Your boundaries are valid. — Hate night clubs? A certain coffee shop has music you can’t stand? Suggest alternatives. I like to say, “That’s a fun spot, but I think we’d have more fun or be more productive somewhere else.” Can’t watch horror movies? “I’ve heard great reviews about that film, but I’m in the mood for something more romantic or comedic.” I try not to use my sensitivity as a reason or an excuse for not going somewhere or doing something. I focus more on how my sensitivity will be affected indirectly. “The music is a bit loud there and we have a lot to talk about, so do you have another suggestion,” is way of honoring your sensitivity without it being the focus.
As a part of our series about How To Survive And Thrive As A Highly Sensitive Person, I had the pleasure of interviewing producer, actress and host Kristin West. Kristin has been entertaining since she was seven years old. She discovered her love of entertaining people while playing Fern in her community theater’s production of “Charlotte Web”.
West produces and hosts “Horror Talk with Kristin West”, a collaboration with Polar Underworld Productions. West interviews top horror stars as they are out and about in Los Angeles. The show is currently in its fourth season and is available on Facebook, YouTube, Bitmovio, Spotify, iHeart Radio and other premiere podcast outlets. An award-winning actress, you’ve seen Kristin on shows such as “Rachel Dratch’s Late Night Snack” and many indie horror films. When she’s not interviewing or acting, she’s perfecting her decoupage skills or her yoga asanas. Tree pose is one of her favorites.
West is an avid supporter of Feeding America, No Child Hungry and other organizations that combat food insecurity and hunger. Kristin is also a body positivity advocate and models for innovative fashion brands that cater to the burgeoning plus-size market.
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 am an actress, host and producer. Being in entertainment, my sensitivity can be an asset and burden — in the same day and even in the same hour!
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?
For me, being a Highly Sensitive Person means that my biology and my psyche are more receptive to stimuli of all kinds. For example, when listening, I don’t just hear the content of what my conversation partner is saying, I hear the tone of voice. I notice pauses. I am constantly reading when someone’s non-verbal signals don’t cohere with what they’re saying. Sometimes I do get offended or hurt, but one of the joys of being sensitive is that I try to meet everyone with the compassion I’d like them to extend to me.
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?
Many of us are empathetic. Frankly, everyone has their triggers, highly sensitive or not. I do cringe when people make remarks that I think are unkind, unfair or disrespectful. I live by the motto, “Graciousness always wins.”
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 used to not be able to watch most horror movies until I began acting in horror flicks and learning how the blood and gore were achieved. Actual violence, like we see on the news, still rattles me deeply and even hearing stories that are violent stir up strong visceral reactions in me. I mute the TV and walk away if the news anchor gives a warning about “the footage you’re about to see is violent.”
Can you please share a story about how your highly sensitive nature created problems at work or socially?
I am very sensitive to crowded, loud rooms. Every entertainment soiree I’ve ever been to has been in a crowded, loud room. At events, I often have to give myself little breaks away from the main event to recenter myself. The volume of communication occurring, and the noise can be overwhelming. Once I get re-centered, I can go back into the event. Some who don’t know me well may perceive that I am disinterested or aloof. That’s not the case. I want to be fully engaged, and when I am over-stimulated, I’m not fully present.
When did you suspect that your level of sensitivity was above the societal norm? How did you come to see yourself as “too sensitive”?
When I was a child, adults would comment “You’re so sensitive,” and sometimes being “sensitive” was more of a criticism. I lived with this idea that my high sensitivity was a fault for many years until I read Dr. Elaine Aron’s book “The Highly Sensitive Person,” and then I began to appreciate the gifts of my inherent sensitivity.
I’m sure that being Highly Sensitive also gives you certain advantages. Can you tell us a few advantages that Highly Sensitive people have?
I appreciate beauty so much. I’ve been stunned into silence by a painting. I am no stranger to peak experiences of all kinds. As an actress and a host, my sensitivity has helped me give and receive nonverbal communication. I don’t think I’d have the success I have without my sensitivity.
My sensitivity also makes me consider how I treat others. Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” The words, “I love you,” can be said sincerely or insincerely. It’s how you feel as they are said. My sensitivity makes me keenly aware of how I communicate and how I am communicated to. I try to communicate neutrally or positively, and I am choosy about my words.
Can you share a story from your own life where your great sensitivity was actually an advantage?
My sensitivity has protected me on at least one occasion. I felt a man staring at my friend and me as we were walking down a Los Angeles street one night. I felt he was staring too long and a threat, though he was keeping a reasonable distance from us. Suddenly, he ran between us and he snatched my friend’s purse. Thankfully, I got a good enough look at him that I could identify him for the police, and he was apprehended. If I hadn’t been sensitive to my environment and his predatory staring, he may not have been caught and prosecuted.
There seems to be no harm in being overly empathetic. What’s the line drawn between being empathetic and being Highly Sensitive?
To me, being an empath means, “I’m sharing or feeling what you’re feeling,” so, “if you’re sad, I am also sad.” Being highly sensitive, for me, means that I am receiving more sensory information than a typical person normally processes or can filter out. Sometimes, that causes information overload. It’s like being in a restaurant and not just listening to your date talk about their day. It’s hearing the clanging of the dishes and cutlery, the chatter around you, the phone ringing, the hostess walking beside you in squeaky shoes, the sappy music and feeling overwhelmed. It’s not just sounds either. Some highly sensitive people are more sensitive to smells, visual or tactile stimuli.
I think both empathy and high sensitivity must be managed well. There are drawbacks to being very empathetic. You must check in with yourself and say to yourself, “Are these really my feelings?” I check in with myself every evening and write down my feelings so that I am clear on how I feel and what my priorities are.
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?
The “unfollow”, “mute” and “restrict” buttons are a sensitive person’s best tools on social media these days. You don’t have to receive all the communication that is happening. You can choose what you let in and what you don’t. If someone is constantly negative, bickering or hostile unfollow them. If someone is abusive towards you or someone you care about, for your own health and well being, block them, without shame. You must take care of you.
One thing I must remind myself of constantly is that social media communication is very often low key, too fast and too casual. Very few people are poets on social media or in life generally. Don’t read too much into people’s poor word choices or questionable emoji choices. Give people the benefit of the doubt.
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?
Hopefully, people aren’t invalidating your feelings or calling you “petty”. Those are not people you want to be around. There’s a saying in Buddhism, “don’t bring things to a painful point,” which I try to live by the best I can. Escalating conflict probably won’t help you very much. Managing the situation and adapting as best you can is probably your best bet.
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 share the places and experiences I love. Everyone needs a break, sensitive or not. I haunt LA’s labyrinths, gardens, galleries and museums. If I share what I love and gives me respite, perhaps someone else will love it too. Sharing is caring! Show friends and loved ones you care by showing them peaceful places you like. Then you’re not running away from everyone or hiding.
Everyone loves to be complimented and the highly sensitive can be adept at giving great compliments. They say the “devil is in the details,” but the delight is in the details too. Try to use your sensitivity to bring joy to others as much as possible.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a Highly Sensitive Person? Can you explain what you mean?
- Firstly, just because someone is sensitive doesn’t mean they’re a weeping mess or a pushover. Many sensitive people are loving warriors. We love, observe and care deeply. That doesn’t mean we’re going to take callous or abusive treatment or spend hours crying about it.
- Secondly, we’re not all drama queens. We’re not all acting out our own versions of “The Princess and the Pea”. Not all sensitive people are prissy. In fact, we’re highly adaptive. There are some people who use their sensitivity as an excuse or weaponize their sensitive natures, but healthy sensitive people know and acknowledge their sensitivities and adopt healthy coping skills.
- Third, there’s no one way to be sensitive. For some, all five senses are heightened. For others, one sense is particularly vulnerable to overwhelm. For many, it’s somewhere in between. There’s as many ways to be highly sensitive as there are highly sensitive people. Also, my experience has been that what I am sensitive to shifts day to day.
- Finally, overwhelm or flooding, for me is like a pain. It’s not just an annoyance. My whole being is resisting this noise or that smell. It’s like a fight or flight response in my situation and I suspect that many other highly sensitive people share that level angst about what overstimulates them. I know when I am overwhelmed when I act or speak insensitively or harshly.
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?
We all have brains and very few of us are intimately familiar with how our brains work and process information. We need better education about what’s considered “normal” and what’s not. Additionally, people who are not “normal”, don’t necessarily have a pathological issue. It’s time to celebrate everyone’s uniqueness.
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 know what I know.” — Use this phrase with yourself often, especially when people invalidate your impressions or hunches. Many people will dismiss your impressions of people or events, because of how you “feel” about a situation is not apparent to their eyes. A few months ago, a friend of mine made a new acquaintance. I said to him, after meeting his new acquaintance, “Be careful. She will turn on you like a dime.” He dismissed that and thought I was paranoid. Even though she was a pleasant conversationalist, I felt a lot of anger from her. She never said anything angry, but I felt it. He dismissed my impression. She sent him a stream of angry messages a few weeks later without warning. Don’t let people invalidate your impressions and trust your hunches. Remind yourself, “I know what I know.”
- Your nervous system needs a break. — Highly sensitive people are processing more information. Self-care time is imperative. I make restorative yoga a weekly practice to decompress, especially after a hectic day. I enjoy restorative yoga because it gives me an opportunity to rest with awareness.
- Treat yourself to some time in nature. –Living in large cities can be really taxing for highly sensitive people. Noise pollution is constant. Treat your senses to some time in a quiet park. Walk barefoot. Get close to the earth. Enjoy the birds singing. Many of us feel bombarded and weakened by our sensitivity, but being sensitive can be a joyful, ecstatic, spiritual experience too in the right environment.
- Your boundaries are valid. — Hate night clubs? A certain coffee shop has music you can’t stand? Suggest alternatives. I like to say, “That’s a fun spot, but I think we’d have more fun or be more productive somewhere else.” Can’t watch horror movies? “I’ve heard great reviews about that film, but I’m in the mood for something more romantic or comedic.” I try not to use my sensitivity as a reason or an excuse for not going somewhere or doing something. I focus more on how my sensitivity will be affected indirectly. “The music is a bit loud there and we have a lot to talk about, so do you have another suggestion,” is way of honoring your sensitivity without it being the focus.
- Honor your rhythms and thresholds. — I enjoy working at night because it’s quieter. I am a night person. Likewise, I hate rushing around, so I don’t cluster book appointments for myself unless it’s absolutely necessary. I’d rather spend 30 minutes in Los Angeles traffic, for 3 days in a row instead of 2 hours in LA traffic in one day. The ancient Greek saying, “Know thyself,” and “Avoid excess,” really helps me stay balanced in an overstimulating world.
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 admire the work that No Kid Hungry does. Even in such a wealthy country as the U.S., one out of six children face hunger. This is not just a food issue. It affects children’s learning. It affects their development. Childhood hunger is an issue that is beyond food.
I love what’s being done about minimizing food waste. I’d love for children to have gardens at school where they could take fruits and vegetables that they grow home to their families. I grew up in a rural area, so I had some agricultural classes when growing up, but you don’t need to live in a rural area to garden.
How can our readers follow you online?
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.