Highly sensitive people are a misunderstood group. We’re often treated as if we’re weak, when really we’re strong for holding so many feelings. Or, it’s assumed we can’t handle interactions with other people or busy lives when in fact, we can thrive this way. These myths about highly sensitive people (HSP) can both hurt others’ perceptions of us and get in the way of us exploring who we really are.
"The majority of the world does not experience their nervous system in the same way as an HSP, so the most common messages and cultural structures are built by non-HSPs," life coach and HSP Christina Salerno tells Bustle. "This can cause a feeling of being unsafe or that you need to be different from your innate way of being. In research, they’ve found this trait in 20 percent of every species. That is not a mistake. There is nothing wrong with you if you feel highly sensitive. The way you are, innately sensitive, is important and much needed."
Despite what the rest of the world sometimes says, highly sensitive people make great friends, partners, employees, and people. Here are some common misconceptions about highly sensitive people — and what you should know instead.
Being sensitive doesn’t mean being unable to handle what life throws at you. It just means you’re taking in more than others — and if you can handle it all, you’re probably very strong.
"One of the biggest misconceptions about highly sensitive people is that they can’t handle what they’re feeling," says Certified Grief Recovery Specialist, Reiki practitioner, and Intuitive Grief Guide Shelby Forsythia. "Society has a tendency to view expression of feelings (through language, tears, or anxious behaviors) as ‘too much’ or as a sign that the person expressing their emotions that way is not capable of controlling themselves. As if outward manifestation of a feeling is a symptom of inability or incompetence. But highly sensitive people are perfectly capable of handling the emotions that come their way. They just feel them more — and so they express them more. Energy in, energy out, if you will."
2They’re All Introverts
Many highly sensitive people keep to themselves because settings with lots of people overwhelm them. But that doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy others’ company or be extroverted by nature. "People tend to think of highly sensitive people as introverted," Registered Clinical Counselor Jordan Pickell tells Bustle. "While most highly sensitive people are also introverts, you can be highly sensitive and extroverted."
3They Can’t Care For Other People
Highly sensitive people may prefer keeping to themselves at times, but since they’re often sensitive to other people as well as themselves, they can make very caring and loyal friends. "Although highly sensitive people are sensitive to their own emotional pain, they are also deeply empathic and attuned to the feelings and needs of others," says Pickell.
4They Can’t Thrive With Busy Lives
Self-care is important as an HSP, but that doesn’t always mean taking it easy. "While highly sensitive people have the need to protect against over-stimulation, they also need to be careful about under-stimulation," says Pickell. "HSPs are happiest in work, life, and relationships when they are actively engaged in creative and engaging activities. Think of it as finding the right kind of intellectual, emotional, and physical stimulation, rather than limiting stimulation altogether."
5They’re Mostly Women
Women are stereotyped as more sensitive than men, but men are equally sensitive — they’re simply more likely to hold it in. "Men are just as likely to be sensitive as women," mental health expert Emily Mendez tells Bustle. "They have just been taught to express it differently because of our culture."
6They’re On The Autism Spectrum
Autism and high sensitivity are sometimes conflated, but they’re two totally different things. "Many people who are highly sensitive do not have autism," says Mendez. "Although people with autism can be sensitive, so can anyone else."
7They’re All Outwardly Emotional
HSPs may be feeling a lot inside, but they’ll often suppress it, so you can’t necessarily tell an HSP from a non-HSP. "They tend to leave their body and not be present because it’s painful to feel so many strong emotions and other people’s pain," Susan Shumsky, author of Instant Healing, tells Bustle. "They tend to have addictive personalities, and they might escape through self-medication, such as alcoholism and drug addiction. Their addictions stem from the need to dull their overly sensitive feelings and emotions."
If you’re an HSP, your sensitivity is a strength, not a weakness. It’s just extra important to take care of yourself.