Imagine that you’re at a party or gathering at a friend’s house. As a highly sensitive person, you may have felt some anxiety or dread about going to the party and having to make small talk. Some of the folks in attendance are friends, and you gravitate toward talking to them. But, you notice a couple of people who hang back and don’t seem to know many others. Your empathy kicks in, and you decide to go chat with them to help them feel more welcome. While you’re talking, another person or two joins in the conversation and brings up a political issue you care about deeply. As you passionately discuss the matter, you add in how you cannot understand anyone who thinks otherwise. The person you initially approached quietly says, “I disagree” and wanders away.
The aftermath: you feel pretty sick to your stomach as you’re sure you just hurt and offended this acquaintance who you were trying to make feel more welcome. But, you’re conflicted--you really do wholeheartedly believe what you said! Your mind starts going off in a hundred directions--I hurt that person, and they’ll never want to come to another party here. They must think I’m a jerk. I never should’ve approached them in the first place. I’m just no good at parties! I should never discuss politics! Why did I come?!
After going down the initial rabbit hole, you remind yourself that everyone is entitled to their opinion, and even if you did upset the other person, it’s okay to have different viewpoints. You try to let it go and move on, but for the rest of the evening, the heaviness lingers. You feel “blah” when you get home and even find yourself worrying on it the next day, rehashing the details and the variations of what you could or should have said. You know this doesn’t deserve so much of your attention, but you can’t seem to shake it. It’s so frustrating!
Welcome to. . . the social hangover. . . dunh dunh dunh. . .
You, friend, are not alone. Many (or all) of we sensitive folk have been here, probably more times than we’d like to count. I’ve certainly driven myself crazy about situations that I knew were trivial but struggled to move on from. Here are some tips that come from my personal and professional experience:
Be kind to yourself. How would you expect someone else to feel about the situation? That’s right, you’d say, “It’s ok; everyone’s entitled to their opinions.” Or, even if you thought they overstepped, you’d think, “We all mess up sometimes. They’re human. No big deal.” You deserve the same grace you’d freely give to anyone else.
Consider if there actually are any steps you need to take to apologize or repair the relationship. In the above scenario, there really aren’t. But, I often think we HSPs need to get out of our own heads to sort this out. We may be feeling too emotional and too close to the situation to really assess what’s needed. Talk to someone you trust, and get their feedback. Likely, your work is going to be to let the situation go. However, there are times when we may legitimately need to correct course. That’s perfectly okay and can also be very healing to relationships.
Accept that your overthinking brain will sometimes fixate and go down rabbit holes, and it doesn’t mean that you’re broken or that something is actually wrong. You know how our brains and our nervous systems are highly sensitive too? This means they’ll sometimes focus on something they identify as “DANGER!” or “PROBLEM!” because they’re desperately trying to protect us or to resolve this issue. The catch is--they can overreact. Their interpretations are wrong sometimes. Remember, just because you’re having these thoughts or feelings of worry and guilt doesn’t mean that they’re right. Check in with someone you trust, if you need to, and/or let those feelings pass like waves in the ocean. All feelings do eventually subside.
As you know, you’re probably thinking way more about this than anyone else. Instead of arguing with your thoughts, try a technique called diffusion. When you start worrying again, notice what you’re thinking like, “Oh, I’m having the thought that I’m no good at parties.” Then, imagine taking that thought and putting it on a cloud in the sky. Watch as the cloud slowly floats by. If the thought is right there again, that’s okay. Again, just take the thought, and put it on a cloud and let it float away. You can do this as many times as the thought returns. And, you don’t have to judge or blame yourself for having that damn thought again! You just calmly notice it’s there, and put it on a cloud.
This will all pass, as you know. But, next time, please know that you’re not alone--you’re just experiencing the highly sensitive social hangover. Be kind to yourself, and maybe try some new techniques to help the passing along. You got this, sensitive one.
Take good care,
Ivy Griffin, LMFT # 51714, Director
Thrive Therapy & Counseling
1614 X St., Suite A
Sacramento, CA 95818