I have been an open book my whole life – and by that I mean, literally open to everyone and everything around me. For most of my life I didn’t have any understanding of how to check or restrict the onslaught of intuitive information, empathic feelings and general overwhelm I experienced as I walked through the world.

EmpatheticBadassThis is a fate many of us suffer from, sometimes never really understanding why, when we walk into a room we have an immediate reaction to it – positive or negative. Or, how we can pick up on the feelings and emotions of others without any effort, sometimes to the extent that we physically feel what others are experiencing.

In the 90’s, Elaine Aron conducted some groundbreaking research which revealed that as many as one in five people are “highly sensitive” or genetically predisposed to be more aware and empathic. “We found that areas of the brain involved with awareness and emotion, particularly those areas connected with empathetic feelings, in the highly sensitive people showed substantially greater blood flow to relevant brain areas than was seen in individuals with low sensitivity,” said Aron. “This is physical evidence within the brain that highly sensitive individuals respond especially strongly to social situations that trigger emotions.”

So, how do you know if you’re a highly sensitive person? If you are, you’re likely to experience many of these:

  • Being very aware of other people’s moods
  • Feeling other people’s feelings
  • Being overwhelmed by negativity
  • Avoiding crowded places
  • Needing alone time
  • Avoiding negative media images and violence
  • Literally feeling someone else’s pain
  • Being sensitive to stimulants such as caffeine
  • Easily able to tell when someone is lying
  • Becoming easily overwhelmed or overstimulated
  • Often feeling tired
  • Being sensitive to bright lights, loud noises and strong smells
  • Taking on the same ailments as those around you
  • People love to share their problems with you

So, while you do have a hypersensitivity to many things, being a HSP isn’t necessarily bad. People who are highly sensitive have a greater depth of cognitive processing and special talents including the ability to pick up on things that others might miss, wonderful perception, strong intuition, and a natural ability to nurture others. I like how Dr. Judith Orloff, a bestselling author, puts it:  “Empaths are naturally giving, spiritually attuned, and good listeners. If you want heart, empaths have got it. Through thick and thin, they’re there for you, world-class nurturers.”

Still, walking through the world as a HSP does present some challenges. Here’s a few things I’ve learned along the way:

  1. Taking the time to decompress and become grounded is absolutely critical. Whether it’s meditation, yoga, or simply walking through nature it is essential to have down time to replenish. And yes, you have to make the time for it!
  2. When you’re feeling something strongly, either emotionally or physically, stop and check to see if it is really yours. Highly sensitive people are often very empathic, and as such have a tendency to be sponges that absorb the vibes of everything around them. This does take a conscious effort – we can be so used to taking on everyone else’s stuff that we forget to how to discern if it is truly ours.
  3. Get regular clearings. I cringe a little saying this because it sounds a bit like a personal plug, but I don’t mean it in that way at all. When I was first introduced to clearing it was like a light bulb went on. I began to understand that I didn’t have to walk around with all this “stuff” and that I had a real means to handle everything I was taking on. Quite honestly, it was life-altering.
  4. Set some boundaries. This is a biggie. People who are highly sensitive are natural givers…they give and give and give, to the point where they deplete themselves. Remember that is ok to say no once in a while, or at least set some healthy limitations on what you are willing to do so you can create a balance between giving and receiving. The truth is that when you are balanced you can actually give more to those you care about.

So embrace your sensitivity, and remember that you are amazing just as you are!