As sensitive folks, we tend to be excellent friends, partners, children, parents, employees, colleagues, neighbors. If your immediate reaction is, “I’m not sure that applies to me,” you’re probably being too hard on yourself. But, you’re not alone as many highly sensitive people (HSPs) tend to undervalue what they offer to others. We HSPs are wonderfully empathic and do such a good job of putting ourselves in others’ shoes that the people in our lives usually really appreciate us. HSPs tend to be great listeners, wonderful problem-solvers, and gentle advice-givers. When an HSP tunes in to another person, that person really knows they’re being heard and seen. And, this doesn’t happen a lot in our busy culture, so, people really like this connectedness they feel from sensitive souls.
Plus, as HSPs, we can be highly conscientious and responsible, so people know they can count on us because we try to stick to what we say and not let anyone down. In today’s world of ghosting, last minute or ignored RSVPs, and general flakiness, this kind of reliability means a lot. Even more, we’re really good at intuiting and offering other people what they need. Then, keep in mind that we only make up 15-20% of any given population, so not everyone gets to experience the kind of support we so freely give very often. Is it starting to make sense that we can be pretty awesome in our relationships?
With all this kindness, insight, and caring, there is a down side--we may neglect or push aside our own needs like . . .
“It doesn’t really matter what I want.”
“I should just suck it up and do it anyway.”
“I can’t say no right now; they’re having a really hard time.”
“I’m being silly. I should get over it.”
Any of these sound familiar? I hear versions of these responses all the time from HSPs who feel guilty or blame themselves for wanting or needing something different from a loved one. Then, they talk (or berate) themselves out of what they need. This dismissal of one’s needs seems to lead to one of two outcomes for sensitive folks:
They ignore or stuff down their feelings for so long that their body revolts in one way or another. They may get sick, become so exhausted they have to take a break, or suffer from headaches, intestinal issues, anxiety, depression, chronic stress, panic attacks.
They become resentful and angry in the relationships where they aren’t getting their needs met. They feel underappreciated, disrespected, and overlooked. They wonder how anyone they care about could treat them this way because they would never do this to anyone else. They may even blow up, seemingly out of the blue to the other person, or end the relationship.
Unfortunately, ignoring our sensitive needs often comes with a hefty price. So, here are some tips to help you be happier and healthier in your relationships:
Ask yourself how you feel and listen to your internal response kindly, without judging it. If a situation or a loved one’s request fills you with dread or overwhelm, maybe it’s not the right time or isn’t for you.
Your needs will be different from people who don’t have the HSP trait and will even vary from HSP to HSP. This is completely normal, okay, and to be expected. You’ll need more down time, recovery time, alone time, breaks, sleep, and even food. This is just part of how we vary as human beings. It’s really no different than someone who’s diabetic having to monitor their blood sugar or someone with asthma refraining from certain activities, even if it’s an inconvenience to others. You would never judge other people for asserting or taking care of their own needs. So, please, please do what you need. Without blaming yourself.
If you find yourself daydreaming about what you’d really like to say to someone, that’s probably a sign that you need to set a boundary or stand up for yourself in this relationship. Brainstorm how you can tap into your kindness while being firm and clear. If this is happening in a relationship with another HSP, you’ll probably want to lean heavily on the kind and gentle side. If it’s with someone who doesn’t have the HSP trait, you may need to be more direct and assertive.
As HSPs we sometimes think we’re being clear and direct, but non-HSPs may totally miss our boat. Our directness can be a little vague and ambiguous for those who aren’t as highly sensitive. There may be times when you need to repeat yourself again and again, or be firm in a way that feels aggressive to you but may simply come across as direct to someone else.
Acknowledge and allow that you’ll feel guilty and will worry about if you’re going to hurt the other person or if you’re doing the right thing. You’ll feel this way because you care so deeply. And, you should stand up for your needs anyway . . . even when the guilt or anxiety remains. In the short term, this can feel really, really hard. In the long term, you’re going to feel better and have better relationships.
As sensitive folks, we know that relationships can add so much joy and richness to our lives, and as human beings, we simply need one another. We’re not meant to live in isolation or disconnection. Any relationship can feel like a tug-of-war at times because no two people’s needs are ever going to align all the time. This difference creates tension, which is normal and necessary. Dear HSP, please know that it’s healthy and helpful to pull back on your end of the rope. If one person wins all the time, the game’s all lopsided and no fun. The push and pull creates engagement, and relationships are all about the give and take.
I hope you let yourself tug, and tug hard, when you need to.
Good luck out there,
Ivy Griffin, LMFT # 51714, Director
Thrive Therapy & Counseling
1614 X St., Suite A
Sacramento, CA 95818
PS—If you’re wanting more support or help for your sensitive self, my next round of Online HSP Coaching Groups starts up in August! (And, I have one low fee spot reserved in the group, so if finances are an issue, please don’t hesitate to reach out.)