Use your sensitivity in the right way. It is true that anything weaponized or used incorrectly can be toxic. Remember to keep redirecting the focus not on the fact that you are sensitive but on what you are sensitive about, what issue you are raising and how this is valid and relevant. And plant a seed- get involved in the issues you are most sensitive about and create a beautiful flower garden in the world from your sensitivity that we may that you were here.
As a part of our series about How To Survive And Thrive As A Highly Sensitive Person, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lleuella Morris.
Lleuella Morris is a compassionate disrupter. She writes and speaks on Personal Growth, emotional well-being, and owning your power. She advises people on development strategies for themselves and how to develop and innovate their projects and programmes for impact and 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?
I write and speak on personal growth and I empower people to thrive. My calling is two-fold: to develop both people and things. I empower people through my content and influence, mentoring, telling my story, and embodying the self-leadership principles I promote. I develop projects and organizations by advising and helping them to be more effective and thrive in and of themselves and to serve people more effectively. I believe in conscientious leadership and in making big impact. I believe that compassion and effectiveness must not be mutually exclusive. They should exist simultaneously.
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 is one who has a greater capacity to receive sensory stimuli, because of a highly tuned nervous system. They can pick up on things that others miss and can easily become overstimulated (overwhelmed) because they have a lower sensory threshold. It takes way less to excite or overwhelm them physically, spiritually, psychologically, emotionally, socially. High sensitivity is often recorded among persons who measure and identify as highly to profoundly gifted. This was the case with me. Therefore, it is more than just feeling easily hurt and offended, sensitive people are also deeply moved by beauty and positive emotions because of this same internal mechanism.
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 of their capacity to feel things on a deeper level, they can become easily offended by hurtful remarks made toward them or others. Highly Sensitive People quite often have a higher degree of empathy towards others, but this isn’t necessarily always and only the case. We have the capacity to also feel deeply toward ourselves. I like to view sensitivity as a continuum with each of us lying at a fixed point along that continuum- being sensitive to greater or lesser degrees.
All feeling is not created equal. I like the 16 personalities theory of cognitive functions which essentially differentiates between two types of Feeling. Introverted Feeling (Fi) and Extroverted Feeling (Fe). Highly Sensitive People who have a preference for Fe will display more interpersonal sensitivity since extroverted feeling is objective feeling- the thing we most readily recognise as empathy, a broad-based feeling and sensitivity for the other more than the self. Highly Sensitive People who measure as Fi users will display stronger subjective feeling or intrapersonal sensitivity which is selective of self and doled out through their very specific values to the groups of people who align with those values.
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?
Certainly. Highly Sensitive people can easily become overwhelmed with many aspects of popular culture. Overstimulation seems to be the order of the day. As a devout Christian I remember feeling extremely ashamed by the middle of 2020 because I was so overwhelmed by the negative side of Covid-19 news, whispers of population control and cleansing, atrocities to be committed against humanities, evil philanthropists, and constant reminders of Bible prophecies which foretell these. People presumed that because I like knowledge that my system could actually process these large amounts of negativity they were sending my way. I was already feeling so sad for the countless businesses that folded permanently during the pandemic, the children who lived in such poverty they wouldn’t be able to access online learning, and millions of people who had become unemployed. So, the constant bombardment with “conspiracy” theories obviously was negative and poisonous for me. I understand how my friends did not see this as negative and how it clearly wasn’t affecting them, but it overwhelmed me with hopelessness. Thankfully, I knew how to implement self-soothing and self-care to keep myself in a happy head space. This largely included dropping off of social media, dodging news in a drastic way with strong filters, and grabbing for those things which made me feel grounded, safe, and non-threatened. I had to be okay that these were things that people who are not as sensitive would criticise as superficial.
Can you please share a story about how your highly sensitive nature created problems at work or socially?
Oh my. Where do I start? Haha. Mostly, my sensitivity is the reason why I am self-employed and have few friends. I just cannot work in “system”. Thoughtlessness, bullying, making fun of others, treating the responsibilities you commit to with scant regard, and lack of caring always seem to rear its ugly head very early and I fall out with people on these things. They are always taken aback by my high standards and sensitivity for how people should be treated. This had led either to my being ignored when I speak up, creating disruption by calling things out or being bullied. I have had my share of bullying throughout my life- as a teenager and also as an adult in professional settings. I am always amazed at how well-dressed professionals who project an image of professionalism could also act with such aggression and without grace in trampling another or putting him or her down. However, I am a very resilient and empowered person. I have always understood that I cannot expect people to be like me therefore my best option was to leave the “system” and limit my interactions with it. I needed to carve my own path. I believe in creating my own opportunities. In this way, I have total control over who I get to interact with and for how long and this has been going very well for me since I made this decision 6 years ago.
I do not push to be part of social groups that everyone else is a part of even when invited. I remind myself: “Lleuella, you know you’re sensitive and easily hurt, tread cautiously”. I do not rush the decision. I check in a lot with myself and my inner children and then some more before deciding whether to accept an invitation. If in my body I feel it is a “no”, then I try to honour that “no”.
When did you suspect that your level of sensitivity was above the societal norm? How did you come to see yourself as “too sensitive”?
For as long as I could remember myself, I was a sensitive soul. As a child my family would tell me I am as soft as an egg. At first, I thought I was only emotionally sensitive, however with greater awareness within the last couple of years, I have come to identify lifelong struggle with eczema and sensitive skin, how I opted very easily to give-up eating meat and become a vegetarian at the age of 15 perhaps because on an unconscious level I probably knew that my system was just too sensitive (the only vegetarian in my family back then). And several other symptoms which I only caught in hindsight. I have a soft spoken and gentle nature. I was never one who could boast having a “tough skin” and if I think back, as a child I was known among my classmates for being very bright but also “soft”, “taking things personally”, and unable to take a joke. I have never gotten into a physical fight in my entire life. In primary school when children fought on the playground, I avoided that because even then fighting never made sense to me. I was always told that to survive in this world I needed a tough skin, but I did not know what to do, the advice always felt incomplete because I felt that my sensitive feelings were always valid. So as a child, I worried about how I would ever survive in the world if I was so sensitive and knowing it was the one thing I really could not change about myself. The years between then and now, I learned how to hide my sensitivity, not by pretending that things did not bother me, but by showing it less and only when I felt it was safe to show it, and by processing it in private, and trying as much as possible to avoid situations and people who I perceived were rough and thoughtless and would not understand me. So, I learned to be a quiet person. As an adult something started to register when I observed that I was almost always affected by every workplace I have been in, and I have had to walk away from so many friendships. But I really came to see myself as “too sensitive” when my family said they felt like they needed to walk on eggshells around me and they felt like they could not tell me anything because I would take it personally.
I did not want to feel left out, I value truth and knowing. As the eldest sibling of my parents and the eldest female grandchild of both sides of my family, I wanted my immediate family to know that I am strong and I could be depended on to be calm in crisis, be level-headed, lead, pioneer, and set a good example.
I’m sure that being Highly Sensitive also gives you certain advantages. Can you tell us a few advantages that Highly Sensitive people have?
The only advantage I can think of that sensitive people get is the one that comes with the fact that you have spoken your truth. Because you dare to show your sensitivity, though people may say you are being dramatic or too much, they do also make way and allow you to take up the space as the sensitive one.
Can you share a story from your own life where your great sensitivity was actually an advantage?
Yes. Due to my personal growth work and extensive self-parenting, I now believe that my sensitivity is not too much, it is just right even though it is above the societal norm. I believe that my high sensitivity is a strength because I am highly in tune with myself and my feelings as well as the subtle reactions and feelings of others. Because of this, when I make an assessment of someone, I am usually right. Connecting well with people, catering to their needs, engaging them, hospitality, securing people’s buy-in and relationship building are part of my superpowers. This has shown up in every situation where I have worked or volunteered. I can develop people and things exactly because I am highly sensitive, thoughtful, and thorough toward people.
A few years ago, when I sat on the board of a Non-profit professional organisation, I was deeply concerned about us meeting the needs of our membership. My portfolio was to execute monthly programmes for the professional development and networking of membership. I sensed membership participation dwindled because people did not feel engaged and seen, but no one seemed to be enthusiastic enough about it. I sensed that members’ needs were not being met. I sprang into action, engaged members secured their feedback through a survey which was met with partial enthusiasm by my colleagues. The wanted to proceed with business as usual. Because I cared about the responsibilities I had committed to and the needs of our membership I connected personally with members via telephone and as a result, I increased buy-in and participation by 500%. The administration was happy for the outcome but did not seem conscientious enough to truly link what produced that result or to want that sort of relationship with membership- business as usual. Needless to say, my sensitivity won out and I could not remain past 3 months in this portfolio.
There seems to be no harm in being overly empathetic. What’s the line drawn between being empathetic and being Highly Sensitive?
There is harm in being overly empathic because this can be draining and produce empathy fatigue. Bearing in mind that highly sensitive people become drained very quickly and need to have really solid self-care. Here is where practicing healthy boundaries is critical and so is inner-child care. Check in with yourself asking “how am I feeling?”, “Is the issue affecting me or is my feeling toward the issue which is affecting me?” It is important to separate the two. If the issue is affecting me more than the normal person, then that is normal because it is my normal. Is what I am thinking or reacting towards the issue affecting me more? This is the area in which there is scope for boundaries. If you realise that an issue is keeping you up at night, then it’s helpful to ask what you can do about it. One of the most overwhelming feelings is to witness human suffering and feeling powerless to end it. I try to protect myself from that second part. I know my inner children would be terribly bothered, so I always endeavour to do something about the issues that may keep me up at night. This is why I am an avid volunteer and giver. It doesn’t burn me out because I stop when I am tired. I know when I feel tired because I practice checking in with myself and my inner children. In this way, I create harmony and equilibrium within myself. My inner children are happy and fulfilled, and I am not kept up at night pondering human depravity but can sleep knowing that I am purposefully working to help.
To shift the weight of sensitivity like I described above requires high self-awareness and good intrapersonal intelligence which can be learned and developed. Identifying your inner children and being a good parent works. It is how you draw the line between being sensitive and empathetic or having empathy fatigue and burnout.
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?
Oof. I would know, I often do not understand how people are able to be on all the possible social networks. However, I severely limit the amount of social media I give my attention to. I have found that I feel drained or overwhelmed when I face too much social media. Here’s how I think a highly sensitive person can benefit from social media without being pulled down by it:
- Do not feel pressured to be on the newest, latest social media sites. Choose only the ones you find help you achieve your goals or align with your values.
- There is always an option to silence notifications for the sites you are on.
- There is always the choice of following only those people with whom you have TOTAL resonance, and be prepared to unfollow them, the minute you feel the resonance factor dips. For Highly Sensitive People less is more.
- In case you didn’t get this from above, I am saying unlike, unsubscribe, unfollow, ‘un-anything’ on social media is your best friend.
- Hire someone to mange your social media for you if you can afford it.
- Utilize your right to take breaks from any and all social networks you choose without fear of social repercussion. Nothing is more important than your emotional and somatic well-being.
Here’s a thought. We are sometimes blindsided by the bullying and cruel memes that may appear on our timelines. We cannot unsee them, but we can take immediate action to remove them and any future ones from our line of vision so our inner children are not totally put out and create disruption and disharmony in our inner world.
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?
At this current stage in my development, I understand that I am rare and that people will not understand me and are likely to respond critically to my sensitivity (at first). We are all sensitive in different ways and have the right to be so. I usually remind them that it is my right to feel as sensitive as I do and that I am not them. Doing this makes me remain in my power and makes way for my next move which is to state why I think the issue I am bothered by is legitimate. This depends on the setting. Being highly sensitive is an invisible diversity and being powerful enough to bring a different perspective to the table can go a long way in initiating important and historic change. The man whose bare feet were never pricked by a nail has no need to be sensitive about having foot covers. It is the man whose feet have been pricked who is likely to be credited with inventing shoes. We continue to advance as a civilization all because someone is “over” sensitive about some thing.
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?
I remind myself that I have the right to be sensitive about issues, it’s what makes me a powerful catalyst and initiater of change, growth, and development. I reframe the narrative: “I am highly sensitive but…I am also smart, creative, insightful, and a fierce solutionist”. They will be hard-pressed to try to separate the two. They will have to accept me as a total package. They cannot deny the value I bring therefore if I am “too” sensitive it becomes their problem not mine. I also have learned that when I enter a new setting to first assess to what extent it is friendly toward my sensitive nature or is likely to label me as “too much”. I largely avoid and exit quickly out of situations where people are unkind, uncaring, and callous. In this way, there is less rehabilitative work that I must do on myself later when my inner children are disturbed. I protect myself from the “you’re too sensitive” gaslighting. But I must also say, part of my sensitivity and caring is to put my empathy to work in formulating solutions. I am able to see things from the other’s perspective: “What if I were not the sensitive one, how would I react or think about the other who is highly sensitive? Would I not have responded in the similar ways? Answering these questions help me to be reasonable and balanced in managing my own need and the needs of others. These empathic questions strongly inform my strategies.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a Highly Sensitive Person? Can you explain what you mean?
Myth#1 the Highly Sensitive Person is weak and helpless. Oh no my dear. I have dragons who come to my rescue when I am feel hurt, trampled and imposed upon. This is a Game of Thrones inspired disclaimer which I like to use to signal to others what can be expected from me if I feel there is an injustice being done against me or others- I am highly sensitive but my dragons will get you if you hurt me. Many highly sensitive people have dragons and it’s often comes as a surprise to others when we show it.
Myth#2 the Highly Sensitive Person is listless and lazy. Many times sensitive people appear this way to others. Maybe the next time you are tempted to label someone as lazy, ask yourself if they are simply being overwhelmed by specific stimuli and need different conditions in which to perform.
Myth#3 the Highly Sensitive Person is under accomplished because high achievement comes with toughness and callousness. No, no, no. As I mentioned before, I was always told that to survive in this world you had to be tough and less sensitive. It never made sense. I am self- employed and feeling as accomplished and purposeful as I could possibly be in life currently, all because I placed myself in the right environment which allows me to thrive in my sensitivity. Many of the most brilliant and talented artists, musicians, and creatives are also highly sensitive people and they highly accomplished. Because I limit the amount of exposure I get to unfriendly stimuli, I am able to accomplish more.
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?
More people need to speak out about it giving analogies that less sensitive people can readily relate to. Sensitivity is a gift. Because people are sensitive to issues, they help save us from some future disaster or fail. Highly sensitive people bring great value. As Highly sensitive people walk empowered in their sensitivity they can shift the power from their sensitivity itself as the subject to what it really points to. From sensitivity being seen as a disruption of progress to it being an alert for something to explore. Only the highly sensitive person can incite this shift.
It also helps to be able to articulate what you are sensitive about and why, in a way that others can get on board with it. for example: describe your hurt in a visual, tangible way- “that feels like if someone has stabbed you in the heart”.
Express it in terms of the cost or consequence. “I feel like if we continue to treat people this way, we will lose them as customers”. It is not enough only to be sensitive, learn to be able to put forward a solution and make a case for it. “I feel like we should offer a contribution to show that we care. Trust me. If we do, we will increase our impact and reputation and those people will practically sell us to everyone. We will save on tons of money from not having to ‘market’ ourselves”.
You get my drift. Be prepared to be the chief instigator and executer for hospitality and empathy and to spearhead any sensitivity solutions you put forward, after all, this is your strong suit.
People are only afraid of that which they do not 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.
- Your sensitivity is a gift, not an ill to be cured. When I began to understand myself better, and understood that my sensitivity is a super power, I was able to wield it in more productive ways to help me keep achieving goals in life and feel internal harmony and meaning in life.
- You need to stop exposing yourself to excessive stimuli in order to prove you are as tough as “normal” people. This never works. We are just different and that is not going to change. We are normal! Our purpose or how we exercise that purpose is just different. I always think that we were created to reflect the compassionate heart of God. We are a refreshing balance to the callousness of the world. Do not compare yourself with others. Sensitivity requires tenderness with yourself at all times if you are to survive for the long haul and thrive.
- Learn how to care for your sensitive self. Read your owner’s manual so you know how to care for your sensitive soul. The sooner you get familiar with it, the better it will be for you. This will include creating the right physical environment, adjusting your physical space so you are comfortable. Adjusting your diet, types of fabric in your space, the amount of light. Getting the right and healthiest type of sensory stimuli. Spending lots of time alone, doing the things that truly invigorate you. Find the right circle of social support. But most importantly, implement self-parenting techniques. Practice checking in with yourself noticing how and where you feel emotions in your body physically, listening to your inner children and giving them what they need.
- Do not allow yourself to be gaslighted, be grounded in the power of your sensitivity. Here is where you need to work on your mind to fortify it. Prepare affirmations to tell yourself the next time someone is thoughtless or critical about your sensitivity. Practice these daily not only when confronted but all the time you deserve to feel comfortable in your own skin.
- Use your sensitivity in the right way. It is true that anything weaponized or used incorrectly can be toxic. Remember to keep redirecting the focus not on the fact that you are sensitive but on what you are sensitive about, what issue you are raising and how this is valid and relevant. And plant a seed- get involved in the issues you are most sensitive about and create a beautiful flower garden in the world from your sensitivity that we may that you were here.
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.
Initiatives to empower people both personally and socio-economically. To end hunger and poverty, provide people with opportunities for decent and dignified work, thereby empowering them to thrive and maximise their full potential.
How can our readers follow you online?
I am on linkedin at https://www.linkedin.com/in/LleuellaMorris/
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.
It was my pleasure.