Self-care is your #1 priority. HSP’s (and Empaths) have excess amounts of energy running through their system at any given time. It’s imperative that you find a way to release that energy and give it space to move. That means setting aside time to get an extra hour or sleep, scheduling time on your calendar for breaks throughout the day, and leaving room for activities that help you recharge. Taking a salt bath, working on a craft or hobby, and getting outside in nature helps in calming your nervous system and grounding your body so you feel more at ease.
As a part of our series about How To Survive And Thrive As A Highly Sensitive Person, I had the pleasure of interviewing Layla Griffin.Layla is an Empath and HSP coach that goes by the name, The Herbal Empath. Based out of Northern Virginia, Layla uses her platform on social media to empower other Empaths and Highly Sensitive People to show up as experts in their field, using their sensitivity as the key to their success. In her downtime, you can find her binge-watching episodes of Bob’s Burgers or in the kitchen working on a new dessert recipe.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and what you do professionally?
Thank you for having me! I am Layla and I’m an Empath and a Highly Sensitive Person. As a child, I was always told I was too sensitive and that in order to succeed in life, I needed to toughen up and develop a thick skin. I carried that messaging with me throughout life; while being bullied in school, while fighting endometrial cancer, and even throughout my 15-year corporate journey. When I decided to branch out on my own at the end of 2017, I struggled to get my messaging to the masses using traditional marketing techniques. I quickly learned that my sensitivity affected how I navigated entrepreneurship and even social media. Now, I help other highly sensitive and empathetic entrepreneurs tap into their sensitivity through trauma healing and mindset work. We use that as the foundation in building an aligned business that celebrates those sensitive traits.
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?
A Highly Sensitive Person isn’t just sensitive to feelings and emotions. HSP’s are sensitive to the world around them as a whole. They feel (and sometimes absorb) the anger of the person next to them in line at the grocery store, they get overwhelmed by the noise and energy of large crowds, they’re sensitive to smells and even the changes in atmosphere with the weather. Mostly genetic and partly the result of environment, our mirror neurons are more active which affects our level of empathy, how strongly we feel emotions, and how we navigate everyday life.
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?
Absolutely. Our level of empathy and compassion extends beyond the dictionary definition. The majority of Highly Sensitive People that I encounter identify with being an Empath as well. Because we’re so sensitive to feelings and emotions, when we see others being bullied, taken advantage of, or hurt in any way, it’s almost as if it’s happening to us. It’s difficult for us to separate those experiences from our own. We literally put ourselves in that person’s shoes and experience the same feelings of hurt and betrayal.
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?
If you know someone who’s highly sensitive, you may notice that we avoid the news or violent television and movies because it’s too much for us to stomach. As an example, I’m a huge fan of all of the John Wick movies. And if you’ve seen the first movie, you know about the “puppy scene”. As much as I love that movie, each time I watch it, I have to skip that scene. I know it’s fake and I know it’s just a scene in a film, but the emotional and physical pain that occurs on screen feels like it’s happening in real life. With someone who’s not highly sensitive, the more they’re exposed to violence or emotional and physical pain, the more they become desensitized to it and the initial shock value decreases. With HSP’s, there is no desensitization. Each time I watch that scene, those feelings are just as strong, if not stronger, than when I watched the scene the first time.
Can you please share a story about how your highly sensitive nature created problems at work or socially?
It’s a lot easier now that I work for myself, but when I worked in an office, I felt like I was always saying no to work functions, whether it was some kind of offsite work function, weekly happy hours, or holiday parties. I know I came across as anti-social or not a “team player”, but that wasn’t the case at all. It’s hard to try and explain to a coworker or your boss that the noise level in a crowded bar makes you anxious or that having to be “on” in a large group of people is socially draining and will require days of recovery.
And it’s the same with friends. Once they continue to hear “no” or you say yes to plans while you’re feeling extroverted and then cancel at the last minute, that’s when the invites stop. As much as we don’t want to say no, for our own mental and physical health, that’s usually our only option, but it does come with its own challenges of feeling isolated or left out.
When did you suspect that your level of sensitivity was above the societal norm? How did you come to see yourself as “too sensitive”?
It happened for me very early on in my childhood. I was quiet around new people and I cried a lot when I couldn’t make sense of my emotions. I would cry every year on the first day of school. And I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was because I could feel the nervousness and excitement of the other kids around me. Add that to my own nerves and it became too much for me to process at one time.
When I realized I was “too sensitive” was when people began to point it out to me. When I displayed too much emotion or a family member or teacher questioned why I was reacting so powerfully, I began to hear phrases like, “you’re too sensitive’ or “stop being so emotional” or “you need to develop a thicker skin”.
I’m sure that being Highly Sensitive also gives you certain advantages. Can you tell us a few advantages that Highly Sensitive people have?
There’s kind of a running joke in the HSP community that we’re human lie detectors, but it’s so true! Because we’re so sensitive to the subtle shifts in emotions, we can tell when someone’s not being as truthful as their words would suggest. I would say that’s definitely an advantage.
We’re also extremely detailed oriented. We ask questions that others don’t think of. We look at the world differently, so the way we find resolutions is outside the norm. That’s extremely beneficial when working on a project or trying to think outside the box.
Lastly, we make great supervisors, managers, and leaders. As an HSP, I thought I was too quiet and too sensitive to manage a team, but at the tail end of my corporate career, I was supervising a team of five. My sensitivity was a great advantage. I was able to feel when tensions were high between the team. It also helped me to be more empathetic during high stress times while still trying to meet our deadlines. When employees and team members feel heard and understood, it makes for a better team environment.
Can you share a story from your own life where your great sensitivity was actually an advantage?
I have a few instances where my great sensitivity was an advantage, but in respect to the other individuals involved, I’ll just say that people feel very comfortable telling me their secrets. We all have parts of ourselves that we’re not comfortable sharing, but I believe that others can sense when they’re in a safe space. I’ve had strangers approach me at the grocery store and tell me their life story. I’ve had friends confide in me things they couldn’t tell their family, knowing that I would understand and support them no matter what. With my sensitivity and my empathy, I can put myself in their shoes and offer a level of support that makes them feel like they’re not alone. And that’s what we all want; to feel like we’re not alone in our feelings and experiences.
There seems to be no harm in being overly empathetic. What’s the line drawn between being empathetic and being Highly Sensitive?
Empathy or being empathetic mainly deals with being able to understand and experience the feelings and emotions of others. Being Highly Sensitive goes beyond that. Dr. Judith Orloff who wrote “The Empath’s Survival Guide” does a great job of explaining it. Whereas a person who’s empathetic can be extroverted, the majority of Highly Sensitive People are introverts. Social interactions zap our energy and we need a lot of alone time to recover. We avoid crowds, loud noises, and anything depicting violence. We have a highly reactive nervous system and we’re prone to social anxiety and depression.
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?
Something I didn’t realize until I had to use social media for business was how much the energy on social media affects Highly Sensitive People. We get drained, overstimulated, and burned out very easily, especially if we’re not taking precautions when it comes to protecting our energy and we spend our time online mindlessly scrolling.
First, I would suggest scheduling your social media time and setting a timer. Find out what your daily limit is, whether that’s 30 minutes at a time or an hour. Set a timer so you can limit screen time. Next, unfollow or mute accounts that don’t inspire you or make you feel good. If you’re an HSP and you notice yourself feeling anxious while on social media, take a look at who you follow. If it’s a family member’s posts that are causing unease and you can’t unfollow them, mute their posts so they don’t pop up on your feed. And lastly, do something fun or grounding afterwards. That could be taking a walk outside and getting into nature, sitting down on the couch and watching your favorite show, or spending ten minutes painting or playing an instrument. When you close out your social media sessions by doing something that brings you joy, you begin to think of your social media time as a positive experience.
How would you respond if something you hear or see bothers or affects you, but others comment that you are being petty or that it is minor?
Before I fully understood and embraced my sensitivity, a person’s comments on my feelings would’ve put me on the defensive. But you have to understand, you can only meet someone at their level of understanding. Trying to convince someone that your reactions are real will only lead to frustration. Just know that your emotions are valid, regardless of whether or not that person understands. Say something like, “you’re allowed your opinion just as I’m allowed mine.” Or “This is how I feel and it’s okay if you don’t agree.”
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?
Have you heard the saying “how others feel about you is none of your business”? That’s how I look at it. But it took me a long time to get there. As a former people-pleaser, I would make decisions based on what others, or even society, would think instead of making decisions based on how I truly felt. Because people were always telling me what I shouldn’t be, I would look to them to tell me what I should be as well.
Getting past that takes a lot of internal mindset work. First and foremost, it means sitting with yourself and asking yourself how you really feel about your sensitivity and your empathetic nature. It means getting to the root of why you care what others think of you and where those feelings originated from. The more you begin to embrace who you are, the less you care about how others may perceive you.
It also requires you to be honest with your part in how others respond to you. How have you allowed others to treat you? What type of behavior did you accept? And be gentle with yourself and the answers that come up. It’s okay that you may have let someone cross your boundaries one too many times. When we’re in this state, worrying about what others think of us, most of our decisions are made from a place of survival. Now that you recognize it, you can take steps to make sure it doesn’t happen in the future.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a Highly Sensitive Person? Can you explain what you mean?
The first myth would be that we’re weak. There’s this perception that because we feel so much and others see us as “overly sensitive” that we’re somehow lacking. But HSP’s are some of the strongest people on the planet. For a lot of us, we’ve had to endure the trauma from narcissistic friendships and relationships, mentally and physically abusive family members, and navigating a world that’s not in tune with our sensitivity.
Speaking for myself, I’ve survived bullying from my elementary years all through high school and even in some of my adult years. I’ve survived endometrial cancer. I worked my way up the corporate ladder with no college degree. And I quit my very secure office job to chase my dreams and become an entrepreneur. Yet, I still remain my sensitive and empathetic self. I still see the beauty in the world and I still wake up each morning grateful to see another day and to live a blessed life.
Another myth would be that we can’t succeed being ourselves. I was guilty of this way of thinking too. It was ingrained in me that successful people acted a certain way and talked a certain way. They were brimming with confidence all hours of the day and night and never had any doubts. They woke up early and stayed up late working themselves to the bone. That way of thinking is unrealistic for Highly Sensitive People. We take a bit longer to make decisions, we have to work through all angles of a problem before we take action, and working ourselves to the bone leads to illness and burnout. It doesn’t mean we can’t succeed. It means we have to make adjustments. It means surrounding ourselves with a team of people that can help us cut through the noise and accomplish our goals.
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?
Again, it can be hard to convince someone that being a Highly Sensitive Person isn’t a choice. Just like you can’t change the color of your skin or the size of your feet, you can’t change your sensitivity. I’m not sure it’s a choice any of us would make to be misunderstood and move through life differently than everyone else. I know for some Highly Sensitive People, they can feel like a burden or an inconvenience to friends and family because of their reactions to what others think is “no big deal”. But if those around them are willing, patience and acceptance goes a long way in helping them feel secure.
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.
- Self-care is your #1 priority. HSP’s (and Empaths) have excess amounts of energy running through their system at any given time. It’s imperative that you find a way to release that energy and give it space to move. That means setting aside time to get an extra hour or sleep, scheduling time on your calendar for breaks throughout the day, and leaving room for activities that help you recharge. Taking a salt bath, working on a craft or hobby, and getting outside in nature helps in calming your nervous system and grounding your body so you feel more at ease.
- Meditation is your BFF. If you don’t have a meditation practice, today’s the day to start. HSP’s need a lot more time to rest and recover from the stimuli of everyday life. Meditation helps in quieting the mind and calming those racing thoughts. For some, meditation can seem really intimidating, but it can be as simple as sitting and daydreaming for a few minutes a day. If you don’t know where to start, I suggest going on YouTube and typing in “10-minute guided meditation”.
- Don’t avoid shadow work. Shadow work involves confronting the parts of yourself that you’ve hidden most of your life. It can involve repressed trauma (from bullying or narcissistic abuse), feelings of low self-esteem and self-worth, or fears around money and success. It can also include feelings of shame around being a Highly Sensitive Person. You’ve been told your whole life that you’re “too sensitive” and for most of you, you’ve spent your life denying that part of yourself in order to fit in. The process of shadow work helps you work through those feelings, let go of that pain, and finally begin to thrive as who you are.
- Journal every single day. Just like you have an excess of energy every day, HSP’s have an excess of thoughts as well. Free journaling helps you release those thoughts, put them down on paper, and then reflect on where the thoughts originated from. It involves writing down your thoughts with no rhyme or reason. It’s a safe space for you to put down on paper what you feel without fear or judgement.
- Learn to set boundaries. Again, you teach people how to treat you. If someone you encounter, be it family, friends, or a stranger on the street, crosses a boundary you’re not comfortable with, it’s perfectly okay to let them know that they cannot talk to or treat you however they want. This is where your shadow work comes into play. When you confront past relationships, you start to learn what your limits are. From there, you learn when to say no. And don’t worry, the first few times you begin to reinforce your boundaries with the people in your life, it will feel uncomfortable. But the more you continue to take your power back and really take responsibility for how you show up in the world, the more it will become second nature to stick to the boundaries you’ve set.
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.
One of my goals is to create a community for Highly Sensitive People and Empaths that are survivors of bullying and narcissistic abuse to come together, tell their stories, and begin the hard work of healing their long-held trauma. It would be a place of support with access to counseling and therapy, but also educational resources as it relates to accepting and honing our gifts, and include tools for entrepreneurship. As HSP’s, we’re so used to hearing that we can’t or won’t succeed as we are that we resort to marketing and business methods that aren’t meant for us. It’s with a lot of frustration and trial and error that we learn how to make our businesses work for us instead of the other way around.
How can our readers follow you online?
I spend most of my time on Instagram. You can find me there @theherbalempath.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.
Thank you for the opportunity to share my story and shed light on what it means to be a Highly Sensitive Person.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.