Check in with them regularly — let them know you’re mindful of their unique experience and processing of this chaotic world! Show them you care by kindly checking in every now and then, but especially during emotionally challenging times for the HSP. Doing this is a form of co-regulation and it’s effective and beautiful.
As a part of our series about How To Survive And Thrive As A Highly Sensitive Person, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alexandria Thibodeaux.
Alexandria is a highly sensitive, Gryffindor, Creole/Cajun living among the Rocky Mountains in Denver, CO with her highly sensitive husband, two cats, and their HSD (highly sensitive dog) — yes, that is a real thing! Always an exuberant, passionate person, she has also deeply struggled all her life with managing the overwhelm that comes with her innately amplified feelings. It wasn’t until she discovered she is a highly sensitive person (HSP) during a time of overwhelm and internal anguish that she learned that being highly sensitive is her greatest superpower.
Now, she serves to help other HSPs thrive in a world that caters to the non-HSPs. She is a relationship coach specializing in HSPs and Identity Rebirth & Cultural Renaissance.
Alexandria helps HSPs thrive in relationships to self and in interpersonal relationships and she also helps people of all temperaments get to the core of their authentic identities so they can operate from a place of self-acceptance as a means to navigate life with fierce intuition, unwavering self-respect, and complete authenticity.
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 believe in a world where deeply feeling and processing everything around us isn’t shamed, rather celebrated, because it’s in fact the foundation to a thriving relationship with our own identity. This approach to understanding and accepting ourselves is what I call an Identity Rebirth and a Cultural Renaissance.
As a highly sensitive person, I have rebirthed my identity by understanding, accepting, embracing, and loving my innately sensitive nature. I have experienced my own cultural renaissance by taking my newfound self-knowledge and self-empowerment and behaving, communicating, conducting, and representing myself in all of my various communities and cultures with a fierce integrity, unwavering self-respect, and complete authenticity.
In her mission to empathetically & effectively support others’ journeys of self-reclamation and facilitate a supportive community, I work as a relationship coach, a speaker, and a leadership consultant to help HSPs thrive and to loved ones and colleagues of HSPs to thrive.
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?
A Highly Sensitive Person is someone who possesses an acutely sensitive nervous system due to a genetic and physiological trait called Sensory Processing Sensitivity. Because Sensory Processing Sensitivity wires the HSP nervous system more sensitively, HSPs experience deeper cognitive processing of physical, social and emotional stimuli.
Being an HSP beholds so much more depth and meaning than simply being more susceptible to frequent and easily hurt or offended feelings — it’s about being hypervigilant, deeply empathic, and progressive champions of human progression.
15–20% of the population are HSPs, meaning we perceive and experience the world around us much differently than 80–85% of the rest of the world. That is a significant difference in reality for HSPs — a difference that lasts a lifetime.
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, HSPs do possess a higher degree of empathy towards others. Since the HSP brain is associated with deeper cognitive processing of sensory input, the part of the brain that helps us understand peoples’ intentions and how they feel (the mirror neuron area) is also more active than the brains of non-HSPs. Because there is so much neural activity in that part of the HSP brain, HSPs don’t just intuitively know how someone is feeling, they themselves feel that person’s emotions as well.
Dr. Elaine Aron, the psychologist who discovered the HSP trait and coined the term “highly sensitive person” in 1991, created an acronym to describe the four main aspects of an HSP nervous system: D.O.E.S.
D — Depth of Processing
O — Overstimulation
E — Emotional Reactivity/Empathy
S — Sensitivity to Subtleties
As stated, the letter “E” literally describes the highly empathic nature of HSPs.
HSPs react more to both positive and negative experiences because of the intensity of our depth of processing (“D”). Because we process things more deeply and thoroughly than most, that processing also requires more emotional reactivity (“E”) from us when processing our emotions and experiences. As a result, HSPs experience heightened feelings of any emotion or experience. Examples include heightened feelings of: pleasure, curiosity, fear, joy, excitement, anger, etc.
Furthermore, because we HSPs process our experiences so deeply, we also develop stronger feelings about our experiences. Additionally, since HSPs experience such strong emotional reactions to stimuli as a result of our nervous systems taking in more sensory information to process, we are more susceptible
to be more frequently hurt and offended. And of course, HSPs are going to process that offense and hurt feelings more deeply and longer than most. So naturally, those experiences affect HSPs more than non-HSPs.
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?
HSPs absolutely have greater difficulty with certain parts of pop culture, entertainment, or news that depict emotional or physical pain. This is because intense visuals, sounds, stories of struggle, lack of control, dominance, violence, aggression, discomfort, and suffering contain enough sensory input to put our nervous systems in overdrive, resulting in overstimulation (“O”) as well as empathy (“E”), causing us physical and emotional discomfort and/or pain.
Personally, I cannot watch TV shows or movies involving horror or gore and usually can’t watch stories involving psychological or physical abuse. With that, I can’t watch “Game of Thrones”, “The Handmaid’s Tale”, “Downton Abbey”, “Stranger Things”, or “Get Out”. “Big Little Lies” was also very hard for me, though I do love that show; I still have yet to start season 2 because I am still recovering from season 1!. I also can’t even watch the episode of “Bob’s Burgers” where Linda has a terrible birthday because it hurts me to see her so defeated. And that’s a cartoon! And she ends up feeling loads better by the end of the day, yet it still hurts me. Here’s a great personal story about the intense overstimulation I experienced from simply thinking about a horror-focused event that I did not even attend.
One Halloween in college, my friends decided to explore an abandoned and rumored to be haunted, building. I obviously took a hard pass on that activity but the mere idea of what they could experience filled me with complete and enveloping terror.
Here’s the thing: I don’t even believe in ghosts or paranormal activity. But I know my mind very well and my imagination has the creativity of horror movie writers — minus the passion and enjoyment of creating it. I am scared of the power and influence of my imagination and the visuals and stories I can create in my head feel so real that I’m trapped in a locked loop of self-imposed hysteria.
So while my friends were off willingly throwing themselves into a sensory nightmare, I was at home in bed, with my roommate asleep in her bed 4 feet from me, catatonic, facing the wall, drenched in sweat. I stayed in this piston for hours. My back was in excruciating pain. I was absolutely petrified of the hypothetical thoughts I know would have encountered had I been in a “haunted” environment. But there I was, safe from the horror environment, still suffering from my own hypothetical thoughts that applied to a situation I wasn’t even engaged in.
I stayed facing the wall of my dorm room because I knew if I turned around and saw an open space in the room, my mind would fill that empty, dark space with images of horror. I eventually called my mom for comfort, terrified in the process to move my hands mere inches to grab my phone.
Granted, I have now experienced and continue to practice personal development and healing work that allows me to much better self-regulate overstimulation, including fear. I would not experience that level of terror from my own horror-related thoughts today.
However, I am still staying clear of experiences I know will upset and overstimulate me, which absolutely includes horror flicks.
See what I mean about HSPs deeply processing? And then deeply processing emotional pain? And experiencing empathy? It’s all so real.
Can you please share a story about how a highly sensitive nature created problems for someone at work or socially?
I am a prime example of an HSP who has experienced problems at work as a result of my sensitivity. I’ll elaborate on why HSPs struggle with work and career in a social and cultural context before sharing my story.
Many HSPs job/career hop because we cannot sustain the overwhelming environmental stimuli of an office setting or the cultural pressures and expectations of the modern workplace.
Our work cultures are aggressive ones, and aggressive cultures have always had two ruling classes: the Warrior Kings and the Royal Advisors. HSPs are innately suited for and willingly contribute as the Royal Advisors.
Warrior Kings want to conquer as much as possible and will promptly go to war. Today in our corporate world, the Warrior Kings want to push for more gain by compromising the welfare of others. The Royal Advisors are there to press pause and reveal the long-term effects and consequences, which also must be equally considered. They do this through roles such as coaches, consultants, teachers, counselors, historians, scientists, judges, artists, and healers. HSPs embody this role because, by design, the HSP brain enjoys reflection.
An aggressive society devoid of sensitive counselors to counteract its aggressiveness will undoubtedly get into trouble. We HSPs possess these and other unique qualities essential to business and government, but that is a slow process of understanding for the Warrior Kings. In essence, we HSPs are restoring an essential equilibrium to the world’s presiding culture.
Today, however, we HSPs are faced with increasing difficulty to manage in almost all of our traditional roles. As Dr. Elaine Aron perfectly stated, “as technology advances and cutbacks are made to compete in the global economy, those who can tolerate working long and stressful hours are valued more than those who can’t.”
As such, it is very hard for HSPs to reach a place of social, cultural, and self-contentment that allows us to effectively help and serve others; it’s difficult to serve from a place of abundance when societal and cultural support for our temperament is scarce.
And I absolutely fell victim to society’s unrealistic and unsustainable expectations for work and career performance. Here’s my story:
I have hated every single job I’ve ever had, every career I’ve ever pursued — except for the job and career I have now: a solopreneur, a coach.
From the age of 16, I knew I wanted to be a marriage and family therapist. But then I became vegan at age 20 and became obsessed with nutrition and realized my second semester of senior year that I wanted to pursue a career in nutrition instead.
After years of chasing that dream, I realized it wasn’t feasible for me for a number of reasons, namely that I have a math learning disability and could never pass the coursework necessary to become a Registered Dietitian. And I lived in St. Louis at the time — not the ideal location with an ideal audience in which to pursue a successful career in health coaching.
Right out of college, I took a job as a teacher’s assistant at an infant and toddler Montessori school because it was an environment involving the navigation of family dynamics, which aligned with my degree and initial career plan. I hated it.
Granted, it was an incredible experience that taught me a plethora of incredibly useful and widely unknown information that we tremendously underestimate the mental and physical capabilities of children, especially very young children. I formed friendships with these magnificent children and was utterly blown away on a daily basis by their capacity to learn and self-serve at ages as young as 14 months. And to have had the privilege to facilitate the cognitive development of these children at their own pace, at their own individual levels, was a humbling opportunity filled with magic and extraordinary learning on my end. And as a result of that unique experience to facilitate alternative education, I now only want my future children to attend Montessori schools.
But I don’t like being around children for long periods of time, especially little children. Especially having to deal with twelve of them at a time, for up to ten hours a day. And I made 10 dollars/hour, which isn’t even real money — it’s more like pretend money. I gained so much knowledge and human connection from that job. But after an exhausting 1.5 years, I quit.
I quit to pursue something else I knew I would hate: substitute teaching. I never wanted to be a teacher or to work with kids but I was convinced that since I was now in that field, I had to stay in it. And I only made 2 dollars more per hour subbing. So… not a huge win. And guess what? I hated subbing even more. I quit after 2 weeks. At that point, I figured I should pursue something I was actually passionate about nutrition. Because I didn’t have any formal education or background in nutrition, the only job I could get was working at a local health food store, and working part-time. And making 8 dollars/hour.
I didn’t want to work part-time but the owners said I’d move to full-time after a few weeks. Never happened. I had to work nights and weekends which I told the owners I couldn’t do and had to frequently eat dinner in the car with my husband in the parking lot for 30 min until he got to return home and I had to stay late at the store. It was so miserable; I’m getting emotional right now as I type this.
It was unbearable torture to me and the owners and I were not aligned. Plus, the store was dark, dreary, ugly, and had atrocious lighting. I quit after 2 months.
In the meantime, I had recently connected with an old college friend. She told me about her current job as a customer service representative at a call center. It sounded like awful work but I was enticed by how “legit” her job was. She had benefits and health insurance, something I hadn’t experienced yet in any of my jobs. She made decent money, which to me, was anything over 10 dollars/hour, AND she worked normal hours (9–6).
So I applied and ended up getting the worst job in the world: working as a customer service representative at a call center for a clearinghouse. A clearinghouse is a liaison between doctors’ offices and insurance companies. Essentially, the company I worked for processed medical claims. Horribly boring company focus and GRUELING work.
The profusion of restrictions, the micromanaging, the abundance of rules, the clocking in to go to the bathroom, being timed when going to the bathroom, being disrespected by clients on a regular basis, having to constantly perform for management and rude clients, having to smile and act gleeful all damn day while talking like a tamed lunatic tortured into being perpetually cheerful and in essence, inhuman.
It was all so limiting.
I suffered through 2 more debilitating years there climbing up the corporate ladder, making more money, gaining more respect and perks, and actually gaining an abundance of autonomy with limited amounts of work.
I convinced myself every time I got a promotion that it was a dream scenario and that I should be incredibly grateful. I convinced myself I wanted each promotion I got and that everything would be OK despite every ounce of my visceral resistance to the reality I’d created for myself.
No matter what job I took, no matter what career I tried to nurture, no matter what industry I was in, no matter how much autonomy I had, no matter how easy or non-stressful the work, I was absolutely depleted from misery every time.
I eventually quit my corporate career after three years. Shortly after doing so without another job lined up or a plan (which was so terrifying) my husband and I received the news we were moving to Denver, CO for his job. We were elated!
After quitting corporate, I promised myself I would never work a traditional job ever again. But once we moved, a financial panic ensued. I surrendered to external forces and got a job working in an office for a staffing agency. I didn’t want that job at all. I cried on the way home when I got the job. But we needed money. And we needed it ASAP.
As you can imagine, that did not work out at all. After two weeks I had a breakdown and quit.
After I quit working for the staffing agency shortly after my move to Denver, realizing once and for all that traditional work will never serve me well, I took a job walking dogs for Rover and doing so part-time, which is what I wanted. I told myself moving forward I would do work my way. Rover seemed like a good idea…. but once again, I ignored my intuition, I ignored the physical signs of mental distress my body was manifesting, and I ultimately ignored my love for myself.
I told myself, convinced myself in the moment, that hanging out with animals, getting to know my new city, walking outside in the fresh air, and creating my own part-time hours would suffice. It did not. And I knew it wouldn’t. I didn’t know as strongly as I had known in the past with other jobs, but I still knew.
Even though I didn’t hate walking dogs, I strongly disliked it. Having some autonomy was not enough for me — I needed complete autonomy. I need only answer to me, and no one else. I need to follow my own rules, not anyone else’s.
I need total freedom to do what I want when I want, and how I want.
I need the absence of rules, expectations, and limitations.
The social and worldly expectations and rules are quite literally too much for me because I am too much for them.
Once I learned I was an HSP and got complete clarity and validation on who I was, who I am, and why I experience the world and life the way I did, the way I do, I started living authentically. I started basing my decisions around what felt innate and self-serving. I now operate from a place of inner and outer alignment. Istopped working for Rover and I stopped repeating my harmful patterns. Instead, I leaned into vulnerability and risks while trusting myself and trusting the processes I am taking to create, sustain, and truly live the life I want for myself.
I became a coach and an entrepreneur who works from home. I answer only to me now; my objective, my schedule, my space, my way. My passion, my mission, my legacy.
When does the average person’s level of sensitivity rise above the societal norm? When is one seen as “too sensitive”?
The average person’s level of sensitivity rises above the societal norm when their temperament meets the criteria for D.O.E.S.
D.O.E.S. is an acronym created by Dr. Elaine Aron, the psychologist who discovered and coined the term highly sensitive, which describes the four main components of the HSP nervous system.
“D” is for the depth of processing.
This means that HSPs process information more deeply than the average person. This includes all sensory input, physical and emotional: what we’re hearing, what we’re seeing, what we’re reading, what we’re thinking about, what we’re feeling, communication between others that we’re observing, seeing and hearing, communication between us and others, etc. We HSPs are processing all of that a lot deeper, more intricately, more thoroughly, and more in-depth than the average person around us.
And because HPSs feel more on a physical level as well as emotionally, we are more susceptible to pain, therefore tending to have a much lower pain tolerance. Because we are processing those painful stimuli more deeply, we experience more pain.
“O” is for overarousal/overwhelm.
Since HSPs notice subtleties in our environments, we naturally take in more stimuli in which to process. And because HSPs innately process things more deeply than most, that further exacerbates the amount of brainpower we need to process our environment. Because of that, we HSPs are going to wear out mentally and physically much quicker than the average person.
We are also going to need more time than most others to recuperate from our various activities and experiences of the day. It could even be one activity or one encounter or one experience that we need to recuperate from. This is especially true when HSPs have been in environments and situations that are complicated, meaning they’re in a complex situation. For example, if an HSP is in an environment involving a lot of things to remember, a noisy or cluttered space, or they’re doing something in an atmosphere where the activity is taking too long (like a long commute or a lengthy event) then it’s going to increase overwhelm and the subsequent rest time needed for our nervous system to recover from overarousal.
Now, because HSPs become overstimulated so easily, that can and does affect relationships for them and for those they’re involved with. It affects the activities that HSPs plan and how they engage with people in their life. It affects the ways in which HSPs behave and conduct themselves in social situations as well as their choices and decisions. It affects the goals and dreams HSPs create for themselves and possibly for others, whether that be a romantic partner, friends, or family. It affects the ways in which HSPs take in and process verbal communication and the behavior of others, whether that behavior is directed towards the HSP or not — this could refer to criticism or even positive feedback. Regardless, the words, tone and delivery will be evaluated thoroughly by an HSP.
“E” stands for emotional reactivity/empathy.
First, let’s focus on emotional reactivity.
HSPs react more to both positive and negative experiences. This is because of the intensity of our depth of processing (“D” in D.O.E.S.) Because HSPs process our emotions and experiences more deeply than most, that is naturally going to elicit more emotional reactivity when processing those emotions and experiences. As a result, HSPs experience heightened feelings of any emotion or experience, such as heightened feelings of pleasure, curiosity, fear, anger, joy, excitement, etc.
And as the mantra continues, because we HSPs process our experiences so deeply, we develop stronger feelings about those experiences as well. For example, it’s very common that when HSPs receive criticism or negative feedback, we want to fix it right away. And that is stemmed really from caring more, more so than doing things right.
Another reason HSPs might have a hard time processing criticism is that it’s very easy for us to go into an internal place of self-shame surrounding our sensitivity, surrounding who we are innate. It’s easy for us to get into this mindset that we are self-sabotaging because we HSPs are very much aware that we process the world around us differently than most people, we’re very much aware that things affect us more deeply and affect us longer than most people. And being so different and having that internal awareness can be very frustrating and taxing and can weigh HSPs down. These feelings of self- shame are also reinforced by society and often reinforced by our communities, often by people who are close to us like friends and family.
“E” — Empathy.
HSPs are extremely empathic individuals and that is because the part of the brain that helps humans understand people’s intentions and how they feel is more active in the HSP brain. This makes sense because the HSP brain is more associated with deeper cognitive processing of sensory input.
Because there’s so much neural activity in that particular part of the brain for us HSPs, we do more than just intuitively know what or how someone is feeling — we, ourselves, absorb and actually feel the other person’s emotions as well.
“S” — Sensing Subtleties.
HSPs notice things and pick up on subtleties in their environment that other people miss. As I’ve discussed before, there are certain parts of the brain that are more active in the HSP brain, and those particular active parts are associated with more complex processing of sensory input. And because those parts of the brain are more active, that is why we HSPs are able to notice the subtleties in our environment; our brain is working overtime to take in much more of our surroundings. This ability is not about having heightened or exceptional senses, because there are HSPs that have poor eyesight and hearing, but it’s more so about the fact that HSPs are processing the information more carefully.
I’m sure that being Highly Sensitive also gives one certain advantages. Can you tell us a few advantages that Highly Sensitive people have?
There are a myriad of advantages HSPs possess! First and foremost, being highly sensitive is a superpower in and of itself; we’ve got an edge! Here are the strengths, gifts, abilities, and skills we HSPs possess that serve us well:
- Highly empathic
- Fiercely intuitive
- Reflective & self-aware
- Astute & perceptive
- Extremely polite & mindful of others
- love deeply
- possess an innate pause-to-check system that helps us make thorough and calculated decisions that bring us peace
- can easily tap into our emotions
- deeply feel positive emotions more deeply than most
- tend to prioritize personal growth
- tend to be professionals at self-care — because we HAVE to be
- experience heightened feelings of joy and happiness
- easily find meaning in everything
- easily see the beauty in so many things, positive and negative
- are great at naturally fostering vulnerability in others
- have the keen ability to sense, notice, and distinguish things within our environments that others miss. This gift grants us the ability to remedy a diverse range of problems — from the individual others to massive world issues
- have the powerful ability to bring sensitivity, mindfulness, and empathy to a harsh world. Remember, HSPs are the royal advisors in many societies, including ours. We help create and sustain a more sensitive world, one of more mindfulness, empathy, kindness, generosity, and progression in the face of stoicism, emotional regression, grief, violence, ignorance, routine, harmful traditions.
- have the power of influence — major and significant influence. We are trailblazers! As the royal advisors, we influence our cultures and communities by serving as counselors, therapists, coaches, prophets, writers, teachers, judges, activists, artists, philosophers, and the like.
Can you share a story that you have come across where great sensitivity was actually an advantage?
Absolutely! I love telling this story!
My HSP gifts of noticing subtleties and having fierce intuition allowed me to make a quick and confident choice to adopt my and my husband’s dog baby: Herman.
When Herman was up for adoption, he was part of what’s called a “straight home” program because he’d been in the shelter for too long and if he didn’t get adopted soon…well… you know.
Because he was part of this program and wasn’t local to us (he was in New Mexico at the time, while we are in Colorado) we couldn’t meet him before adopting him, if we chose to do so. And because of all this, he was only 50 dollars! And he came vaccinated & neutered. Whoa.
But it’s risky to adopt a dog when you’ve never met him, never nurtured a dog of his breed, and when you have 2 cats!
The second I saw his photo, I just knew that Herman was the right dog for us. He looked so palpably sad, frightened, and desperate for love, a family, and a home. I’ll never forget that one and only photo we saw of him — he looked like a quintessential, depressed, shelter dog.
Based on how he looked in his photo, I thought it was extremely likely that he was even-tempered, gentle, and sweet-natured; a dog who looks that sad is bound to be gentle. I called the shelter to test my theory.
When I spoke to the shelter employee, she told me something amazing about Herman: he was part of the “gentle & dainty” playgroup. The other option was the “rough & rowdy” group and he didn’t like it!
“Oh my goodness…”, I thought. “Gentle & dainty”?! How precious is that!?”. So far, I was right about Herm.
I asked how he was with cats. The shelter employee told me she didn’t know and said if I was willing to wait 10 minutes, she’d put Herman in the cat room to see how he reacted. I gladly waited. She returned and said when he entered the room, he just stood there quietly, only took a few steps into the room, and after about 1 minute, turned around and walked out; he showed no no real interest in the cats. PERFECT!
That was it for me. And for my husband. We filled out the form online to adopt him right then and he’s been an absolutely perfect addition to our little family.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Herman is so perfect for us — I could tell, I could see it, and I could feel it.
My ability to notice and understand that the image displaying his facial expressions & body language indicated a gentle nature is no coincidence. My intuition that he would integrate well into our family is also no coincidence.
Being an HSP is a superpower. And it’s incredible.
There seems to be no harm in being overly empathetic. What’s the line drawn between being empathetic and being Highly Sensitive?
Being empathetic is part of being highly sensitive — it’s just one facet of the trait. All HSPs are natural empaths — our highly sensitive nervous system is what gives us the ability to be empathetic. And anyone who feels they are an empath is going to naturally be a highly sensitive person because their unique nervous system is what gives them the ability to be empathetic in the first place.
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?
Oof. This is an excellent question and one that absolutely needs more discussion and awareness.
Personally, I have a very complex relationship with social media. As an HSP, every single day I get so easily overwhelmed by the constant desire for a dopamine blast exercised through the external validation of a like, a comment, a message, a share, a mention of me. Virtual approval is the worst way to seek external validation because social media is not real life, it’s an alternate reality. But because HSPs are particularly imaginative and emotionally sensitive due to the extreme amount of processing we are doing all day, social media can feel completely and utterly real to us. This can create shame for an HSP around their worth and identity if they are not receiving the overwhelming feelings of approval to match their overwhelming feelings of passion for what they are presenting to the world. This can make being on social media exhausting, overwhelming, and even frightening for many HSPs.
Furthermore, social media is overstimulating in and of itself because there is a plethora of information to process on social media. Since HSPs notice subtleties in our environments and process those subtleties in addition to everything else we’re taking in very deeply, social media creates even more stimulation for us to process.
Social media contains a lot of sad stories, news, and images for us to process. Since HSPs are so empathic, seeing a constant flow of emotionally strenuous images is truly palpable for HSPs and can emotionally derail us, even trigger us.
Because social media is often a callous environment, HSPs are incredibly susceptible to extreme overwhelm induced by their intense feelings created by the words of others on social media; HSPs are easy targets for internet trolls because the HSP will either stay quiet and take the callousness in an attempt to avoid conflict, a major source of overwhelming for HSPs, or they will likely become overwhelmed with emotions at that moment and respond in an inauthentic way.
A Highly Sensitive Person can utilize the benefits of social media without being pulled down by protecting their peace through the use of boundaries. Here’s how:
Follow and interact with people and accounts with intention.
Be very particular about the company you keep on social media. Only follow and interact with accounts that are aligned with who you are and your values, accounts that evoke positive feelings from you.
Immediately delete negative comments and block those accounts — do not respond or interact with the account.
Personally, if I see a negative comment, I immediately delete it and block the person. I don’t ruminate on what they said or on the experience of reading the comment; it’s not wise to entertain foolishness.
Take frequent social media breaks.
I delete the Instagram app at least once a week to break the scroll addiction and combat the overwhelm that comes with being on social media.
The second social media starts to evoke stress within you, remove yourself from the situation and only return after you’ve self-regulated.
Starting to feel limiting beliefs about yourself? Close the app and walk away.
Experiencing stress because you’re waiting on a response? Close the app, put your phone away, and do something else productive, including and especially, rest.
Overwhelmed because you need to respond to DMs? Close the app and return later and interact with one message at a time. Close the app again, and repeat the process at a cadence that feels innate to you, a cadence that allows you to feel at peace. Do things your way.
How would you advise your patient to respond if something they hear or see bothers or affects them, but others comment that that are being petty or that it is minor?
I would advise my clients to no longer interact with or surround themselves with those who do not accept and embrace the ways in which they process the world, feel, and express themselves. If they cannot cease interaction with those individuals, I would advise them to limit as much interaction with them as possible.
It’s imperative that HSPs surround themselves with understanding and supportive communities. If they don’t, they will nurture an insecure relationship with those individuals and likely an insecure relationship to self.
What strategies do you recommend to your patients to overcome the challenges that come with being overly sensitive without changing their caring and empathetic nature?
I recommend my P.E.A.C.E. Method as a tool for HSPs to thrive!
P — Protect Yourself
Protecting your peace is about protecting yourself from both physical & emotional danger at all times — it’s about preserving your physical and emotional safety.
E — Empathize with Yourself
It’s just as important and is actually paramount, to be just as present and empathetic with our tender selves in our moments of overarousal and distress as we are for others in their moments of distress. All too often, we HSPs skip this step as a preventative for and during overarousal; we cannot skip this step.
A — Assert Your Needs
Not everything is in our control, but some things are. HSPs tend to forget this OR tend to over-control.
Asserting yourself and your needs to others nourishes inner-peace because you have advocated for yourself, which is empowering. It also nourishes outer-peace because you’ve used our own voice, your own power, to control part of our environment to work in your favor. And HSPs love control!
C — Cultivate a Conscious Relationship to Self and to Others
A conscious relationship to self is one in which we are committed to knowing ourselves, to understanding our minds, which creates a deep self-understanding. It’s an intimate relationship with our current and evolving identities.
A conscious relationship to others in one which both people are committed to personal & collective growth. This dual intention of growth allows the relationship to journey into a loving evolution that fosters the expansion and growth of both people more than they could have experienced alone.
E — Establish, Honor, & Maintain Boundaries
This is the “preservative” you’ll put in your toolkit to maintain its relevance and strength to your lifelong Protect Your Peace journey. Get and stay clear on what and where your boundaries are for and stay strong, not feeble, with them.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a Highly Sensitive Person? Can you explain what you mean?
I’d like to dispel the following myths about being an HSP:
- Being highly sensitive means to have a weakness, disorder, condition, or flaw. Being highly sensitive does NOT mean any of those things. Being highly sensitive actually means to possess a unique strength, a bountiful gift, an incredibly significant contribution to the world, a superpower. Hsps are often exceptionally creative, productive, and intellectually gifted individuals. They are also considerate and mindful partners.
- All HSPs are introverts. 70% of HSP are introverts, but not 100%! I am an extroverted HSP! I have introverted tendencies for sure, like preferring to be home the majority of the time instead of out and about but I genuinely love interacting with, helping, and bringing joy to others. I enjoy new experiences and I’m the bubbly, animated one in my family and groups of friends. But because I am an HSP who notices subtleties, unlike most extroverts who can control a conversation, I am able to discern subtle, indirect social cues that indicate when I need to pull back. But because I am an HSP who is processing more information about all of my experiences, I still wear out from human interaction very quickly.
- HSPs are shy. HSPs are often mistaken for being shy and that’s an incorrect assumption and label. Just like all people, some HSPs are shy but shyness is not a characteristic induced by the highly sensitive nervous system. The New Oxford American Dictionary definition of “shy” is: being reserved or having or showing nervousness or timidity in the company of other people. Because HSPs are carefully observing their surroundings and taking in more stimuli in the process, we only appear to be nervous and timid.
We HSPs have an innate pause-to-check system, meaning we pause to take our time to reflect on how to act or proceed, in an uncertain environment/situation. We reflect on our past experiences and evaluate whether or not a past outcome or consequence is likely to reoccur, causing us to overwhelm. If the current experience of the HSP predicts a recurrence of the past, overwhelming experience, then yes, the HSP will likely act truly shy. But in a culture that prefers bold and assured extraverts, stigmatizing all HSPs as shy is harmful because many are not.
- HSPs are weak, emotionally. This could not be farther from the truth. We HSPs have grown up and lived in a world that shames sensitivity. With that reality comes an inherent amount of trauma — yet we HSPs are still changing the world and progressing societies with our innate gifts! We HSPs rise in the face of struggle because we are deep thinking, deeply creative, deeply empathic, and intensely feeling beings who use our deep and intense feelings to propel positive change forward!
- HSPs are only women. The HSP trait affects men just as much as it does women, therefore there’s an equal amount of male and female HSPs on this earth. Fun Fact: non-human animals also possess the highly sensitive trait, and at the same rate: 1 in 5. Sensory processing sensitivity serves as a major advantage for prey animals. If there is a herd of zebras in the midst of hunting lions and no one in the zebra herd notices the lions’ presence, this poses a greater threat to the safety of the herd and creates a greater challenge in escaping danger once the lions start to pursue them. But if one zebra in the herd is able to sense any subtlety that lions are nearby: a sound, a smell, a change in the appearance of the environment…then that zebra can alert the rest of the herd to evade the lions before they ambush the herd.
- Being an HSP is a burden. Being highly sensitive is both a blessing and a curse, providing its challenges as well as benefits. But it’s certainly not a burden, it’s an advantage. We have an edge! We HSPs experience heightened feelings of joy and sensory delight, after all!
- HSPs all have the same characteristics and personalities. While HSPs share many of the same characterizing factors of sensory processing sensitivity, we don’t necessarily possess every, single one of the same characteristics. There’s a 27 question assessment that determines if someone is likely an HSP. According to Dr. Elain Aron, if someone scores 14 or above, they are likely an HSP. So one person can score 14 and someone else can score a 27, meaning they are more highly sensitive than the first person. Regardless, they are both HSPs.
My husband and I are both HSPs but with different characteristics and responses to stimuli. Of course, we share a lot of the same characteristics and reactions, but many are very different.
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?
I think we need to implement awareness of sensory processing sensitivity and the highly sensitive person into schools, companies, government, and other organizations. We need to integrate awareness and knowledge of this trait and how it affects HSPs and non-HSPs in relationships, the workplace, and in everyday life. Awareness and structured implementation of knowledge and structures that support HSPs must be taught and executed in schools, in psychology & sociology textbooks, in novels, in T.V., in cinema, workplaces, community centers, and in more publications like this!
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 If You Love Or Are In A Relationship With A Highly Sensitive Person? Please give a story or an example for each.
- Accept their sensitivity — don’t try to change them. Be mindful of their reactions, feelings, and decisions about things based on their sensitivity.
- Listen to their needs — hold space for their overwhelm and respect their boundaries.
- Empathize — whether they are overwhelmed, excited, scared, angry, or confused, always hear and see them and reflect back to them with empathy.
- Validate — validate their feelings, whether it’s overwhelming, frustration, confusion, etc.
- Check in with them regularly — let them know you’re mindful of their unique experience and processing of this chaotic world! Show them you care by kindly checking in every now and then, but especially during emotionally challenging times for the HSP. Doing this is a form of co-regulation and it’s effective and beautiful.
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 would love to inspire a movement of implementation and large-scale, global awareness of sensory processing sensitivity and the highly sensitive person into schools, companies, government, and other organizations. We need to integrate awareness and knowledge of this trait and how it affects HSPs and non-HSPs in relationships, the workplace, and in everyday life. Awareness and structured implementation of knowledge and structures that support HSPs must be taught and executed in schools, in psychology & sociology textbooks, in novels, in T.V., in cinema, workplaces, community centers, and in more publications like this!
How can our readers follow you online?
My website: http://alexandriathibodeaux.com/
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.