The Social Challenge Of Highly Sensitive People

Maria HillPersonal Development, Social Smarts, The HSP Trait19 Comments

sensitive people

Source: Morguefiles


Highly sensitive people are known for being independent and able to be alone.However, that does not mean that we necessarily are happy and comfortable with it.

Recently I have been asking myself why being alone is considered, “bad” or a sign of a problem.

Do I need to be herded into a group, an identity, or a cause?

Why Is Being Alone Stigmatized?

Have you ever noticed that being alone carries a stigma?

Why do we disparage the “crazy cat lady”, or the “poor” bachelor?

It amazes me that to this day the early definitions of being human still apply. You are to be married, have children, women should be mothers and men should be warriors.

These are important and valued roles. They are the subject of most social discourse. Succeeding at them is gives us status which gives us social protection.

Does Popularity Protect Us?

Acquiesing to and succeeding at these roles also give us popularity.

That is a lot of social incentive to conform!

Does popularity protect us?

Popularity may have had important survival implications in the past.  Consider an old civilization having food shortages. Who would eat and who would not? Certainly the least popular would  be less likely to be saved.

The popular social roles once has serious survival implications. People did not live long, so we continually need new ones. War was common and soldiers were needed. War, disease and short life spans meant that only certain roles were supported, roles that affected the ability of the group to survive.

Those days may be over. However, they still seem to live in our minds.

We have certainly developed a lot of skills around coercing people to be a certain way. And the stories that we tell are often around our survival story.

Saving ourselves is a popular story and popularity is like social grease in a complicated world of many differences and agendas.

Ostracism As Punishment

Being alone is often used as a punishment.

It is the basis of shunning and ostracism, and designed to engender conformity.

Being alone or the threat of abandonment is a great way to enforce loyalty to a group. Since we need others to survive, ostracism is a serious threat. It does not matter whether you are an adult or child, unless you have independent resources, ostracism can be very harmhul to your health and well-being.

However, it is often more of a social game than anything else in modern society – the game of who is in and who is out. A game with consequences.

Social Rejection

For me and from other highly sensitive people, social rejection is a greater concern than being alone.

Social rejection for many highly sensitive people comes from being different, something over which they have no control.

Being holistic and inclusive thinkers, we do not naturally see the divisions, rules and roles that others may call reality. The survival game that engages so many people is not a natural conversation for highly sensitive people.

The problem can also be a sensitive one since highly sensitive people are outnumbered and will be unlikely to have a significant voice in many social situations.

Highly sensitive people are good at seeing beyond social and cultural drama, so when they are being rejected it can be because they see life and what is important differently. The value of highly sensitive people does not lie in the the survival drama, it lies in the manifestation of our higher selves which we need to do more of.

Finding Social Value For Highly Sensitive People

The Dalai Lama made the observation that we do not need more successful people, we need more healers and peacemakers. We need more people to lay down their weapons, give up chasing trophies. We need more people to become grounded in the reality that we are not really adversaries and there is no prize to be had. There is no one to beat.

Highly sensitive people offer a lot to a world that sorely needs their holistic brains in order to detach from the human survival  story so that something new can emerge.

Our social value comes from our wisdom and insights, our knowledge of the pain caused by repeating the survival drama with each new generation.

We can question, offer new ideas, encourage new thinking, offer our creative prowess and friendship.

This are important social contributions that make highly sensitive people valuable and worth having around.

Maria Hill is the founder of Sensitive Evolution and HSP Health. She is the creator of several courses for sensitives: The Whole Self Course – soul centric psychology and the highly sensitive person and The Foundation Course For Sensitives covering the trait, important cultural frameworks, work and career, relationships, energy mastery and Ayurveda. They can be found here. She is a long time meditator, reiki master, student of alternative health and Ayurveda. Maria is also an abstract painter whose portfolio can be found at Infinite Shape and also very interested in animal and human rights and the environment.

19 Comments on “The Social Challenge Of Highly Sensitive People”

  1. For me popularity is when others accede some power to you because they perceive you in some way to be better than them be it from low self esteem or an unrealistic lack of belief in their own social skills.

    This can lead to resentment, people wanting to constantly challenge you, people can go from one side of this coin of idealisation to the other a desire to destroy a popular person. Being less socially popular can be lonely but it can also get lonely at the top.

    True friendship and connection comes from a genuine desire to connect with others, the desire to connect is as natural a desire as breathing; we think for our developing children, we are who we spend our time with, our thoughts resonate with each other physically in our brains through a share of values and beliefs. We just need to get out of the way of our selves, let loose and let others see who you are.

    1. Hi Ronan,

      Thanks for stopping by and responding to the article. I can see that you have given it some thought.

      There is no question that we can think that others have it easier when in fact they may not and anyone can be lonely. Sometimes just getting out of the way of ourselves and being friendly can be all that we need. That works for HSPs sometimes, however, often they find that being different can be an obstacle. It comes from having a different set of values in our culture.

      However being different does not mean that we cannot find friendship. I think that HSPs probably do better one-on-one, where they can relate in a deeper way or in smaller social groups of like-minded people.

      All the best,

  2. Great post, Maria.
    I actually love being alone. I like the quiet. I get more done. It serves me to be by myself.

    What’s interesting too is during school years (grade school, high school, college) I never ‘fit’ into any crowd. During that time I would feel sad or uncool since I wasn’t really feeling accepted.

    The lesson learned is to accept oneself. I find that it’s so much easier to live- with a group or alone- when we love and accept ourselves for who we are as individuals. Then, once we accept ourselves more, it’s easier to enjoy the social aspects of being around people (at least in my experience).

    Thanks for a great post!

    1. Hi Elizabeth,

      I love silence and being alone also. I find that my greatest sense of possibility comes from those 2 things. Self acceptance can be difficult since our culture seems to prefer that we do not. I guess it is harder to sell stuff to people who accept themselves! We HSPs have a harder time with self acceptance but it is worth the effort to do so because e have so much to offer.

      Thanks for stopping by. I hope you have a great Thanksgiving.


  3. This post definitely describes me in a nutshell. I love being around other people, when I don’t feel forced to become pulled into their dramas, power-plays and roles, but so often that is the case. I feel so much better when I’m alone or at least have enough alone-time to recenter myself and relax while being an open channel for Divine inspiration which enable me a constant flow of creativity. Thanks for sharing!
    /Alexandra in Sweden

    1. Hi Alexandra,

      I have a lot of difficulty with dramas and power plays as well. We HSPs create our energy so we have to be careful how we allow other people to use it.


  4. Thanks for making the distinction between social rejection and being alone, and then talking about the social value to be given to HSPs. I think I can see my daughter growing up into an HSP. I want her to feel valued in her life and to choose a career which takes advantage of her HSP traits.

  5. I find the difficulty in work situations. I work within a team in a large organisation. They naturally have sensed my difference, and while I like to be alone and work better that way, I still like to feel connected. I have worked in teams where I have been accepted as I am, but still valued and felt a sense of connection.

    My own experience is that my high sensitivity is perceived as being ‘weird’ at times, and that is such a shame. I am either really loved for what I bring, or I am not understood. I feel sad that self aware people don’t value difference, and appreciate that the sensitives really thrive on connection. They don’t seem to grasp that connection isn’t always about ‘being with’ but ‘feeling part of’.

    I love being and working alone, but I still enjoy feeling presence and connection – it just looks different to others.

    1. Hi Annie,

      I know what you mean. I have worked in a variety of organisations, several of them large and I had the same experience. Some people find our differences refreshing and valuable; others will marginalize us. It is unfortunate because of all that we bring to the table. Most organizations need our insights and wisdom to navigate our complex world well. Connection is very important and one thing that so many HSPs feel bad about because they experience so little of it. I hope you are finding connection outside of work if you are not able to find it in work. Is it worth considering a different employer?

      All the best,

  6. Hi Maria

    I have been a highly sensitive person for as long as I remember (way back in childhood), I was always different from others and I definitely did not fit in. I was the ‘black sheep’ in my family and in school. I have been ostercized my entire life, I feel lost, alone and clinging for life more often than not. I have just starting meditating, I need to find myself before I am lost. I also have a son who is 10, he reminds me so much of myself. It is my greatest desire to teach my new-found learnings of being an HSP to my son, so as he gets older his coping skills are better and healthier than mine.
    I bought the Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine Aron, I’ll have to look for it. I don’t think I was ready to accept who I was at the time I bought it, but it’s time now for me to accept who I am with grace and dignity.
    I am glad I stumbled across your website … via something shared on facebook.

    1. Hi Lisa,

      I am so glad you find HSP Health. It sounds like you have had a lot of the HSP challenges and I am glad that you are finding some clarity about it including by reading Dr. Aron’s book. There is an HSP therapist who specialises in working with boys and men: Dr. Ted Zeff. He can be found here. He could be helpful for you in helping you with your son.

      I have meditated for many years. I think it is a wonderful help for our sensitivity. I also like Ayurveda. Dr. Deepak Chopra’s book, Perfect Health can help you get started if you like. finding your place in the world is very important. One of the most important things you can do for yourself is figure out where you belong. Let me know if I can help further.

      All the best,

  7. This is exactly what I’m going through right now with a sports league I’m on. I’ve never been involved in team sports, and I feel like I’m being socially excluded by a few of my teammates. I basically just try to ignore it, but it is stressful sometimes and is causing a lot of anxiety. I love the sport and don’t want to give it up, but I feel like my HSP personality doesn’t fit with the culture. Thanks for posting, it helps to know I’m not just making it up and reading about similar experiences does ease some of the anxiety it causes. I still don’t know how to deal with having to socialize with people who obviously don’t like me, but at least I have a little more information about why they are acting that way.

    1. This is one of our most important challenges. The best you can do is be gracious and find someone on the team who can be a friend. It is better to stay away from the cliques. Invest in being an asset to the team and try to let go of the people who ae excluding. There are always some people who will try to treat ou like the enemy of you are different.

      Good luck,

  8. The social challenge of highly sensitive people , that’s a great post 🙂

    I just want to add a different vision . That the real social challenge is not for the highly sensitive people but for the other humans and the social structures who surround those same highly sensitive souls .

    The way I see it is that every single highly sensitive is not meant to be labeled as such , he/she is a normal human being just having a different yet very essential social role to play . That Role is to be THE GUARDIAN of a very important human legacy ; the legacy of true Human Values.

    Here is Peter he is a highly sensitive or more precisely he is the GUARDIAN OF RESPECT, where ever Peter goes Respect goes with him.
    And here is Jessica she is a highly sensitive or in her specific case she is the GUARDIAN OF INTEGRITY , where ever she goes , when ever she walks , and with whomever she is the values of INTEGRITY walk with her see through her and behave through her, they are always present with her, it’s a deep soulful connection .

    Now the real Social challenge is for the other people surrounding those sensitive special GUARDIANS , and the question that is asked when ever they meet a guardian is : what will they do, help protect that value and that special human legacy ? or will they betrayed it, betray their very own humanity by rejecting those values, and forget who they really are ?

    (Because it’s about human values, it is very hard to distinguish between the inherited values and the human who received that heritage, and that’s what a Highly sensitive Person is, a Guardian )
    And Finally the highly sensitive people are never alone , it’s just that they have invisible friends that most people can’t see.

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