The world loves Highly Sensitive People — Some of the most famous artists, musicians, athletes, and performers all exhibit traits of Highly Sensitive People. These people are celebrated throughout history for entertaining, enlightening, and educating millions. HSPs tend to be excellent leaders as they can tune into the emotions of others and relate with them on a quicker, deeper level. Artists and musicians tap into their sensitivity to create music, art, and movies that show the depth of our minds and hearts, bringing the non-HSP along for a wondrous ride.
As a part of our series about How To Survive And Thrive As A Highly Sensitive Person, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rich Bracken. Rich is a keynote speaker, author, and podcaster who focuses on emotional intelligence to help improve the personal and professional lives of everyone he interacts with. Through his lively presentations, television appearances, and other content, he shares inspirational stories to help his audience realize their full potential and find happiness in both their personal and professional lives.
He’s had the privilege of speaking at numerous conferences across the country, has been handpicked by notable companies and corporations to speak to their executive teams about emotional intelligence, hosts the informative and uplifting EnRich Your Soul podcast, and frequently guest stars on television segments and podcasts.
You can learn more about Rich at richbracken.com
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and what you do professionally?
My name is Rich Bracken from Minneapolis, MN and I am a keynote storyteller focusing on emotional intelligence, a TV personality and I also am the Director of Business Development at a mid-size law firm. I am 43 years old, happily married for 11 years and I have two amazing sons who are 7 and 3.
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?
The definition that I first became aware of is a highly sensitive person is someone who experiences acute physical, mental, or emotional responses to stimuli. My personal definition is that I classify myself as such because I sense and experience life and surroundings in a multi-level, multi-sensory way. For example, I don’t just hear music, I can see it, feel it, and am engulfed in emotion when I hear it vs. the typical person who will just hear the beat and lyrics.
Being a Highly Sensitive Person is so much more than someone who has their feelings more impacted and vulnerable than others, which makes it seem so negative. As a Highly Sensitive Person, I have the ability to sense the emotions of others to an acute level which allows me to guide conversations differently. I find that people trust me a lot deeper and quicker than normal. My ideas aren’t linear but more of a growing plume of smoke that lifts and expands as they grow.
To bucket HSP’s as thin-skinned and easily offended is insulting and shallow to those who have the ability to use it for such greatness.
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?
Oh absolutely, my empathy is off the charts compared to most. As I converse or am even in proximity to someone, I can truly sense their emotions, their aura and be able to ask the right questions based on my understanding of the energy that they are putting off.
I would say that a Highly Sensitive Person is absolutely offended by hurtful remarks made about other people. I can’t tell you how many situations I’ve been in where I’ve challenged those who make those remarks and have asked them to look at a situation in a much different way without assumptions. Friends, colleagues, even total strangers, that make those types of comments do so with such ill-intent that I feel the words that come out of their mouth have an intense red color that is meant as direct attacks on another. Some sort of verbal punishment or assault.
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?
In my experience, yes, a Highly Sensitive Person does have greater difficulty with the depiction of emotional or physical pain in pop culture because we take in such a heightened awareness of all of the emotions involved in the scenario. From the sadness and anguish of the victim to the pain and anger of the distributor of pain, I sense everything about the encounter as if I were an emotional sponge. The empathy I feel for the victim as well as the disgust I have for the offender is palpable and something I have to be very mindful of. There are certain movies and songs I can’t watch or listen to because the visualization of the encounter depicted in the song or the scene in the movie is too much for me to handle.
Can you please share a story about how your highly sensitive nature created problems at work or socially?
Just a couple of nights ago, my wife and I were at a high school hockey game and there was a man (assuming a father of one of the players) who was yelling at the referee. He was one set of bleachers over in the front row and behind him were several mothers and their young children. One of my main sensitivity triggers is any sort of aggression or disrespect to women and children (animals as well).
Once that yelling turned to curse, I decided I had enough. Before he could get another word out, I got his attention verbally. When he turned and looked at me, I literally could see the heat radiating off his face and knew that this guy was a bomb of violence about to go off.
I simply said “Can you do your best to bring it down and use better words? There are women and children right behind you who didn’t show up to hear your lack of manners.” He pivoted his body to me as if he was one more word away from jumping me, to which I said “We both know you’re not going to do anything physical, so how about you just calm down and be a better dad for your son out there?”
After a few seconds of staring, he turned back to the game, didn’t raise his voice again, and, while he made a childish gesture on the way out, nothing else occurred.
I think the oft-misunderstood thing about Highly Sensitive People is that we don’t know how to control our emotions or that our emotions are the only ones that we absorb and internalize. Many Highly Sensitive People not only can control their emotions better than the average person, but they can also radiate an energy that can be sensed by non-HSP’s. It was that encounter that was a perfect example. My radiation of confidence and control over the situation snuffed out the raging flame of a man who looked like he was ready to go to jail for fighting.
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 realized that my level of sensitivity was much higher than most back in middle school. I just sense that when I felt things (positive or negative) that the structure of the emotion was much more complex than how other people felt theirs. Imagine that most people feel their emotions in a standard definition television format, mine have always been in 4K Ultra HD with some virtual reality thrown in. I then realized that others recognized my ability when I was chosen to lead a peer counseling program during my freshman year of high school. I remember being told by my guidance counselor that I was chosen because my teachers, and a few peers, spoke about my ability to connect with people, that people constantly turned to me for support and that I had a level of active listening that was so much higher than a 14-year-old should have.
I only ever saw myself as “too sensitive” when I didn’t realize the gifts that I was blessed with. When I would feel something or sense emotions from others that just felt so intense, I didn’t know what to do or how to handle them. I thought I was reading too much into things or taking things too hard. It wasn’t until my college years that I truly understood that I was blessed with this amazing ability to let my energy and emotion be a helping force for myself and others.
I’m sure that being Highly Sensitive also gives you certain advantages. Can you tell us a few advantages that Highly Sensitive people have?
Being a Highly Sensitive Person has some MAJOR advantages. Not only do I hear music more fully and experientially than most people, but my interactions with people are also on a whole different level that, unless you are Highly Sensitive, you’ll never comprehend. The connection that I can create with others bypasses a tremendous amount of BS that we typically dance around when making introductions or getting to know someone. I have the ability to sense the emotional directions of people I’m talking in real-time.
My connections with friends and family, and sometimes even total strangers, are quality and a quantity status. I thrive off of the energy of a crowd as if they’re the gas filling up my near-empty tank. As a public speaker, and even as a former touring DJ, I can stand in front of scores of people and see the faces, but also sense the color of their energy surrounding them. This allows me to read a crowd better than a non-HSP and allows me to connect with people even in a crowd of 10,000+.
It plays a massive role in my leadership ability as I’m able to tap into better connections with my team and colleagues because they not only sense the energy that I put off, but they understand that I truly care about them and their success and happiness.
From a business sense, there are numerous advantages as well. When interacting with clients, I can converse with them in a way that gets to their true needs a lot quicker. By combining my high sensitivity with a bit of improv, I’m able to switch gears in a call or a pitch on a dime based on the energy that I pick up from a prospect that far exceeds their verbal cues.
When developing a marketing campaign, if I truly understand the audience demographic that we’re pursuing, I can envision and feel their emotions, their needs, their fears, their struggles, as if they were my own. It’s in those moments that I can dig into the emotional appeal of messaging to a deeper level than a crafty wordsmith who’s good at marketing speak. I want to always convey a genuine and connected message that, when someone reads it, they can feel my care as they read the words.
Can you share a story from your own life where your great sensitivity was actually an advantage?
I have had numerous encounters in my life that my sensitivity has provided me amazing opportunities to break through to people in random and spontaneous ways. When talking to or thinking about a particular person, I will have this overwhelming sensation that they are feeling something deeper and different than what their surface-level delivery is sharing. Simply by asking questions along the lines of “What is it that’s driving your emotion right now?” or “How is everything really going?” I have had people pivot (sometimes right away, sometimes eventually) and share something that they hadn’t shared with many, or any, others.
These simple inquiries have opened up some of the best conversations I’ve ever had and have also forged some of the best friendships that I will always have, no matter distance or time.
There seems to be no harm in being overly empathetic. What’s the line drawn between being empathetic and being Highly Sensitive?
After going through my own experiences and reading through numerous publications about the differences between the two, I’ve developed my viewpoint a little bit differently. Some say that a highly sensitive person just simply has their ingestion of stimuli at a 15 where most have theirs at an 8 or 9 and that empaths and highly sensitive people aren’t mutually exclusive. I would disagree with that. I think they have to be mutually exclusive in order to exist. The ability and functionality of a highly sensitive person’s ability to react to stimuli is the core foundation of what creates an empath. I would almost say that a true empath is similar to being a Highly Sensitive Person 2.0. In order for an empath to sense and feel energy and emotion in a deeper, more meaningful way, they have to be open to the stimuli in the first place. If you’re not a Highly Sensitive Person, then how can you expect to see and feel stimuli in a way to react and sense it at a deeper level? I believe there are those Highly Sensitive People who aren’t empaths because they aren’t quite sure what to do with the emotions and stimuli they’re facing, so I don’t know that they truly carry the badge of an empath, but I firmly believe you have to be a Highly Sensitive Person to be an empath.
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?
Social media is one of the trickiest things in the world for a Highly Sensitive Person. It can either be the best thing in the world or an agent of mental disruption that is so hard to come back from.
When I think about it, I break it into different buckets of interaction that have a variety of effects:
1) My own accounts — as with so many millions of others, how well a post is received by your audience is always a gamble. For those of us that put a lot of heart and soul into our content, or if we’re doing something to serve our audience that we think will really resonate, a lower than expected engagement can really disrupt your day. You have the highest intentions and expectations for this great gathering of positive energy and it falls flat. How to benefit: Reset your expectations. I have shifted to a mentality of 1. If 1 person likes, views or interacts with my content, that may be the one person that needed it the most. If you’re constantly chasing quantity of interaction, due to ebbs and flows in the day and also the algorithms of the platforms, you’re likely setting yourself up for failure.
2) Following accounts of others — For the most part, people are putting on their best for their audiences on social media, regardless of the platform. As you scroll through your feed, you’re seeing their best outfit, their best vacation shot, their best meal, etc. What’s often left out is the story, the bad shot, the unflattering angle, the rainy day on vacation, the “can’t get off the floor due to depression day.” It’s when we start comparing everyone else’s greatest hits with our immediate reality that we start feeling negative about ourselves. Then we start scrolling for some sort of reassurance from there and dig a deeper hole as if it’s drug addiction. How to benefit: Gratitude and limitations. Before I open any social platform, I spend a couple of seconds thinking about something I’m extremely grateful for so that I go into my interaction with my feed with a positive mindset. The minute I start feeling any sort of regret or sadness or jealousy, I’m off. I also limit my time on the platform to just a couple of minutes so that I’m not power scrolling which I liken to power drinking. Neither are good in any drawn-out duration. I’m also mindful of how certain accounts make me feel. If an individual is constantly bringing out negative emotions or impressions from me, I unfollow/disconnect from them. I spoke about this on a news segment on how to purge the negativity from your social media (specific on social at 3:30)
3) Following media/news — With the constant inundation of the 24/7 news cycle, social media accounts of news outlets are constantly pushing out the latest stories with fervor. For those who are Highly Sensitive, this can tend to seem like an overwhelming onslaught of bad news. Sadly, the news tends to push more negative stories than positive, causing the Highly Sensitive People to see this with more doom and gloom as the balance is not there. How to benefit: The best advice to benefit here is to take control back. Only follow 1 news outlet on social media that you view as your own trusted source. As news stations will try to break news as quickly as possible, they’re also covering a variety of other stories. By limiting to 1 source, the inundation isn’t quite as strong as it is when you follow numerously. If even 1 becomes too much, unfollow that one as well. There are also great outlets that focus on only positive news that are a great mix into your feed.
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?
I’ve heard this comment before when reacting to stimuli that bother me but will go unnoticed by others. How I react is that I use the comparison of a regular wine drinker and a sommelier. Your typical wine drinker will have a very limited pallet of flavors and will usually qualify a wine as bad or good. Unless noted in the description, they will not likely be able to call all of the detailed notes of the wine on their own. A sommelier, on the other hand, can call the notes out as it passes through their mouth, noticing every little intricate detail. Highly Sensitive People are the sommeliers of emotions. We sense, notice, and can identify deeper energy about a situation and, instead of being trained, it’s inherent and part of our nature. Consider us the natural emotional sommeliers.
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?
When challenged or even mocked for my high sensitivity, I call out the positives of the traits not only to the people that are pushing back but to myself as well. Yes, there are many times that this sensational ability brings me down and causes me more angst and sadness than I would wish on anyone, but I also wouldn’t give it up for the world. The experiences I have had because of my ability are priceless. The connections, the friendships, the look in someone’s eye when you show proactive empathy, the ability to feel and sense every dynamic feature of a view or a song is breathtaking at times. I also remind myself that I’m in the minority of having this ability as well. I consider it a blessing, even in the times where I feel like I’m sliding down into the depths of sadness. I would rather experience these highs and lows vs. just being a middle of the road sensory person.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a Highly Sensitive Person? Can you explain what you mean?
I think the major myth that I’d love to dispel is that we’re negative, whiners, and take things too seriously or emotionally. Yes, there are swings and sways of emotions because we ingest more aspects of an encounter or a situation than most, but it’s not always negative and it’s not a situation where we whine or complain about it. We are sources of refuge for those who don’t know what to do with their emotions. We’re often a charging station for those that need a lift. We’re the most empathetic, active listening friends you could ever have. Those that haven’t learned to leverage this ability will often be the ones viewed as being “too sensitive” when it’s just the reality that they don’t know how to manage the influx of stimuli and leverage the positive power of it.
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 appear that it just doesn’t work that way?
While I have learned and activated many behaviors to manage my own high sensitivity, it is truly something that you can’t “turn off.” Your stimuli radar is constantly on in varying levels, but you’re never really able to avoid it.
I think there needs to be more conversation around what it is from a positive point of view for those who don’t see things the same way and I think there needs to be more resources and conversations for those who are Highly Sensitive People on how to manage and benefit from it.
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.
1. Being a Highly Sensitive Person is a gift — As a Highly Sensitive Person you are in the minority and that’s a good thing. Between 15–20% of the population are Highly Sensitive People, giving us the advantage to use our reaction to stimuli to understand people better, see the world differently and understand problem-solving from a more holistic view.
a. Example — Before I realized what abilities I had with my sensitivity, I didn’t quite understand why I was constantly on this pendulum of emotion that was out of control. Once I understood how to bring myself out of the negative emotions, I became recognized for my ability to relate to people and showcase my empathy to deepen my relationships and my leadership.
2. Learn to leverage your sensitivity — With the gifts of being a Highly Sensitive Person, you have a unique ability to be more creative, intuitive and empathetic. It’s absolutely key to leverage these traits to your benefit. When you have moments of negativity or feeling overwhelmed, take a timeout for yourself. Unplug and get to a place where you can gather your thoughts and energy to get back in the mindset of positivity.
a. Example — I was approached by a colleague the other day who had been listening to numerous episodes of my podcast, unbeknownst to me. While the meeting hold that she had scheduled indicated that she wanted to talk business, when she shut the door to my office, she admitted that she needed to talk to someone about her struggles with depression and self-defeatism. Having listened to several episodes of my podcast, she mentioned that she could sense that I had a deeper understanding of people and she felt that I would be a wonderful person to talk things out with and I was more than happy to help her. I view my podcast as sharing my high sensitivity with the world and a signal that I’m here to help them.
3. It’s not all negative, no matter what anyone says — While the absorption of energy can push a Highly Sensitive Person towards feelings of sadness and frustration, the ability to connect and care for others, dive into their thoughts and emotions, as well as bring more people together on a common ground, are all positive traits and abilities of a Highly Sensitive Person.
a. Example — I truly have seen the darkest and brightest parts of myself, and of others, through my heightened sensitivity. It’s as if I have the ability open doors within myself and others that no one ever knew were there. While most people would (and have) dismissed my demeanor as “too sensitive” sometimes, I know for a fact that I have saved dozens of people from depression and suicide through my ability to connect with them and understand them where they need to be understood. That to me will always be something I’m proud of, no matter what else comes with this condition.
4. Your empathy can open tremendous relationships — With the ability to sense and “see” the emotions and energy of others, HSPs become more empathetic and connected to those they interact with. They are the ones that serve you best when you’re struggling, need a good sounding board or just someone who can share positive energy with those in need. HSPs will make someone feel more cared for and respected than the typical person.
a. Example — I’ve heard many people say “I have lots of acquaintances, but just a few friends.” While I say the same thing at times, my level of connection to both group of people is so much stronger and unique than most. I wish I had a dollar for every time that I would finish a conversation with someone that would end with something along the lines of “I feel like we’ve known each other forever based on how well you know me.” Not only do I forge strong connections with everyone that I come in contact with, people know in a very distinct way that I genuinely care for them and will do all I can to support them.
5. The world loves Highly Sensitive People — Some of the most famous artists, musicians, athletes, and performers all exhibit traits of Highly Sensitive People. These people are celebrated throughout history for entertaining, enlightening and educating millions. HSPs tend to be excellent leaders as they can tune into the emotions of others and relate with them on a quicker, deeper level. Artists and musicians tap into their sensitivity to create music, art, and movies that show the depth of our minds and hearts, bringing the non-HSP along for a wondrous ride.
a. Example — I read an article once that talked about famous people who are likely Highly Sensitive People and it was if the author had looked at my collection of movies and music. As a musician myself, I hear music in such a different way than I know others do. In lines, notes, colors, and emotions, music has saved my life, deepened my own emotions, and allows me to change and shift my mood with the sound of a couple of notes.
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.
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.
I would absolutely love to create a dedicated group of Highly Sensitive People to bring this brilliant 20% together in a tighter, global circle. To create a community highlighted with some of the most notable names in entertainment, politics, art, and sports, to share their insights about their own status as a Highly Sensitive Person would empower so many.
This community would include an online platform of resources, a podcast, video series and some form of a conference (hell, I’ll do a talk show too if need be). Can you imagine harnessing the abilities, talents, emotions, and insights of the 20% of Highly Sensitive People for creativity and problem-solving? It would be game-changing.
How can our readers follow you online?
Readers can find me at richbracken.com for my podcast, videos, television appearances, social media links, and more.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.