Everyone’s nervous system needs healthful balance, yet particularly for an HSP. With so much extra stimulation pouring in, you might feel easily overstimulated. So (you must) learn about what triggers you — in a social situation, at work, with your family. Gain more stress coping tools as well as elevate your voice to help speak up for what you need or not. Evaluate your environments for what feels like balanced, helpful qualities, and how to see when that starts to change before it feels too late. When you notice patterns of exhaustion or irritation, look closer to whether you are actually overstimulated yet expected or socially told to push through. You might not have thoughts that say you are overwhelmed but rather physical cues you have learned to ignore or push past. Of course, avoid becoming overly bored. HSPs do not thrive in overly bored or overly aroused states.
As a part of our series about How To Survive And Thrive As A Highly Sensitive Person, I had the pleasure of interviewing Brittany Bouffard, LCSW, CYT. Brittany Bouffard is a psychotherapist, speaker, and trainer in private practice helping professionals and millennials realize their enoughness. For more than a decade, Brittany has worked and consulted clinically on three continents at universities, and in community mental health and nonprofits, providing expertise on mental health, mindfulness in psychotherapy, suicide prevention, and wellness in the workplace. As an LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker), Certified Yoga Teacher and meditation teacher, and Somatic Experiencing Practitioner, Brittany supports authentic professional clients healing from trauma, loss, childhood pains, and anxiety to live their most whole, authentic selves. www.BrittanyBouffard.com
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and what you do professionally?
Absolutely! For more than a decade, I have walked alongside authentic professional and millennial clients as they dive into their worst hurts, discover their strengths, and better understand new personal insights to lead the whole lives they seek. My psychotherapy work focuses on enoughness, childhood and family pains, trauma, and grief — places that are overwhelming some. I am honored to be with clients as they heal and discover that they are perfectly enough. Professionally, my clinical work has taken me to three universities, three continents, three nonprofits, and beyond, where I have learned as much about life as my clients have. It is the best honor in the world to be with someone in pain to hold hope and compassion as they move through what is needed.
Thank you for your bravery and strength in being so open with us. Can you help define for our readers what is meant by a Highly Sensitive Person? Does it simply mean that feelings are easily hurt or offended?
Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) are widely defined. A primary trait of HSPs is having a sensitive nervous system, or as HSP researcher and author Elaine Aron, Ph.D., says “sensory processing sensitivity.” This means that HSPs take in and process more in their surroundings and within themselves than other people. This attunement, shall we say, can range from others’ emotions to loud noises, where many non-sensitive people might not pick up on the subtleties, you can bet a Highly Sensitive Person will.
If you think about it — ironic to this article’s headline — HSPs thusly are very skilled at survival! Their extra-biological responsivity allows HSPs to better take in and more deeply process information, connect this information to past experiences, and then make particularly informed predictions and choices — great for surviving in a crisis, or carving the way to a job promotion. HSPs then also take in emotional information very readily. HSPs are generally more aware of their own emotional states and those around them, so there is typically more of a response to that stimuli, sometimes appearing as particularly hurt. Yet think of how many people you know who ignore their own such internal responses. HSPs are on the continuum of feeling, just like anybody, but usually are much more attuned and thusly feeling.
Does a Highly Sensitive Person have a higher degree of empathy towards others? Is a Highly Sensitive Person offended by hurtful remarks made about other people?
Most Highly Sensitive People have extra capacity for empathy compared to their less sensitive counterparts, thanks to those very traits we just discussed. When you feel more from people around you plus are more connected with your own emotional intelligence, you can more easily place yourself in someone else’s shoes — empathy, essentially. Like anyone, though, HSPs need to learn empathy. Not every HSP is raised being taught how to feel empathy toward themselves or how to verbally express that to others. Many embody a very empathic, compassionate personality though.
Does a Highly Sensitive Person have greater difficulty with certain parts of popular culture, entertainment or news, that depict emotional or physical pain? Can you explain or give a story?
Stimulation is much of what HSP life is all about. So combine the often overstimulating nature of the news with the strong emotional perceptions of HSPs, and they will most likely feel more overwhelmed and overburdened emotionally from intense news than those less sensitive to sensory input. Many but not all HSPs value genuineness so aspects of reality TV or other shallow depictions of people may not win their interest. The overinflated or inauthentic emotions and personalities generally will be turnoffs. Some HSPs will enjoy the intensity of emotional content when portrayed more honestly, such as an acclaimed but sad drama, etc. Just like art and poetry are felt by many, many HSPs will enjoy the stimulating experience of their impacts.
I’m sure that being Highly Sensitive also gives you certain advantages. Can you tell us a few advantages that Highly Sensitive people have?
Being highly present with surroundings can oddly put HSPs in a category of weak or meek, with their traits not always appreciated as the near-superpowers that they are. People sensitive to their surroundings notice the little things, put together the connections and peoples’ needs, so tend to highly perform and be in tune interpersonally. Imagine being in a workplace with all these traits: you could predict a client’s need long before others or understand more what “writings on the wall” might suggest for your company. HSPs see the subtleties and process the connection of these dots better than non-HSPs. With studies that suggest emotion is key in one’s motivation to learn, HSPs can also have a leg up in learning and memory than their non-sensitive counterparts.
Can you share a story from your own life where your great sensitivity was actually an advantage?
Every day in being both a human on this earth and a psychotherapist, sensitivity is key. I can very well attune to, understand, and sit with other peoples’ difficult experiences, plus I can help connect the dots of internal insights for clients. Many people have told me they cannot imagine my work — its intensity, etc. Yet I thrive in that since it reaches a place in me that I honor and understand and can be present with. In countless ways, sensitivity is a superpower.
There seems to be no harm in being overly empathetic. What’s the line drawn between being empathetic and being Highly Sensitive?
Empathy is a skill anyone can learn, which is wonderful! Being a Highly Sensitive Person is defined by so much more, including sensory processing sensitivity, that many empathic people do not experience.
Social Media can often be casually callous. How does Social Media affect a Highly Sensitive Person? How can a Highly Sensitive Person utilize the benefits of social media without being pulled down by it?
Developing a strong sense of self is critical for every person, yet HSPs will also benefit from this by helping to keep up both their confidence and differentiation from others while on social media or in any potentially judging or comparative setting. For anyone, trusting their own inherent enoughness is very useful when viewing the “perfect” (curated) lives or accomplishments of other people, where the comparison is natural to arise.
How would you respond if something you hear or see bothers or affects you, but others comment that you are being petty or that it is minor?
If the person is someone close to you, try to help them understand more about your HSP nature, that some things might impact you more than it does them. And that deserves to be validated and normalized, rather than minimized.
What strategies do you use to overcome the perception that others may have of you as overly sensitive without changing your caring and empathetic nature?
Growing internal strength and appreciation around your abilities is a wonderful safeguard against hurt from being called overly sensitive. When you internalize the importance and special nature of your sensitivity, you can begin to see others’ judgments as simply misattunement or misunderstanding. Hurts from childhood around this, from family members, etc, need to be healed so that future instances are less harmful.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a Highly Sensitive Person? Can you explain what you mean?
HSPs are not weak: they feel things that many other people chose to ignore or push down or do not sense. That is courageous and helps our world to have more caring people.
HSPs are not all quiet: while many HSPs are introverted, you can be an extrovert and an HSP!
HSPs are not annoying for being overly stimulated: everyone should have their preferences considered by others, whether it is a request to turn down the loud volume or not choosing a horror movie to watch tonight.
As you know, one of the challenges of being a Highly Sensitive Person is the harmful, and dismissive sentiment of “why can’t you just stop being so sensitive?” What do you think needs to be done to make it obvious that it just doesn’t work that way?
HSPs helping to educate others certainly helps, yet this is a burden on HSPs. Ideally, people close to HSPs would also take the time to educate themselves about what it really means to be an HSP — and on emotional connection and intelligence in the first place!
Ok, here is the main question for our discussion.
Can you share with us your “5 Things You Need To Know To Survive And Thrive As A Highly Sensitive Person? Please give a story or an example for each.
- Caring for your nervous system. Everyone’s nervous system needs healthful balance, yet particularly for an HSP. With so much extra stimulation pouring in, you might feel easily overstimulated. So (you must) learn about what triggers you — in a social situation, at work, with your family. Gain more stress coping tools as well as elevate your voice to help speak up for what you need or not. Evaluate your environments for what feels like balanced, helpful qualities, and how to see when that starts to change before it feels too late. When you notice patterns of exhaustion or irritation, look closer to whether you are actually overstimulated yet expected or socially told to push through. You might not have thoughts that say you are overwhelmed but rather physical cues you have learned to ignore or push past. Of course, avoid becoming overly bored. HSPs do not thrive in overly bored or overly aroused states.
- Attuning to boundaries. Stressful situations will be more potent for you. High-emotion meetings or friend talks will be inundating for you. So ask yourself if you might need extra time alone or doing activities you enjoy that help balance out intensity lately. Gaining insight into the subtle cues that you are beginning to be overly aroused can help you intervene before feeling like your day and energy are shot. If you find it difficult or unpleasant to implement boundaries with people, consider if you perceive that the other might not be receptive. And consider stating your needs regardless. Boundaries are compassionate for you and for the other person. Attend to your needs since oftentimes, others around you are less attuned to them.
- Healing your wounds. Many HSPs have experienced hurt and rejection about their sensitivity since childhood. Whether in childhood or later, if your parents, family, teachers, or peers, were unsupportive or had harsh words to say, I encourage you to do the compassionate thing for yourself and process this and other misunderstandings of your personhood in therapy. HSPs can be especially sensitive to old wounds left unattended inside, so free yourself up some space and peace by healing the old.
- Improving self-worth & confidence. The exact above wounds that people caused for not appreciating or “getting” who you are, can lead some HSPs to have lower confidence and self-worth. If aspects of who you are were misjudged and deemed wrong, it can be difficult to feel enough in those regards. Again, whether in therapy, journaling, or reading HSP books to help normalize your traits, look for ways to discover more of your strengths, especially in whichever realms were diminished.
- Cultivating your intuition. HSPs have especially great access to intuitive knowing. Not every HSP already has the connection or seeks out the “gut feeling” of intuition, but it can be cultivated. Intuition is one of the most helpful tools a person has to live the life they want — and knowing what that life is. Many people override intuitive cues though for various reasons. See if you can look back in situations and think “I knew I should have done that” or “I kinda thought it would turn out that way,” to help see times when what you thought was truly from wise intuition. Notice that voice more often, perhaps starting with naming your wants and needs to yourself, and see if you can grow it to serve you in wonderful ways.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
If more of the world understood the research-backed Highly Sensitive Person — like how many people know introvert/extrovert — there would be more understanding and reverence for HSPs. Perhaps HSPs would even be more appreciated for all they can uniquely bring to a workplace or a family system.
How can our readers follow you online?
Visit me at https://www.BrittanyBouffard.com and sign up to follow my posts tailor-written for authentic professionals and millennials.
(this is like therapist social media!)
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Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.