To My Loved One,
Sometimes in our time together, there have been misunderstandings. I have been upset by you and you have been upset by me. You may have told me that I am too sensitive, too intense, too emotional, too much. I may have agreed with you. Or, I may have gotten this message on my own. I have some very good news about this. I have come to understand some things about myself that have made all the difference in the world for me. I would like to share this new understanding with you because I think it will help us to understand one another better and to share our time together in a more satisfying way.
I am a genetically highly sensitive person with a nervous system that is more highly sensitive than most. Only about 20% of the population experiences this neutral trait. That is a minority, but it’s still a lot of people. There are a lot of people who live and operate in a similar way with this type of highly sensitive body. It affects everything in my life, EVERYTHING. I feel and experience things more deeply. Metaphorically speaking, I am “thin skinned” and naturally more open to all the stimulation around me and within me. There were lots of things about this that I did not understand and I judged myself for, and so of course you did too. There were a lot of things that I thought I should change or overcome or fix about myself. But, now I understand that this is an important and essential part of who I am. It is my responsibility to know how to use this sensitivity. It does not mean that I want you to treat me in a superficial way or try to protect me. But, it does mean that there are some things that it will be helpful for you to understand about me.
Dr. Elaine Aron studies this trait and shares her research, which you can find more about at :: www.hsperson.com
I am naturally very vulnerable and open all the time, whether I want to be or not. All people are sensitive, we all have nervous systems. And we are all vulnerable for being alive. And this often feels really uncomfortable to people and so they try to control it, suppress it, and change it. But, because I am highly sensitive naturally, I cannot do that. I am like an exposed nerve, where others may have protection I am open biologically. The unexpected part about it is that the more vulnerable I am on purpose, the more power I experience to live in a way that works for me. And I am realizing that this high sensitivity has a whole inverse way of living related to it, that the thing I tried to control is actually one of my greatest strengths.
I am learning to build my internal strength. I am practicing listening to all this information that my body is taking in and becoming an expert at personal awareness. I am learning to use all that I sense in a practical, physical way. I am learning how to show up, how to thrive and even lead in this way. This is helpful, but it’s not everything. This trait means that I operate in an inverse way compared to most of the population. That has it’s own hardships that I cannot control. This culture that we live in generally does not support sensitivity. And I don’t want to just try to live in a bubble. It would be helpful for me if there was more awareness about sensitivity and how it works so that there could be a space for me, and I would not have to do this all on my own. So, I hope you will be open to hearing about me and working with me to be who we are together and live the lives that we both want to live.
Just as you would want to know about the tendencies that someone from a country different than your own might have that you might not know about, there are some needs that I have that may be very foreign to you. We start in very different places. I start with taking in all types of sensory information deeply with my sensitive nervous system that is always going. It just happens whether I want it to or not. I am a sensitive instrument, and I need to be finely tuned in order to function well. And, when I am well taken care of, I DO function well. The part of me that has caused so much frustration is also the same part of me that has allowed for me to create deeply beautiful internal and external experiences for myself and others.
Some things that are helpful for you to understand and ask me about ::
1. I may have special sensitivity to sensory information like sounds, lighting, temperature, air-conditioning/heating and the movement of air through a room, tones, pitches, and other frequencies or movements. Things that you might not even notice may be incredibly uncomfortable or distracting for me. I will do my best to let you know what my preferences are and make sure we are in surroundings that work for me, but please also ask me if you think I am distracted or uncomfortable. Sometimes I may not notice that I am.
2. I may have special sensitivity to certain foods or substances. I may be allergic or even intolerant to some substances. My body may have a severe reaction when exposed to these substances, as if it has been poisoned. They may be substances and foods that are very typical to you and that have no effect on you. I will do my best to help you understand my needs, but please also understand that I may need to eat separate food or make special arrangements when we eat together. It is for my health. And, it may seem very unreasonable to you. But, sometimes even the seemingly smallest thing can leave me feeling sick for days.
3. I probably need more rest than most. I may need a lot of sleep at night and then naps in the day. I may need time alone each day to simply rest from being around stimulation. Some of the things I do to rest may not make sense to you. And, my being alone is not personal. It’s not that I don’t want to be around YOU, it’s just that I need to not be around ANYONE. Sometimes I may be surprised by what overstimulates me. It is sometimes a careful balance between not being understimulated or overstimulated. It is tricky for ME to manage, so please know that I am doing my best and your flexibility with this is helpful. And sometimes at night I may really need my own space to sleep well. If you can help me be aware of sleeping arrangements, then I can make the best decisions for myself. Many times, simply having a half an hour to myself can even make a big difference or a few moments if that is all we have. Total rest alone in a quiet, uninterrupted space can make my day much more enjoyable if I am feeling overstimulated. In the same way that I may say I need to eat or use the restroom, I may say that I need alone time because I need to process all that I have taken in. It’s as simple as relieving any other bodily need.
4. I may be very emotionally sensitive, sometimes I may even pick up on what you are feeling and think it is my own feeling…or not even know that I have done this at all. I often don’t know what I am feeling until I have a chance to talk it out or time to consider it on my own. I don’t do well with being pressured to have an answer. And sometimes I may just want to be able to talk out loud to you to sort it all out. I will do my best to let you know when this is happening. But, please feel free to ask me “Is this you figuring out your feelings?” This will help us both know, and then we can both make better decisions about how we want to handle it. Other times, I may feel so overwhelmed that I withdraw or don’t know what to say. Please feel free to ask me “Are you feeling overwhelmed right now?” This will help us both to know that I need to slow down and have some time to consider what I am feeling. Sometimes a hug can be great, and sometimes it can be further overstimulation. Please feel free to ask me. And, please don’t take it personally if I cannot be physically close with you. I know that can be really hard, but I just need time and space to moderate the stimulation.
5. I may not know what I want or need sometimes. I may really want to know what I want and need at those times. I may have considered it over and over, researched options, and put a lot of effort and intention into understanding what I want and need. And I may still not know. I will do my best to let you know when this happens so that we can both make the best decision we can with the information at hand. Please know that sometimes I only know what I want or need after I have taken action on something and gotten physical, experiential feedback about it. So, sometimes it can be helpful for me to have a sample of something, try it out without committing, watch a demo, or have a trial in some way. This is not because I am not committed to you or myself. It is because understanding what my own true preferences are is very subtle and experiential. I learn by seeing and doing. So, it is helpful for me to have space to see and do before I say yes to something. And, sometimes the way I imagine something is not at all the way it physically actually is. My feeling of whether or not something fits is subtle and important. My taking my time on decisions and trying them out is to ensure that we both get what we want, it is not a sign of resistance. My sensitive body can be very unpredictable.
6. I often like to know plans in advance so that I can give my body time to imagine the experience and make decisions about it. I can have a hard time when things are not the way I expect them, simply because I was expecting them to be different. I will try to manage this as best I can, but please know that it is about my nervous system coping with the new sensory information and not my trying to control you or the outcome. It helps to know if I am going to be doing something new and I can prepare myself to be surprised. So, if you are hoping I will participate with you in something important, it really helps me to have some advanced notice so that I can plan around it.
7. I may startle easily, and even in situations when I see it coming. It is just my body reacting to the startling sensory input. I can feel really shaken up after startling incidents and need some time to integrate the stimulation. It doesn’t matter if I know all about why it happened and how. It is simply processing time that my body needs to get back to an optimal level of stimulation. It may be funny to you how startled I get, but it is often not fun for me. Please don’t startle me on purpose and please help me make transitions slowly.
8. I may experience medical procedures, graphic images, and news reports as more traumatic or upsetting. No justification or talking it out will change that. If my body experiences trauma, it just needs time to calm and heal. Please just allow that to happen. Your kindness and emotional comfort are what I need when this happens.
9. I may be exceptionally creative, visionary, or skilled in a certain area or many areas of problem solving or expertise. Please feel free to ask me for my input, I am usually more than happy to be a resource. Sometimes I may need time to consider what you have asked. If you give me some time and space, I can usually provide a helpful and inspiring response that you may not expect. And when I put effort into something, it usually matters to me deeply. So please be kind as you evaluate what I offered and help me to see what you appreciate about it before offering any other feedback. And, my deep consideration of your request may mean that it may take me a little longer to respond to a phone call, email, or other communication. Please feel free to check in on my attention to the process and know that it is not helpful for me to try to share my process with you. It’s best to just get a finished result.
10. I may be very sensitive to criticism. Please never criticize me in front of others. Please take the time to speak with me alone and let me know that you have some things you want to talk with me about that are not working for you. Please keep in mind that I may have very different priorities than you. So if you give me advice, I may not take it. If you can just tell me what your basic needs are in the situation then I can make better decisions to cooperate with you to help us both get what we want. Please do not make the criticism about me being wrong, but rather about what you want that you are not getting.
11. I may have or experience illnesses that you do not, or to a degree that you do not. Sometimes when I am very sick, I may look very healthy. My body may be more deeply affected by subtle changes that may not affect you, or at least not in the same way. Doctors may not even be able to find anything wrong with me in the tests that they perform. For me, health support is often more valuable than health intervention. Alternative or holistic forms of self-care and health care that may not have an affect on you, can have very strong effects for me. In the same way, many intervention medicines can also have an incredibly strong affect on me that is harmful. Please allow me to care for my body and health in the way that I need to and do not expect it to look like what you might do for yourself.
12. I may have a more difficult time seeing my value. It can be hard for me to understand my personal, physical importance in the world because I am dealing so much with sensory information that is not as tangible and often focused outside of my body. It is valuable for you to help remind me of those things rather than force me into situations I feel nervous or undervalued in. I can and do choose to participate when I feel valuable. You can help me feel valuable by reminding me of the simple and direct ways that I add value to an experience by being me.
13. I may have a tendency to be very “other-focused” or aware of what others are thinking, feeling, and needing. I also may not have a strong clear idea of solid boundaries. So, I may be more tolerant than most in situations that others would not be, and less tolerant in situations that others would be. I have very flexible boundaries that I often only understand in the moment and through experience. You can help me understand my own boundaries by reminding me to check in with how I feel. You can ask about any situations that you think may be unhealthy that I am participating in, but please do not assume that they are unhealthy for me simply because they would be for you.
14. I may do work that requires a great amount of time, attention, focus, and creativity. I really do need that attention and focus to complete what I am working on. I may rest more than you think is normal. I may get inspired or experience creativity in a way that does not seem like “work” to you. I may work best with supportive structure that then allows me to flow freely. If I just flow without structure, that is not helpful. That may have happened in the past and created a negative experience for us. And sometimes there is structure that is too limited to allow flow for me. So, if you feel unsure of the way I work, please do help me assess the structure of my day overall, and then allow me the space I need to work within that structure. Working in this way does not mean that I am lazy, procrastinating, or malingering. The intensity of my output requires an intense amount of input.
All of these suggestions are meant to be a starting place. I hope you will ask me about any that do not make sense, and I will talk to you about any additional needs I have or additional explanation that will help you understand my specific, personal needs.
I shared this with you because you matter to me and I would like us to be able to interact in a way that feels better to both of us. Understanding that I am born as a highly sensitive person has been life changing for me. Understanding that there is nothing wrong with me or my sensitivity, and that if I am experiencing disorder then it is about changing the way I am cared for not changing who I am. This has been revolutionary. The needs that I have are the needs that I have, and they are not negotiable. But, how I meet those needs is something I can definitely talk with you about so that we can both feel more clear on what is happening and why. When my needs are met, then I can be much more present to relate with you and share my life with you the way that we both want. I think that many of the changes are simple in practice once we get used to them, though they may seem unusual or counterintuitive to you. They can make a huge difference for me, and therefore us. This is really just about being direct with each other and curious rather than judgmental or defensive. We all have needs, and I would like to hear about yours too.
If you want to understand more about leading life with sensitivity, you can check out :: www.sensitiveleadership.com
There is a great community of highly sensitive people who are coming together to relate to each other, support each other, and learn together how to live the lives they want to live that actually work for them as they are. It is awesome and amazing to see the different ways highly sensitive people are thriving and leading now with this information. This is so wonderful, but I also want to be able to live with the people I care about who may not be a part of this community…people like you.
I am grateful to be who I am, and every day is new for me. I hope you will have patience with me as I get to know myself better and allow for open communication if there is something you don’t understand. At times when you may want to lecture or criticize, it can actually go much better if you just ask me about what I am doing or experiencing. Curiosity works much better for me than criticism. A soft question from you with time and space to answer can help us both get exactly what we want. You will get an answer, and I can be understood. I will also do my best to be more clear and direct with you. We may start from very different places, and live in very different ways, but I think that we can still come to meet each other as we are. I hope that we do.
This may have taken A LOT of courage to share with you, and I might be feeling really exposed, vulnerable, and nervous right now. This might be the first time I am coming out with my sensitivity, and it might be something that I have been rejected for a lot in the past. If you can prioritize letting me know that you love me and care for me, even if you don’t understand or agree with all of this, that would be really important for me. This vulnerability is worth it for me to connect with you. My intention is to extend my hand to you in partnership. I am showing up as I truly am with you because I respect you and I respect our relationship, even though this may be a huge risk for me. I believe that we can come together on this in a way that works for both of us.
Thank you so much for reading this, it means a lot to me.
With much love,
Your Highly Sensitive Loved One