What It’s Really Like Being a Highly Sensitive Introvert

a highly sensitive introvert shares her real life

As 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 it 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 “little” things off as easily as my non-highly sensitive introvert friends can.

(Are you an HSP? Here are 21 signs that you’re a highly sensitive person.)

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, at times, I struggle. For instance, something as simple as picking out my clothes can be a challenge. I may 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. 

However, 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 immediately sense that she wishes she would have stayed at home. 

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 prevent this from happening by grabbing those tacos sooner rather than later.

I See Beauty Everywhere, and in Places You May Not

It’s not all bad — there are many good parts of being highly sensitive, too. For one, I 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 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 artistic expression also alleviate my feelings of mundanity and bring me back down to earth (in a good way). Writing, drawing, painting, or even just rearranging the furniture help me look beyond my everyday circumstances. Dancing’s good, too (by myself, of course — remember, I’m an introvert).

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I Embrace My Weird Side, Too

Because I’m both an introvert and a highly sensitive person, growing up, the people in my life often didn’t understand me. Others tagged me as “shy,” “different,” or “quiet.” As a kid, words like that really bothered me, because they implied that something was “wrong” with me.

If I’m being honest, those words still bother me today as an adult. 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. 

Despite my solitary nature, I still feel a push to be part of the crowd, to be accepted by others. 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 introvert, I’d rather have time to think about the issue at hand before spontaneously speaking about it in a meeting).

Many days, 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, however, 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 want to be), because we’re very sensitive to our environment.

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 as I do — 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’ve embraced being a highly sensitive introvert, I’ve realized some of my strengths: 

  • I can help people stop and see the beauty all around them instead of focusing on the negative. 
  • I’m good at planning relaxed and laid-back social gatherings with just the right amount of people, for just 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. 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 the 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 things, or simply to have a deep, heartfelt chat.

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

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.

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