Own your sensitivity: Entrepreneurship is inherently uncertain and can be a rollercoaster of emotions. For HSPs, who feel deeply, the entrepreneurial journey can feel even more intense! When you recognize and own that you are an HSP in business, you can give yourself permission to build your business differently than the other 80%.
As a part of our series about How To Survive And Thrive As A Highly Sensitive Person, I had the pleasure of interviewing Carla Blumenthal. Carla Blumenthal helps introverted, empathic, and highly sensitive coaches, consultants, and service providers to launch and grow their businesses.
She’s coached a wide range of clients, from C-suite tech and marketing execs in Silicon Valley and New York City, to investors, small business owners, and creative professionals across the US.
Carla’s coaching combines her personal experience as a highly sensitive business owner, with research-backed methods as a Certified High-Performance Coach to support entrepreneurs to build a thriving business and fulfilling lifestyle on their own terms. She lives just outside of NYC with her husband.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and what you do professionally?
My name is Carla Blumenthal and I help introverted, empathic, and highly sensitive coaches, consultants, and service providers to launch and grow businesses.
Many of my clients have successful corporate careers and are starting side hustles to turn their skills and expertise into their own businesses. I also work with full-time entrepreneurs who want to attract clients in a way that feels genuine and authentic.
No matter what stage of business they’re in, they might be experiencing challenges like perfectionism or a loud inner critic that keeps them from their goals, especially when it comes to putting themselves out there in marketing and sales. I’m a Certified High-Performance Coach, so I also support clients to develop nourishing habits that boost their energy to fuel their business growth.
And of course — I’m a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) myself (and an INFJ for anyone who’s into Myers-Briggs types), so I’m very familiar with the unique challenges of building a business as someone who’s more sensitive and empathic!
Thank you for your bravery and strength in being so open with us. I understand how hard this is. 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?
I’m happy to be here! Great questions. There are a lot of misconceptions about HSPs, so I’m glad you asked.
The word “sensitive” in today’s culture conjures up images of people crying, unable to handle life, and overreacting. This is a very narrow perspective, and it’s time for a rebrand of the word in culture and business.
Being an HSP or having one on your team is an incredible asset!
High Sensitivity is a character trait uncovered and popularized by Dr. Elaine Aron, a psychologist, and researcher. HSPs have more sensitive nervous systems, which means they pick up on more details around them and process information more deeply than the average person. They make up about 20% of the population.
She found that HSPs have four main traits that make them unique: they analyze and process information and feelings deeply (even without realizing they are doing it), have high emotional reactivity and empathy, notice subtle details, and because of their finely tuned nervous system, can be overwhelmed or overstimulated more easily.
HSPs tend to be deeply spiritual, creative, and are highly empathic.
In business, these qualities allow HSPs to build a strong connection with others, pick on small details that others miss, and identify problems & opportunities to serve people at a deeper level — which are all incredible qualities to have as entrepreneurs.
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?
We’re living in a divided time, and many people are longing to be heard and understood. Empathy is needed now more than ever, and it’s an inherent trait of HSPs. Brain studies of HSPs found that empathy-related areas of the brain were more active when viewing photos of emotional expressions than non-HSPs.
HSPs process information more deeply than others, and are more aware of feedback, both positive and negative. However, how they handle the feedback depends more on their childhood and how they grew up than their sensitivity. As an HSP entrepreneur or business owner, your empathic nature is an incredible asset…but it can also create problems that can lead to burn-out. For example, HSPs might feel a particularly strong impulse to respond to emails late at night, pick up every phone call even when they are out of the office, and never say no to new business, even when they’re already struggling to keep up with the clients they’ve got.
If you’re an HSP and you receive what feels like negative feedback, give yourself some space. Let yourself process any emotions and regulate your nervous system by taking breaths or a walk. Separate your feelings from the feedback and look for a nugget of truth.
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?
I try to be very intentional about limiting my news and social media intake. I put my phone on airplane mode 30 minutes before bed and don’t take it off until at least two hours into the day. I try not to look at the news until mid-day.
Personally, I’m not attracted to pop culture or superficial entertainment. Of course, I enjoy a good laugh or lighthearted show. Truthfully, I have to turn away during violent scenes otherwise I’ll be up most of the night!
Can you please share a story about how your highly sensitive nature created problems at work or socially?
I’ve always searched for a deeper meaning and purpose in my work, so doing tasks on repeat that don’t feel connected to a higher purpose or some larger good is difficult for me. A lot of highly sensitive people turn to self-employment as a way to create meaning in their lives and design a lifestyle that suits them.
However, these HSP strengths also have their shadows. And if you aren’t aware of these shadows, these can create unintended consequences that negatively affect your energy, focus, and bottom line.
A couple of examples:
HSPs often care deeply and have high empathy. This is a strength because they will build deep, meaningful relationships and clients often will feel a strong connection. However, this strength also has shadows of people-pleasing, loose boundaries, or difficulty in prioritizing their own needs or desires.
HSP business owners are often high-achieving, but that can be driven by perfectionistic tendencies and a loud inner critic. They can become the most difficult boss they’ve ever worked for!
When did you suspect that your level of sensitivity was above the societal norm? How did you come to see yourself as “too sensitive”?
I don’t think I’m too sensitive. I think I’m just right, with unique advantages that come with their own set of challenges. When I worked in advertising, I was at a meeting at a Fortune 100 company. I was debriefing with my boss at the time and told him all the subtle relationship dynamics I could sense in the room between our clients. He said to me “I would have never seen that. You really pick up on things other people don’t!”
That stuck with me. I knew my ability to perceive details was a strength — as long as I could activate my strategic and big-picture thinking as well. Each highly sensitive business owner will have their own journey to understand their sensitivity. Some will face challenges in work environments that aren’t suited for them — whether it’s in an open-office plan, non-stop meetings, or menial work.
When highly sensitive people step into entrepreneurship or self-employment, it’s important to bring conscious awareness of their sensitivity to the plate. Designing your business is also an opportunity to design a lifestyle that is meaningful and rewarding for you.
In order to design with a clear head, I think it’s crucial to take the time to reflect on and heal from past work experiences where the environment wasn’t a good match for you. Otherwise, you can risk carrying those experiences with you into your new business, where they can show up in the form of limiting beliefs and low self-esteem that keep from putting yourself out there or charging higher fees.
I’m sure that being Highly Sensitive also gives you certain advantages. Can you tell us a few advantages that Highly Sensitive people have?
- Are excellent team leaders
- Are highly attuned to the needs of others
- Have a rich, complex inner life
- Have high empathy
- Have high creativity
In business, this often translates to a sense of trust between HSPs and clients/team members, products and services that meet the needs of their clients, the ability to perceive small details or errors, a strong desire to serve and do good work.
Can you share a story from your own life where your great sensitivity was actually an advantage?
There are so many! As a coach, my sensitivity is my top asset because I can assess what clients might need during a session. Clients often tell me that they’ve never told anyone the depth of their fears or dreams — but they feel comfortable to share with me.
There seems to be no harm in being overly empathetic. What’s the line drawn between being empathetic and being Highly Sensitive?
Having strong empathy is an inherent character trait of HSPs. However, this can create challenges. HSPs can “take on” other people’s emotions or challenges as their own and lose a connection to their own needs or desires. Through coaching my clients have learned how to create healthy boundaries, overcome people-pleasing, and recognize and honor their own emotions and desires.
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?
Social media can be used as a distraction from your feelings or as a tool for connection and inspiration. I’m still learning how to navigate that and identify when I’m numbing out and when I’m using it to connect.
As an HSP, experiment to find out what works best for you. There are a couple of things that have worked for me:
- Keeping my phone on airplane mode 30 mins before bed until 1–2 hours in the morning
- Not looking at social media until a few hours into my workday
- Using the unfollow button, which removes posts from your feed but still keeps you as friends.
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?
This is about the energy and consciousness you bring to your interactions. As an HSP you will feel emotions more strongly and you will notice more subtleties. The work here is to value your perception first.
You can mindfully share your perspective with others, but because 80% of the world is NOT an HSP, they will most likely not see your point of view. It’s ok.
If you are whining, complaining, or saying “It’s your fault I feel this way” — you are probably going to elicit a defensive response. This might sound like “You were late for the meeting and we looked bad.”
However, if you take ownership for your emotions and how it is affecting you without putting blame on someone else, you’ll more likely come to a resolution.
For example, you could say instead, “When you were late, I felt upset that I had to start the meeting without you and I felt flustered. It’s important to me that our communication and teamwork is airtight. How can I support you to make sure this doesn’t happen again?”
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?
I’m here to reclaim sensitivity — so if people want to see me as sensitive that works for me! I hope to inspire others to proudly say they are a highly sensitive business owner.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a Highly Sensitive Person? Can you explain what you mean?
Common myths are that you are a cry baby, can’t handle anything in life, and are a pushover. I believe the myths around sensitivity stem from a patriarchal culture that sees feeling, listening, and perspective taking as second-rate skills — and I think that’s slowly shifting.
Another big myth I want to dispel is that HSPs or sensitive people in general don’t have what it takes to start and run a successful business.
Because HSPs tend to take time to think through decisions, running their own business where uncertainty and experimentation is the status quo may initially be challenging. It’s easy to get sucked into the “hustle-and-grind” mentality that’s prevalent in entrepreneurship.
That’s why self-awareness is key for HSPs to survive & thrive in business.
An understanding of their needs and desires are necessary so they can build a business that suits their lifestyle, not the other way around. When HSPs match their offers, marketing, and sales to their strengths, business flows easier.
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 apparent that it just doesn’t work that way?
First is for HSPs to understand and honor their sensitive nature, and that it comes with its own unique set of strengths and challenges.
Second, I believe HSPs sharing these with non-HSPs will start to shift the perception of the word “sensitive.” This is the grass-roots sensitive rebrand that I’m working to spread.
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.
I’ve developed a method to support highly sensitive people launch & grow their business from their strengths. This method was adopted from Dr. Elaine Aron’s 5 step process for HSPs, and I’ve adapted it to be more focused on a business context.
So, I’d love to share all 6 pillars of my method!
- Own your sensitivity: Entrepreneurship is inherently uncertain and can be a rollercoaster of emotions. For HSPs, who feel deeply, the entrepreneurial journey can feel even more intense! When you recognize and own that you are an HSP in business, you can give yourself permission to build your business differently than the other 80%.
- Reframe & heal from past work experience: Look back at your previous work experience in light of your sensitivity. Perhaps there was a challenging situation: a boss you didn’t get along with, tasks that drained you or being let go from a job.
- Think about your response to that work experience and how you’ve always viewed it, especially in terms of what it meant about who you are and what you’re capable of. Next, reconsider what happened in light of your sensitivity. How can you think about it in a more positive, compassionate, or empowering way? What’s another way you could view what happened?
- Recognize your sensitivity’s shadows and strengths: HSPs have incredible strengths, but they also come with their shadows — the dark side of each strength. Recognize your strengths but also consider the flip side. Cultivate awareness about how the shadow looks in your business and build the habit of moving from your shadow to your strength faster
- (Re)design your business strategy: Look at your marketing and sales process — does it give you energy, or does it drain you? Intentionally design marketing and sales strategy to suit your HSP strengths and goals. This will help you to tune out the vast majority of advice you find online, and choose strategies that are a better match for you! Remember, there’s no one right way to build and grow a business — you have to find (and master) the ones that are a good fit for you.
- Build nourishing habits: Uncertainty is the name of the game in entrepreneurship and it comes with its fair share of rejection. As a sensitive person, this will hit you harder than most, and we want you to be able to stay in the game for the long-term!
- Build what I like to call “nourishing habits” — whether that’s ample downtime, rest, healthy food, quality time with others, or a personalized sales call ritual — to support your long-term business growth.
- Surround yourself with other Highly Sensitive business owners who are on the path: We are greatly influenced by others around us. Put yourself around other Highly sensitive business owners who are consciously designing business and personal strategies that help them win without burning out.
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.
Rebranding the word “sensitive” to be a person of high integrity, strength, and compassion. We could all use more sensitivity!
How can our readers follow you online?
If you’d like to learn how to grow your business as a highly sensitive business owner, entrepreneur, or solopreneur, download my free Sales Call Ritual Guide or book a complimentary Clarity Call with me.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.