What It’s Like For Highly Sensitive People In An Insensitive World

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In an insensitive world, Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) often feel that the big things, as well as the little things, are just "too much."

Western culture, in particular, causes and reinforces that high sensitivity is a bad thing to be born with.

Why? Because you notice "little things" — a shirt tag grazing against the base of your neck, the muted sound of sirens in the distance, or subtle disapproval in a friend’s tone.

Your nervous system alerts you, kind of like when a smoke detector activates.

RELATED: How To Tell If You’re A Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) Or An Empath

So, what does it feel like to be highly sensitive in an insensitive world?

Your empathy and your way of deep thinking can be deep — really deep. Those "really’s" can easily lead you to feel as if something is wrong with you.

Sensitivity is typically considered a weakness or flaw. There's a lot of "proof" from those around you that your HSP response is not normal. And that the culturally "normative" response is normal.

The percentage of the population who don't have the HSP trait may not even notice or will only be slightly put off by whatever has catapulted you into a system overload.

They ask, "Why must you be so dramatic?"

You, as a highly sensitive person, eventually agree with the majority and come to see your innate hard-wiring as bad, wrong, or "too much." And you believe you need to find a way to be less sensitive.

Plot twist: You don’t need to find a way to be less sensitive.

Certain traits are hard-wired and can't be transformed. If your eyes are blue, you can’t wish for them to be brown. Your foot size is your foot size, even if you wish for a different one.

Highly sensitive people living in an insensitive world experience a lot of "extra’s."

They can be delightful — like noticing two cardinals playfully chirping as they fly from branch to branch. Or they can be intolerable — like bright lights shining in your eyes.

When you deem something in your environment to be extra loud, extra sharp, extra warm or cold, or extra anything, people around you may pejoratively label you as "extra sensitive."

What's a minor annoyance for others are energy zaps for you.

You can’t ignore the shrill beeping of the symbolic smoke detector. People in close proximity hardly notice. Some don't even hear, smell, feel, or see it.

But it causes you to want or need to escape. The sensory stimulation of whatever type from whatever source deluges your nervous system.

Being a highly sensitive person in an insensitive world can be lonely.

Knowing about and recognizing the trait is an invitation to make friends with it. When you do, your "weakness" becomes a source of strength and vitality.

Just about everything you process is intense, because you were born with a biological difference in your nervous system.

The high sensitivity trait means what you see, hear, touch, taste, and experience are deeply processed and can naturally lead to feeling depleted, as if you have nothing left.

Fortunately, you can replenish in a quiet, low-stimulating setting, and give your nervous system some time to recalibrate.

RELATED: 9 Common Traits Of Highly Sensitive People Whose Emotions Can Feel Overwhelming

Here are 10 highlights of what it's like to live in an insensitive world as a highly sensitive person.

1. You get emotional hangovers.

You’re in-tune with other people’s unexpressed emotions, easily absorb other people’s feelings, and are aware of subtleties such as tone and body language.

The result? Exhaustion!

Emotional exhaustion is easily mistaken as disinterest, social anxiety, or "a mood."

2. You go through bumpier transitions.

Even if the change is positive — like going on a vacation — you take longer to adapt. Acclimating to changes throughout the day also takes extra time and effort.

You're probably not a huge fan of change, nor do you likely adapt easily or quickly.

As an HSP, you feel like you "should" be more adept at adapting to the next thing, whatever that may be.

3. You cry readily.

Due to your innate deep processing, empathy, and intense feelings, you're more prone to crying.

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Your threshold for what's considered cry-worthy is considered low, only because of how deeply you process and feel, and how misunderstood your style of processing is.

You may be called a "crybaby" or have been shamed for crying.

4. You get "hangry."

Low blood sugar impacts you more negatively and suddenly. Irritability, intolerance, and cognitive fuzziness are signs that your blood sugar needs tending to — as in, eat!

HSPs are more prone to "hangriness," especially because other people may not realize how quickly and intensely you react to low blood sugar.

And you may not feel comfortable advocating for food in certain settings, such as in a work meeting.

5. You're deemed shy, weird, anxious, or something else inaccuratelty.

Our culture has strong views on what's normal and of value. Non-conformists of any type are misunderstood, as if there's something fundamentally wrong with them, rather than with the standards for reference.

You might feel like a misfit.

Sensitivity is thought of as "girly," feminine, and a flaw. Standards that tend to be valued are patriarchal: Stoic, conventional, strong, and unwavering.

6. You're easily startled.

Your nervous system is wired to readily respond to subtle stimuli. You're more likely to startle when you hear an unexpected sound — even music — or are in an unfamiliar environment, even if both are considered benign.

HSPs are often seen as on edge or distracted, rather than recognized by others that you have a nervous system that's highly attuned to what's going on around you.

7. You tend to overanalyze.

To you, there's nothing "over" about "overanalyzing." Your brain is wired that way.

You're just thinking. And when you think, you process many facets and angles, many of which are not even remotely on others’ radar.

As an HSP, you're likely used to being told that you're "overthinking this."

8. You have a strong reaction to criticism.

Due to the way you're wired, you react to criticism with deep processing and feeling.

Add to this what's reinforced from culture, family, and friends, you think that there's something de-facto wrong with you at your core.

Criticism intensifies the hurt. And, you're often misunderstood and considered high maintenance.

9. You "can't take a joke."

Even though people making the "joke" may not mean to be hurtful, the jokes may be hurtful, especially because you naturally process comments multi-dimensionally.

People making the joke may actually not recognize that the joke is hurtful — their mind works more uni-dimensionally.

Your genuine empathy translates to easily recognizing what could hurt someone else’s — or your own — feelings.

As an HSP, you may have to remind yourself that you find funny jokes funny and other jokes, not so much. But, if the joke were funny to you, you would laugh.

10. You're a people pleaser.

As an HSP, you may face the temptation to pretend — to pretend that you want to do what everyone else is doing (like going to church or synagogue as a family), or feel the way others feel (like getting excited about a concert).

Educating yourself about the high-sensitivity trait can make all the difference in the world.

The trait, that's with you from birth, can transform into one of your biggest assets.

Learning about the high-sensitivity trait allows you to appreciate it more, especially when you use the knowledge to support your highly attuned nervous system.

The way you experience the warm sunlight reflecting off the beautifully heart-shaped leaf on the tree by the lake is something you wouldn’t trade for the world.

There's nothing "too..." about you. You're just right.

And that, my fellow HSP, is extra awesome.

RELATED: 4 Reasons Self-Care Is More Challenging For Highly Sensitive People (HSPs)

Dr. Elayne Daniels is a renowned psychologist who works with men and women on body image and sexuality. To contact her or to learn more about the services she offers, contact her on her website or send her an email.

This article was originally published at Dr Elayne Daniels' blog. Reprinted with permission from the author.