Don’t try to change for anyone because you can’t, at least not for long. It will end up burning you out and making you miserable. If you do, you will end up like I did because I spent the better part of 20 years bending over backwards trying to be who everyone else wanted me to be and I was miserable and had a major health crisis by the time I was 25. If you try to change who you are, or try to be someone you’re not, especially to try and fit in, you are setting yourself up for failure and for friendships that aren’t meant to last because they’re literally built on lies.
As a part of our series about How To Survive And Thrive As A Highly Sensitive Person, I had the pleasure of interviewing Crystal Castle. Crystal lives in Mid-Michigan on a small farm with her husband Jeff, their rescue cats and rescue ducks. She is an avid gardener and is passionate about saving pollinators and designing and building pollinator habitats in her spare time. She has been educated by the school of hard knocks and is also passionate about helping those who have journeyed down the same path keep from making the same mistakes she did. She loves to help her clients turn their trauma into triumph.
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 teaching mindfulness, meditation and self-empowerment for the last 14 years. I use these techniques to help my clients move past trauma and into the life they were meant to live, one full of life, love, happiness and peace.
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?
There are some people who are highly offended who are not highly sensitive people. Highly sensitive people are natural empaths and as such, they become overly stimulated by situations which cause them sometimes to overreact because they don’t understand how to handle the sensory input.
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, a highly sensitive person does have a tendency towards empathy in that they can (in some instances) literally feel someone’s pain, anguish, anger and joy. As an empath, when someone who is around them is negative, that negativity can have an extremely detrimental effect on them because they don’t understand where those feelings are coming from. The let the feelings overwhelm them and they end up feeling hurt, dejected and on many occasions can even be brought to tears.
Highly sensitive people can be very hurt or offended by hurtful remarks made about other people, particularly those whom the highly sensitive person likes. This is only because they have a strong feeling of connection to the other person and when someone speaks ill of that person, the highly sensitive person can’t differentiate between that other person and themselves. They take the hurtful comment personally because of their deep connection with the person whom the hurtful comment was made.
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?
Highly sensitive people are prone to mood swings when watching news stories, certain types of movies or music. Personally, as a highly sensitive person I can no longer watch the news, certain movies depicting graphic violence, and have found my tastes in music changing to more mellow music. If I watch a movie that depicts believable violence (i.e. war movies) or even the news, the negativity just makes me very sad and depressed and even brings me to tears.
It can be difficult for me to be able to control my emotions because I see what is going on and I can empathize with the people who are having bad days, the people who have been in accidents, the people who have lost homes due to fires, the animals — oh my goodness the animals, a billion in Australia alone — and I just can’t stop thinking about it and it just sends me into a crazy negativity spiral. That’s not to say that I don’t get my doses of what’s truly going on in the world, I do check headlines daily, but I steer clear of spending a significant amount of time with the news on.
Can you please share a story about how a highly sensitive nature created problems for someone at work or socially?
Highly sensitive people easily become targets for both bullies and energy vampires. This can have a lot of negative effects on their life. Myself personally, I have worked for several bullies who enjoyed pushing me around. The final straw for me was one boss, who I swear it was his mission in life to come into work to see who he could make cry each day, came in and made me cry.
I can put up with a lot, but this time he was going berserk. It was just after Thanksgiving and I had fallen off a ladder (16 feet) and dislocated my shoulder (I didn’t know it was dislocated). I had a strict timeline for something to be done so I drove to work the next day in immense pain to do my job. While I was there the pain got worse, so I hurried up and finished what I needed to do to leave to go to the emergency room. He had the nerve to question my integrity and tell me I was a slouch for not staying all day and subsequently taking a long lunch the same week for a follow up visit. I couldn’t believe he was questioning my integrity when I worked most of the day with a dislocated shoulder and left to go to the emergency room. I ended up going in later that week and just turning in my keys, etc. and walking out.
I was out of work for a few months because of that incident (I’ve never left a job without another one already lined up). I almost lost my house and my car because I didn’t have enough money saved up and I know this type of scenario is very common with highly sensitive people. Instead of putting up with the abuse, they just quit or do something to get fired so it can be very hard to find work. Socially it can be just as bad. Most highly sensitive people end up being introverts who have very few friends and they don’t like to go out into large public spaces or interact with people in social situations so they can be socially awkward. Even if they do have friends, their friends don’t truly understand them and sometimes pick on them for “overreacting”.
When does the average person’s level of sensitivity rise above the societal norm? When is one seen as “too sensitive”?
When it impacts them socially, then it is considered above societal norm. Someone is seen as being too sensitive when they can’t help crying at things like the news or commercials or even when they see something that brings them an immense amount of joy.
I’m sure that being Highly Sensitive also gives one certain advantages. Can you tell us a few advantages that Highly Sensitive people have?
Advantages of highly sensitive people are that they can connect, truly connect, with other people on a level deeper than someone who isn’t sensitive can imagine. This makes them terrific friends, partners, parents, spouses, bosses and co-workers. They’re easy to talk to and they love to try and make people feel better because it literally makes them feel better.
Can you share a story that you have come across where great sensitivity was actually an advantage?
One of my clients is a highly sensitive person and he was promoted to a management position. He was worried that because he was a quiet, introverted person that he wouldn’t make a good manager (he had never managed anyone else previously). I talked him through the transition and he spent a good portion of the first two months as a manager really talking to his subordinates and letting them know that he was there for them, that he truly understood them and because of that for the last six months his team has had the highest sales numbers out of any group in the company for the last few years. His employees know that he has their back and that they can talk to him about anything and they trust him so they work hard for him.
There seems to be no harm in being overly empathetic. What’s the line drawn between being empathetic and being Highly Sensitive?
This is an interesting question, as it makes it sound like being a highly sensitive person can be a significant drawback. As I see it, there is no drawback to being a highly sensitive person. As the highly sensitive person it may seem as though things are falling apart all of the time, the world is out to get you, no one understands you, you can be the brunt of jokes and the subject of ridicule, but I say embrace what you are and learn to use it to your advantage. Being empathetic is good but being highly sensitive is like a superpower. Not many people have it and most people don’t know how to use it, particularly to their advantage.
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?
This is a good one, social media has become a haven for bullies and trolls to rant and make other people feel bad because it makes them feel good. Highly sensitive people should try not to spend as much time on social media as most people, but they can also learn to try and ignore the negativity. I know it sounds harsh, but negativity is all around us all the time and we can’t allow it to drag us down. In order to stay sane and happy, they need to learn to protect themselves from the negativity.
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?
For my clients, a lot of them have been told their entire lives that they’re effectively making mountains out of molehills. For a highly sensitive person, everything can be major from a cut to an accident (even if no one is seriously harmed). Other people will be other people, they don’t understand or see things the way that you do and that doesn’t mean that you need to or even should change. What you should do, however, is to not let their reactions or comments negatively affect you. You are who you are and you can’t change that so you shouldn’t let someone else try to make you feel less than you are because you don’t see things the same way they do.
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 always recommend that they do a few things. First is distancing themselves from the bullies and energy vampires that prey on them. Second is to start setting healthy boundaries with those people whom we cannot completely remove from our lives (parents, employers, family, etc.) so that they can protect their energy. Third is to cultivate a practice to recover your energy or to center yourself.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a Highly Sensitive Person? Can you explain what you mean?
Highly sensitive people That they just need to ‘toughen up’ or stop being ‘cry babies’. A lot of people have a tendency to think that highly sensitive people are cry babies and they just need to toughen up, but it’s not in their nature and never will be. Being ‘tough’ means you’re closing yourself off from people and that can be dangerous. While it’s important for highly sensitive people to spend time in solitude to recharge their batteries, completely closing themselves off to others will cause them to have mental breakdowns because they are fighting their very nature.
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?
Unfortunately, you can’t make anyone else see things from your own point of view. All you can do is help them to understand your nature and honestly if they don’t want to understand then they should be the people that you set the hardest boundaries with and stick to them, and if possible those are the types of people that you can set free and move forward in your life. If someone doesn’t understand you, or appreciate you for who you truly are, then they should be dropped like a bad habit.
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.
- Don’t try to change for anyone because you can’t, at least not for long. It will end up burning you out and making you miserable. If you do, you will end up like I did because I spent the better part of 20 years bending over backwards trying to be who everyone else wanted me to be and I was miserable and had a major health crisis by the time I was 25. If you try to change who you are, or try to be someone you’re not, especially to try and fit in, you are setting yourself up for failure and for friendships that aren’t meant to last because they’re literally built on lies.
- Don’t take anything personally. I know this sounds like a really difficult one, but what I mean is when someone is negative to you or mean to you, it isn’t you they’re really being mean to, it’s something in you or about you that they see in themselves that’s a part of themselves that they can’t stand so it isn’t you they’re angry at or frustrated with it’s themselves. When my clients have problems with people who pick on them (because highly sensitive people make easy targets), I tell them that if someone is acting toward them in a manner that isn’t kind to just shrug it off as that person having a bad day. They are going through their own struggles and it’s easier to pick on someone or lash out at someone than it is to deal with their own internal struggles.
- Set boundaries. This can be the most difficult because as highly sensitive people we want to be around others, to help them, to bring them joy, to comfort them but if people come to rely on this because they know you will always be there or will always step up to the plate then they are taking advantage of you. The biggest problem is that they don’t know they are because you haven’t told them. People aren’t mind readers, so you have to tell people when enough is enough. Setting healthy boundaries and sticking to them is one of the most important parts of being a highly sensitive person because if you don’t, you will end up worn out and miserable.
- Learn to say NO. Saying no can be the most terrifying, yet most liberating, thing we can learn to do. As a highly sensitive person, it’s just as important as learning to set boundaries, and you can even say it’s an extension of setting boundaries where you’re learning to set a very hard boundary and that boundary is NO.
If someone invites you somewhere you know you’ll feel uncomfortable but because of your nature you’re inclined to want to say yes (because let’s face it, we’re all “people pleasers”), think about how the situation will truly make you feel while you’re there. If the feeling is sad, drained or negative in any way, then protect yourself, and your energy, and say NO. When your friends, parents, co-workers or anyone else keeps asking you to do more and more, just learn to say NO. Start small, I was recently invited to a birthday party for two nieces whom I haven’t seen in over a year by a sister that I hardly talk to. My sister lives an hour away and it was in the middle of the day on a busy weekend. My brain kept trying to guilt me into going and in the end, I said NO because I didn’t want to go and there was no reason for me to.
- Take time to ground yourself. This means that you need to spend time away from people doing something that grounds you. Something like spending time alone in nature, taking a bath, swimming, gardening. Something that recharges your battery so that you can head into another day refreshed and ready to tackle the day’s energy. If you don’t practice this crucial self-care ritual then again, you will end up burnt out and miserable.
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.
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.
Practice Kindness, regardless of what the other person is doing, how they’re acting or even how they’re treating you. Be the better person and show them kindness, compassion and love. Hurt people hurt people so when someone is being mean, showing anger or frustration, it’s because they’re hurting and don’t know how to express or process their feelings, so it comes out in negative ways. This is their cry for help and if you respond to their cry for help with negativity in return, then it justifies their actions to them, and they will continue the cycle.
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Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.