Do your own inner work. Get to know yourself. Cultivate self-acceptance, self-love. Learn and ground into your worthiness. I talked about the importance of this above. The more I got to know myself, the more I was able to be clear with my certainty and my boundaries while letting go of the need to make others feel better to determine my self-worth.
As a part of our series about How To Survive And Thrive As A Highly Sensitive Person, I had the pleasure of interviewing Carrie Jeroslow. Carrie Jeroslow has had a varied career over the past 25 years in both the theatrical and healing arts. From an NYC Casting Director to the Resident Director for the theatrical sensation, Blue Man Group, to a massage therapist, energy healer, spiritual coach, and author, the one constant in her life has been her own path of self-discovery. She has helped many clients create profound life changes using the process in her best-selling book, Why Do They Always Break Up with Me? She currently lives in the foothills of North Carolina with her supportive husband and children.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and what you do professionally?
I have been a “highly sensitive person” for as long as I can remember, even before ever really understanding what that was. I was the fourth child in my family and the only girl. At first, everyone was enamored with me. Then at around 4 years old, I became emotional and bratty. My brothers teased me, as siblings do and I would run to my mother hyperventilating in a panic.
During my parent’s painful divorce at 12-years-old, everything in my world flipped upside down. Now, having a reason to be so “emotional”, I instead stuffed my feelings down, not wanting to talk about it to anyone. The only thing I wanted was for everyone to be happy, regardless of how much pain that put me in. This unhealthy desire continued well into my adult life.
In my 20’s I had a very intense spiritual awakening after a break-up. This a-ha moment of realizing that there was much more going on than was physically visible led me on a deep dive into my psyche. I write about this journey in my book, Why Do They Always Break Up with Me?
I have been coaching people for over 15 years with most of my clients being highly sensitive people. I have found many consistent beliefs amongst these HSP and I am excited to share what I have learned to help others to first, see their sensitivity as a gift, or as I like to call it, a super-power, and second to learn to use it in a way to help make the world a more compassionate and kind home for us all.
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?
If we look at ourselves as physical beings only, a Highly Sensitive Person looks like someone who is very affected by things that happen to them or someone (or even something) they care about. HSP is also seen as more emotional than the average person — easier brought to tears, taking most comments on a deeply personal level.
For example, during my parents’ divorce, my mother cried day in and day out for almost a year. It greatly upset me to see someone I love, suffer in that way. I would do anything possible to make her feel better.
But when we look at ourselves as more than just a physical body, the term Highly Sensitive Person takes on a much deeper meaning. We are body, mind, and spirit — this is the totality that makes up our experience in the world. Energy is a real thing, however, we rarely, if ever, are taught what it is and how it affects us and our interactions with others.
For example, have you ever stood in line at the post office or grocery store and when you arrived, you were in a great mood — your day had been going well? You realize the people around you are upset and complaining about waiting in line. By the time you get through the line, you feel really bad. You feel angry and pissed just like those other people. This is how other people’s energy can affect an HSP. And if you don’t know that you are an HSP and you don’t understand how energy works, you can walk around life feeling completely unanchored because your mood is constantly changing depending on the environment you find yourself in.
Because I have learned about energy and how it works, as an HSP, I can meet someone and feel what they are going through. Even if I can’t feel the details, I will know something is off with them. This is an amazing ability and allows my coaching to help people get to the issues that lie under the surface of their pain and suffering.
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?
Yes, HSP definitely has a higher degree of empathy because, as I said above, they can deeply feel what other people are experiencing. I can put myself in another’s shoes and viscerally feel what they are going through. Because of this, I am much less judgmental about people and their choices. Every choice makes sense when you walk in another person’s shoes. Being highly sensitive helps me understand others better.
Having this understanding makes me more upset when people make mean, hurtful comments about others. This plays into my deep desire for more harmony and peace in the world. Sometimes I am at a loss as to why we can’t all be kind to each other. Wars have never made sense to me. What does it solve? We all just want to be heard, loved, honored, and accepted. I think my empathetic nature contributes greatly to this.
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?
Absolutely! Because I can put myself in another’s shoes and intimately feel what they are feeling, I have to be very selective about the kinds of music I listen to and TV shows and movies I watch.
I remember when The Handmaid’s Tale series came out, my friends were raving about it. I got about 30 minutes into the first episode and had to stop. The depiction of the lead trying to protect her daughter from being caught by their hunters sent me into a tailspin. I began to get sweaty and panicky as I felt myself going through the feeling of having to protect my children from a life-or-death threat.
Can you please share a story about how your highly sensitive nature created problems at work or socially?
I think HSP have trouble taking criticism. Instead of it just being comment and inspired moment to improve in a particular area, it becomes a harsh blow to their entire being.
When I worked for a company that did yearly evaluations, I would take every criticism as an “end-of-the-world” comment. I would cry for days and sometimes weeks feeling completely inadequate and unworthy. Even if 99.5% of the evaluation was amazing, I would focus in on that .5% criticism. This would negate all the good I did for the year. I would beat myself up for “messing up” as I would put it. This affected my performance and interactions immensely.
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 always thought I was “too sensitive” before I suspected that my sensitivity was above the norm. When my high school friends would be laughing and fooling around, I would be sulking in the corner because I didn’t feel like they really understood me. I felt like an outsider — like I didn’t belong. This is a very common feeling for HSP. Many times, we even feel like an outsider on planet Earth. We can’t understand how humans are so cruel to each other and to the environment.
As I left my hometown and went to college and then up to New York City, my eyes were opened in a different way. I was introduced to many different kinds of people and, this time, I got to choose who I felt comfortable with. I began to investigate yoga which led me to spiritual books that seemingly “fell” into my hands. These books discussed similar concepts — the idea that we are much more than physical beings. That being intuitive (earlier known as “sensitive”) was more our truth than not and, if we can learn to understand and harness the gift of being aware, we can live a more fulfilled life. I also began to find my “tribe” — people who felt like I had known them my whole life. They nurtured my desire for authentic community and a sense of belonging.
My self-deprecating definition of “too sensitive” began to shift. I began to see my empathic ability as a gift rather than a hindrance. This process was not overnight — it was long spanning 10–15 years. But this was before the internet and accessibility to information. Now it is much easier to find this sense of connection with people all over the world.
I’m sure that being Highly Sensitive also gives you certain advantages. Can you tell us a few advantages that Highly Sensitive people have?
As I began to see my sensitivity as something to celebrate, I saw that there were, in fact, many advantages to being highly sensitive. I am far less judgmental of other people. I am able to see and feel why someone acts the way they do. With this skill, I am a great mediator. I am able to help people come to an understanding of how people have acted towards them in their life. In doing so, forgiveness can happen, releasing people from the prison of regret and blame.
I have always been the person that people feel comfortable confiding in. This has helped me be of greater service to my clients. They know that they can tell me anything and I will not judge. I accept them for who they are regardless, and if they truly want to heal, I am able to guide them there using my sensitivity.
HSP are great observers. I can walk into a room and feel what is going on. I can meet people where they are at, accept them, love them, and then gently guide them to another way of being if they choose.
Can you share a story from your own life where your great sensitivity was actually an advantage?
My great sensitivity was always an advantage as a director of stage productions. I loved directing meaty, emotional pieces because I could go into each character and feel their entire journey throughout the play. This let me get to know the characters in the most intimate of ways and guide the actors to find more depth in their portrayal. I could tell if the actors were holding back or really allowing themselves to become the character. I would push the performers which would let them dive deeper in their craft while serving the translation of the work from script to stage.
There seems to be no harm in being overly empathetic. What’s the line drawn between being empathetic and being Highly Sensitive?
An HSP can get physically and emotionally ill if they do not learn boundaries. When all I wanted was for others to be happy, even at the expense of my own well-being, I became depressed, weighed down, and anxious. So as sensitive people, we must do our own healing first. This starts with making the time and space to connect with ourselves, learn who we really are, love, and accept ourselves fully. As we are able to do this with ourselves, we become more capable to do this with others in a healthy way. We are able to be sensitive without taking on another’s energy. We all have free will. Some people don’t want to be happy. They enjoy their misery. If I have done my own healing and don’t associate my worth with another person’s happiness, I can surrender their experience and set myself free.
Also, when we go inward and learn who we really are, we can better know when we have taken on other people’s emotions or thoughts. Then we can close our eyes and ask if this sadness is really ours or someone else’s. When we are able to do this consistently, we take back our power.
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 is tricky for an HSP. I say this from experience. In 2015, I made the decision to deactivate my Facebook account. I was getting too upset by posts, arguments, and insensitive remarks. It overwhelmed me and was affecting my ability to be a healthy mother and wife. Once I got off social media, I felt calmer and more centered. I connected with my family and friends in other ways and developed a strong core circle of supportive, loving people.
During the pandemic, I decided to start over with Facebook. In the five years, I was away, I had gotten very clear on my thoughts and beliefs and grounded myself there. I made the choice to be very selective about who I “friended”. I am fine unfriending or unfollowing someone.
One very important realization that shifted it all for me is that if someone posts a disrespectful comment, it really has nothing to do with me and has everything to do with them. This is true with in-person interactions as well. I have learned a very important lesson to NOT TAKE IT PERSONALLY. This is monumental for an HSP! I allow them to have their energy and I set boundaries as to how it interacts with my world. If the person is open to having a discussion about their comment or the way they communicated, then I will engage, setting an intention for healing. If not, I am completely happy for them to go on their merry way.
This has been instrumental in my re-emergence into the social media world.
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?
First, I would comment that every person’s thoughts and feelings are valid. I also possibly would attempt to engage in a discussion about it if I felt that was possible.
But more importantly, I would go inward to look at why this experience is upsetting to me. I always come back to my own internal work. I also have a fundamental belief that everything happens for a reason. So, if I find myself in an experience like that, my first step is to go into meditation and ask myself what I am wanting to look at in this particular situation. I ask myself what it is triggering. Sometimes the answers are quick and clear and other times it takes a while to understand why it is affecting me in the way it is. Regardless, I trust there is a gift there in my healing and that the experience is reflecting something important. This has been a much more empowering practice than trying to “fix it” with other people.
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?
Again, my strategies have all been internal introspection and dissection. Falling in love with myself, honoring my sensitivity, finding my worthiness, understanding what feels authentic and true to me, creating healthy boundaries are ways that I have become more certain and grounded. With this confidence, I have given up the need to change or overcome anyone’s perspective of me.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a Highly Sensitive Person? Can you explain what you mean?
One fundamental myth is that being highly sensitive is a disadvantage.
Many HSP struggles to find a way to belong. Whether it be in their family, group of friends, country, or even on the planet, they feel different and out of place. I feel this is a huge myth that keeps HSP from doing their “work” on the planet.
What I came to realize and now teach to my clients is that this sensitivity is a super-power. The ability to walk into a room and literally “feel” what is going on, is a gift.
And now, more than ever, we NEED highly sensitive people. We need compassion, empathy, and understanding. We need people who can feel, sense, and interpret CORRECTLY what is going on with others, animals, the environment, nations, and even our planet as a whole. I believe our future depends on highly sensitive people. This is imperative if we want to heal the divide of our nation, world, and planet.
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?
It is important to have the awareness that if someone says something like that to you, it is only because your sensitivity is somehow triggering the other person. Maybe they have been accused of being too cold. Maybe when they were younger, they were called “too sensitive” and told to “just deal with it”. You never know someone else’s history.
This is where personal boundaries are important. But it is also ok to call it like it is by saying something like, “It seems that my sensitivity is triggering something within you. Do you want to talk about it?” When we clearly know who we are, and have come to love, accept, and honor all parts of ourselves, then we allow others to rise to the possibility of self-love and self-expression.
When we choose our healing first and understand that permanent shifts come from going inward, then we are better able to allow others to choose the same. Or not. Whichever choice is made, we extend acceptance and love while holding true to our boundaries.
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.
- Do your own inner work. Get to know yourself. Cultivate self-acceptance, self-love. Learn and ground into your worthiness. I talked about the importance of this above. The more I got to know myself, the more I was able to be clear with my certainty and my boundaries while letting go of the need to make others feel better to determine my self-worth.
- See your sensitivity as a super-power. My sensitivity has helped me in all my work as a director, author, and coach. I can assist in getting under many layers that usually take years to uncover in more traditional therapy.
- Learn the ways your sensitivity serves you and the ways it doesn’t. Embrace that which serves and accept/let go of that which does not serve. My sensitivity helps me in my work but hurts me when I try to make others feel better to make me feel good about myself.
- Learn healthy boundaries. You can meet someone halfway if they have the ability to do so too. If they don’t it is ok to let a relationship and experience go, from a place of empowerment and certainty. I let people make their own choices in life. If it works with me and supports a healthy lifestyle and my mental/emotional well-being, I welcome them into my life. If their choices bring upset, friction and turmoil, I choose to not engage with them. Either way, I try to not make it a comment on me or them. I just allow it to be what it is.
- Learn how energy works. Energy can be transferred through thought. Go into an intimate discovery of your energy so you become aware if you have taken on another’s or if it is your own. There are also very simple energy cleansing techniques to clean off your energy, releasing that which is not yours and bringing in your vibrant truest energy. I teach these basic techniques to all of my clients. By understanding energy, I am able to be clear whether I feel a certain way because of something going on within me or because of picking up someone else’s energy.
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 I could inspire a movement, it would be one of kindness and compassion. If we all did the inner work to reveal, acknowledge, accept, and forgive our own thoughts, feelings, and emotions, I believe our interactions would be more caring and compassionate.
It takes immense courage to go inward. I know because I have been dedicated to this process for over 25 years. And it is a marathon, not a sprint — it takes time and strength. But it is possible — in fact, it is more than possible — and it creates the most fundamental permanent shifts to help live a life of purpose and meaning.
This is the intention and support I give my clients. I see them as whole beings first — they are not broken; they are not in need of healing. They are whole first and foremost. Therefore, my work with them becomes one of uncovering their truth.
How can our readers follow you online?
Please visit my website www.carriejeroslow.com. I am also on Facebook at: @carrie-jeroslow-author-coach-intuitive.
I’d love to talk with you to see if I can help you either through a coaching session or my 8-week course.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.
Thank you for this opportunity!!