I have to confess, I’m kind of an introvert. It’s not that I don’t like people. I really do. I love people. They fascinate me and I’m constantly intrigued by human behavior. But, being around other people for long periods of time really drains me.
I’m a highly sensitive person. This is a real “thing”. I’m not just overly sensitive or too touchy-feely, I am a Highly Sensitive Person or HSP. According to Scientist Elaine Aron’s research, this is a real innate trait that is found in 15-20% of the human population. The trait’s scientific term is called Sensory-Processing Sensitivity or SPS.
People like me need to spend a great deal of time away from others in order to “recharge our batteries.” Most HSPs are prone to being extremely hyper-sensitive to the people, places, and situations that we interact with. Basically, everything and everyone that we come in contact with has a huge effect on our feelings and behavior. We can be so in tune with other people’s feelings, behavior, and needs, that we tend to lose sight of our own.
You might say that most people have these same reactions when it comes to how they process their surroundings, and that’s somewhat true. However, HSPs need that much more time away to regroup than most. We need to physically separate ourselves from others so we can mentally detach too.
Everyone does need some solitude, especially in our overly complicated and incredibly digitally connected world. I would recommend that the average person should seek alone time at least an hour a day so they can decompress from their responsibilities and all the stimulation in their life. For HSPs, like me, we need a lot of extra downtime and if we don’t get it, we tend to have a meltdown.
If most HSPs struggle with feelings of being drained by other people, they most likely also suffer from additional feelings of guilt and obligation because of this. When we get overwhelmed by large groups of people and choose not to be around them, it can be interpreted the wrong way by others and this can be a difficult situation for everyone to deal with.
Being honest about my feelings to others seems to work best for me and it’s crucially important for me to establish healthy boundaries with other people. It wasn’t until later in life that I learned how to cultivate boundaries, though.
As a child and for a lot of my adulthood I felt guilty and obligated when it came to my personal relationships. I used to spend hours worrying if I was spending enough time with friends and if not, I dwelled on how they would feel about this. Unconsciously, it was important to me that their needs were met first in the relationship and I neglected to pay attention to what I needed from them.
Now I can see that this isn’t so healthy and eventually it led me to feel burdened and somewhat resentful of the people in my relationships. I reacted to this by distancing myself immediately and waiting it out until I felt more comfortable. Unfortunately, usually by the time I was ready to face the relationship again, the other person was too annoyed, offended or bored by my unexplained distancing.
So, how did I learn to set boundaries?
By listening to my needs.
This seems like it would be an easy task, but actually, in our culture, we are raised to believe that thinking of ourselves first is selfish. But there’s a difference between being selfish and being self-nurturing. It is absolutely necessary for someone who is constantly thinking of other’s needs first and who is hyper-focused on other’s feelings and reactions, to remember to put oneself first sometimes too. In fact, it’s a way of protecting ourselves from future conflict and anxiety.
Setting boundaries is a way to listen to your needs. It’s really an essential tool for all people to learn, especially if you are a HSP. When you get that gut feeling that you are uncomfortable about a person, place or situation…listen to what you need. Question yourself: How do I feel about this? Why am I uncomfortable? What do I need to say or do to feel better? If it takes a few deep breaths and some quiet time away from these triggers…take the breaths, take the time. Then regroup, and face it again.
I’m an introvert. I’m proud of the fact that I can get in touch with my needs when I need to. I’m not ashamed that I need time away from other people. Large amounts of time. And when I can’t get this, I set boundaries so that I feel safe and my feelings are balanced around other people. I remember not to feel like I have to meet other people’s needs first all the time and instead I try to notice and listen to what I need too.
I’m sensitive…I know it, I accept it...
and I like it.
To learn more about Sensory-Processing Sensitivity and HSP visit the following links:
Tracy Bryan is an award-winning Indie author. She writes whimsical books for kids ages 4-12.
Tracy just released her debut fiction picture book called Put Away Your Phone! She also likes to tackle important and diverse topics that affect kids and their families.
Check out Tracy’s non-fiction book called Feeling Sensitive! for kids aged 7-9 about HSP http://188.8.131.52/awesome-diverse-book-series-catalogue/ and another post from her blog about this trait http://184.108.40.206/blog/why-so-sensitive-written-by-tracy-bryan/.