I am a highly sensitive person who also identifies as an empath and learning to embrace and protect my sensitivity has been a life long learning process.
Highly Sensitive People or HSP’s are estimated to make up 15 to 20% of the population and the HSP personality trait was first researched by Elaine N. Aron, Phd in the early 1990’s.
Being an HSP is often correlated with identifying as an introvert and though not all HSP’s are introverted personality types, all HSP’s share very similar traits and have very similar experiences.
In general HSP’s tend to be very sensitive and attuned to the emotions of others, notice the small changes that other people miss like your new hair cut or shoes and can “read the room” very quickly. HSP’s are very sensitive to texture, smells, lights, sounds and environment.
Loud, noisy and chaotic places can feel very overwhelming and disorienting because there is too much sensory overstimulation. We startle easily and find horror movies, shows or situations where people are humiliated or pranked or animal cruelty to be very triggering and distressing and to be avoided at all costs.
Social media can be very painful for HSP’s as well, especially where there is strong, violent comments or imagery or conflict in posts.
HSP’s generally would tell you, as was my experience, that we were often described as “shy” when we were young. The sensitivity to the emotions of others or “the pain of the world” can often be completely overwhelming, especially in childhood or teen years when you have yet to be able to form some protective boundaries from the “noise” of the emotions of others and the environment around you.
Emotionally, HSP’s generally tend to dwell or ruminate on negative feelings, other people’s reactions to them and find it very hard not to take things personally. Any criticism, even when it’s constructive, is very hard for an HSP to not take to heart.
In fact, if you are an HSP, you have probably heard “You are just being too sensitive” or “Stop taking things so personally” thousands of times.
Because of our sensitivity to other peoples pain and emotions, we HSP’s can easily become classic people pleasers, always trying to anticipate the needs of others or make other people feel comfortable or manage other people’s emotions, often giving way to much to other people to your own detriment.
HSP’s can easily become consumed by what other people think of them and find it very distressing to know that someone thinks badly of them or doesn’t like them, which means that other people’s approval can be incredibly important to them. This can also lead HSP’s to suffer from intense anxiety when they know they will be spending time with someone who they know or feel does not like them or approve of them.
When working, HSP’s tend to produce their best work when they are able to work in private, without being observed and without pressure. In general HSP’s tend to be organised with good attention to detail and being trusted to get the job done is important to them.
Open plan offices with other people in cubicles being able to look over your shoulder or feeling that you are being observed, judged or micromanaged is incredibly stressful to the average HSP.
HSP’s also tend to experience stress through the body and be more sensitive to physical and emotional pain. Feeling overwhelmed by noise, smells, loud sounds or busy, chaotic workspaces can lead to headaches, upset stomachs and the need to be in a quiet, safe space where they can spend time alone to recover and feel grounded again.
Being in a messy, cluttered or dirty environment can be very detrimental to how an HSP feels and functions, so living with untidy people or people with a tendency to hoard can be very anxiety producing and cause a lot of stress.
Having enough time alone is essential to the emotional and physical health of an HSP, especially if you are also an introvert. Without it, you can literally feel yourself becoming emotionally and physically unravelled and increasingly unable to deal with the stresses and overwhelm of life and other people.
So as you can already see, we HSP’s have a lot of emotional challenges that we need to learn to manage so that the world and the people in it don’t completely overwhelm us.
So what happens when a person with HSP becomes chronically ill?
It can be a recipe for disaster!
Living life as a healthy HSP can be challenging but do-able, especially once you learn to protect your sensitivity, embrace it and have strong boundaries and self-care in place.
Once you become chronically ill, you have much less tolerance, energy and reserves to deal with your own issues, let alone other peoples emotions and needs.
HSP’s are often everyone’s amateur therapist. Our sensitivity and empathy means that we tend to be the person that everyone wants to tell their troubles to or in many cases, dump their emotional problems on.
As well as that, most HSP’s are the ones who are always there for others, the givers, rather then the receivers and put their own needs, emotions and health before everyone else. Most HSP’s end up in one of the caring professions because our sensitivity to others pain and distress leads to an innate desire to help others heal.
In fact, being the giver, supporter and emotional care taker can become your whole identity and purpose so when chronic illness takes that ability away from you, the impact of not being able to be there for others is a profound loss of self.
Chronic illness with it’s pain, loss of energy, brain fog and symptoms, can be even more difficult for an HSP to deal with because it is so overwhelming to all of the senses and because HSP’s tend to be more sensitive to pain, both emotional and physical.
Being too sick to keep your home environment or workspace tidy can also add to the misery because not only do you feel so sick, but everywhere you look is a reminder that you can no longer exert any control over your environment to help yourself feel better and create some order from chaos.
HSP’s can suffer tremendous guilt at not having the energy to be there emotionally for others or because they find themselves avoiding others because they just don’t have the energy or feel well enough to listen and support them.
Many chronically ill HSP’s are their own worst enemy because they continue pushing through and using all of their valuable energy to keep putting other peoples needs in front of their own and ending up totally exhausted, overwhelmed and in constant autoimmune flares.
Things HSP’s can do to help themselves.
The first thing to remember if you are a chronically ill HSP is that emotions are temporary. How you feel now is not how you are going to feel forever.
Most importantly, you need to start putting yourself and your health first. Here is how you can start:
- Let others start taking responsibility for their own actions, choices and behaviours. It is not your job to emotionally manage anyone else.
- Stop doing things for other people that they are more than capable of being able to do themselves. This can be practical things like clothes washing, dishes, tidying up or arranging their own transport. Think of it as giving them a valuable opportunity to learn some practical life skills.
- Start letting yourself receive instead of giving. Life is all about balance and giving someone the experience to take care of you or help support you can give them the satisfaction of doing something good in the world.
- Learn to say no and set strong boundaries. This is an essential skill for any HSP who wants to live a balanced, peaceful and happier life.
You can’t give from an empty cup and you can’t help anyone else out of the hole by climbing down there with them.
For many HSP’s, chronic illness can be a turning point when they truly realise that protecting and valuing that wonderful empathy and sensitivity is absolutely essential.
As the old saying goes “physician, heal thyself.”
An unhealed HSP can’t truly help anyone else without depleting themselves and eventually, burning out.
Remember, if you are struggling to pull yourself out of the overwhelm, emotional pain and loss of your essential self, you can always book your FREE Discovery Session with me.
I can walk beside you each step of the way back to balance, control and confidence and give you all of the support and skills that you need to get your life back.
Here’s to all of us wonderful HSP’s. We are so needed in the world.