The 11 Most Common Myths About Highly Sensitive People

By Theresa Cheung

“I used to dislike being sensitive. I thought it made me weak. But take away that single trait, and you take away the very essence of who I am. You take away my conscience, my ability to empathize, my intuition, my creativity, my deep appreciation of the little things, my vivid inner life, my keen awareness of others pain and my passion for it all.” ~Caitlin Jap

Unsurprisingly, given my sensitivity, I struggled to fit in when I was growing up in the loud and vibrant 1970s, a decade not known for its subtlety.

I was unbearably sensitive and relentlessly teased for crying or overreacting to things.

If I didn’t understand something the teacher was trying to tell me, I would start to cry. If friends didn’t want to play with me, I would cry some more. I would obsess over every single thing anyone said to me. Hardly surprising then that I was a lonely and friendless child as everybody must have felt they had to walk on eggshells around me.

There were countless anxious school lunchtimes when I clutched my plastic blue tray and agonized about whether or not anyone would sit with me. They rarely did.

PE sessions were another torture as, of course, the team leaders picked everyone but me for their team. I don’t blame them. I didn’t have the competitive and confident streak needed to win. My lessons were mostly spent sitting on a table alone, and break times were largely spent hiding from my exuberant peers.

I lived life through the lens of my heart. I couldn’t separate myself from anyone or anything. Lacking the ability to set boundaries, I didn’t know where I ended and other people began.

This theme of not fitting in continued into my adult life. If only I had understood earlier that I needed to stop trying to fit in. I needed to educate myself about what it really means to be a sensitive soul. Someone who notices things, reflects deeply, and cares about others and how they are feeling.

Dig deep enough and there are stacks of research out there to show being sensitive, feeling your way through life, is a strength. You understand that your empathy and intuition have healing and transformative powers and are a source of connection and creativity.

If you think being sensitive means being a shy ‘cry baby’ you have seriously got this wrong (though, yes, many sensitive people cry a lot). It’s just one of several common and frustrating misconceptions about sensitivity:

1. Sensitive people are all shy and introverted.

There are sensitive extroverts, too—about 30 percent of sensitives are extroverts. Sensitive people tend to need alone time to recharge after being in overstimulating environments, much like introverts, but they may still get energy from being around other people. Which means they need to find the right balance between social time and downtime so that they feel connected but not drained.

2. Sensitives are fragile, ineffective ‘snowflakes.’

Many defining characteristics of sensitive people, such as their empathy, passion, and creativity, make them exceptional business leaders or influencers on the world stage, for example, Walt Disney, Jacinda Arden, John Lennon, and Princess Diana to name but a few.

3. Sensitive people are pushovers who have no firm convictions of their own.

Empathy is a defining characteristic of sensitives, but it is not an endorsement of another person’s viewpoint; rather it’s simply respecting and listening to that viewpoint. You can validate and respect someone’s perspective and still choose to live by your own principles.

5. Sensitivity is a women’s issue.

Up to 50 percent of sensitives are men. Boys and men are often taught to suppress their emotions to appear tough, strong, and masculine, but this often causes depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem—because no one can choose not to be sensitive. They feel ashamed of their sensitivity but need to understand that real men do cry.

6. Gay men are prone to being sensitive.

This is a social stereotype that equates being gay with being more feminine and, as stated above, sensitivity is not a feminine issue.

7. Highly sensitive people are prone to depression and anxiety.

There may be an increased risk of anxiety, but depression is a medical condition that needs treatment and many factors contribute to the likelihood of experiencing it. Lack of self-awareness and acceptance, whether a person is sensitive or not, can also increase the risk of depression.

8. There is a strong link between hypersensitivity and autism.

Those with autism may well have sensory issues, for example, finding things like bright lights or loud noises overwhelming, but this does not mean that everyone with sensory issues has autism. There are major differences between high sensitivity and autism, but chiefly autism comes with ‘social deficits’ (less response in brain areas associated with empathy) and high sensitivity does not.

9. Sensitive people are too weak and self-doubting to become effective leaders, stand up to narcissists, or succeed in a harsh and critical world.

Not so. Once they are armed with self-awareness and the tools and techniques to turn their gentleness into a strength, sensitive people are an unbeatable force.

10. All empaths are sensitive.

Sensitive people are empaths because they feel what others feel. But not all empaths are sensitive, i.e. they soak up emotions but not all the other stimuli from an environment as sensitives tend to do.

11. Sensitive people need to ‘toughen up.’

They can’t, because being sensitive is who they are. They are born that way.

I used to buy into all these negative associations, especially the notion that a sensitive person needs to ‘toughen up.’ They simply can’t. It’s like telling someone who is taller than average that they should be shorter. Just as being tall is not a flaw, being sensitive is not a flaw. It is not an illness, or a choice people make, either. It is how they are born.

According to experts, it is an innate trait with research indicating that at least three sets of genes may contribute to it. Some highly sensitive people may have all or some of these ‘sensitive’ genes, and intriguingly all three impact the brain and nervous system in some way.

Sensitive people are born to be gentle and to experience life on high alert through the lens of their feelings and senses. They are not better or worse than anyone else, just different.

Although they may have traits in common, they are not all the same. Every sensitive person is unique, just as every person who is taller than average is unique.

Indeed, the fact that the genetic coding for sensitivity continues to survive natural selection suggests that for evolutionary reasons, for the survival of the human race, it is beneficial that some people can see, feel, and sense things others cannot. It offers an evolutionary advantage and exists, and will continue to exist, because it is the one true force that drives humanity toward greater connection.

Empathy, intuition, creativity, gentleness, and compassion are personality traits that unite rather than divide, and they are all defining traits of the highly sensitive individual.

In a nutshell, we are all born with a unique genetic code. The key to a fulfilling life is not to repress, deny, or try to hide our uniqueness but to make the most of what life has given us. If you are sensitive, it is essential that you understand this is not a weakness. Rather, it is a strength, and a potentially healing gift both for yourself and for the human race.

About Theresa Cheung

Theresa Cheung is a Sunday Timesbestselling author. She has a Master’s degree in Theology and English from King’s College Cambridge. Her work has been featured in the Daily Mail, Daily Express, The Guardian and she has appeared on ITV, GMTV, BBC radio and Russell Brand’s Under the Skinpodcast. Most recently, Theresa has set up her own podcast, White Shores, interviewing some of the world’s greatest minds and sharing inspiration on personal growth.

Stop Beating Yourself Up: 40 Ways to Silence Your Inner Critic

tinybuddha.com

By Laura Tong

“To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

If you’re anything like I used to be, your inner critic packs a powerful punch.

You’ve got a vicious voice bad mouthing you for much of the day. And when it’s in one of those moods, wow, are you going to suffer.

It’s no wonder you feel small, disappointed, and ashamed of who you are.

It’s the reason you lie in bed at night feeling like a failure, convinced you’re a nobody, certain you’re a serial mistake maker.

It was exactly why I used to just lie in the dark, a lot. Most days in fact. Not sleeping, not even thinking, just lying.

I was forever longing for my life to go away. I’d gotten so good at beating myself up that each day seemed to present more opportunities to fail, to feel insignificant and never good enough. 

Alone in the dark, I could pretend that all my problems disappeared and that I was free of the stress. I could make-believe that the pressure had evaporated.

You see, I’d taken on one of those jobs, one of those supposed leaps up the career ladder. But hell, being the head of a college department turned out to be a bad life choice … given my oh-so critical inner voice.

Every day added to my imagined portfolio of failures. Every day blew another hole in my smokescreen of having any confidence in my ability. And every day, I became more fearful of being exposed as the ‘fake’ I believed I was.

I felt like I was constantly aching yet feeling numb at the same time, which became too painful to bear. I dragged my shameful self into the college and quit. I left my entire library of books on the table along with my resignation.

Four years on, even though I’d tried to move on, even changing countries, I still felt the same. No more confident and no less self-critical.

That’s when I learned that even if I hadn’t packed any belongings, I still took a devastating amount of baggage with me. Even worse, I’d allowed my inner critic to ride passenger.

That voice—that mean, vicious, ever-present voice—had to go if life was going to be worth living.

Consciously and patiently, I set out to understand why this self-critical person had become such a huge part of me. I learned how to recognize and counter the habitual negative messages and destructive behavior patterns. I learned how to beat my inner critic, for the most part.

And now it’s your turn.

Because it’s time you felt free from the pain of constant self-criticism as well. It’s time you finally stopped beating yourself up over everything you say or do. And it’s time you were able to breathe, smile, and be pleased with yourself, just as you are.

How? With one simple, small action at a time.

Some of these ideas will speak to you; some will shout. Others will only mumble. Try a handful that grab your imagination. Add in others from the list over time as you learn to build them into an inner-critic-beating habit.

1. Keep a self-praise journal.

Pocket-size is best. Each time you feel pleased by something you’ve done or said, jot it down. Flip through the pages every time you feel your critical voice starting to pipe up.

2. Write a positive self-message.

Use a permanent marker and inscribe it on the inside of your shoes.

3. Diminish your inner critic’s power.

Repeat a negative thought back in a silly voice.

4. Update your Facebook status:

“Happy to be me. Work in progress.”

5. Send yourself a loving text.

Keep it, and re-read it often. Appreciate yourself.

6. Add a positive self-message to an image.

Put it on your phone and laptop.

7. Draw a caricature.

Give your inner critic a silly feature that makes you laugh. Stick it on your fridge.

8. Make a face or blow a raspberry.

At your inner critic, not yourself!

9. Visualize your inner critic.

Imagine it as an evil gremlin squatting on your shoulder. Each time it speaks up, turn and flick it away.

10. Look in the mirror.

Smile and compliment yourself on one quality or trait you like.

11. Keep a list of self-forgiveness quotes.

Or sign up to receive daily emails from Tiny Buddha.

12. Write a list of qualities others like about you.

Keep it in your purse or wallet.

13. Write a list of qualities you like about yourself.

Add it to your purse or wallet as well.

14. Remind yourself: 

“No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.” ~Unknown.

15. End each negative thought with a positive.

For example, “But I’m human and I can learn not to make the same mistake,” or, “But I have the power to change this.”

16. Jot down one thing you’d like to be better at.

Then take one tiny step toward that.

17. Remember “not good enough” doesn’t exist.

“I don’t know a perfect person, I only know flawed people who are still worth loving.” ~John Green

18. Ask yourself why you think you should be good at everything. 

We all have our strengths and weaknesses. Concentrate on your strengths.

19. Find one thing each day to reward yourself for.

Make it something you truly look forward to.

20. Apologize to yourself.

Do this every time you recognize self-criticism (tell yourself you’re sorry out loud if you can).

21. Ring someone you haven’t spoken to in ages.

Tell them how much they mean to you. The best way to feel better about yourself is to make someone else feel better.

22. Remember that self-hate is not an option.

You’re the only person you can guarantee you’ll be in a relationship with from birth to death, so learn to love yourself.

23. Remember there’s no shame in messing up.

You’re trying to do something, grow, and contribute.

24. Break the cycle.

Admit you made a mistake and ask, “Now what can I do about it?”

25. Look at a mistake or “failure” in context.

Will it really matter in a week, a year, or ten years from now?

26. Recognize that you make fewer mistakes than you think.

You just criticize yourself repeatedly for the same few.

27. Drown out your inner critic.

Put on your favorite feel-good music.

28. Stop trying to do too much.

Strike one task from your to-do list that won’t stop Earth from revolving if it isn’t done.

29. Reflect on how you’re only on this planet for a short time.

You can either spend it beating yourself up and being miserable or learn to love yourself and be happy.

30. Stop focusing on the one thing you got wrong.

Focus on the many things you got right.

31. Recognize the good you do for others.

The more you beat yourself up, the less good you do.

32. Keep a daily, written tally of positive self-messages.

Increase this by at least one each day.

33. Physically pat yourself on the back.

Do this for everything you’ve done well this week.

34. Look at a satellite image of the earth.

Realize that you are an important part of this amazing creation.

35. Realize that over six billion people in the world don’t care.

Only you care that you made a mistake.

36. Think of a fun, positive adjective.

Adopt this as your middle name so that every time you criticize yourself by name, you’ve described yourself in a positive way.

37. Buy a houseplant.

When you tend it remind yourself you need this much love and attention.

38. Note down kind words from others.

Write them on slips of paper and keep them in a compliment jar. Dip into this whenever you need to counter a negative self-message.

39. Halt a negative self-thought.

Use an act of self-care. For example apply hand cream, or give yourself a neck rub.

40. Stop comparing yourself to others.

Remember Dr. Seuss: “Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You!”

Stop Beating Yourself Up Once and for All

Beating yourself up leaves you feeling horrible.

All that constant self-criticism is exhausting. It leaves you aching inside.

Small, simple actions can bring great leaps in breaking this negative cycle—for good.

Let these ideas speak to you. Pick the ones that shout loudest.

Defeat self-depreciating thoughts you’ve heard over and over with conscious, positive acts of self-compassion.

Stop letting your inner critic overpower you. Fight back with self-love.

About Laura Tong

Laura Tong is a regular contributor on The Huffington Post and other top blogs. Grab her free cheat sheet: 5 Guilt Free Ways To Say No Without Offending Anyone (Even If You Hate Conflict). Laura also hosts the Re-write The Rules In Your Life interview series where she shares awesome happiness and positivity tips from experts around the world. Click here to listen free to the latest episodes.

Setting Emotional Boundaries: Stop Taking on Other People’s Feelings

The tiny buddha.com

By Alana Mbanza

“The way you treat yourself sets the standard for others.” ~Sonya Friedman

The longer I stayed on the phone, the more agitated I became. My mother was on the other end, as usual, dumping her emotions on me. I had moved to Los Angeles for graduate school in part to escape all of this—my mother’s unhappiness, my sense of responsibility, the pressure to be perfect.

When I hung up the phone, I felt an overwhelming sense of anger. At the time, I could not (correction: would not) allow myself to admit that I was angry with my mother. I couldn’t reconcile having such negative feelings and loving my mother at the same time.

After all, hadn’t she sacrificed so much for me? Hadn’t I always considered her to be my closest confidante? Didn’t I proudly declare her to be my best friend when I was younger?

Even the most positive memories between my mother and me have been eclipsed by the shadow of her depression.

As a young child, I could never understand why my mommy was so sad all the time. I cherished the rare days she was carefree and silly and held these moments close to my heart. When she slipped into a depressive state, sleeping days at a time in her dark room, I willed her to come out.

Early on, I learned to temper my behavior and my own emotions so as not to instigate or prolong her sadness. In my young mind, I made myself responsible for her and was not able to separate her feelings from mine.  

I wanted her to be happy and thought that if I was always “good,” she would be. When she wasn’t happy, I blamed myself.

Unconsciously, my mother fed this belief when she constantly bragged to others that I was the “perfect daughter.” The pressure to live up to my mother’s expectations overwhelmed me. I suppressed a lot of negative feelings and experiences in favor of upholding the ideal she and I had co-created.

That day, I turned this anger toward a safer target, my co-worker. That day at work, I blew up. I can’t remember what I said, but I distinctly remember the look of confusion on her face. My frustration with my inability to express myself made me even angrier. I excused myself, ran to the bathroom, locked myself in the last stall, and bawled my eyes out.

Soon after, I took advantage of the free counseling services on campus. Over the next several weeks, my counselor helped me realize that it was okay to feel the way I was feeling. This was a radical idea for me, and one I struggled with at first.

Because I had suppressed my own feelings for so long, when I finally allowed them to surface, they were explosive.

Anger, resentment, and disgust came alive and pulsed through my body whenever I spoke with my mother during this time. While she seemed to accept truth and honesty from other people, I tiptoed around certain topics for fear of upsetting her.

I never felt I could share the difficulties and challenges I experienced in my own life because this contradicted who I was to her. I felt I had no right to be unhappy. When I attempted to open up about these things, she often interrupted me with a story of her own suffering, invalidating the pain I felt. 

She seemed committed to being the ultimate victim and I resented her for what I perceived as weakness.

I realized that to get through my graduate program with my sanity intact, I needed to limit the amount of time and energy I gave to her. Instead, I found ways to protect and restore my energy. Writing became therapeutic for me. I found I could say things in writing I was unable to verbalize to my mother.

This won’t be an easy letter for you to read and I apologize if it hurts you, but I feel like our relationship is falling apart, and one of the reasons is that I’ve kept a lot of this bottled up for so long. I never thought you could handle honesty from me, and so I lied and pretended everything was okay because I was always afraid I would “set you off” or that you would go into a depressed mood.

You unconsciously put so much pressure on other people (me especially) to fill your emptiness, but that’s a dangerous and unrealistic expectation and people can’t and won’t live up to it. And they start to resent you for it. I do want you to be happy, but I’m starting to realize that I can’t be responsible for your happiness and healing; only you can.

Seeing my truth on paper was the ultimate form of validation for me. I no longer needed to be “perfect.” I gave myself permission to be authentic and honored every feeling that came up.

When I was ready, I practiced establishing boundaries with my mother. I let her know that I loved and supported her, but it negatively affected me when she used our conversations as her own personal therapy sessions. I released the need to try to “fix” things for her.

I took care of me.

Do you have trouble establishing healthy emotional boundaries?

Take a moment to answer the following questions adapted from Charles Whitfield’s Boundaries and Relationships: Knowing, Protecting and Enjoying the Self.

Answer with “never,” “seldom,” “occasionally,” “often,” or “usually.”

  • I feel as if my happiness depends on other people.
  • I would rather attend to others than attend to myself.
  • I spend my time and energy helping others so much that I neglect my own wants and needs.
  • I tend to take on the moods of people close to me.
  • I am overly sensitive to criticism.
  • I tend to get “caught up” in other people’s problems.
  • I feel responsible for other people’s feelings.

If you answered “often” or “usually” to the above statements, this might be an indication that you have trouble establishing healthy emotional boundaries.

Like me, you’re probably extremely affected by the emotions and energy of the people and spaces around you. At times, it can be incredibly hard to distinguish between your “stuff” and other people’s “stuff.”

It is incredibly important to establish clear emotional boundaries, or we can become so overwhelmed and overstimulated by what’s going around us that it’s sometimes hard to function.

Here are a few ways to begin the process of establishing healthier emotional boundaries.

1. Protect yourself from other people’s “stuff.”

I can feel when someone is violating a boundary because my body tenses up. I realize that my breathing is very shallow. I feel trapped, small, helpless.

The first thing I do is to remind myself to breathe. The act of focusing on my breath centers me and expands the energy around me. In this space, I can think and act more clearly.

When I feel myself becoming too overwhelmed, I try to immediately remove myself from the situation. Sometimes all it takes is a couple minutes to walk away and regain my balance. Other times, I have had to make the decision not to spend time with people who consistently drain my energy.

Having a safe space to retreat, practicing mindfulness and meditation, or visualizing a protective shield around yourself are other methods that can help restore balance when boundaries are invaded.

Find out what works best for you.

2. Learn to communicate your boundaries in a clear and consistent way.

For many, this can be the most difficult part of the process for various reasons. We don’t like to appear confrontational. We’re afraid that if we clear set boundaries for ourselves, the people in our lives will begin to resent us. However, learning to communicate boundaries effectively is necessary for healthy relationships.

I’m not comfortable with that. 

It doesn’t feel good to…

I’m not okay with…

I appreciate if you wouldn’t…

Please don’t…

If you cringed at the thought of using any of these phrases, you’ll be relieved to know that communicating your boundaries doesn’t always have to be with words. You can also effectively communicate through the use of non-verbal.

Closing the door, taking a step back, shaking your head, or signaling with your hands can be less threatening ways of letting others know what you will and won’t accept from them.

3. Be patient with the process.

When I first realized that I was taking on the negative emotions of my mother, I became extremely resentful and disgusted with her. Instead of taking responsibility for my role in allowing this dynamic to occur, I blamed her for every negative thing that had happened in my life.

I closed myself off from her and shut her out completely. Our relationship became incredibly strained during this time as we both readjusted to the new boundaries I was setting.

Eventually, I was able to allow her to have her own emotional experience without making it about me. I could listen and no longer become enmeshed or feel obligated to do something about what she was feeling.

Whenever you change a pattern, it is natural to feel resistance from inside as well as outside the self. As you practice, your ego may start to act up and make you feel like you are “wrong” in establishing boundaries.

Others may also become resentful of your newfound assertiveness. They may be used to a certain dynamic in your relationship and any change has the potential to cause conflict.

Remember to be kind to yourself through the process and repeat the following affirmation:

I respect and love myself enough to recognize when something isn’t healthy for me, and I am confident enough to set clear boundaries to protect myself. 

About Alana Mbanza

Alana Mbanza is a freelance writer and the author of LoveSick: Learning to Love and Let Go. Even more than a writer, she strives to be an active agent of creation, choosing to see and create life through the lens of love. Visit her website for more information about her freelance writing and coaching services.