The highs and lows of being sensitive

Do you feel things very deeply? Do you often pick up emotions from others? Have you been unfairly criticised for your emotional reactions? Do you sometimes feel baffled because people don’t want to talk about certain experiences or events, or it seems that others ‘get over’ things more quickly than you?
If you said ‘yes’ to any of the above questions this article might be helpful for you to embrace and navigate your emotional world.
Some people who are sensitive might like to refer to themselves as a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP). This article isn’t just for these people, it is for anyone who considers themselves to be sensitive. Diagnosis can be helpful for some and not for others; we are all different in this respect.


The difficulties of being a sensitive person

Sensitivity can feel lonely or difficult in a world that often feels anything but sensitive. There are many reasons why this might be the case:

  • We may not feel other people want to talk about emotions in the same way or to the same extent that we do. We may take a while to recover from certain situations or notice things others don’t, further adding to loneliness or isolation.
  • If we pick up a lot of feelings from other people this can be quite overwhelming, particularly when it is added to our own emotional landscape.
  • In some workplaces and even some families, being stoic or even emotionless is something that might be prized. Many people would find this difficult to deal with but as someone who is very sensitive, it can feel like emotions are constantly bubbling under the surface as we try and fit in.
  • When our emotions are overwhelming, it can be even more difficult to understand them. We can then end up repressing our feelings which only makes things worse. We can end up feeling even more lonely and lost as well as less able to connect.
  • If you were told as a child that you were ‘too sensitive’ or ‘too much’ by your caregivers or teachers, you may have ended up hiding your emotions or even feeling ashamed of them. This may have led to years of being inauthentic and not paying attention to your emotions. This alienates you both from yourself, and ultimately, from others.
  • Those who haven’t been able to embrace or understand their sensitivity may have found themselves in careers and relationships that aren’t optimum for people who are sensitive. Or alternatively, the fact that we find it difficult to voice our emotions and needs can lead to issues in jobs or relationships.

The benefits of sensitivity

A key part of coping with the difficulties of being sensitive is to recognise the benefits of it. This can seem difficult if it seems like those around us don’t appreciate the advantages or benefits of having people who are highly sensitive in their team at work or in their family, for example.

For some people, it can seem like we live in a world where strength is prized above everything. There isn’t anything wrong with this per se but what can be problematic is the definition of what ‘strength’ is.

Sometimes strength can be seen as having no emotions, not talking about things or being able to take on several disasters at any one time without batting an eyelid. True strength, however, is about knowing our emotions and being able to navigate them as well as taking breaks and reaching for support when we need it. The latter is something that sensitive people can work towards, but the former definition of strength is not. In fact, anyone will eventually break if they don’t honour their emotions and if they never ask for help.
If we accept that strength isn’t about grinning and bearing things or taking on more and more without consideration for our wellbeing perhaps it becomes easier to start to embrace sensitivity. There are many aspects of being a sensitive person which can be joyful for the individual and be an asset for organisations and relationships.

  • Being sensitive may mean feeling things like sadness and anger more but it also means that you can feel emotions such as joy and excitement more too.
  • Sensitive people often have a rich inner world, which, when appreciated, can be a great gift for both yourself, and for others, to enjoy.
  • Sensitive people often make great listeners. Empathy can be difficult when it overwhelms us but when we can manage it, it can be helpful in building relationships and understanding others.
  • Organisations need sensitive people to notice things that non-sensitive people don’t notice. Sensitive people might be successful at spotting ethical considerations or empathising with the organisation’s client base.
  • Sensitive people may often be more reflective than others, resulting in well thought out and in-depth contributions in many fields of work.

There are many figures in history and the present day who have made an enormous impact in their chosen field who identified or identify as sensitive. This includes Albert Einstein, Nicole Kidman, Greta Garbo, Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Judy Garland, and Martin Luther King Jr. Sometimes we assume that we don’t fit society’s template of success and think we don’t have anything to offer but this is simply not the case. The key is to embrace who we are and to play to our strengths.

Managing emotions

In addition to appreciating the gifts sensitive people have to enjoy and offer, it is helpful to learn to manage these, sometimes overwhelming, emotions. Seeing a counsellor or therapist can be one way of doing this but there are many other things you can do.

  • Simply sit with yourself and explore what you are feeling. Being able to identify and understand emotions is helpful. For instance, you might realise that a certain body sensation indicates that you are feeling overwhelmed. When you notice this body sensation in the future you will know that you are overwhelmed and be able to take steps to remedy it.
  • Similarly, if you have found it difficult to embrace who you are and your emotions, you may not be very in touch with your intuition. This can mean that you don’t necessarily make the best decisions for yourself. It can therefore be helpful to sit with yourself and focus on what your gut is telling you when you have decisions to make.
  • Up until now you may have been someone who would try and turn off any unexpected outpourings of emotion. For example: do you turn a song off the radio when you unexpectedly feeling like crying or apologise and leave the room if you cry at a film? Unless it is wholly inconvenient it can be helpful to allow the emotion to come out and to explore it.
  • Finding a creative outlet for your emotions such as art or writing can not only be cathartic and informative, but it can even create some beautiful images or writing.
  • Connecting to nature can help us to feel more connected to ourselves so really being present when we go for a walk can be very nourishing.
  • Talk to friends about your emotions if that feels safe to you.
  • Journalling can help us to understand and process our emotions.

One of the most important things is to be kind to yourself about your emotions. This can be particularly important if people haven’t been kind to you about your feelings in the past. It is okay to have big feelings and battling them or belittling them could cause you to feel worse.

It can be tough to navigate the terrain of being a sensitive person, particularly when we haven’t been given to tools to do so. However, it is possible to learn to embrace our sensitivity and for it to become a gift, for ourselves and others.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Oxford, Oxfordshire, OX3
Written by Beth Roberts, Integrative Counsellor and EMDR Therapist MBACP (Accred).
Oxford, Oxfordshire, OX3

I am an integrative counsellor and I work online. I work with a wide range of issues including trauma, depression and anxiety. I consider myself to be a sensitive person and have worked with many clients who identify with being sensitive.

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