Be nice — to yourself and others. Kindness is perhaps the greatest gift we can give not only to others, but to ourselves. Everybody has their own stuff going on, and the more we can appreciate that, the better off we’ll all be. As a highly sensitive person it is very easy to get caught up in negative feelings or emotions (especially if that is what we’re surrounded by), so being proactively nice is a great way to stay ahead of it.
As a part of our series about How To Survive And Thrive As A Highly Sensitive Person, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jessica Serra Huizenga.Jessica is the kombucha-drinking, happy-making confetti queen/artist/author at The Confetti Bar. She delights in creating unique, bright, and engaging content, and at the core of everything she does is her mission to spread inspiration, color, and, of course, confetti. She lives in central CT with her husband, Clifford, and their incredibly affectionate cat, Curious.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and what you do professionally?
By day I’m CMO for Frame It Easy, the easiest, most affordable place to get custom picture frames online, and by night I, along with my husband, own The Confetti Bar, a creative hub with a particular specialty in making unique & custom confetti mixes.
I am an introvert and can be very quiet, but that doesn’t mean I’m a pushover or don’t have anything to say. I have the best husband — and friend — a girl could ask for, as well as an extremely supportive family. I lost my dad and both my maternal grandparents too fast, too soon, and wish more than anything they could have gotten to know who I am now. I feel deeply and dream endlessly. I’m not perfect, even though I can be a perfectionist. I still get sad even though I’m happy. I accept that things change, for better or worse. I also unfortunately know with absolute certainty that life is not always sunshine and rainbows — not even in Confetti Land. Life is hard. Really hard sometimes. In a particularly dark time in my life, anxiety and depression paralyzed me in every way. So yes, I’ve been there and still struggle sometimes, but I know there is always enough good to hold onto, so that’s what I choose to do.
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?
While the definition of being a Highly Sensitive Person can be a bit nuanced, it definitely goes beyond easily hurt feelings. As Dr. Elaine Aaron outlines, the DOES model of defining highly sensitive characteristics: D: depth of processing, O: over-stimulation, E: emotional reactivity and empathy, and S: sensing the subtle.
For me, the biggest defining characteristic of being Highly Sensitive seems to center around depth of processing — every bit of stimuli I take in (and I notice a lot!) gets processed on an extremely deep level and I’m constantly fitting together the puzzle pieces of past & current experiences. As a result, I feel very deeply and am affected by emotions I sense around me, thus can get overwhelmed easily.
Every sight, touch, smell, sound, noise, feeling, color, vibe, and atmosphere gets processed in every moment, so while it is a lot to handle sometimes, it also makes me that much more aware of how things connect.
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?
Because we take in and process so much more information, highly sensitive people tend to be much more empathetic — again, we make a lot of connections between moments and feelings and situations, so it’s easier for us to understand a variety of emotions and responses. (Chances are, we’ve felt it all!) This means it is also likely we will get offended by hurtful remarks made about other people, as we empathize so much it can feel like it’s being said about us.
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?
Growing up I never wanted to watch violent / scary movies or watch the news. Until I learned I was highly sensitive, I just knew it made me uncomfortable. Since learning about being highly sensitive, though, I now actively avoid watching or experiencing things that are overly upsetting (depicting pain, sadness, fear, terror, etc.) because I know they will affect me on such a deep level. We actually have a joke in my family that if they want to watch a scary / gory movie it’s not “Jessie-approved” and I need to go in my “fort” while they watch. (I.e. I sit under a blanket with headphones and an iPad and watch something lighter and more uplifting.)
To be clear, this doesn’t mean I pretend everything is always sunshine and rainbows and ignore the fact that bad stuff does indeed happen in the world, but since I already feel a sense of collective suffering on a basic level, rather than force myself to become overstimulated by that feeling, I prefer to focus as much of my energy on spreading joy and positivity as I can.
Can you please share a story about how your highly sensitive nature created problems at work or socially?
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that during my school years I didn’t have a lot of friends. While at the time I didn’t know specifically about my highly sensitive trait, I never really felt much of a connection to my peers. While others were worried about what party to go to on Friday night, I was home reading or making art and contemplating what the meaning of life was. At the time it felt like I was a social outcast, but now I know my high sensitivity is what caused me to prefer a rich inner life over a surface level outer life.
When did you suspect that your level of sensitivity was above the societal norm? How did you come to see yourself as “too sensitive”?
To be honest, it was actually the opposite for me — I never really felt I was “too sensitive,” but in learning about being highly sensitive, I was actually more shocked to learn others don’t feel the way I do. I guess I just sort of assumed everyone must understand what it’s like to go around feeling all these feelings and having all these deep thoughts, just some people were better at either hiding it or handling it.
I’m sure that being Highly Sensitive also gives you certain advantages. Can you tell us a few advantages that Highly Sensitive people have?
Though being highly sensitive can sometimes feel like a burden, I think that really only comes from the fact being highly sensitive isn’t as widely accepted as an actual inherent trait. If everyone were to be on the same page, I think the advantages far outweigh the negatives, it’s just hard to mold ourselves into a world that doesn’t allow us to thrive.
As far as advantages go, highly sensitive people are creative, thoughtful, and caring. We want to see the world be a better place and we often have deep ideas that value fairness and morality. We can appreciate the beauty in life and make connections others might miss. We know how to support others and, given the right circumstances, can thrive in a variety of roles. Because we think through all possibilities, we can often save time, energy, money, and resources rather than act wastefully and impulsively. Being highly sensitive truly is a super power!
Can you share a story from your own life where your great sensitivity was actually an advantage?
In high school I remember people telling me I was really smart because I got good grades and never really struggled with assignments in any subject. I, however, never considered myself to be of any particular higher intelligence, but my secret I now realize came from my high sensitivity — I was just really good at understanding what my teachers wanted and then delivering on that to get the grade. By processing everything deeply (across all my classes), having the emotional reactivity to realize the bottom line desired outcome, and sensing all the subtleties my teachers alluded to I was able to complete assignments in the most direct way with the least amount of effort. It’s not that I knew “more” than my peers, I was just naturally able to decipher what my teachers were looking for.
There seems to be no harm in being overly empathetic. What’s the line drawn between being empathetic and being Highly Sensitive?
Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. I think what separates being empathetic from being highly sensitive is that the highly sensitive person not only has the ability to understand and share feelings, they actually understand and share the feelings because they’ve processed and filed away tons of experiences that connect and relate. This means it can actually overwhelm a highly sensitive person and/or affect them on a truly deep level. It’s a subtle distinction, but important. Perhaps it’s like the difference between hearing someone describe a really beautiful sunset and being able to appreciate how it may have looked vs. being able to feel the subtle temperature change as they describe the moment the sun goes down.
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?
I think social media can be one of the most dangerous outlets for a highly sensitive person if they don’t approach it with some inherent boundaries. Just the sheer amount of information and stimuli and noise out there is enough to overwhelm even a slightly sensitive person. As someone who is highly sensitive, knowing when to dial the noise (or shut it off completely) is a must. On the flip side, social media can be an amazing way for a highly sensitive person to share his/her unique and thoughtful ideas and art with the world in a way that is less intimidating than putting yourself out there “in real life.”
I think the best way for a highly sensitive person to approach social media is as a tool — using online media as a way to form real life connections, which is what highly sensitive people truly crave: real, genuine, & deep connection.
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?
If I’m being 100% honest, in the moment I would probably take the fact they are telling me I’m being petty or minor extremely personal and feel deeply hurt by it, to a point where I might shut down. As a highly sensitive person it can be hard to deal with any type of criticism, justified or not. Once I had some time to collect my thoughts, though, I feel like I’d be able to write this person with a diplomatic, well thought out response as to why or how I was justified in my own feelings.
Because of its depth, processing can take a little while for me. I’m not good “put on the spot,” but if given some time to process and think I can usually come up with something that is well thought out and put together.
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?
As uncomfortable as it is, I think an unfortunate side effect of the highly sensitive trait not being very well-known or accepted is that highly sensitive people — myself included — learn to insulate themselves from the rest of the world, meaning we learn to put up walls and try to guard our own sense of self and security (whether we realize we’re doing it or not.)
Now, however, I try to embrace my trait more and more, and my favorite strategy is to show care and empathy through small gifts or notes — sending or gifting small, unexpected things to those I care about or those I think need it most. I think doing something kind for others, with no particular reason or expectation, allows us to remember there is a world bigger than our own and every single other human out there has their own life full of hopes, fears, and needs.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a Highly Sensitive Person? Can you explain what you mean?
I think in our culture “sensitive” tends to have more of a negative connotation, so that is the first myth I think needs to be dispelled. For example, maybe if the trait were called something more like “Highly Perceptive” or something most people would understand the advantages before seeing it as a negative trait.
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?
As much as I might be more of a “feelings” person than a “data” person, I think for the majority of the world, additional research and scientific studies on the trait could be something more tangible or universal to understand. For someone to realize this isn’t just a mood or a phase but an actual inherent trait (in many species) with biological implications (and advantages!) is a huge step in the right direction.
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.
- Be nice — to yourself and others. Kindness is perhaps the greatest gift we can give not only to others, but to ourselves. Everybody has their own stuff going on, and the more we can appreciate that, the better off we’ll all be. As a highly sensitive person it is very easy to get caught up in negative feelings or emotions (especially if that is what we’re surrounded by), so being proactively nice is a great way to stay ahead of it.
- Find balance & harmony. As a highly sensitive person, you need time for yourself to reconnect and process. Too much stimuli can burn us out, and too little expression can make us feel invisible or without purpose. Making time every day to unwind & explore your inner thoughts (taking bubble baths, creating art, exploring thoughts through poetry/writing, etc.) is a great start, and staying mindful in general is important. Try using nightly guided meditations to help you fall asleep, or even use guided meditations anytime you’re feeling lost or overwhelmed.
- Protect yourself. This might be the most important thing to know as a highly sensitive person — you must learn to protect yourself from all that weighs you down. Detaching as much as possible from certain emotionally charged situations might seem cold at first, but it’s essential to allow yourself to thrive. Try limiting your social media use, attempt a logical & problem solving approach to overwhelming tasks, and keep outside “noise” to a bare minimum. This is not to say you want to ignore others or stifle your empathetic nature, you simply have to learn when and where to use your highly sensitive super power for good, and when you need to protect it from those who might try to diminish it.
- Trust your gut. I mean this one literally and figuratively. Understand that things like anxiety, pain, depression, and stress are ways your body communicates with you, and as a highly sensitive person you are literally wired to be more in tune with your body’s response to various stimuli. Everything you need to thrive is already inside you, so you just have to trust what your instincts are telling you.
- Surround yourself with people who see you. Sometimes this one is easier said than done, but it really is so important to surround yourself with kindness, understanding, and support. People who, even if they don’t know the name for it, can see and appreciate the unique perspective you have of the world. This might mean saying goodbye to toxic relationships, or limiting the time and energy you spend with those that drain your resources, which can be hard, but you’ll be better off for it. I know for me personally, having the support and understanding of my husband and family has been absolutely essential to my journey.
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.
As was/is the motivation for my work with The Confetti Bar, I would love to see a movement where people design their own versions of happiness. I think joy is one of the most powerful — and contagious — emotions and if we can each learn to celebrate even the smallest of moments, I think it can create a ripple effect so that we all strive to feel good and do good, for ourselves and for our communities.
How can our readers follow you online?
You can find my thoughts and art at www.theconfettibar.com, or follow me on Instagram @theconfettibar
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.