There is more and more talk about HSPs (Highly Sensitive People) and about empaths. And, I love that.
Finally, there is a way to understand what many people have been living. These are people who have long felt there is something wrong with them because they are not like the majority of people.
And, there is a piece of this conversation that I am not seeing enough. So I want to talk about that today.
First, what is a HSP and an empath? How do you know if you are one or both?
Dr. Eliane Aron, a clinical psychologist, has pioneered the research about highly sensitive people and found that they comprise about 15-20% of the population. “According to Dr. Aron’s definition, the highly sensitive person (HSP) has a sensitive nervous system, is aware of subtleties in his/her surroundings, and is more easily overwhelmed when in a highly stimulating environment”. Compared to others, a highly sensitive person processes “everything around them much more—reflect on it, elaborate on it, make associations”.
Want to know if you have this trait? Take this test.
Dr. Julie Orloff is a psychiatrist and UCLA faculty member who has written about empaths. She writes that empaths have all the qualities of an HSP but also experience subtle energy. She says: “since everything is made of subtle energy, including emotions and physical sensations, [we] energetically internalize the feelings and pain of others”. There is more extensive information on this in her book “The Empath’s Survival Guide”.
What to know if you are an empath? Take this test.
Ok, so, obviously, if you are an HSP, an empath or both, you are living life in vivid color. At least from your own internal point of view. I might even call it multidimensional.
There’s a lot to process! That can cause the need to have space and time to reflect.
If this is you, you might not know this is what you need and you find yourself being really irritable and grumpy then thinking you are a horrible person for being that way.
The need for space, reflection and the time to process is VITAL. And it is OK for you to have that need.
Here is the missing piece of the conversation for me:
Responsibility for our sensitivity.
Yes, there needs to be space for the information about these traits to disseminate into the collective, for people to start to understand their nature. For there to be permission for this way of being.
There needs to be an acknowledgement that there is nothing wrong with you. It is important for you to experience the relief of that acknowledgement and internalize it.
Sometimes, in the process of learning about and accepting these traits, it can slip into being a crutch or excuse for why you can’t do certain things.
This is where I see a gap in this conversation.
It is disempowering to feel like we are a victim of our sensitivity or perceptive nature.
“I can’t do x y z, I’m an HSP or Empath” is an accepting of your nature, yes. And that is an important step. Especially since you have tried and others have tried to fit you into the societal paradigm of striving, productivity and achievement.
However, this process of accepting your sensitivity does not stop there. There is the step of embracing of your sensitivity and living powerfully with it.
Not in spite of it.
How do you live powerfully with your sensitive traits?
You have likely spent a long time trying to stop or change these things about yourself. That makes it tough to see the gifts of these traits.
How does your sensitivity show up as an asset in your work? As a parent? As a partner?
Do you have intuitive gifts that you might not yet be fully accessing because you have been trying to fit the mold? It might be a good time to start exploring those. As you explore those, you might come to find more enjoyment of your nature.
TWO: Figure out what you need to feel balanced and start pulling your life into alignment as you can.
How much rest do you need?
How much time do you need to transition between activities?
How many hours can you work?
How many social activities can you do during the week or on the weekend?
What kind of recovery is most effective for you? Is it being in nature, reading, meditating, staring at the wall?
If you are going to go somewhere where there are crowds of people and that can be taxing on you, prepare for it. That might mean doing less stimulating things before and after. Or finding ways to protect your energy. It could mean making sure you give yourself enough time to get to the activity. Sometimes I will feel resistant to doing something so I delay then I end up rushing and that sends me off the edge.
Once you accept this about yourself, it may take some time to adjust your life circumstances to be in alignment with your sensitivity.
It might take some time to figure out your formula for how much activity and stimulation your system allows. Or to know how much recovery, rest or downtime you need. And what kind of rest, recovery or downtime you need.
Keep a journal of this as you experiment. I actually started tracking how many hours I work and clients I see so that I could have a clear information that corresponded to the times when I felt balanced and able to be at my best.
Helping your loved ones understand your traits will take some time too. Send them this post if that would be helpful.
This is a process. Be gentle.