One of the biggest things that helped me with anxiety is learning I’m a Highly Sensitive Person. Before this, I was overwhelmed by noise, activity, my emotions, sensations such as hunger and muscle tension. I thought of myself as an anxious person, a flawed individual with nothing to offer.
After learning I have a disposition towards sensitivity, creativity, and empathy. I learned to see my sensitivity as a gift, an advantage. I could see I could be better at relationships that I imagined.
Recently Elaine Aron has released Sensitive lovers: a deeper look into their relationships and Documentary accompaniment. Helping people explain how their sensitivity works in the context of relationships, especially romantic ones.
I’ve found intimate relationships to be the most difficult part of my life. Social anxiety makes it difficult to connect to others, due to fear of rejection, exposure, ridicule and more.
I have watched both the film and documentary and I’m glad to see I did learn something new.
First a short reminder.
- 20% of people are Highly Sensitive
- Sensitive types of process information more deeply. They are more easily overstimulated, because of it and have more empathy, and they can sense subtleties that other people miss.
- not good at multitasking
- 30% of HSPs are extroverts, High Sensation Seekers. They seek a lot of stimulation even though they are sensitive to it. Sensitivity, therefore, is not introversion, though many HSPs are.
- Meaningful work is very important
Here are some takeaways I learned:
We can’t change it
An important lesson on sensitivity: it’s not something you can change. It’s biological, a part of the way some of us work. Generally, HSPs are more anxious because of their sensitivity. HSPs also cry more too because of all the overstimulation and emotion.
The only thing we can do is find a way to live with, it, use it, find its benefits, and mitigate its problems
HSPs are Misunderstood
Even though the research has been out for years High Sensitivity is not well known or understood by a lot of people, sometimes even by HSPs themselves.
Without such understanding, people are going to think your too sensitive, that you need to ‘toughen up’ or think you’re too emotional.
As HSPs we need to remember ignorance of others is an opportunity to educate.
Don’t be Circumspect
Often HSPs can be slow to express themselves or do so in a roundabout way. We’re over-cautious, refraining from asserting ourselves. As such others fail to understand or know what we want. The advice was to be bolder more expressive.
I can relate to this. Our lack of assertiveness or self-expression can mean people think we don’t care, or don’t want to connect, so they think we’re aloof, or cold.
But inside we have a lot going on. We need to be little more open, and expressive with how we feel. If we don’t, then we miss out on connection and opportunity even if we know we want it. I have missed getting together with others because I was too afraid to say yes.
Also, HSPs are slow to commit to relationships, which can be beneficial, but it can also mean we don’t get the relationships we need because we let them go by. People need some kind of show, some signal that we want to be with them.
In short, don’t hold back with how you feel.
Get more from therapy and drugs
HSPs tend to thrive more in the right circumstances and suffer more in the wrong. Remember Orchids.
So therapy can help a lot. But only if the therapist is one who understands, many don’t however. So seek help if you’re struggling (see a psychiatrist, not a family doctor).
Drugs can help too, but they’re not the cure. I have no experience of such things but they can work for some.
HSPs can and do have different values in their lives. I find sensitive types not to be demonstrative, loud, or extroverted as a rule, ( but some HSPs are extroverts).
Instead, we value introspection, contemplation, the landscapes of the mind, art, philosophy and deep thought. Individual sports rather than team sports. It all acts as a way to find our skills and relax.
HSPs are not the ones for small talk, superficial appearances or trivial pursuits. We want deeper connections and meaningful talk.
This can result in conflict because couples are operating with differing want and needs. If one partner is not sensitive and one is it can be difficult to find common ground to talk and connect.
The point I feel is to be aware of such differences and make an effort to connect to your partner. Differences can be just as interesting as commonalities
HSPs can be difficult
HSPs like myself can be fussy, irritable, idiosyncratic, eccentric, and perfectionist. We want things to be a certain way because we often need it to be so. We become bored with trivialities and the superficial.
For men, anger can a real problem, because it’s the only emotion left after childhood, it’s properly masculine. It’s a defence against shame. It’s often more easily expressed than other ‘feminine’ emotions, which for men are often seen as weakness.
Further still what we like about someone, in the beginning, can become irritating later on. A trait or quirk can seem attractive in small doses, but become irritating with regularity.
Dating is always a risk
Somewhere along the line rejection will occur! Either they will reject you, or you rejecting them.
This for HSPs can be hard to deal with, the rejection is keenly felt which can lead to self-doubt and lowered self worth. But also we’re often afraid of upsetting others, so we hold back on self-expression.
We have to remember is not about either individual, but the compatibility between that’s at stake here.
Good meeting places
Being stressed can be mistaken for shyness, we want to run, or remain alone. As such, some places are better for HSPs than others. Places where we can relax more easily, avoiding a lot of stimulation, noise, bustle and activity.
For dating it’s about the ambience, so better locations include the outdoors/nature, art galleries, intimate parties, museums work better.
Online dating can still be difficult but it can be better as the stimulation is mediated through a screen. Also being online we get to turn off and be back with ourselves again much faster. It’s not like you have to wait for a friend to take you home.
Sensitive types tend to make better second impressions, not first. We’re often too stressed the first time, the mind goes blank, our physical symptoms come forth like flushing, sweating, nervous ticks. Being in a new venue can make for stress because it’s all a novelty.
Perhaps going to the restaurant/club before the date with a friend can help you familiarise with its layout (where the toilets are, whats the menu options etc). Also, a dry run can help you work out how to get there and back.
Unfamiliarity can add more stress to any situation, with such knowledge we can relax more and focus on our date.
HSPs often need to think things through, to consider what’s been said, so on 2nd date we can have more to say.
No fairytale love
The romantic notion of love at first sight, doesn’t appear to work for HSPs, unless they become confident in their skin. They’re over-cautiousness makes such bold, passionate expressions far too scary.
HSP perhaps are tentative in their commitments. Having a slow build-up rather than and sudden leap towards marriage or co-habiting.
I also think it’s because we’re far pickier when it comes to relationships. HSPs are in a minority, therefore, we have to be more careful if we want to end up with someone who can appreciate us.
Conflict for HSPs
Here’s some good advice from Elaine of the subject of conflict within a relationship.
First, agree to some rules:
Keep focused on the argument, avoids tangents as that just expands the argument. Stick to the subject and diagnose the problem. Don’t deviate to other problems.
Try to see from 3rd person perspective. See it as an impartial outsider. Both sides will have the position, but what’s a neutral position? There may be merit in both you and your partner’s views.
Don’t generalise, that is don’t say, ‘you always do this!’ that makes it seem less like a mistake more as a trait, a flaw, a personal attack on them. With the same, don’t name call either.
Focus on listening. Always good advice as we’re often thinking of what we want to say even as the other speaks.
Take time outs. Say 15-20min then agree when to come back. Its good advice because being stressed makes us less likely to listen, having time to think to breathe, to reflect, can depressurise and help us come back calmer are more receptive. Sometimes we just need a moment.
Don’t back down either, without expressing yourself. HSPs, as stated, have a tendency not to confront, to acquiesce to demands. Resist the urge and make sure to express yourself, to get your side across.
Sensitive types aren’t always empathic when they’re upset. I agree, I’m far too preoccupied with dealing with my feelings and body sensations than any concern for others. It’s an effort to stay present when you want to run and hide. See Flooding below.
We have complexes. We all have issues, baggage, attitudes towards money food, authority, family, mother, father, etc. They are often irrational, and when we blow up the best thing to do is just wait till the emotion is over, agree to disagree, and wait till tomorrow.
A factoid: When the pulse goes over 100 bpm, nothing useful will be said because we become emotionally flooded, an Emotional or Amygdala hijack. So much emotion and feeling is going on we can’t think straight or response appropriately. We can’t think of anything useful to say, or at worse say hurtful things we don’t mean.
I was personally interested in Sensitive Lovers because it’s the one aspect of my life I found the most difficult to address, relationships and especially intimate ones.
I found both the film and accompanying documentary to be useful in understanding whats going on with HSPs in such situations.
Sensitivity can be a big asset in relationships, we’re empathic, compassionate and go beyond superficial needs. But sensitive types can also be over-emotional, irritable, fussy or surprisingly detached when we feel too vulnerable or upset.
What we have here is something all HSPs need to consider when looking at their relationships with partners or prospective partners.