The Gifts and Challenges of Being Highly Sensitive

There were so many things I wanted to write about tonight, like the way things feel really intense on a global scale right now (as I’m sure you’ve noticed). But when I step back and look at the threads of all my experiences woven together, there is something that runs through all of them like a creek – cool, clear and penetrable. The creek is my sensitivity.

I’ve been a sensitive being since the day I was born. What that means is I notice EVERYTHING. I notice scents and subtle changes in my environment, like a siren outside or the dimming of lights. I notice changes in people’s facial expressions and can read their shifting moods instantly. When I walk into a crowded room, I not only hear all the words people are saying, but I feel their energy, the good and the bad. I’m aware of tiny details all the time, like a ladybug on a leaf, or the way the grass moves in the wind, or the birds that fly overhead at the exact same time I cross the Columbia River on my way to work. I feel a whole lot. Another way of saying that is I’m an empath. That means that when people are hurting (whether they are loved ones or complete strangers), I often feel as if I’m hurting too. That’s in part why I avoid violent movies and media. I’m constantly aware of the needs of those around me and have zero tolerance for watching others suffer (i.e. bullying, excluding, etc.)

Interestingly, 20% of the human population is highly sensitive, which is the term used to describe an inherited trait that affects the sensitivity of the nervous system. If you happen to be one of these highly sensitive individuals, like myself, then this blog post is for you.

An open letter to the sensitive ones among us:

It’s true that the world can feel overwhelming, and love can feel daunting (if only because it enhances the immense amount of emotions you already feel). It can sometimes appear like you are the only one who feels as much as you do. But you aren’t alone. There are many of us out there.

Ups and downs happen to all people, but for you, those ups and downs might feel exaggerated. There will be moments of sheer exhaustion, fear, grief, and heightened vulnerability. But there will also be elation, joy, heart-opening bliss, deep connection with others, empowering self-awareness and humor. Your sensitivity can be challenging, but ultimately, it is a gift. No one on this planet feels as much as you do. You are truly alive, and you get to experience the widest range of emotions that some individuals never get to access.

Being highly sensitive comes with some responsibilities to take extra good care of yourself. Why? Because being over-stimulated regularly taxes the body, mind and spirit. You need to take time-outs to rest and rejuvenate, cry, write, run, process and whatever else makes you feel grounded. Sleep is of utmost importance.

When you do fall in love, don’t fear your emotions. Let them exist. It’s a beautiful thing to be moved so deeply, and if you are with the right person, they will see your sensitivity as a strength, not a weakness.

Know that your vulnerability in expressing your inner complexity to others is what makes you so strong and admirable. Communicating is also the only way to build intimacy and help others understand you, so learn how to do it, and do it passionately. There will probably be lots of questions you have, and processing, in general, that you want to do with the people you’re closest with. Sometimes, this makes you wonder if you’re worth the patience afforded to you. Believe me when I say, you are!

Highly sensitive people make wonderful friends, partners and leaders. You are big-hearted, but you can also be fragile, because things impact you on a larger scale than they do others. That’s okay. I believe there is strength in letting others see you for who you are. Be true to yourself, and learn your eccentricities. Try not to worry so much about how others perceive your unique traits. At the end of the day, the amount of love you afford yourself equals the amount of love you are able to give and receive, so in that department, go big!

Love,
A Highly Sensitive Friend You Haven’t Met Yet

Shells

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