Updated: Oct 17, 2020
Research has shown that about 15–25% of the population identify with the unique traits of Highly Sensitive People (HSP).
These traits consist of things like having a rich, complex inner life, being aware of subtleties in their environment and often feeling overwhelmed by sensory input.
Unfortunately, the word ‘sensitive’ is loaded with negative connotations such as being weak, fragile or vulnerable! This is not what it means to be sensitive, and it is definitely not a disorder or disease! It also shouldn’t be confused with things like autism or being introverted.
Highly Sensitive People have very beautiful gifts, such as being empathetic, intuitive and feeling great compassion for others. These traits mean HSP are usually drawn towards professions which help others.
There are many struggles that Highly Sensitive People may face throughout their lives and which stem from the traits not being fully understood, respected or valued.
Identifying these struggles is not meant to place HSP as ‘victims’ to some pre-determined set of traits but, if we can identify what the challenges might be then we can start to educate and empower HSP to respect their authentic way of being in the world.
Here are 7 common struggles of the Highly Sensitive Person.
A Tendency to Avoid Conflict
HSP who find themselves in conflict, or observe conflict between others, will be strongly affected. HSP struggle to witness arguments, hear raised voices or see any form of physical violence because they are highly attuned to the emotions and energy of other people.
They also tend to avoid conflict because they don’t like the thought of upsetting others, or other people being upset with them. A HSP will prefer to maintain harmony and peace in most situations.
Difficulty Setting Boundaries
Highly Sensitive People can also struggle to set boundaries. Even though they are extremely compassionate about the needs of others; they can sometimes neglect their own needs. They tend to put other people’s needs before their own and find it difficult to say ‘no’ or assert themselves. This can be exhausting and takes its toll in the long run!
HSP regularly find themselves absorbing or taking on the emotions of others and can even find it hard to distinguish between their own emotions and the emotions of other people.
Being so attuned to their environment and their senses means that their nervous system can very easily become overwhelmed.
HSP are also very conscientious; they strive towards perfection and do their best to avoid making mistakes. This mindset means they are very likely to achieve a lot of success in their life, but because they tend to take on a lot of responsibilities, this can lead to overwhelm, exhaustion and burnout.
There’s a strong sense of being ‘misunderstood’ or feeling different from others. HSP question the ‘mainstream’ and are always reflecting, wondering and asking ‘big’ questions about the meaning of life.
This means they’re also likely to be more in touch with the spiritual or non-material aspect of reality. This sensitivity and awareness of the spiritual path can be overwhelming at times.
HSP can spend a lot of time thinking, analysing and reflecting on situations. Their overactive mind means they can be prone to emotional overwhelm and burnout. If left unchecked those who are highly sensitive are more likely to experience periods of extreme anxiety, stress, guilt or even shame.
Physical Pain and Illness
Their sensitive nervous system means they are very aware of changes in their physical body and might have a lower tolerance to pain or simply be more aware of the shifts that take place in their body. HSP are easily effected by a lack of sleep, a change in routine or diet. They’re more likely to experience physical illness and bodily pain, such as fibromyalgia or frequent migraines.
Neglecting Self Care
HSP are more likely to work in the helping profession such as beinga teacher, nurse, doctor, therapist, coach or counsellor. They thrive in these kinds of roles because they are so empathetic and sensitive to the feelings and needs of others.
However, they are more prone to anxiety, stress, overwhelm and burnout. This means it is even more important for HSPs to engage in acts of self-care, build emotional resilience and have a road-map to maintain their emotional, mental and spiritual well-being.
So, what does having these struggles mean for the HSP?
As humans, we all have unique ways of perceiving the world. This also means our needs are different from person to person.
Not all HSP will have the same struggles and of course, many people who don’t identify with being highly sensitive will also relate to the challenges listed above!
These struggles are not weakness, or limitations of being a highly sensitive person, but they are commonly shared experiences. If we acknowledge the experiences of HSP as being valid then, we can also explore ways of nurturing certain skills such as setting boundaries, practicing self care and building greater resilience.