How To Survive And Thrive As A Highly Sensitive Person, With Paige Swanson

Highly Sensitive People Need to Detach their Emotions. It isn’t that highly sensitive people need to detach their emotions. This isn’t necessarily true, especially if you’re in a helping profession. Highly Sensitive People just need to be able to manage their reactions to stimuli differently than the other individual. Highly Sensitive people need to learn […]

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Highly Sensitive People Need to Detach their Emotions. It isn’t that highly sensitive people need to detach their emotions. This isn’t necessarily true, especially if you’re in a helping profession. Highly Sensitive People just need to be able to manage their reactions to stimuli differently than the other individual. Highly Sensitive people need to learn to practice self-compassion for themselves and for others despite intense emotions. And once they have developed a practice of self-compassion, they’re able to handle burn out with more ease while maintaining their intense degrees of empathy.

As a part of our series about How To Survive And Thrive As A Highly Sensitive Person, I had the pleasure of interviewing Paige Swanson.

Paige is a health and wellness coach enrolled in a counseling program at Northwestern University. With former experience working in Corporate America, she uses her business acumen to work in substance abuse rehabilitation in the midst of the opioid crisis and serves her community as an eating disorder clinician. She has worked as a business coach for Top Fortune 500 companies.

She is striving every day to learn how to thrive as an HSP.

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 a health and wellness coach who is currently pursuing her LPC in counseling psychology. I am currently enrolled in a Masters Program through Northwestern University. I am also a professional dancer in the Denver, Colorado area. I find practicing a creative art form helps with the feelings of being a highly sensitive person.

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? 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?

As a highly sensitive person, I definitely feel the pain of other people. For me, I pick up a lot of subtleties in the environment that makes surviving as a highly sensitive person especially challenging. There are moments when I feel like things are going great, and I get overly excited about opportunities, and then there are moments where I feel burned out quicker than the normal individual because my expectations don’t always meet reality. I think being a highly sensitive person is a lot like living life on cloud 9, all the time. Except, when reality doesn’t match up with your hyper sense of altruism you can get your feelings hurt a lot easier.

I know for me, I experience this the most when other people are gossiping about one another. There is nothing that will make a highly sensitive person cringe more than other people gossiping about one another. In the mind of a highly sensitive person, everyone loves everyone. It just doesn’t make sense to be mean and cruel to others, because for highly sensitive people kindness is seen as a source of power and authority. For me, my biggest agenda is getting other people to feel good, to connect with other people and to support them through life’s challenges. It just doesn’t make sense to put someone down or belittle them in mind.

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 appear to feel, in-depth, the emotional aptitude of society at large. However, that aptitude can result in reactions that may seem to be overly emotional based on a society that values productivity and efficacy over empathic caring and concern for others. Highly sensitive people may be the individuals who sob during movies where dogs die or hold their best friends hand in television shows when sisters become diagnosed with cancer.

They just have a lot of empathy. One of the reasons Highly Sensitive People have this ability is because of mirror neurons, which stimulates what a person sees, thereby developing those experiences (physical pain or emotional pain) in the individual watching. Highly Sensitive People experience the phenomenon of feeling pain at higher intervals because their mirror neurons are more active than the average persons. Judy Orloff, MD, and expert on highly sensitive people, coined the experience of being an HSP as having, “empathy to a fault.” However, looking at ways individuals can become aware of their own personal responses and develop empathy could be seen as a highly adaptive survival trait which could aid in the progress of society as a whole. These unique, precious souls might just be outliers of a system who are meant to create and impact change towards benefiting the greater good.

Can you please share a story about how your highly sensitive nature created problems at work or socially?

At work, being highly sensitive can be a problem if the culture is not attuned to the needs of every individual at an organizational level. As a trait, it appears that highly sensitive people have a unique need for harmonizing, peacemaking and mentoring. They are the prodigies of philosophical minds like Kant, Kierkegaard and other German idealists.

Even as a health coach and clinician, being highly sensitive can get you into a lot of trouble. Working in Mental Health Facilities or helping vulnerable populations may seem like the perfect career choice for a highly sensitive person. However, it takes a toll on you emotionally when you live your life with intense altruism. “Why can’t we just all love one another?,” might be something a highly sensitive person would say. However, with the creation of a competitive solipsistic society whose economy benefits from individual labor, it only makes sense that survival would be rewarded to the strongest competitors. It is a biological factor of humanity for individuals to not get along. However, organizations need to begin to see the advantages of working within a group and rewarding the group vs. the individual.

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 think I realized my sensitivity was extreme when I wanted to create a campaign at the age of nine to help provide relief for African children who did not have clean water. I remember, you could not get me to find passion in anything else in school other than community service.

I had a plan, where I was going to contact UNICEF as a nine-year-old and ask if I could contribute to their organization by collecting pennies from my classmates to help sponsor African children. I had this intense vision of walking around and making penny donation stations that children could use. I also thought I was “crazy,” for even thinking I could create that level of impact as a nine-year-old. Looking back, I wish I had seen how my highly sensitive nature wasn’t crazy. However, it was highly needed.

Growing up in social situations, I was well-liked because I was kind to people. However, in being kind, that resulted in being more susceptible to more aggressive individuals taking advantage of me. I think I came to see myself as too sensitive when interacting with my friends.

I was never the individual in the friend group to maintain more power through bullying. In fact, I was the friend who was mostly picked on. I remember all of my friends would always comment on how “weird” I was.

I’m sure that being Highly Sensitive also gives you certain advantages. Can you tell us a few advantages that Highly Sensitive people have?

Highly sensitive people have advantages in the following areas:

  • Extreme empathy and compassion
  • Complex creativity
  • Deep awareness and self-reflection
  • Ability to reframe negative situations
  • Highly effective leaders
  • Passionate

Can you share a story from your own life where your great sensitivity was actually an advantage?

I think my greatest advantage to being a highly sensitive person is my ability to influence others. In my life, so many people comment on how “I am such a good person.” And growing up, this was something I always wanted to achieve. I came from a religious background and I remember, praying to God every night hoping that I could someday be like Mother Teresa. I wanted to help people. I think being a highly sensitive person makes me an amazing friend, daughter and girlfriend. My social relationships are filled with joy. And even though I am not Mother Teresa, I feel like her the majority of the time.

There seems to be no harm in being overly empathetic. What’s the line drawn between being empathetic and being Highly Sensitive?

Empathy is a trait that allows you to understand emotions and identify with other people’s experiences, whether shared or unshared. However, high sensitivity is more closely related to a neurological condition or sensory processing sensitivity (SPS), it is a neural trait that has evolved in 20 percent of the human population. Individuals with HSP process sensory data more acutely than the average individual which aids in advantages of emotional and social skills like empathy. They’re highly aware of nuances and subtleties in their environments which can make their sensitivity not only emotional but contextual as well. For instance, individuals who are highly sensitive may prefer different colors, textures and fabrics and may have aversions to different smells or tastes. Individuals with HSP may also experience more depth of processing which allows them the ability to reflect and make meaning of their experiences through reflective awareness.

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?

Have you ever seen individuals who are positive influencers on social media? They typically have a page about saving the planet, helping animals or just spreading positive thoughts. I think that individuals who are highly sensitive use social media as a platform to spread powerful thoughts on unity, cohesion and universality.

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?

Usually, if I am affected by insensitive remarks, it is really important to remember that as a Highly Sensitive Person I am gifted. That individuals who are insensitive may not have the same emotional literacy as I do, just like I might not be able to solve a calculus problem the same way other individuals can solve complex mathematics. It is important to use the emotional maturity of a highly sensitive person to our advantage. HSP’s have an advantage in understanding how emotional illiteracy can cause harm to organizations, structures and societal systems. We have the ability to impact change and influence individuals through positivism.

What strategies do you use to overcome the perception that others may have of you as overly sensitive without changing your caring and empathetic nature?

Again, it is important to remember that Highly Sensitive People are passionate, high-performers and typically excellent leaders. I think despite the setbacks that come with being a Highly Sensitive Person, if an individual can learn to practice patience with those who aren’t as emotionally attuned. A highly sensitive person can make a phenomenal leader in any field or sector of society.

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 Need to Detach their Emotions

It isn’t that highly sensitive people need to detach their emotions. This isn’t necessarily true, especially if you’re in a helping profession. Highly Sensitive People just need to be able to manage their reactions to stimuli differently than the other individual. Highly Sensitive people need to learn to practice self-compassion for themselves and for others despite intense emotions. And once they have developed a practice of self-compassion, they’re able to handle burn out with more ease while maintaining their intense degrees of empathy.

Highly Sensitive People Are Always Anxious

Anxiety and High Sensory Processing are different. Anxiety is defined by excessive worry that can lead to muscle tension, irritability and sleep disturbances. High sensory processing is the brain’s ability to sort and organize sensory data differently than the average individual. Being sensitive to difficulties in your environment does not mean you have generalized anxiety disorder. Although, there have been reports that the two can be comorbid psychological traits.

Highly Sensitive People Can’t Love

Huh? This is the worst myth of all. Of course highly sensitive people can love. This myth would direct me into trying to understand what kind of partners HSPs are attracted too. For instance, individuals who display high states of narcissism might be attracted to HSPs due to their depth of empathy. However, these two matches can be a disaster for one another. If you suspect your partner lacks empathy as an HSP, I would stick to your guns and find a partner who has the same level of depth as you do.

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.

The 5 ways to thrive as a highly sensitive person:

  1. Practice Self-care. Self-care is essential to being a highly sensitive person. You need to really take time to focus and sort through all of the experiences you’re absorbing in a day. This includes other individuals emotions which you can easily mistake as your own. Take time to journal, reflect, do yoga or smell something that will help your brain level out all of the negative stimuli it has taken in throughout the day. When an HSP is devoted to practicing and maintaining balance in their life, they’re able to handle challenging situations with more ease.
    For me, my self-care has become my business. I have made a business of helping people learn to utilize self-care in times of distress. I know that if I am not actively “walking the talk,” I can be more susceptible to burn out. It is important to carve out time that allows me to reflect on the day and manage the stress of handling my clients emotions that doesn’t impact me in negative ways.
  2. Have Healthy Boundaries and Learn to Say No. One of the reasons individuals with HSP may have developed a negative connotation to being sensitive could be because they lack boundaries, not because they’re sensitive. When you’re an HSP it is important to be completely aware of who you are, what you want and what you’ll tolerate. For instance, when you’re pushed to do something that is outside of your value system, it is important to feel empowered by your inability to do harm or tolerate injustice. Having a compassionate barometer does not mean you’re an occupational hazard or have an inability to cope with reality. It just means you will have to stand up for yourself a little more often.
    When I think of my relationship with being a highly sensitive person, I like to think that I am just a person who holds extremely high standards. When I am in a relationship either personal or professional, I have the ability to set boundaries that emphasize my need for high standards in moral and ethical behavior. I don’t feel bad for sticking up for what is right anymore and neither should you.
  3. Enhance Your Natural Leadership Skills. Highly sensitive people have the leadership advantage. Highly Sensitive People make amazing leaders because their emotional EQ for social acceptance is typically very high. HSPs have the ability to understand how individuals are feeling and can easily empathize with them. A trait that is very important in leadership positions like management or people leading. Often times, Highly Sensitive People are great at leading people through difficult times because of their ability to hold the emotions of other people. They make great sounding boards, collaborators and have creative ingenuity that sets them apart.
  4. Sit Still and Remove all Negativity. Being highly sensitive can be a disadvantage if you have a lot of biases and judgments against other people. For instance, if an HSP believes others have ill-will or ill-intent against them then their sensitivity can be easily misconstrued. When HSP’s remain positive despite individuals who are utilizing poor coping mechanisms like defensiveness, projection and displacement, they hold all the power. This is because they’re able to read the emotions in the room easier than others. They have the advantage of inherent de-escalation tactics which helps them overcome negative situations without repercussions.
    When I was younger, I used to believe everything a negative person had to say about me. And I would stay in abusive or unequal relationships. However, as I have gotten older and honed my skills as a highly sensitive person, I now realize that dealing with negative people is a lot like babysitting. Individuals who utilize negativity to reap rewards or advantages are like three-year-old’s seeking approval. It is important to remember that and to utilize your compassion to empathize with where they are without allowing them to affect you emotionally.
  5. Foster Deeper Social Connections. If you’re a highly sensitive person, you need social connections that are healthy and regenerative. It is so important that you find other highly sensitive people to connect and refuel with. This will help you not feel so isolated and hurt when you’re in environments that aren’t conducive to intense levels of empathy.
    When I am with my friends, who are also highly sensitive, I feel connected to the world in ways I have never felt before. For instance, highly sensitive people have the ability to laugh, touch and play in ways that others can’t. Find social relationships who you can develop that level of rapport with and hold on to them. Also, in that vein, seek out experiences that help you foster deeper levels of connection as well. Highly Sensitive People should spend time in nature, sit by an ocean or climb a mountain.

And there you have it, these are the ways I’ve coped, maintained and thrived as a highly sensitive person in a crazy world.

How can our readers follow you online?

Follow me online through reading my online website for more mental health tips and tricks. I also have a personal business and coaching instagram pagesvensen.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.


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