Have you ever had anyone tell you to stop being so sensitive or to suck it up?
Maybe you’ve said it to someone else without realizing how damaging this can be to someone’s self-worth. Fifteen to twenty percent of the population has a trait that actually makes them feel deeper, think deeper and empathize on a level that those without the trait could never understand.
A person with the trait (not disorder) of sensory processing sensitivity aka the Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), terms coined by psychologist Elaine Aron, often grow up thinking something is wrong with them because the people in their lives don’t know how to be around someone who has a heightened awareness of the world. Instead of trying to understand someone with this great strength, many try to shut it down. They simply don’t know how to be in the presence of someone who deeply feels what they are feeling, notices things in great detail, and expresses their emotions to release the energy they have stored up simply by being in the world.
To tell someone to stop being so sensitive is to tell them that something is wrong with them for being who they are. It tells them that they are too difficult to handle and that they can’t be fully loved or accepted for their emotional expression and how they walk through the world. Telling someone not to be so sensitive doesn’t stop them from feeling emotions that some days may be deep joy and some days intense anxiety or sadness. It just creates shame around having and expressing their emotions. The consequences of this can include increased anxiety, depression and possible relational distance for those who don’t and choose not to understand how difficult it can be to live this way.
So what do you say to your child, your friend or your brother who is Highly Sensitive? Start with empathy. Help children name and understand their emotions without criticism. Allow space and breaks without taking it personally. Check your own judgments that may be coming up. Ask yourself if what you are about to say will help them feel better and create a stronger relationship.
Get to know the way your Highly Sensitive Person operates in the world and try to understand their strengths so that you can support them in their way, not yours. Many HSP’s are already hard on themselves; they don’t need someone else echoing this voice in their head. So be kind, be patient, and perhaps be a little more sensitive.
Do you suspect that you might be a Highly Sensitive Person and want to explore what this means for you? Contact me.