Seven tips for HIPs (Highly Insensitive People) to embrace HSPs (Highly Sensitive People)
You may have heard about a new psychological phenomenon called the “Highly Sensitive Person,” or HSP.
Dr. Elaine Aron’s best-selling book, “The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You,” celebrates the 15–20% of humans who have especially sensitive central nervous systems.
HSPs are the new introverts, long undervalued and misunderstood, but who, according to new breakthroughs in brain science, are actually superior to most other people. We know this because of the many Huffington Post articles about HSPs written by HSPs celebrating HSPs.
Like, “13 Things Anyone Who Loves A Highly Sensitive Person Should Know,” which include “we’re going to cry,” “decisions make us nervous,” “we notice that subtle change in your voice,” “repetitive and loud noises are the worst,” “our workplace habits are a bit atypical,” and “criticism is incredibly distressing” (“so we tend to avoid anything that might cause those feelings of shame.”)
I get a lot of articles about HSPs on my Facebook feed because Facebook “sees” that I read a lot of articles about HSPs. As a classic HSP and proud, I’m very interested in my special condition and my feelings about it.
Highly Insensitive People (HIPs) used to laugh and call me names.
Like “high strung,” “high maintenance,” “difficult,” and “pain in the ass.”
My special qualities were “red flags.” I was “self-absorbed” and “needy,” a “narcissist” or “a nightmare,” and I “should get over my goddamn self” and “suck it up”. And (this really stung), “please don’t join the military or become a volunteer firefighter.”
This all hurt my feelings. So I tried to be less highly sensitive. It was like asking Roger Federer not to have the most beautiful backhand in tennis. It was the worst two hours of self-denial in my life. Just thinking about it used to make me call in sick.
What a relief to find that my special problems are really my special powers.
According to the highly respected medical journal Psychology Today, we HSPs have a rich and complex inner life, which is far better than the shallow and simplistic realities of outer life.
We’re also deeply moved by the arts and music, attuned to bodily sensations, and sensitive to pain, caffeine and hunger. We readily notice sensory changes.
So we melt down at the opera, and not just for the gut-wrenching beauty of O Mio Babbino Caro. Also because our stomach feels a little funny from lunch, the usher denied our personal agency by walking us up to our seats when we could have found W12 and W13 by ourselves, and someone three rows back was unwrapping a mint for what seemed like forever.
Best of all: We HSPs are easily startled and overwhelmed, and have difficulty performing a task when being observed.
So if you want to tiptoe around us at work to avoid our invisible landmines so our creative genius can flourish, or offer special considerations to let us work from home, trust me, it’s classic win-win. Tears in the workplace aren’t good for anyone.
It’s probably no surprise we have our HR business partner on speed dial.
Frankly, though, when I tune into myself with the complete honesty and authenticity I demand from everyone, I wonder if we HSPs are just cranky fusspots.
Are we turning our intolerance of human foibles into a virtue or demanding special indulgence?
I mean, who doesn’t have low tolerance for bullshit and prefer depth and meaning? Maybe we HSPs are high strung, high maintenance, difficult and self-absorbed.
I thought and thought about it. Then one day I looked in the mirror and said, “I love you just the way you are.” And so —
Here are seven tips for Highly Insensitive People to deal with me:
1.Don’t call me oversensitive. That’s majorly insensitive, as if 10,000 micro-aggressions are attacking me like a swarm of bees. I’m me, with exactly the right amount of sensitive for me. That waiter was completely overwhelming me with the detailed descriptions of the dinner specials and ingredients. (What the hell is a bolete or a cardoon?) So of course I broke down in wracking sobs, and after finishing my dinner, had to jump up before the check came and Uber home to my cats that love me for who I am. First dates are hard for me after what happened on my last 17 first dates. Don’t ask. Why didn’t you ask? Don’t you care?
2. Don’t think I’m judging you. I’m sorry, whatever it is — your soap, toothpaste, antiperspirant, hair product or laundry detergent — it’s nauseating me, literally about to send me to the ER where they know me by name. Is that Febreze I smell? I’m getting a welt where I get my allergy shot. I’m not criticizing, just trying to help you. Don’t you care about how I feel? Or how I feel about you?
3. Don’t think I’m ignoring you. Yes, I got your texts. I didn’t reply for several days because I needed to think about how I feel about how sometimes you end your sentences with a preposition. I once told you it makes me crazy — remember? — so I hope you’re not gas-lighting me. Also, you split your infinitives and often mix up it’s and its, you’re and your, who’s and whose, and there’s and theirs. Don’t be so sensitive! I don’t like your tone! I’m just trying to help you!
4. Don’t think I’m not attracted to you. But things need to be a certain specific way when we, um, “make love,” if you care at all about my needs. I need fresh 500 thread-count percale, the Sara Bareilles Pandora station (on low), and don’t touch my arms, legs, neck, back, stomach, face, private parts and all the other sensitive areas I told you about (were you even listening?). If you don’t get what I need, and how I need it, without me spelling it out in detail, then maybe this isn’t right. And no, my cats aren’t watching you — don’t make this about you! Although Fleas Witherspoon seems a little jealous — I can see it in her expression. Maybe we should do this another time.
5. Don’t think I’m not a great colleague. Sure, I don’t need to hear you slurp your coffee or masticate your turkey wrap. Or say hello in the hallway or restroom (peeing at the same time isn’t a personal connection and invitation for meaningless chat). Also, please avoid small-talking me — I’m an introvert who can’t abide the effort, thank you. In white-board smart-storming sessions, you’ll see how I’m worth the trouble. Especially since there is no such thing as a bad idea.
6. Don’t avoid inviting me to social gatherings. Please do. Since I know you really want me to be there and have a good time, make sure there’s no food, music or people I wouldn’t like. And I might go fetal if any Trump or Republican people are there. Why would you invite them if you knew it would hurt me?
7. Don’t patronize me. Being an HSP is not a disability. At least not ADA-recognized. (Yet.) But if you have any awareness, you might recognize HSPs from the dogs, cats, birds, llamas, bison, lemurs, Shape of Water aquatic creatures, tarantulas and other comfort animals we bring on planes that might bite and/or poop on you. You need to deal with us. HSPs are not going away. And don’t be overly sensitive about our sensitivities. We can sense that a mile away.
So … good luck!
And really — thanks for trying. We HSPs are worth it.
Jeffrey Denny is a Washington writer