How many times do we hear people say, “Don’t sweat the small stuff!” “Stop making mountains out of molehills.” “Just let it go!” Then, for sensitive folks, how many ways do we beat ourselves up for not being able to do these very things? “There’s something wrong with me.” “Why can’t I be like other people?” “Why do things get to me so much?” This questioning and blaming, naturally, leads to negative thoughts and judgments about ourselves, which then makes us feel (in technical terms) like shit.
Yep, it’s a viscous cycle. So, today, I’m going to propose that we highly sensitive people (HSPs) band together and work on breaking this cycle. Sounds great, you say. If it was that easy, I would’ve done it already, you say. I hear you. And, I know, it’s NOT easy. But, I know it is doable.
First things first, repeat after me, “I’m going to sweat some small stuff.” I know, this is not our ideal. Of course not (especially if we have perfectionist tendencies). But, it is our reality. Our sensitive bodies are sometimes going to react strongly to relatively minor situations. Our sensitive senses are going to get overloaded, and our sensitive feelings are going to be hurt. This all sucks. But remember, it is the other side of the sensitive coin. We have all our strengths too.
So, we stop the shame game by recognizing that what other people see as minor situations or issues will sometimes be very upsetting to us, HSPs. This is OKAY. Even if it’s hard to understand why a particular matter is so upsetting, we can still understand the whys behind our strong reactions. It’s because we take a lot in via our senses, feel very strongly, care very deeply and analyze intensely. This is who we are, and sometimes it’s going to be really helpful and sometimes it’s going to make things harder. We can acknowledge this and allow for it, like it or not. (I promise you don’t have to like all of your reactions—I definitely don’t!)
Next, we can tap into our repertoire of skills. These are your go-to “tools,” so to speak—the activities, people and self-care strategies we rely on to help us through tough times. I’ve heard variations on this analogy I’m about to share, so go with me here. Imagine a jar, and the jar holds all the important components of your life represented by a mix of natural elements—large rocks, gravel and sand. The large rocks are the essentials that you need to move through your life. These may be loved ones, exercise, work, your pets, meditation, spirituality, pleasurable activities, etc. The gravel is then things that are important to you and that you would be sad without, but that if you had to, you could live without. This might include things like books, the Sunday crossword, your car, and so on. (Remember, these are different for each person. I might’ve named some things there that are absolutely part of your essentials.) Lastly, the sand represents all the other aspects of life—errands, meals, paying bills, waking up to your alarm, etc. The key here is that in order to get all of these items to fit in your jar, you have to start with the rocks. Then, the gravel and the sand can fall in around the rocks to take up the remainder of space. If you fill your jar the other way around, your rocks probably won’t fit.
When times are hard or when we’re struggling, we have to remember to add in our rocks first. For me, these are my loved ones (including my cats), exercise, meditation and gratitude. In stressful times, we often forget about our rocks because we see SO MUCH sand and gravel and how much space they take up, and we become convinced there’s no room for anything else. And, there’s probably not room, unless we prioritize.
Such prioritizing is essential for sensitive people. We will sometimes get tossed around by the storms of life, and we need our rocks to anchor us and help us come back to ourselves. While we’re in the storm, it’s not very helpful to curse and belittle the storm. Instead, we need to acknowledge it’s there (or it’s waaay more likely to knock us overboard) and spend our energy doing what needs to be done (hence the rocks).
All analogies aside, my wish for you, dear HSP, is that you know that your feelings and reactions are okay. You may like them, or you may not like them. And, that’s all okay too. You were born just the way you are. (Cue some Lady Gaga singing Born this Way.) There’s freedom in knowing yourself. Let go of the judgments. You’re just you, and that’s all there is to it. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Wishing you all the best, dear HSP.
Ivy Griffin, LMFT # 51714, Director
Thrive Therapy & Counseling
1614 X St., Suite A
Sacramento, CA 95818
PS--If you're needing some extra support, we offer both individual or group therapy for HSPs. Check it out here.
Stay in touch with Tips from a Highly Sensitive Therapist delivered to your inbox!