These five strategies help in difficult situations.
- It’s possible to be both a highly sensitive person and resilient.
- Resilience doesn’t mean changing who you are.
- Actively cultivate coping strategies and a strong support network.
The term “highly sensitive people,“ or HSP as it is referred to in popular psychology, has become the focus of blogs, TikTok videos, and influencers. While the term often appears in pop culture, there is some research documenting heightened sensitivity, especially among the neurodivergent population. The term “highly sensitive person“ generally refers to those who are much more easily affected by their environment, who are more empathetic than most, and whose emotions run very intensely.
The consensus among those who identify as highly sensitive is that it makes life much more challenging and stressful, and that they are often misunderstood by the rest of the world. They long for compassion and understanding from others. This is completely understandable, but it’s also important to remember that we live in a world that is not always accommodating, even though it should be. For this reason, everyone needs to build resilience. I believe it is possible to be a highly sensitive person and to become strong and resilient when facing challenging circumstances.
Here are some strategies to consider if you are a highly sensitive person working to become resilient.
- Find your superpowers. If you are highly sensitive, your superpowers may be intelligence, imagination, empathy, self-awareness, insight, and intuition. Use these amazing superpowers to your advantage in situations where you are more likely to be uncomfortable or more emotionally reactive. In situations where you can plan ahead, think about how you can prepare yourself to adjust to environments that are not as good of a fit for your highly sensitive personality. Use your intelligence and imagination to create a set of coping skills that you can use to adjust to unexpected circumstances and keep that in reserve.
- Take yourself outside your comfort zone. Becoming stronger means that you have to build muscles. People who go to the gym do not start out doing 100 push-ups. On their first day, they may have never done a push-up. They may feel weak and afraid they will hurt themselves. But gradually going outside our comfort zone allows us all to re-envision what we are capable of doing. If it’s hard for you to be in a crowd, get yourself a pair of earplugs and go to a busy place for 30 minutes, or whatever you can tolerate. Think about what is scariest and most overstimulating, and then make a plan to gradually expose yourself to things that are mildly discomforting. Prepare for a difficult social interaction by rehearsing ahead of time what you might say and how to gauge your reaction to things that trigger you. Avoiding situations that make us uncomfortable prevents us from growing emotionally.
- Believe in yourself. We are all wired differently. The aspects of your personality that make you who you are do not need to change. Developing coping strategies to handle overstimulating environments and difficult social interactions does not mean that you change who you are as a person.
- Share your experiences with others. Most people will not understand what it means to be a highly sensitive person. Some people will never get it, and that’s just something that you have to contend with. But many people are willing to learn, and it may improve some of your relationships if you share what it’s like to be highly sensitive. In addition, it’s also helpful to share what helps you get through hard situations more easily. This is especially true with people that you see regularly, such as friends, family, and coworkers.
- Find your people. Even though being a highly sensitive person is less common, it is possible to find others who share your characteristics. Having peers who truly understand and provide support that is genuine is extremely important. You can commiserate together, share stories, laughter, and provide authentic empathy. They will make it easier to tolerate those who are different from you.
t’s become common for highly sensitive people to share their experiences online. That visibility is important; it’s worthwhile to improve everyone’s understanding of highly sensitive people. But while the point of telling other people about our experiences is so they can support us, it’s also so we can learn and grow from things that are challenging. Being highly sensitive and resilient is not mutually exclusive. It’s important to figure out how to be both.
Carla M. Shuman, PhD
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
Owner and Director, Mindful Solutions, LLC Arlington, Virginia, a private practice that provides comprehensive mental health services with a mission to promote resilience.