You need to be aware of where your emotions start and where they end. I get to the office in the morning and I am all happy singing in the inside with my airpods on. I see my colleague all fired up. I take off my air pods and little by little through every complain he says out loud my happiness starts vanishing. Without realizing I have taken his feelings as mine and I have forgotten my true emotional state. Empathizing and feeling someone doesn’t mean we have to take those feeling and run with them. Come back to your senses, come back to your feeling.
As a part of our series about How To Survive And Thrive As A Highly Sensitive Person, I had the pleasure of interviewing Meritxell Garcia.
Meritxell Garcia is an empathy expert, writer and a highly sensitive people coach. She is the author of “El Arte de la Empatía” where she develops the empathic gym method to thrive as an hsp through developing self-empathy, personal boundaries and finding emotional, mental and physical balance.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and what you do professionally?
Sure. I am Meritxell from Barcelona. I discovered I was a highly sensitive person while living in the United States and through self-discovery and study of empathy, nutrition and self-development I managed to bring myself back to balance and work with my sensitivity as an ally instead of an enemy. I work with hsp’s to develop self-empathy and empathy for others in a healthy way to live an embodied life with who they are, be authentic and at the same time have the tools to self-regulate and set personal boundaries where need be.
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 am glad you ask that because there is a common misunderstanding that a highly sensitive person is someone who doesn’t have a very thick skin and gets offended at any time. This is very far from what it actually is. As an HSP I receive massive downloads of information from my senses. So where you and I are having a conversation for you, for me, as an HSP I am having twenty different ones. I can read your body language; I can feel if something I said bothers you or if your body and your words are contradictory to each other. We just perceive more, which means that we might get emotional or annoyed by something no one else is seeing. This is why people are too quick to set the label of oversensitivity, weakness or even too emotional.
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?
According to Judith Orloff, there are different degrees of empathy so to speak. Empaths and highly sensitive people would be in the higher end of the spectrum. It has been studied that hsps we have overactivated mirror neurons. Those are in charge of perceiving other people’s feelings and body language for example. It allows us to mirror someone else’s body language, connect easily with someone because we act as a mirror of what we perceive. We perceive more hence our mirror is more accurate. People tend to open up to us because they feel this deep sense that we get them, we mirror them, we perceive them. It is a survival trait really; we are able to adapt more to the environment but at the same time we get overwhelmed by the subtle changes in the environment that we notice all the time.
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?
Yeah definitely. Its related to the fact that we perceive more around us so any inputs that have violent content, natural disasters or seeing someone suffer or be in pain affects us deeply. We get the emotion, not only the visuals of it. I used to watch the news all the time and I was not conscious of how much it affected me to watch story after story that would get to me. I would end up exhausted from receiving sensory information. Now I choose to decide when I want to see the news and what format is more convenient for me so I get the information I want without overloading my system.
Can you please share a story about how your highly sensitive nature created problems at work or socially?
I was that girl that would cry in the bathroom and you could hear the sobbing while washing your hands. Everything would touch me immensely and it didn’t really matter if it was a compliment from my boss or if it was a criticism, I would cry no matter what. I found myself in situations where I had to swallow my tears and find a moment to let them out. My bathroom crying moments where quite part of routine. It liberated me from the feeling I had inside and I could let it out without being judged. Crying is not very popular in a work environment although it’s as natural as laughing but it’s not socially accepted so I had to isolate to allow myself to feel and let it all out.
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 different and not only because I felt it but little by little people start saying so when you react in a way that is not standard. I realized I was up to something when I moved to EEUU. I was a new environment and I started realizing that people would open up to me in the weirdest of places. I would be washing my hands in a random bathroom and someone would open up to me about a problem they were having. I had uber drives that were more a therapy session than a quite drive to my destination. I started to see that there was something others could feel about me that made them open, that they could sense my sensitivity and there I started investigating that on my own. I have never seen myself as too sensitive, just more sensitive than others
I’m sure that being Highly Sensitive also gives you certain advantages. Can you tell us a few advantages that Highly Sensitive people have?
There are certainly some perks about being highly sensitive. You can feel a room and you know exactly what you have to do to change the energy or the outcome of a meeting. If you are into balance and you have moved from being sensitive to have sensorial intelligence you are able to use this humongous amount of data perceived to be more creative, find alternative solutions, analyze a situation better, be more intuitive. Sometimes we don’t know that we know it but we do, there is a layer of unconscious knowledge and once you are not on overdrive with your emotions but you know how to work with them this trait is such a gift.
Can you share a story from your own life where your great sensitivity was actually an advantage?
I was in Singapore on a business trip waiting for my partner to arrive to start our vacation in Thailand. He got caught in the military coup in the Istanbul airport in 2016. When I got the news that he was stuck and possibly in danger I started crying and I thought I was not going to see him again. I was worried for his safety. All of a sudden, my creativity kicked in. I was able to feel the worry but not let it overwhelm me and without realizing I figure out different plans. I went on Twitter and started engaging with people who were at the airport just like him and getting information on what people were seeing, experiencing and connecting to human beings that were in the same situation as my partner supporting them and trying to understand what the situation was like. I contacted some acquaintances I had in Istanbul to have an escape plan for him in case he had to stay a few days in the country in case he had get out of the airport.
I was in contact with the embassy getting information. I gathered all I knew and I found answers for everything I needed to know. Picking up on subtleties and details has tremendous advantages. We managed to buy a flight directly to Thailand and two days later he arrived safe and sound and we could hug again in paradise.
There seems to be no harm in being overly empathetic. What’s the line drawn between being empathetic and being Highly Sensitive?
Empathy is inherent in the human being we all experience empathy in one way or another but being highly sensitive in regards of empathy means that we feel more, we perceive more and as a consequence we tend to empathize more with others. It is easier to place yourself into someone else’s shoes if you feel their feelings, understand how they think and you are able to hold the space for the person in front of you.
Empathy is a choice though. The fact that hsp’s we have more information that allows us to empathize easily doesn’t mean we all choose to do so.
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 a mix and match of feelings stirred up by ego and needs. The same way watching the news can overwhelm us, social media is also another source of stimulation for us.
We have a tendency to look for deep connections, fight for what is right and social media can be the highway to find individuals who have the same values and desires. More often than not we get caught by rage, ego and the need of defending ourselves or justifying our acts. We need to work on our sense of value detached from what others think of us. We are valuable just for being, there is nothing we have to do or say to have value. Social media makes apparent there are other realities and it doesn’t mean they are ours but we have to be aware that exists. Is a work in progress between understanding what is the world like for someone else and decide if there is any of that view of the world we want to include in ours or not.
How would you respond if something you hear or see bothers or effects you, but others comment that you are being petty or that it is minor?
I would openly express my feelings. If what I think feels minor to someone else, they are in their right to think so. Their opinion does not change my feelings and if they are in a true place of wanting to understand they will ask questions out of curiosity instead of judging without knowing what is behind a comment or a reaction. Most often than not people assume they know instead of asking a question that would actually reveal what is happening on the other side.
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?
It is not my job to change someone else’s perception of me or what I do. It is a duty to myself to be authentic, to share my feelings and thoughts from kindness but how are they perceived is something that is out of my reach. Everyone has the right to perceive reality in their own way, I can share my view but if I find a wall in front of me, I won’t let myself bleed out to face a wall that is not part of my path.
We can only be who we are and if others want to be part of our life’s it will happen.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a Highly Sensitive Person? Can you explain what you mean?
Non HSPs are wired differently and it is difficult to place yourself in someone’s reality if it is different than yours. The typical myth is that we are introverted. The truth is that 20% of the population are highly sensitive, and 30% of those are extroverted. There is no hsp’s that is the same as any other. We are humans, as much as we share a trait, we are not all the same. Sometimes placing the label of HSP makes people think we would overreact easily, cry at any moment, get defensive or that the trait somehow is a challenge to live a “normal life”. It is not. Life gets as difficult as you take it. It’s on you to get the strategies and tools you need to have a smooth every day with your sensitivity. It’s your business and no one else’s.
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?
Until we embrace sensitivity as part of who we are we try to reject it. If we, who are sensitive, don’t accept our sensitivity and see it as an advantage how are we going to pretend that others see it positively? If you tell yourself it is a curse to be sensitive you are already projecting to others that is a harmful trait that is a source of challenges. Before we can even explain to others what it feels like to be sensitive and how it works we need to figure it out for ourselves from all angles, positive and negative. Figure out your sensitivity first and then make your case with others so they can see a glimpse of what is reality for you through the sensitivity lens.
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.
- You need to be aware of where your emotions start and where they end. I get to the office in the morning and I am all happy singing in the inside with my airpods on. I see my colleague all fired up. I take off my air pods and little by little through every complain he says out loud my happiness starts vanishing. Without realizing I have taken his feelings as mine and I have forgotten my true emotional state. Empathizing and feeling someone doesn’t mean we have to take those feeling and run with them. Come back to your senses, come back to your feeling.
- Get in touch with your needs as weird as they might seem. Sometimes I need to be alone for a few hours, take a long bath or just walk-in circles to let my energy get out of my system. And this means saying no to some plans, this means facing not so comfortable conversations with others to express my feelings or what I need to do for myself. I can’t control what they feel but I can express myself truthfully and say that I really wanted to go to the party but today I feel exhausted and I know I won’t enjoy it and I will be a terrible company and end up fully depleted. I can suggest my friend to do an alone plan together another day or adjust what I need to what is feasible. Maybe I just show up and give her a hug, have a tea with her before the party and be on my way to a very much needed relaxing bath to calm my overwhelmed nervous system. Whatever it is you need listen to it and act accordingly. Giving yourself what you need when you need it is important. It allows you to not get into overwhelm, it allows you to pause. You are responsible of your own wellbeing.
- Stay away from toxic people: vampires and narcissists. This is probably the most difficult advice to follow. As highly sensitive people we are wired to feel, to connect, to share and give ourselves to someone. There are some predators out there that are looking for a victim to suck dry their energy, their motivation and take advantage of their will to help. Vampires are not wearing a cape and neither have fangs, they are dressed as those friends and partners who support you just until what is good for you goes against what they need from you. The make you small, they throw you into a guilt spiral that has no end to get what they need from you. Say no. Place your personal boundaries where needed.
- Find your soul tribe. Your people will recognize your gifts and support you all the way through. Having healthy relationships is a must for all of us to thrive but as hsp’s is even more important because we are very much affected by anything happening in our environment. Choose wisely who you are friends with, in what environments are you and who do you engage with. A soul tribe is this group of people you can be yourself with, you can open up even when you are ashamed of the version of yourself you are sharing out loud. The more you allow yourself to be who you are, you will find a path back to you through being authentic with others. People who are by your side will support you and see your gifts and all sides of you. Go for healthy relationships.
- Being alone is not being lonely. This one took me a long time to figure out for myself. As HSPs we need our alone time but we fight a thought that if we take time for ourselves and isolate, we are selfish and we push our need to one side in order to not fall into that. We fall for the trap that being alone is selfish or we go to the other extreme an isolate ourselves under rock waiting for someone to wake us up when the world hurts a little less. Being alone at times is a core need that we need to honor. Deciding to be alone doesn’t have to be lonely. Anyone, hsp’s or not we need to learn to have a good relationship with ourselves and enjoy our time alone as the gift it is.
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.
I am passionate about empathy because is what helped me be comfortable in my own skin. I have seen hundreds of people that have used my method to be better friends for themselves and practice every day self-empathy and from a space of being authentic and true to yourself you can have empathy for others in a healthy way and move away from people pleasing and making yourself small. My movement would be #allyouneedisempathy. Empathy is the invisible threat that connects us as human beings. Who doesn’t need that?
How can our readers follow you online?
It will be my pleasure to connect online with your readers.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.