On Being Misunderstood as a Highly Sensitive Person: How High Sensitivity, Emotional Neglect, and Dissociation Intersect

Perhaps it was a matter of time. You can only wear a mask and keep up the façade for so long, and through so many painful experiences. 

I was sensitive.  Very sensitive.  I cried through every Kodak commercial on TV.  I cried when songs touched me deeply.  I cried when other people hurt, because the energy of their pain would flow over and through me.  And I loved everyone – intent on finding the good in all living creatures.  I was empathic and perceptive, with an internal guidance system running on felt sense that I did not even begin to understand.  I was met with strange looks, misunderstanding, and less than compassionate comments.  At times, my sensitivity was pathologized, and I was told there was something wrong with me. 

“You’re too emotional.” 

“You take things too personally.”

“You wear your heart on your sleeve.”

“It’s no big deal!”

“Toughen up!”

“Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”

“Get your shit together!”

“What is wrong with you?!”

The words were hard to take.  The looks were harder.  People kept their distance.  Maybe they were confused.  Maybe they didn’t know what to say.  Maybe the depth of connection I felt overwhelmed them.  Maybe I didn’t know what to say, or how to express how deeply I felt everything, and how overwhelming that felt to me, too

No one reflected feeling back to me, or validated my emotion.  No one defined what I was feeling – much less helped me to figure out what to do with those feelings.  I wasn’t supposed to have those, and certainly not so intensely!  At least that’s the message I internalized as a young person.  That’s the message many young children internalize when they experience emotional neglect or high emotional sensitivity.

Then one day, it was like a switch flipped it all off, and suddenly I couldn’t feel anything.  Where my heart had held so much emotion, overflowing with empathy, concern, love, and connection (and often pain) – abruptly there was nothingness.  Emptiness.  Darkness.  I couldn’t take the misunderstanding, the rejection, or the judgements any longer.  I got it!  I was not okay.  I was weak.  I was broken.  There was something wrong with me. 

I shut down.  And I stayed that way for years.

As time progressed, I continued to do what I thought, and had been told, I was supposed to do.  Feel less, connect less, sense less (senseless?).  I went through the motions.  I lived as a shell, in a body I could no longer feel or connect with, with a heart that no longer radiated compassion and warmth.  I felt beyond empty.  I could remember how I had felt in the past, and I could wish to feel again, but I couldn’t reconnect to that empathic, perceptive sensitivity.  I couldn’t connect with myself, which meant that I couldn’t connect with others.  Without that internal guidance system, I was lost and alone in darkness.  It’s extraordinarily difficult to find a light switch in total darkness.

Sometimes, we get lucky… or (depending on your belief system) a greater power or the universe leads us where we need to go, and to someone who can help us find the switch. 

I’m grateful I was led by whatever force, at first by just a shimmer of the faintest light, back to feeling and relationship.  I’m grateful I was taught how to be discerning in who I chose to share my gifts of sensitivity and deep connection.  I’m grateful as I continue to learn how to harness my own emotional energy, protect myself from an overwhelmingly insensitive world, and share my light with those who won’t attempt to extinguish it.  I’m grateful for my deeply emotional experiences, empathy, and intuition. 

No matter what you’ve been told, or how often people have tried to define you as weak, overly-emotional, too sensitive, or broken – I want to challenge those beliefs that you have likely now internalized.  I want to share the hope that you can reconnect with your sensitivity and internal guidance system, learn to pay attention, and discern what it’s trying desperately to tell you.  I want to encourage you –

You are not weak.  You are actually amazingly powerful.

You are not broken.  You are remarkable.

There is nothing wrong with you.  Those were lies that people told you who just didn’t understand, because they didn’t share that amazingly beautiful ability to feel deeply, sense, and intuit.  You are way more than okay!

You do not have to remain feeling shut down, numb, or empty.  And you do not have to remain in a constant state of overwhelm either!

You can gain mastery over your highly sensitive and highly intuitive abilities, and learn to understand what your internal guidance system is trying to tell you.  You can learn to navigate through the cacophony of sensory and emotive overload that comes with every day in the highly sensitive life.  You do not have to sacrifice yourself for the sake of the comfort of others.  You can be freely yourself, and enjoy the experience!



Kristen Henshaw, an HSP and Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), specializes in counseling and EMDR therapy for the highly sensitive person, the highly intuitive person, and those wanting to recover and heal from painful childhood, life, and relationship experiences.  For a gentle, respectful approach to healing, feel free to schedule your free 30-minute consultation to learn more.

Surviving Seasonal Shifts for the Highly Sensitive Person (HSP): 5 Tips for Smooth Transitions

Transitions, changes, and shifts are all a natural and necessary part of life.  For the highly sensitive person, transitions can feel challenging, and sometimes overwhelming.  There are ways to help ease seasonal transitions, though!

As part of my own highly sensitive experience, I struggle a great deal with the heat, and the shift from summer to fall brings mixed feelings.  Many outdoor pools are closing soon, and my ability to practice grounding and connection to nature is limited in Texas with high temperatures often enduring into October or November.  On the other hand, it will eventually get cooler, opening up more opportunities for outdoor activities. 

Teachers and kids are returning to school, and routines are changing to accommodate.  Even commutes to and from work change with school zones, additional drive times, and there is more hustle and bustle in the air.  For many, vacations have come and gone, and some still feel the restorative energy from having gotten away from it all for a while.  For others, their time off or away seemed entirely too short-lived. 

I feel the shifts all around me; in nature, in people, in energies, and within my own emotional and physical experiences.  It’s a shift that I’m becoming more and more attuned with, but still struggle to predict the impact at times.  Some seasonal changes have little impact on my overall experience, but I’ve found that without awareness, attunement, and preparation, they can knock me off kilter.

Changes are difficult for highly sensitive people!  Seasonal shifts occur regularly, and though I’ve been through them time and time again, I still have to prepare if I don't want to find myself inexplicably overwhelmed.  Over the years, I’ve learned a few things that help me get through seasonal transitions a little more smoothly.

1.       Take time to attend to the shifts. 

If you’ve learned that you need a little more down time than your not-so-highly-sensitive loved ones, as many HSP’s do, transitions might require more time to recharge and regroup.  Whether your self-care includes meditation, reading, taking a nature walk, or just spending time shut in a quiet space – allow for a little extra time each day to give your system the opportunity to not only tune in to the shifts, but adjust to the transition.

2.       Attend more closely to your nutritional needs. 

You may have noticed that even minor changes in diet can have a profound impact on your physical and emotional state.  If you already know what foods result in sluggishness, higher anxiety, gastrointestinal upset, and other negative side effects, try to be even more mindful of what foods are feeding not only your physical being, but your levels of tolerance to outside stimuli, and adjust your food intake accordingly (even if it’s just temporary through the seasonal transition).

3.       Unplug.

This might be an excellent time to set limits around technological engagement.  Put your phone away, turn off the computer, and step away from the TV.  This gives you true “down time,” away from the stress.  Online browsing, video games, social media, and binge watching TV shows actually remove you from your internal and external experiences, making it more difficult to tune into your own body and mind, and less able to attend to your needs. 

4.       Avoid additional commitments.

Shifts in the environment, routines, and internal frequencies require energy.  It might be a good time to avoid overextending yourself by committing to additional work, projects, or social engagements.  If you’re a parent, student, teacher, or work seasonal jobs in the summer, then your routine will require change.  Allow the fine-tuning to occur within the necessary changes before creating more shifts when possible. 

5.       Be kind to yourself.

If you find yourself struggling more than usual, and having a hard time pinpointing a cause or solution, beating yourself up about it will not help.  Attending to your experiences in a curious and non-judgmental way will increase your ability to identify the source of struggles, and make possible solutions come more clearly and easily.  Reminding yourself that about a fifth of the population share your highly sensitive gift, can help you feel less isolated, too. 

Wishing you smooth, peaceful, and easy transition into fall.  If you find yourself struggling more than usual with the transition, reach out to friends and family who understand the unique experiences of highly sensitive people.  If you feel overwhelmed, or are interested in learning more about not only coping, but thriving as a highly sensitive person, reach out for help from someone well versed in the remarkable gifts and distinct challenges associated with living as a highly sensitive person.

For more information about highly sensitive people, visit my specialty page.

Kristen Henshaw, a Licensed Professional Counselor Intern at Counseling South Austin under the supervision of Ann Stoneson, LPC-S, specializes in counseling and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy for highly sensitive people, those wanting to recover and heal from traumatic experiences and relationships, and people struggling with dissociation.  For a gentle, respectful approach to healing, contact her for your free 30-minute consultation.




Coping with High Sensitivity – Holiday Edition

How are all of you fellow Highly Sensitive People coping with the holidays this year?   

I started out this holiday season struggling a bit, but took a few extra steps and adjusted a few goals and expectations of myself.  The results have been refreshing, and I’m feeling much calmer and ready for the holiday.  Yes, I am a highly sensitive person (HSP) myself, in case you wondered whether or not I could truly relate. 

Here are some tips that have helped me along the way, and that I hope will be helpful for you, as well: 

1.       Shop early, or shop online

I learned this years ago, as shopping crowds can easily overwhelm me.  I don’t go anywhere near a retail store from Black Friday to the end of the year.  If I haven’t planned ahead for the year, and haven’t finished up my holiday shopping before November, then I resort to online gift shopping.  Truly, online shopping has become my favorite way to shop in general.  Solitude, a computer, and a dog at my feet – it sure beats fighting the crowds, and helps me avoid feeling agitated from sensory overload. 

2.       Reduce your outside commitments

Say, “No, thank you!”  It’s perfectly acceptable, and healthy to set boundaries to meet your own needs.  Limit your social commitments to those you are truly comfortable with, perhaps small gatherings instead of large parties and crowded venues.  If you have to attend a boisterous holiday party, you can still set limits and boundaries.  For example, if you know that you can manage two hours, then plan to arrive a little late or leave a bit early.   

3.       For every one outside commitment, schedule one (or two) internal commitments

What do I mean by internal commitment?  This is a commitment to yourself – to nourish yourself in whatever way works best for you.  For me, this includes a quiet evening alone with a good book, or watching a movie at home with a friend.  What works best for you, and helps you recharge your batteries?  Schedule a time to attend to what nurtures you the most. 

4.       If you can, schedule travel outside of the holiday rush

I realize for some folks, this just isn’t an option, but if you CAN plan a family visit in January instead of December, it helps – especially if you have to hit an airport to get there.  If you have to travel for whatever reason, be sure to take along things that calm you in hectic and stressful environments – noise-reducing headphones, stress-relieving essential oils, or books that you can get lost in are all examples of what are helpful for me. 

5.       Communicate your needs to those close to you

Let your partner, close friends, or family members know what your limits are.  Try to develop a game plan with them so that they can help you stick to your boundaries when you have to be out and among the crowds.  You probably already know which loved ones are best at supporting your needs, so reach out to them and see if they can act as a holiday ally when you have to be in stressful situations. 

6.       Manage expectations

If you’re visiting family this season, and know that some people don’t always get along so well, it helps a bit to keep in mind that this year will probably be no different.  If you go with the expectation that everyone will get along smashingly, it creates additional stress and anxiety on you.  Instead of expecting things to be perfect, instead plan small activities or quick escapes for when you need to recharge.  Taking a brisk walk away from others is a good planned activity, as well as volunteering to do some work in the kitchen or outside away from bickering relatives.   

7.       Remember, it’s your holiday, too

While you may be more (or not so) concerned about those close to you, and whether they are having an enjoyable holiday experience – don’t forget that this is your holiday, too!  Compromise is good, but staying fully focused on whether or not those around you are having a good experience can easily ensure that your own holiday will be a less than satisfying.  If you are someone who really wants your loved ones to have a great time, it can also help to remember that a calmer, cheerier you will likely be more enjoyable to be around than the overwhelmed and agitated version of yourself.   

Whatever you decide to do, or not do - I wish you a wonderful holiday full of peace, comfort, wellness, and warmth.  ~Kristen

Kristen Henshaw, a Licensed Professional Counselor Intern at Counseling South Austin under the supervision of Ann Stoneson, LPC-S, specializes in working with highly sensitive people on a variety of issues including social anxiety, seasonal depression, and coping with feeling overwhelmed. She welcomes diversity, and practices holistic and affirming counseling for members of the LGBTQ community. Contact her for a free thirty-minute consultation.


Loving the Highly Sensitive Person: 7 Tips for Family, Friends, and Partners

What is a Highly Sensitive Person?

A highly sensitive person is described as someone who is hypersensitive to external stimuli.  They generally think and feel more deeply, and may be more emotionally reactive. 

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a highly sensitive person?

Elena Herdieckerhoff provides a wonderful explanation and insight into being highly sensitive in the following presentation.  This video is a great resource for helping you understand your highly sensitive loved ones.

What can you do to enhance your relationship with your highly sensitive loved one?

1.       Don’t take it personally when they need more alone time.

Highly sensitive people need more time and space to recharge their batteries.  Remember, it’s not that they don’t want to spend time with you – they just need a little more quiet solitude to manage the stimuli of day-to-day life.

2.       Avoid telling them that they are, “too sensitive,” or that they need to toughen up.  Instead, try validating their emotions.

Highly sensitive people are generally aware that they feel more deeply and intensely than others.  Sensitivity is not a weakness!  Highly sensitive people are generally very strong individuals.  Imagine for a moment if lights appeared brighter, noises seemed louder, and you could tangibly feel the emotions of others you encountered throughout the day.  It takes a great deal of strength to manage these more intense internal and external experiences.  The more you can validate their emotional expression, the more they will appreciate your understanding and support.

3.       Watch the volume and content. 

Highly sensitive people are often sensitive to loud noises, and can feel overwhelmed by them.  You might think it’s really awesome to have an at-home movie theatre experience, but remember to check in with your highly sensitive loved one to see if the experience is equally amazing for them.  Many highly sensitive people also have trouble watching violent and intense films.  Be sensitive to their individual sensitivities, and respect their desire to steer clear of certain types of over-stimulating movies and programs.

4.       Engage in meaningful conversations.

Highly sensitive people value deep and meaningful connections.  They often get bored by, or impatient with superficial chats.  If you are able to open yourself up more fully, your highly sensitive person will value you and your relationship much more profoundly.

5.       Be patient.

 It often takes the highly sensitive person a little longer to make decisions.  They generally need more time to ponder the possible outcomes due to their vivid and profound thought life.

6.       Be mindful of your tone and expression.

Highly sensitive people are often highly intuitive, as well.  Don’t be surprised when they take notice of a subtle change in your expression, or small variation in your tone of voice.  One of the perks of being highly sensitive is easily feeling in tune with those around them.

7.       Don’t assume they will ask for what they want.

Highly sensitive people often love tending to others, and in their mind, your wants and needs will often win out over their own.  They can be people-pleasers, and try very hard to avoid conflict.  For this reason, they might not always express their own needs and desires.  Try checking in with your highly sensitive loved one occasionally, and allow them unbiased space to ask for what they want.  

Kristen Henshaw, a Licensed Professional Counselor Intern at Counseling South Austin under the supervision of Ann Stoneson, LPC-S, specializes in supporting the highly sensitive person navigate through their unique life experiences.  Her additional areas of specialization include trauma recovery, life transitions, and caregivers' issues.  She offers an affirming environment for members of the Trans and LBGQ communities. Contact her for your free thirty-minute in-person consultation.

The Highly Sensitive Person’s Thanksgiving – 5 Tips for Self-Care

Another Thanksgiving is upon us.  As we express our gratitude for all of the good in our lives, or we struggle to find thanks in our current circumstances, let’s not forget about the importance of self-care!  There are many people who struggle around the holidays, and find this time of year exceedingly difficult. 


Gatherings can be stressful, even around those you feel secure with – whether you are having to travel to spend time with loved ones, or having more than usual guests at your own home, the added stimuli can takes its toll on us emotionally and physically.  Some of you may be unable to travel or meet with loved ones, which creates a stress of its own.  Still others are plagued by memories of not-so-great holiday experiences in the past. 

Whatever your situation or circumstance, as a highly sensitive person, we can become overstimulated by a multitude of internal and external busy-ness.  Remember, sensitive people need more time and space to recharge their batteries! 


Here are some holiday self-care tips for you, the highly sensitive person:

1.       Plan to give yourself a break.  Be sure to plan in advance to find a quiet space in which you can immerse yourself in solitude for a few moments.  Even if your loved ones aren’t generally loud or exuberant, it can still be helpful to get away for a few moments to re-center and ground yourself.

2.       Temper your expectations.  You may have painted a picture in your mind of the perfect holiday, but things rarely go exactly as planned.  In order to avoid disappointment or an over-taxing of your emotions or nervous system, try your best to be realistic in your expectations. It may help to keep in mind that others might be feeling added holiday stress, too.

3.       Reach out to trusted friends or family.  Have a plan of action with a couple of your closest, most trusted loved ones, and coordinate how you can support one another if things start to feel too overwhelming.  Remember that it is perfectly okay, even healthy, to reach out and ask for help.

4.       Practice saying “no, thank you.”  Get comfortable with the words by repeating them over and over again, until it rolls off your tongue without hesitation.  If someone asks of you more than you are willing to give, or if someone asks you to do something you don’t feel up for, let the “no, thank you” come out without hesitation or guilt.  It is not rude or selfish to care for yourself and your needs.

5.       Find extra ways to be good to yourself.  Whatever you find most soothing – long walks, hot baths, funny movies – allow yourself some added time to indulge in activities that help you stay grounded, mentally healthy, and at peace.  Remember that the holidays are here for you, too!  Whatever your way of celebrating, or not, take extra gentle, good care of yourself.


Kristen Henshaw, a Licensed Professional Counselor Intern at Counseling South Austin under the supervision of Ann Stoneson, LPC-S, specializes in supporting the highly sensitive person.  Her other specializations include social anxiety, trauma recovery, and dissociation.  She offers a trans and LGBQ affirming environment. Contact her for your free thirty-minute consultation.

6 Types of Support for the Highly Sensitive Person: Unraveling the Stigma of Counseling

What is the first thing that pops into your head when someone tells you that they see a therapist?  Do you immediately begin formulating what might be wrong?  Do you suddenly view the person as sick, fragile, or broken?  Perhaps, as a highly sensitive person, you have run into your own personal experiences with stigma…

Highly sensitive people tend to feel emotions more deeply than others.  They feel more attuned to people and surrounding environments, and are more profoundly impacted by both.  Sometimes, this hypersensitivity can cause higher rates of stress, anxiety, or depression. 

High sensitivity can certainly cause some folks to need more time and space in quiet, less stimulating settings.  Highly sensitive people are not sick, fragile, or broken!  Click for more information on thriving as a highly sensitive person.

But just as high sensitivity does not mean that you are broken or that anything is wrong with you, counseling is not only for folks struggling with mental illnesses.  Many highly sensitive people can find benefits from counseling. 

Here are 6 ways that everyone can benefit from therapy:

1. Stress Management

The truth is – many stressors impact physical health, so while seeing a medical doctor is always a great idea for physical symptoms, many physical symptoms can be caused by stress.  When this is the case, treating the physical symptoms without addressing the underlying issue works as a Band-Aid at best.  Most people don’t think twice about seeking the advice of a doctor when they feel sick.  But did you know that, when unchecked, stress can lead to physical concerns including headaches, stomach problems, muscle tension and pain, fatigue, skin irritations, and increased blood pressure?  For those with high sensitivity, these resulting concerns can occur faster and with more severity.  Counseling can facilitate healthier ways to cope and manage stress, thereby helping to improve physical health.

2. Personal Growth, Exploration, & Insight

Have you ever wondered why you act a particular way in certain situations, or why some experiences invoke a strong emotional reaction?  Sometimes it is helpful to know where a feeling or reaction comes from.  Counseling can offer a path for more in-depth self-exploration that can lead to personal growth.  There doesn’t need to be anything “wrong” to want to identify and explore feelings and experiences.  Some people just like to understand themselves a little better. 

3. Work on a Specific Goal

Have you ever felt bothered by a particular habit that you’ve just had a difficult time breaking?  It seems that no matter what you try, you just can’t seem to overcome this one little annoying thing.  Many people benefit from a short-term, solution-focused counseling experience.  Therapy doesn’t have to take months or years, and if often doesn’t!  While some people do find longer-term therapy helpful, just as many folks find benefit in fewer sessions that focus on one particular goal.

4. Life Adjustments

Major, and some minor life adjustments invoke stress at times.  Some adjustments are absolutely positive, but can still produce feelings of upheaval or stress.  Maybe you’re a recent high school or college graduate having a difficult time adjusting from school life to work life.  Perhaps you’ve recently decided you want to do something different, but you’re just not sure what direction to go, or how to get from point A to point B.  Maybe you are leaving home for the first time, and feeling a little lost or out-of-sorts.  Life changes can be positive or negative, and either way they can create a dissonance that can feel disconcerting.  It can help to talk things through in an open, accepting, and nonjudgmental space.

5. Coping/Support

Loss comes in many forms.  Death is certainly a loss that causes many people to struggle.  Other losses can include a romantic relationship, friendship, job, ability, or lifestyle.  There is nothing weak about the person who admits that they could use some support, or additional tools to help them cope with grief or loss.  In fact, it takes courage to admit that you could use some support and seek assistance!

6. Improve Relationships

All relationships are challenging at one point or another – whether it’s a relationship between parents and children, spouses or partners, friends, peers, or other family members.  Relationships do not have to be in distress to be improved upon.  Counseling can help you better understand the dynamics in a relationship, how to be a better listener, and how to communicate more effectively. 

So Why Talk to a Counselor vs. Family or Friends?

Relationships with family and friends are a two way street.  These relationships involve a lot of give and take, and there’s personal stakes involved.  Therapeutic relationships focus on you!  It is a confidential space for you to be yourself.  Counselors can offer unbiased objectivity that other relationships just cannot.  Therapy presents you with an opportunity to freely explore what you want and need to – in a space that is all your own.

Kristen Henshaw, a Licensed Professional Counselor Intern at Counseling South Austin under the supervision of Ann Stoneson, LPC-S, specializes in supporting the highly sensitive person navigate through their unique circumstances.  Her additional experience and areas of focus include trauma recovery, life transitions, and caregivers' issues.  She offers an affirming environment for members of the Trans and LGBQ+ communities. Contact her for your free thirty-minute consultation.

Tips for Coping with Grief as a Highly Sensitive Person


Last year, my youngest dog-child was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer.  Statistics told us that in 96% of cases, we would have another six months, or at most a year with our fur-baby.  Thanks to the talented hands of our surgeon-vet, the tumors were removed and we have enjoyed 15 months of tumor-free love from our very affectionate, 80-pound lap dog.  It has been 15 months of check-ups and blood tests, with the acute awareness just below my daily conscious thoughts that any day could see the return of cancer, or best case, she could live out her days with no re-emergence. 

This particular unknown has been a manageable part of my existence.  I enjoy my moments with her.  I acknowledge the occasional thought that our time may be more limited than we originally hoped, and re-focus my attention to the now.  I also recognize the intermittent twangs of fear, and again, re-center myself to the present moment.  This has worked well for me in these past months when her passing was not so nearly immanent.


Last week, we noticed a couple of lumps, took her in, and biopsies confirmed the cancer’s return.  Even though this wasn’t a surprise, the sadness hit me like a sledgehammer in the chest.  As a highly sensitive person, I knew the news meant frequent bouts of crying - but how in the world was I going to control the timing of my tears? 

Distraction is a great short-term skill, but there’s only so much time our hearts and minds will be ignored.  The longer we expend the incredible energy it takes to push away feelings and thoughts – the more explosively our emotions will eventually erupt.  The eruption occurs in its own time, regardless of whether or not we are in a comfortable setting for it. 


Everyone has their own unique way of grieving.  As highly sensitive people, though, we may need a little more time – alone or with only those who are the very closest to us.  We may need a little more space to allow ourselves to process bad news or loss.  We may need to pencil in some extra time to just be with the intensity.

If you are grieving as a highly sensitive person:

Be gentle and kind with yourself –

Grief is hard!  It is not something to be brushed aside or taken lightly.  Because people with high sensitivity feel things more deeply, and need to process experiences more fully, you might need to work even harder than the non-sensitive to show yourself patience, kindness, and compassion.  If you are already doing something nice for yourself, schedule even more self-care time and activities during this difficult time.  Put some extra energy into making sure your physical needs are met, and make sure you are engaging in plenty of healthy activities that have proven soothing or comforting to you. 

Create a collage, sketch, painting, or some other representation that is meaningful to you –

As you take the time to delve into your creative side, you can use the time and activity to fully engage yourself in processing your grief or loss.  Your creation doesn’t have to be perfect, and no one else has to see it – this is for you!  Creativity invites your right-brain to participate in your grieving process, while at the same time allowing you to create something special for yourself and who or what you have lost. 

Schedule time daily to allow yourself to fully feel your feelings –

So much of our time today is wrapped up in responsibilities that encourage or require us to pack away our emotions.  I use the pressure-cooker metaphor frequently.  If you never allow any pressure to escape, your risk injury from an explosion.  I view emotions in the same way.  If you never allow yourself to feel your feelings, you risk psychic injury (to yourself and others) from the eventual and inevitable explosion.  Like a pressure cooker, it is healthiest to allow the release of your feelings to prevent an emotional explosion. 

Do not judge your own experience –

Tears aren’t always comfortable, and many highly sensitive individuals tend to become annoyed or even angry about their frequent tearfulness – but tears are cleansing, healing, and help us move through the grieving process.  If it feels like you are taking too long to grieve, I assure you there is no such thing as far as I’m concerned.  You are a unique and amazing individual – don’t allow another’s sense of timing to persuade you that you are taking too long, or grieving in the wrong way.  You are grieving in YOUR way, and that is all that matters. 

And, as always, reach out for support –

Do not feel like you have to carry the weight of grief alone.  Seek comfort from a trusted friend or family member, or seek counseling to help you through this difficult time.

Kristen Henshaw, a Licensed Professional Counselor Intern at Counseling South Austin under the supervision of Ann Stoneson, LPC-S, specializes in supporting the highly sensitive person, and highly intuitive people navigate through their unique challenges.  Her additional experience and areas of focus include trauma recovery, midlife transitions, and caregivers' issues.  She offers an affirming environment for members of the LGBTQ+ communities. Contact her for your free thirty-minute consultation.

Thriving as a Highly Sensitive Person


All my life people have told me that I’m too sensitive, too emotional, and that I take things too personally.  I have always been deeply moved by art, music, literature - and ASPCA commercials bring me to tears.  When I’m having a "hypersensitivity" moment, I often get that look from people who know me (and those who don’t) that says, “You’re odd,” “you’re broken,” or, “what’s WRONG with you?”  For a long time, I thought there WAS something wrong with me.  I felt embarrassed and ashamed of how I was – of WHO I was.  I felt weak, broken, and different.  Most of all, I felt misunderstood, hopeless, and alone.

I spent years trying to change myself – to make myself more normal, adequate, and strong.  I attempted to turn what some called my “overly emotional” tendencies into something more socially acceptable.  I tried to “pull myself up by my bootstraps,” grow thicker skin, and project stoicism.  And it seemed to work for a little while.

But something was off.  I wasn’t any happier.  My relationships weren’t more meaningful.  I didn’t feel any less alone.  I felt like I was in disguise, incognito, and more isolated than ever.  Now, not only did others misunderstand me, but eventually I didn’t ever recognize myself.  I had bought into the comments, the looks, and the judgments – and I had run out of ideas on how to conform and fix my broken self.

Hope for the HSP

Finally, while researching internet wisdom, I stumbled upon the work of Dr. Elaine Aron.  Her research found that high sensitivity, or Sensory Processing Sensitivity, is an innate and normal trait found in as much as 20% of the population.  This meant that, while I wasn’t in the majority, there was nothing wrong with me!  My high sensitivity was just part of my neural design.  It was no different than having any other genetic trait like blond hair or hazel eyes.  I was relieved!  It didn’t fix all of my unique challenges, but I wasn’t broken.

Transitioning from Coping to Thriving

An important part of my journey toward thriving as a highly sensitive person involved accepting my innate sensitivity, learning more about myself and my needs, and tending to those needs.  The following is a list of tips to help you get started on thriving as an HSP:

1.       Surround yourself with positivity.  

The highly sensitive person is much more in tune with the world around them.  We soak up everything, process it more deeply, and feel it more profoundly.  So if you are finding yourself in toxic situations, or surrounded by pessimistic people, you are going to be internalizing much more negativity than the average person.  It is important to find people and environments which exude positive, accepting energy so that what you are absorbing is hopeful and enriching.

2.       Develop a calming and quiet space to decompress.  

The world is bustling, hectic, chaotic, and loud.  The highly sensitive person is much more likely to become overwhelmed by all the commotion.  It is important for us to create a space that minimizes bright light, noise, and other sensory stimulation so that we can re-center ourselves and give our nerves a break.

3.       Pay attention to yourself.  

Most of us have been led to believe that there is something inherently wrong with us.  But we think and feel more deeply than most, and when we’ve spent so much time trying to change that about ourselves, we learn to ignore what our thoughts, emotions, and bodies are trying to tell us.  If we can tune into ourselves, we can learn to read what our bodies are trying to say.  This will help us do something about it before we become overwhelmed. 

4.       Set and maintain personal boundaries.  

Highly sensitive people are much more in tune with others.  For that reason, it is easy for the HSP to empathize.  It is usually easy for us to fall into the habit of putting others before ourselves.  This can drain our energy ever faster than usual.  Take time to stop and think about what is best for you, and practice and get comfortable saying, “No.”

5.       Practice self-compassion.  

We naturally tune in to, and tend to the needs of others.  As we learn to accept our high levels of sensitivity and tend to our own needs, it might help to remember the upsides to being a highly sensitive person.  We are passionate, intuitive, creative, perceptive, and able to connect more deeply with others.  At times, our hypersensitivity isn’t comfortable, but we can find ways to use it to our advantage.

Kristen Henshaw, a Licensed Professional Counselor Intern at Counseling South Austin under the supervision of Ann Stoneson, LPC-S, specializes in working with highly sensitive people on a variety of issues including self-esteem, coping with environmental sensitivities, childhood trauma/abuse/neglect recovery, dissociation (including DID-Dissociative Identity Disorder), managing anxiety, and caregiver stress. She practices holistic and affirming counseling and welcomes diversity.  Contact her for a free thirty-minute consultation.