makes me feel physically sick from the exhaustion.

You know the type. These are the ones who always want something, are always complaining, or are always playing the victim. Or the one who always has to one-up you: “Well, if you think that’s bad, you should hear about what happened to me.” These people will suck you dry of your mental and physical energy if you allow them to. If they could, they would have you taking their children to soccer practice and making them dinner while they’re at the spa!

3. Stop the glorification of busy.

We live in a culture that glorifies being busy. If you’re not constantly running around, getting things done, then you’re not productive, maybe even lazy. However, this is not the case, especially for sensitive people and introverts, who need more downtime than others to recharge.

If you’re constantly run down, can’t commit to anything, don’t have time to hold space for a friend once in a while, or are continuously stressed and frazzled, it’s time to re-evaluate your life. Ask yourself: Are you living the way you want to, or do you feel as if you’re spinning like a top and barely hanging on for dear life? Do you do things you enjoy, even just occasionally?

I used to think I had to prove my worth with a rundown of all the appointments, soccer games, clubs, Society of Martyrs meetings, etc. Now I am delightfully, unapologetically un-busy. I take time to drink a cup of tea and play with my kids. You want to meet for coffee? Sure, I got time. The introvert in me loves meaningful conversation over a hot beverage.

Yes, of course, I have a million things to do, but I have prioritized and eliminated the things from my to-do list that don’t fit with my vision for my life — or at least my vision for today. Some days are busy, and it can’t be helped. I acknowledge that reality. I’m not saying you should quit your job and stop feeding your kids! Obviously some things are mandatory.

But seriously, prioritize. Your worth is not attached to your productivity, so don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.

4. No is a complete answer.

If you want to stop being busy, you need to start saying no. The good news is you don’t need a reason to say no. People almost never ask why. If saying no right away feels uncomfortable, buy yourself some time. For example:

Pushy PTA lady: “Can you make three dozen cupcakes for the bake sale?”

You: “Wow, I’d love to help with the bake sale, but I should check my schedule first. I’ll get back to you.”

This gives you time to give it some thought. Maybe you do want to do it. But if you don’t, it gives you time to come up with an alternative solution like purchasing cupcakes rather than baking them.

If someone will not take no for an answer, it might be time to sit down and discuss boundaries. I find this happens most often within families. If you fail to lay out boundaries, trust me, you will live in resentment. I know, because I’ve been there. Having an honest conversation can be hard, especially for us sensitive introverts, because conflict can be overstimulating for us. But resentment can be much harder on a relationship than an honest conversation in the long run.

(If you have trouble saying no, here are some tips.)

5. It’s okay to feel “too much.”

Especially right now, this world can feel so sad, broken, and lonely, and nobody feels that deeper than a sensitive introvert. But as sensitive people, we may bottle up our true feelings because we don’t want others to think we’re “too much” — and this habit is dangerous. Obviously, there is a time and a place for everything, as in, you probably shouldn’t cry it out to the PTA lady. The important thing is to make space to process your feelings.

If you’re not sure how to do that, start with journaling, which can be especially helpful for introverts and sensitive people during troubled times. Trust me, feelings that go unacknowledged don’t just disappear. Instead they lay dormant and come out in ways that are almost always negative and destructive. Have you ever snapped at your spouse and thought, where in the world did that come from? Maybe it was because he forgot to bring home that loaf of bread — last week — and you were still holding on to anger. Journaling will help you process your emotions, everything from frustration with your spouse to anxiety about the world at large.

(Here are some tips to get started journaling.)

Is the chaos of life overwhelming you as a highly sensitive person?

Sensitive people have certain brain differences that make them more susceptible to stress and anxiety. Thankfully, there is a way to train your brain so you can navigate the challenges of sensitivity, access your gifts, and thrive in life. Psychotherapist and sensitivity expert Julie Bjelland will show you how in her popular online course, HSP Brain Training. As an Introvert, Dear reader, you can take 50% off the registration fee using the code INTROVERTDEARClick here to learn more.

6. Read a little every day.

I know I’m not the only sensitive introvert who drinks in books. I need words like I need food. There were many years when I did not make the time to read because I thought it was selfish to spend my time in that way, you know, when I could be doing another load of laundry or whipping up enchiladas for the family from scratch.

But reading is the kind of downtime that soothes and informs. It’s a win-win. There’s nothing better than the connectedness that happens when words written decades or even centuries ago speak to your heart and remind you that you’re not alone.

7. Not everything is about you.

Dear sensitive introvert, you are different. You process things differently and more fully than others do. You are going to pick up on emotions that are not meant for you.

I wish someone had told me these words years ago. I used to take things very personally until I realized that the moods and attitudes of others rarely have anything to do with me. This was a lightbulb moment for me because I didn’t realize that most people don’t notice as much as I do. Now that I have this knowledge, I can put things in perspective and let them go. She may not have answered my text because she’s busy, not because she’s angry at me, I tell myself.

Alternatively, others won’t always pick up the signals that I put out. I used to think I was being obvious about my needs but it turns out that I wasn’t. I wasn’t stating them clearly. Learning how to speak up for my needs was a real turning point for me. With that practice came the realization that people are not always going to love me in the same way that I love them — in a way that only a sensitive introvert can — but that doesn’t mean their love is less.

Remember, it’s not selfish to care for yourself. It’s not selfish to schedule downtime. When you have rules that protect your energy, you are at your best for the people who need you. You will find yourself more willing and able to be generous without feeling resentful.

Find ways that work for you that get you closer to your vision of the life you want. If people and situations make you uncomfortable, there is a reason for that. Trust those instincts, because they will help you create the life you want.

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