Being a Highly Sensitive Person can be a blessing, not a curse. You may find that you tend to know someone’s intentions before the rest of the group or be able to say just the right thing to someone at the right time. Perhaps you knew that you needed to do something, see someone, etc. but were then talked out of it because it was “irrational” or “illogical” only to let time play out and realize that you wished you’d just listened to yourself in the first place? Your heightened sensitivity can be used for healing, creativity, and so much more, but like in superhero movies, they have to learn to work with their special gift.
As a part of our series about How To Survive And Thrive As A Highly Sensitive Person, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jenna Monaco.
Jenna is a stress management mentor for leaders, self-development writer, and podcast host of Spark Intention. After years of struggling with her mental health and losing her dad to addiction, her panic attacks forced her onto the path of self-healing. She quickly learned that in order to seriously manage her anxiety she had to create a holistic practice that involved physical health, mindset mastery, and emotional resilience. Over the past five years, Jenna has seen the life-changing benefits of this holistic practice, and the impact self-healing can make in living a more joyful, abundant, and stress-free life. Jenna has dedicated her life to removing the negative stigma around mental health, and empowering others to heal emotional wounds, and master their mindset so they can create the life they desire, and embrace lasting success.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and what you do professionally?
As a Highly Sensitive Person and as someone who works with Highly Sensitive individuals, it is an honor to be here. I am a stress-management mentor for leaders, meaning I work with people on mindset mastery and self-healing so they can create the joy and success they desire personally and professionally with less stress and more ease.
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?
Being a Highly Sensitive Person doesn’t simply mean that feelings are easily hurt or offended, though that can be one of the signs — but maybe not because of the reason you might think. I should also note that Highly Sensitive People can be empaths, so if you’ve been told you’re an empath, this can also apply to you. Like everything, there is a spectrum, unless you have a condition where you lack any empathy, most everyone has the ability to empathize with others. If you think of empathy as a volume level, someone who lacks empathy would be silent, people who have empathy would sound moderately, and Highly Sensitive People would sound like a fire alarm. That being said, everything a Highly Sensitive Person experiences is “louder” than other people, which includes but is not limited to, food, light, sound, temperature, and social sensitivities. If a Highly Sensitive Person’s feelings seem easily hurt, or they express in a way that seems “overly dramatic” it’s because the degree to which a Highly Sensitive Person is experiencing life is at a higher volume rate than others. When unaddressed, this can lead to anxiety, depression, and coping mechanisms such as addiction and more. When embraced and understood, it can be a wonderful tool that enhances our life experiences.
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?
In short, yes, Highly Sensitive People do have a higher degree of empathy toward others and can be offended by hurtful remarks made about other people. Any time you can put yourself in someone else’s shoes, you’ll have more empathy and compassion for the other person, and that is exactly what Highly Sensitive People are excellent at doing. In a longer explanation, it’s a little more complicated than that. In many cases, it can appear that a Highly Sensitive Person has more empathy because they express in a way that would suggest they do. In reality though, a Highly Sensitive Person often absorbs the feelings and emotions of those around them — many times, without even knowing it. Highly Sensitive People have an amplified feeling monitor, they often understand where a person is coming from more easily than someone who can’t read people in the same way. Highly Sensitive People can be offended by hurtful remarks, especially if the person who is on the receiving end of the remark is present.
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?
YES. Yes, absolutely we have a much more challenging time. I don’t watch much TV for this reason. If you put me in front of a Pixar movie, you bet I’ll be ugly-crying within the first thirty minutes — and that’s an improvement. Someone with a “normal” level of empathy can say okay, I’m an observer of this thing that’s happening on the TV and it’s sad for that character but it’s just a character. With a Highly Sensitive Person, they are not just watching what’s happening, they are also experiencing mentally, emotionally and sometimes physically what the characters are experiencing. So when Ellie passes at the beginning of UP and Carl is grief-stricken, yours truly is also grief-stricken, coddling my bowl of popcorn, and seasoning it with my tears (yuck). It’s not just emotions though. Some Highly Sensitive People can also take on a physical pain of someone else or even feel sick if someone around them says they’re feeling sick. I often tell my clients to watch their intake of news, media, and pop-culture, not just because when unchecked we fall victim to absorbing emotions, but also because Highly Sensitive People can easily get over-stimulated. Highly Sensitive People are hypersensitive to everything, that’s why they tend to be introverts and thrive in less chaotic environments. When Highly Sensitive People can limit what they intake, they can begin to understand what emotions are theirs, and what they might have picked up from someone else. This is one of the first steps to empowering a Highly Sensitive Person. Once a Highly Sensitive Person is able to establish boundaries and understand what’s theirs and what’s not, it will become easier to watch the movies, read the news etc. it just might be in smaller doses.
Can you please share a story about how a highly sensitive nature created problems for someone at work or socially?
The problems arise when there is a lack of worth or confidence. Many Highly Sensitive People don’t know that they are highly sensitive, at least I didn’t and neither did my clients. So Highly Sensitive People tend to walk around being told their whole lives that they are “too sensitive” and “different” and that can become a major wound and cause them to question their own judgment. In a work setting, oftentimes what will trigger this is a hard conversation that has to be had and if the Highly Sensitive Person is on the receiving end of it, it can result in what seems like making mountains out of molehills. If the Highly Sensitive Person is the manager, the stress and anxiety can feel astronomical because they are the ones causing the pain in which they then tend to absorb.
When does the average person’s level of sensitivity rise above the societal norm? When is one seen as “too sensitive”?
It’s a spectrum, but many of the signs indicating that there is a level of sensitivity that’s above the “societal norm” include heightened sensitivity to the senses. For example, if someone is constantly complaining that the lights from other cars at night hurt their eyes, the sound of a cash register opening or closing bothers them, or they get easily bothered by scents in the air, there’s a good chance they have a heightened sensitivity level.
I’m sure that being Highly Sensitive also gives one certain advantages. Can you tell us a few advantages that Highly Sensitive people have?
Being a Highly Sensitive Person has many advantages once we understand how we operate and what we need. Highly Sensitive People often tend to be really good care-takers, garden-tenders, master artists, healers and teachers, they also can thrive in jobs that require less interaction and more quiet space. Being a coach, my heightened sensitivities often allow me to understand a person and get to the root of their problems without much dialogue because I can feel what they are feeling and I can relate to the experience.
Can you share a story that you have come across where great sensitivity was actually an advantage?
I interview a lot of people on my podcast, and often times, I don’t know the people I’m interviewing until the actual interview. This can make for a stiff interview, or, if you are good at feeling into the person’s energy like a Highly Sensitive Person, you can go really deep with an interviewee in a way they might not otherwise be possible because you know how much, based on their energy, you can push the envelope. It’s made for some really riveting conversations and ones that the audience enjoys.
There seems to be no harm in being overly empathetic. What’s the line drawn between being empathetic and being Highly Sensitive?
Empathy is only a piece of being Highly Sensitive. The only harm of being overly empathetic and Highly Sensitive is when it’s not addressed or acknowledged. Taking on that level of empathy can be really exhausting and take a toll on one’s health mentally, physically and emotionally. When unrecognized, it can lead to a lack of self-worth, lack of self-confidence, and coping mechanisms that are harmful mentally, physically and emotionally.
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?
Much like the news and media, it’s about limiting the amount of content consumed and being mindful of the content being consumed. If you’re following people who talk about Highly Sensitive People and empower them, that content would be good to follow on Social Media. If you’re following people who are constantly negative, arguing, and putting out some “bad vibes”, that’s going to be really jarring for a Highly Sensitive Person.
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?
A lot of the work I’ve done with my Highly Sensitive clients and with myself has revolved around rebuilding confidence and self-esteem and teaching others how to trust their sensitivities rather than try to squash or hide them. When we rebuild our self-esteem, we begin to see that other people’s remarks become less of a personal attack and more about educating others on how they operate as a person. That being said, it starts with taking a deep breath, acknowledging the person’s comment, acknowledging how you feel about it, and then deciding if you want to and if it’s safe to open up a conversation around how we process things differently, and for us, this is an appropriate reaction and to please respect that.
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 want to first start off by saying that knowledge is power and communication is key. That being said, I don’t believe that we ever stop being a Highly Sensitive Person or can change ourselves to be less caring or empathetic — it just our nature. That being said, you can learn coping strategies that will allow you to process information without the sense of dread and overwhelm that can come from not understanding who you are and how you operate and what you need. For example, one of the greatest tricks that I’ve found is to ask, “is the feeling that I’m feeling mine? When did this feeling occur?” If I stepped into a room and suddenly felt a different way than I did when I arrived, chances are I’m absorbing someone else’s emotions and we can shift this by recognizing and choosing again.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a Highly Sensitive Person? Can you explain what you mean?
Some myths include that we are overly dramatic, too sensitive, and downright crazy. Let’s just clear it up right now that Highly Sensitive People are none of these things. You wouldn’t call a dog any of these things because a dog whistle blows and they are responding to it; just because you can’t hear it, doesn’t mean that the whistle isn’t being blown, and the dog isn’t reacting to it. The same goes for a Highly Sensitive Person. They are picking up on everything, including the subtleties that might go undetected by others.
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?
Education on what it means to be a Highly Sensitive Person for both the person and those who know a highly sensitive person is key. For the Highly Sensitive Individual, it’s important to equip them with the knowledge base and understanding to educate others on who they are and what they need others to understand.
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.
- It goes beyond emotions. If you’re a Highly Sensitive Person, you’ll have heightened senses as well. Sound, taste, texture, smells, light, can also be factors in what you are highly sensitive to. Know what your triggers are so you can start to work with them not against them.
- Being a Highly Sensitive Person can be a blessing, not a curse. You may find that you tend to know someone’s intentions before the rest of the group or be able to say just the right thing to someone at the right time. Perhaps you knew that you needed to do something, see someone, etc. but were then talked out of it because it was “irrational” or “illogical” only to let time play out and realize that you wished you’d just listened to yourself in the first place? Your heightened sensitivity can be used for healing, creativity, and so much more, but like in superhero movies, they have to learn to work with their special gift.
- You’re not doomed to be ruled by your emotions for the rest of your life. There are so many ways to cope and thrive. Your work is to accept yourself for who you are. You might need more time to yourself than others, let that be okay. You might need to wear sunglasses on a cloudy day because the light is still too bright for you, let that be okay. You might need to stop multitasking and focus on one project at a time, let that be okay. You might need to spend more time in nature, meditate more frequently, stick more closely to a self-care practice, let it all be okay. You’re no more or less of a human for being highly sensitive. It’s okay! Do whatever you need to do to quiet the noise and find your calm.
- Boundaries are your best friend. Boundaries, or “parameters” as one of my teachers prefers to call it is going to be a necessary part of your healing, growth, and survival as a Highly Sensitive Person. Boundaries can look like physical, mental, or energetic. Establish calendar holds for yourself where you get to just sit with yourself in a quiet space. If those who watch a movie with you tell you you’re overreacting because you’re crying and no one else is, maybe don’t want movies with them or, better yet, learn not to take their comments personally. Use breathe work and meditation practices to sit with yourself, establish an energetic shield around yourself.
- Communication is key. We all tend to take things personally at some level. Open, vulnerable conversations with those you love who are open and receptive can be healing on all sides. Remove “you statements” and share from your truth and how you feel. For example, when my mom has told me in the past that I’m being “overly sensitive” it would hurt. Until one day, I shared with her a book, “The Empath’s Survival Guide” by Judith Orloff MD. and she read the assessment and realized that I wasn’t overly sensitive, I just fell on a spectrum of being a Highly Sensitive Individual. Now when she says I’m being “overly sensitive” I’ll say, I know it’s not how you feel, and I respect that, I don’t ask you to understand, I just ask that you respect that I feel differently. We’ve come to a good understanding.
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.
- It’s not always about you. My husband has a voice that projects like nobody’s business and sometimes, the pitch of his voice hurts my ears. When I tell him I need him to soften his voice, I reassure him that it’s my processing and that I want to make sure I hear everything he’s saying without getting distracted. He’s learned to lower his voice without taking offense.
- Give them space to recharge. Highly sensitive people need a lot of time alone to recharge. They are processing a lot throughout the day and the quiet alone time is vital for their health and well-being. It’s not about you, it’s not that they don’t want to be around you. It’s that they need time to be with themselves first.
- Energy speaks louder than words. Highly sensitive people read energy. Meaning that whatever frequency you’re putting out there, your partner is picking up. The whole, “I’m fine” thing isn’t going to work, so do everyone a favor and be honest about how you’re really feeling, chances are, they already know.
- There’s no need to judge. You’re never going to judge a highly sensitive person more than they judge themselves, so you don’t need to vocalize that they are being “overly sensitive”. That kind of comment will only create distance between you and your Highly Sensitive Partner. If you had a condition where you constantly had to clear your throat and there was nothing you could do about it, and people your entire life always pointed it out, it’d be a sore subject. If your partner kept pointing it out, you’d most likely feel not understood by them. This is exactly what it’s like for a Highly Sensitive person being dismissed as “overly sensitive”.
- Compassion is key. My husband knows now that he doesn’t have to give me a solution or answer all the time. I tell him I just need to let this out, and he opens his arms for me to cry in. The more I let my emotions move through me and not stick to me, the stronger I am to hold space for him when he needs it. Not only does he not judge me, but he honors me and what I need which allows me to feel what I need to feel to stay strong and balanced for myself and for him.
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.
To remove the shame and negative stigma surrounding mental health. Everyone has mental health. Just as we would not ignore a physical illness, we need to address our mental illnesses as well.
How can our readers follow you online?
The best way to reach me is through Instagram @jenna.monaco or you can connect with me on my website, www.jennamonaco.com
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.