Sense and Sensitivity

The ups and downs of daily life as a Highly Sensitive Person

High Sensitivity, Low Self-Esteem

3 steps to feeling good about yourself as an HSP.

There is often a misconception that highly sensitive people have low self-esteem, as if the two are one and the same. But high sensitivity does not cause low self-esteem, nor are highly sensitive people born feeling insecure. Many HSPs are happy, confident people who have managed to use their sensitive qualities to their advantage. But there are also HSPs who struggle with how they feel about themselves, not as a result of their high sensitivity, but as a consequence of living in a less than sensitive world.

Feeling good about yourself when everyone is telling you there's something wrong with you is not easy. And it usually starts at an early age. You're teased for being a cry baby, criticised for being too sensitive, pressured into toughening up and judged for being too picky. Add to that daunting list the urges of your friends, family and teachers to be more like everyone else, for your own good, and it's no wonder a highly sensitive person's self-esteem starts to resemble Swiss cheese.

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Developing a strong and healthy self-esteem does not have to involve long-term therapy or prescription medication. What it does take are small, conscious steps every day, away from what hurts and towards a sense of self that feels good and right. Here's how to take those first steps forward:

1) Become self-aware - Find out if you are in fact a highly sensitive person (you can take a test at Elaine Aron's web site) and if you are, then celebrate! You are a unique person with special gifts. Read all you can about this interesting person you've discovered. In addition to Elaine Aron's books, check out Talent Development Resources. And forget about all the stuff you've been told about how difficult you are or why you've got to change. You're not and you don't. People only said those things because they didn't know who you really are. But you do. Trust that.

2) Take care of yourself - If large groups of people make you feel tense, avoid them. If spending time with animals relaxes you, take time to be near them. Recognize that you are a delicate orchid among the daisies and if you don't make your needs a priority, no one else will. And you're liable to get run down with the lawnmower to boot. Becoming overwhelmed by too much sensory stimulation or emotion can also deplete your energy and make you feel tired and depressed. I take frequent ten minute breaks just to get a few moments away from all the noise and energy of other people. And get lots of rest. HSPs need lots of downtime to recover from sensory stress, so read, watch a good film, go for a walk and get lots of sleep. I've got my bedroom decked out with a blackout blind and blackout curtains because I'm sensitive to light. It's so dark in there, it's like stepping into a bunker. I've also got 600 thread count sheets, wax earplugs, and a pillowtop mattress. Call me the Princess and the Pea, but that place is a highly sensitive sanctuary.

3) Work with what you've got - Now that you know you've got special gifts, focus on your unique talents. In other words, do what makes you happy, even if your idea of fun isn't the same as anyone else's. I like to watch documentaries. I also read science and history magazines and take long walks in the countryside to relax. I know it's not exactly a Robbie Williams concert on the excitement scale, but it works for me. Sensitive people are often creative people as well, so use all that energy you've absorbed and channel it into a creative pursuit. Write, paint, draw, cook, sculpt, compose, plant and play. Nothing will make you feel better about yourself than creating something beautiful through your own self-expression.

Being a highly sensitive person can certainly make life challenging, but it also lets you see beauty in the world that others cannot see. When you live your life in a way that's right for you and focus on your own unique gifts, the belittling voices will begin to fade. And that's something to feel good about.

Deborah Ward's new book, Overcoming Fear with Mindfulness, is available now.

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