When I tell people that I not only identify as being an HSP (highly sensitive person) but that I also identify as being introverted…many are surprised.
“But you seem very warm and inviting” they will tell me.
“But you’re so good with people!” they protest.
“Wow….so you must really not like being around people…why do you fake it?” they ask.
But that just goes to show how easy it is to get confused by these labels. Introverts are not anti-people. Nor, I can assure you, are highly sensitive people. Just the opposite. At least I can testify that I love people. In fact, I crave contact the same way I crave food and water. I want to be held, heard, and seen. And I want to hold, hear and see those that I care about.
And it doesn’t just stop at heart health. Longevity studies, time and again, tell us that one of the most important factors that contribute to a long life is the strength of a person’s social connections.
Some of the benefits of this are even seen in the context of online communities.
These benefits are not only applicable to extraverted social butterflies. It’s true for nearly ALL people. The thing to be aware of is simply that highly sensitive people connect a bit differently than the majority of those do in our culture… and need more alone time to recharge after those connections have been made. I crave talk, laughter, and touch. I just need them to happen in specific contexts and I need to set some parameters around them.
For years, I made the mistake of spending hours…weekends…weeks alone. I would do this until I felt fully charged up. Then, I would go out into the world and try my hand at behaving like an extravert. I would try going to parties. I would sleep over at others’ houses. I would mingle, laughing when cued to do so, and learning the delicate art of small talk so as to show that I can roll with the best of em’. Doing so would wipe me out. So I would retreat again into my cave. Ignoring calls asking for me to come out and join. Ignoring cooing sounds of concern on my behalf from those who assumed I was angry at them or falling victim to a kind of depression.
It wasn’t until I started to learn more about introversion and high sensitivity that I began to realize that I don’t actually have to live in these extremes. I can live a life that is rich with social connection and love and still have some juice left over. I can strike a balance. It just required me to be a little more deliberate about how I navigated the vast networks at my disposal.
Here are some tools that may help you…
- Figure out the things YOU like to do and find others who might want to join you. I love to move my body. Running. Dancing. Swimming. Biking. Hiking. All of it. I’m not crazy about competitive team sports (big surprise). But I love the meditative sensation that envelopes me when I’m in the midst of a long half marathon or marathon run. I love the rhythm of my stride when I find myself in a swimming pool. But how can I take that love and make connections with it? I have a running partner. We call each other “sole sisters.” I have a yoga partner. I have found ways to maintain connection in doing things that are inherently individual…and yet have the space for conversation and bonding.
- Plan ahead: Just last night, a very dear friend and colleague of mine wanted to celebrate her new chapter. She’s leaving our company to try something new. There were only four of us. Comically…it turned out that we were all a group of either empaths or HSP’s. We planned a week or two in advance. We set up a time. The parameters were clear. In doing that, I was able to clear aside time for myself to relax beforehand AND time afterward to unwind and savor the experience. Which brings me to…
- Set aside time before and after to recharge (whatever that may look like to you). In order to take part in meet-ups or events with close friends, I really need to be deliberate about how I navigate the time leading up to it and the time afterward. This is why planning ahead is so important. It’s hard to be deliberate unless I have some indication in advance of how the week will unfold. If I give myself the time before and after to relax, I can fully appreciate the time I spend conversing with those I love. And believe me…it was an absolute love-fest last night. We all got an opportunity to talk about how lucky we all are to work in the environment that we do and with the people that we do. I didn’t feel tired afterward. I felt full. Satiated. I felt like I had just spent time with family. And I went home only to sleep like a baby.
- Pay attention to how the person you are spending time with makes you feel. This one is often hard. Are there any people in your life that you notice seem to…feed off of your energy? I don’t know if that’s what is actually happening. I can only tell you that there are certain people who…when I leave them…I feel wiped out. They leave a mark on me. I feel weighted down. Many of these people never intend to have that effect. I know it. But still. It happens. I walk in ready to converse and connect. I leave feeling like I am zapped. The interesting thing is that not everyone does that. AND those who do don’t necessarily do it all the time. I think we all lean on one another and need a little of one another’s mojo sometimes. I’m sure I have wiped someone else out before without intending to. But pay attention if you start to notice a regular pattern. It might be time to cut ties with some of those relationships. OR it might be important to limit the amount of time you DO spend with them.
- Communicate your needs directly. This is a tough one for me. I don’t like to get in other people’s way. I like to please people. I like to comfort them. And during those times when I do need to communicate my needs, I often find myself feeling tongue tied. I beat around the bush. This helps NO ONE. If you have a need, let people know. You’ll probably be surprised how often people will actually be more than happy to meet you. And if they aren’t willing…then see above. It might be time to cut ties.
- Always bring food and water with you. I’m surprised this one isn’t on more HSP lists. HSP tend to be more sensitive to sugar crashes than most. And they are no picnic when they are hangry (yes…I really meant to spell it that way). But we don’t like being pushy. At least I don’t. So what do I do if I’m in a group of people who are indecisive about what they want to eat or when? I always cary food with me. A bar. Some fruit. Some snacks. Whatever works. In doing so, it allows me to be more flexible with the group. They aren’t hungry? No problem! I’ve got food. The restaurant is going to be an hour? No worries! Carrot sticks anyone?
- Enable yourself to leave early if you need to: Don’t go to parties and let someone else drive. Unless you really feel comfortable AND don’t want to be a designated driver. Really. Make sure you can leave if you need to. If you don’t….you’ll probably end up feeling caged in.
- Arm yourself with tools that may help you if you start to feel overwhelmed. I always have my headphones with me and an app for meditation available. I have music I can play, podcasts I can listen to, and audiobooks I can read. When I start to feel like my nervous system is getting overly activated, I just duck out for a few minutes into a quiet space. Listen to something soothing…then try again.
- Don’t flake…it’s tacky. This is a shadow side of HSP. Especially introverts. They make plans with enthusiasm…but then on the actual day, they back out. I say “they” but I should really say “we.” I do it too. But it’s really lousy. It says to other people “your time is less important.” And that’s not what we mean by it. So if you make a plan, try to follow through. Your friends will appreciate you for it.
- Instead, start saying either “no” or “I need to think about it” preemptively. Often the reason we HSP end up overbooked and overwhelmed is because we are too liberal with our “yes”…when invited someplace, try not to agree right away. Ask to get back to them. Or if you know you won’t want to…just say NO. No one is going to shoot you. And if they really get angry….once again – they aren’t friends of yours
At the end of the day, all we need is love. It’s no less true for HSP than it is over anyone else. We just need to remember to ALSO love ourselves in the process.