The Real Life of a Highly Sensitive Introvert

I chase after beauty to a fault. I feel sapped by the mundane. Balance tends to be just out of reach, so I tip toward solitude.

When I was in first grade, we went on a field trip to see The Nutcracker — watching those beautiful ballerinas dance around the stage in shiny costumes filled my eyes with tears. I subtly glanced around and realized I was the only one of my classmates experiencing such an emotional response; most of them laughed or weren’t paying much attention to the performance at all. 

For some reason, I felt a profound sense of shame for wanting to cry at something so beautiful. Over the years, that shame extended to other facets of my life and caused me to ask a lot of questions: 

  • Why did I have to bite my tongue to keep from crying when I heard a pretty tune playing in an insurance commercial from the other room? 
  • Who drives around listening to Faure’s Requiem while contemplating the way the sun turns the mountains purple when the sun descends behind them? 
  • What kind of person crawls underneath the yellow azalea bush and marvels for unknown amounts of time at the brightest shade of yellow emanating from it?

All this made me wonder: Is there something wrong with me? Am I “normal”? Can I be?

Well, I finally felt “normal” when I realized I’m a highly sensitive introvert. In other words, not only do I have introvert characteristics — like I really value my alone time and taking time to think things through before speaking — but also ones of a highly sensitive person (HSP) — I feel things very deeply and have strong reactions to beautiful moments (like my Nutcracker example).

It turns out that what makes someone a highly sensitive person is due to a biological difference in our nervous systems. While both introverts and extroverts can be highly sensitive, the majority of HSPs are introverted (about 70 percent). 

And when you combine being highly sensitive and an introvert, you get someone who is easily emotionally exhausted, doesn’t deal with changes in routine very well, and cannot brush things off as easily as my non-highly sensitive introvert friends can.

Feelings Over Logic: How Being a Highly Sensitive Introvert Affects My Everyday Life

In a single day, I may feel groggy, inspired, awed, envious, angry, enamored, hysterical, wishful, confident, accomplished, and/or sincere (to name a few).

My mood may change based on the nauseating smell coming from the garbage in the kitchen that needs to be taken out, the too-loud country music at an overcrowded bar, or a fresh breeze sliding through the cracked passenger side window in the car at night. While these examples may affect anyone, highly sensitive introvert or not, they’re especially apparent to me — imagine them magnified by 10 (or 100).

In the meantime, while I watch everyone around me seem to go about living their lives with ease, I struggle. For instance, something as simple as picking out my clothes is a challenge. I go through many clothing options, making sure I don’t choose something made from material that will make my skin crawl — many HSPs are very sensitive when it comes to fabrics: nothing too tight or itchy. 

Because I’m so in tune with my own feelings, reading people is my science. I’ll notice when my friend walks into a gathering with her husband and can sense that she wishes she would have stayed home alone. 

Similarly, subtle tone shifts and phrases can be monumental in the course of a conversation, from the half-interested “uh-huh” from a friend to the half-turn of someone’s head to look over my shoulder at someone else.

Most of all, though, I know myself. I know when I’m going to hate a certain social gathering, when I need to go for a walk in the sunshine, or when I’m just hungry for some tacos. Highly sensitive people are prone to be hangry — hungry + angry — so I try to avoid this from happening by grabbing those tacos sooner rather than later.

I See Beauty Everywhere, and in Places You May Not

I tend to chase after beauty to a fault. Remember, I’m the type of person who crawls underneath a yellow azalea bush and marvels at the brightest shade of yellow.

Similarly, I often embrace moving music (Ray LaMontagne, anyone?) and deeply thoughtful novels, like East of Eden.

When I feel sapped by the mundane, I may daydream or imagine how things could be different and more positive. In my mind, I’ve built worlds of quiet acceptance, subtlety, and emotional depth to be and stay happy.

Creativity and expression also tend to alleviate feelings of mundanity and bring me back down to earth. Writing, drawing, painting, or even just rearranging furniture also help me look beyond my everyday circumstances. Dancing’s good, too (by myself, of course).

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I Embrace My Weird Side, Too

Others often tagged me as “shy,” “different,” or “quiet.” As a kid, words like that bothered me.

If I’m being honest, those words still bother me. Contrary to what people may think, I actually do care what others think about me, even though I now respond to comments about my weirdness with a simple smile or shrug. 

I still feel a push to be part of the crowd, to be accepted. Simultaneously, I feel a pull away from the norm and want to embrace my seemingly strange traits, like sitting alone at a party or awkwardly spacing out in the middle of a work meeting (since, as an HSP, I’d rather have time to think about the issue at hand before spontaneously speaking about it in a meeting).

Balance tends to be just out of reach, so that I tip more toward solitude to recharge on a regular basis. Once I feel energized, I reemerge from my cocoon like a funky butterfly that maybe should have stayed inside a little longer. 

Non-HSP introverts may be able to blend in and socialize after recharging alone prior to an engagement, even if the environment of the social situation is overstimulating with loud music, excessive talking, or competitive board games. But HSP introverts like me may still struggle to be present (as much as we may like to be). 

If highly sensitive introverts feel stressed by the person next to them screaming across the room or by a raucous game of charades, there is no amount of recharging that can make that social situation feel comfortable for them. They will likely react like I would — by being really quiet, not responding to questions right away, or just slipping out early for no apparent reason. 

Regardless of this behavior being labeled as “weird,” it’s something I’ve accepted about myself as a highly sensitive person. The only person who has to accept it is me, nobody else.

What Highly Sensitive Introverts Have to Offer

Since I have embraced being a highly sensitive introvert, I’ve realized some of my strengths: 

  • As a friend, I know I can help a person stop and see beauty all around them instead of focusing on the negative. 
  • I’m good at planning relaxing and laid-back social gatherings with just the right amount of people, for the right amount of time.
  • As an extremely empathetic person, I can be a solid shoulder to cry on in times of mourning and loss. In other words, I won’t dismissively tell someone everything is going to be OK (when it may take a while for them to feel OK). Instead, I’ll grab their hand and cry with them as though their pain is mine — after all, a common trait of a highly sensitive person is to absorb people’s emotions.

Most of all, I bring a level of authenticity to my relationships that’s often difficult to find in a seemingly shallow world. I am what I am, and I won’t apologize for it (although I may cry about it later when I’m alone).

So next time you’re in need of some soul-sharing over a glass of aged wine in a beautiful setting, call up a highly sensitive introvert. We’re the perfect person to reach out to in times of trouble, to help you see the beauty in all things, or to have a deep, heartfelt chat.

Just don’t take it personally if we’re comfortable with silence or want to slip out early.

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Written By

I write about books, music, movies, introversion, generational differences, travel, personal finance, and much more! I have a bachelor's in Sociology from Maryville College. I live in Arizona with my husband and Great Dane mix. Check out my writing portfolio here and my blog here.