Though nobody is immune to struggle in this world, there are certain struggles that highly sensitive people have in common. The process of evolving as a highly sensitive person tends to follow a pattern. In the beginning, we struggle to feel normal in a non-sensitive and often abrasive world. We struggle with feeling different and separate from everyone else. We paddle through these murky waters until our desire to improve our situation becomes big enough to seek help. If we are successful in this, we enter the discovery phase. This hopeful phase fills us with empowering knowledge about our traits. We are relieved to discover why we are the way we are. Once this resonates, we then move towards accepting ourselves and our “highly sensitive” label.
“Victims” of an insensitive world.
During all of these phases, there are times when we may find ourselves “victims” of an insensitive world. We feel harmed by people, environments, situations…the world in general. As a result, we have to learn how to put self care first because this doesn’t come naturally to us. And though we like to think our sensitivities always include being sensitive to others, it’s not always the case. We may make unfair demands on those around us in an attempt to get our needs met. We may use our “highly sensitive” label as an excuse to control our surroundings, or withdraw from them. This can sometimes become a habit for highly sensitive people. We may forget to consider other people’s needs or preferences while trying to take care of ourselves. The following are ways that highly sensitive people may unintentionally focus on their needs, before others.
1. Needing to control the type of music and volume level played in the house/car, while with others.
2. Not willing to go to certain locations with friends or family (i.e. concerts, sporting events, trips).
3. Not attending family functions or holiday gatherings.
4. Withdrawing into ourselves, not being physically or mentally present for those we live with.
5. Needing to dictate what restaurant to go to when eating out with others.
6. Not giving physical affection to others (spouse, children).
7. Refusing or avoiding specific duties/tasks at the work place.
8. Judging others based on their lack of sensitivity, compartmentalizing people.
9. Not supporting a loved one during a difficult time because it affects us too negatively.
10. Ignoring difficult friends or family, neglecting to communicate with them.
We need to be completely honest with ourselves if we want to adopt healthy boundaries where our needs get met, but also stay sensitive to the needs of our loved ones. We can learn how to be mindful of everyone involved by incorporating the following 5 strategies into our lives.
1. Be willing to try new things and venture outside of our labelled box.
This is one of the best things we can do to move past any self imposed limitations in our lives. When we try something new, either by ourselves or with others, we may discover we actually enjoy it. If our friends and family have been trying to get us to join them, than not only have we made them happy, but we have discovered that we can handle the situation after all. It becomes an opportunity to increase our self esteem and self confidence. Trying a new hobby, going to a concert, taking a vacation and meeting new people are all healthy activities that everyone should try. We must not assume it’s not a possibility for us until we try it first.
2. Increase our tolerance for unpleasant emotions and sensations.
Building our tolerance for uncomfortable feelings is a powerful coping technique for situations or people we can’t avoid in life. We can learn how to protect ourselves from absorbing other people’s energy as well as practice gentle breath work when we are overwhelmed with emotions. Increasing this tolerance first starts with accepting “what is” and not resisting what our bodies or minds are doing. With practice, this technique of observing and accepting “what is” will increase our confidence in effectively handling the situation. We can also take comfort in knowing that no feeling is final.
3. Be willing to see it from someone else’s viewpoint.
Highly sensitive people can feel so overwhelmed at times that tunnel vision begins to happen. It becomes hard to see a situation from someone else’s view, especially when they do not understand our sensitivities. We can practice zooming out of this tunnel vision and refocusing our perspective from a wider angle. We can ask ourselves “how does the other person see this situation” or “how would I feel if I were them?” We just might find there is some middle ground that was not apparent before. Our loved ones will feel appreciated and valued, and our empathy and compassion are strengthened even further.
4. Don’t over analyze every decision or situation.
For highly sensitive people, it becomes really apparent what makes us feel good in our lives, and what does not. We tend to design our days to ensure we don’t get overwhelmed physically, mentally, or emotionally. And while this is important to do, it can sometimes cause us to separate ourselves from other people. We can over analyze every decision we have to make, or freeze up when facing a new situation, out of fear of the unknown. Or fear of how something will make us feel. But sometimes we need to throw caution to the wind and just go with the flow! We can surprise others with our “free spirit” attitude! If we do, we may realize that all the thinking, analyzing, and worrying were unnecessary, and we made a big deal out of nothing.
5. Be willing to redefine who we are.
The only thing we can be certain about in life is change. Our skill sets, abilities, preferences and traits are constantly evolving. We are not the same person we were 5 years ago, or even 6 months ago. This evolution allows us to constantly redefine who we are and who we want to be. We may identify with certain labels or qualities at one time, but not at another. We may float in and out of phases, or completely change from who we once were. The beautiful thing is, we can redefine what works for us as we evolve and grow. This allows us to relate to many different types of people, and encourages us to have many life experiences with those we love most.
The process of evolving as a highly sensitive person follows a pattern of struggle, discovery, and acceptance. When we embrace the strategies (listed above) in our lives, we then move into a different phase. This phase is called “thriving.” If we can embrace and honour our sensitivities while not allowing them to limit our life experiences or those of our loved ones, then we know we have entered this new level. It is only here that we can live our life to the fullest, and thrive as the person we were truly meant to be.
Nicole Taffs is a writer who blogs about turning sensitivities into assets for TheSensitiveLife.ca. Read her article '4 Ways To Stop Absorbing Other People's Energy' here: http://thesensitivelife.ca/4-ways-stop-absorbing-peoples-energy/ ; Nicole is passionate about turning her insecurities into gifts that serve others, and well as herself. She gets most excited about travelling near bodies of water, camping, spending time with her family and spooning her dog in bed.