If you’re a highly sensitive person, you love connection. You love intimacy. You yearn for the closeness of deep, personal relationships. Finding one, and keeping one, however, is not so easy. In a world where most people are looking for a fun-loving, easy-going relationship, HSPs can often find themselves on a search for something that seems to exist only in our minds. So is the kind of love we need possible? And how do we find it?
HSPs are often romantics, idealists and nurturers, all of which are great relationship qualities. We care deeply about people and we want to help. We want to help others reach their potential and we want to be there to listen and offer our support. We’re not expecting anything in return. We do it because we can feel other people’s feelings so intensely. Our empathic nature means we put ourselves in other people’s shoes all the time, usually without even realizing we’re doing it.
Our natural empathy, warmth and compassion draws others to us. At the same time, we are drawn to them because we cannot ignore their feelings, or their cries for help. But that’s where things can become challenging for HSPs. We are easily drawn to people with problems. And problem people are drawn to us. For us, seeing someone who is struggling or sad, lonely or anxious is like watching someone writhing on the ground with a broken leg. We cannot walk away.
Unfortunately, not all problems are that visible. Most people work really hard at concealing their own flaws and insecurities and it’s not until you’re in an emotional relationship with them that we realise just how real these problems are, or how damaging. But by then, we’re involved. We feel connected and our drive to help others keeps us hanging in there with the hope that things will change. In the meantime, we can find ourselves becoming exhausted and depleted. HSPs are caring, but vulnerable. We can lift people up with our giving natures, but they can quickly pull us down with their demands. Before you know it, you can feel overwhelmed and saturated.
What HSPs need to recognize is that despite our deep sensitivity, compassion and empathy, we cannot change other people. People have to help themselves. And we have to let them. It’s not your job to be a life preserver for someone who is drowning in the sea of life. It’s your job to stay on solid ground, doing things that feed your sensitive soul. Then you can be there when someone finds their own way home.
So how do you find healthy relationships when you’re drawn to unhealthy ones? How do you say no to people who want to lean on you? And how do you make conscious choices when your decisions are unconscious?
First, help yourself. HSPs are naturally caring and helping people. But you need to help yourself first. You need to put your needs first. While that may sound selfish, it’s essential for your survival. Whenever you feel overwhelmed, stressed, anxious, depressed or upset, it’s a cry for help from your sensitive self. And the only person who can take care of it is you. You need to remove yourself from stressful situations, give yourself space and quiet time and find a regular outlet for your creativity and your feelings.
Caring for yourself in this way will do two important things:
1. It will boost your self-esteem because it makes you realise how important it is to take care of yourself, and how important you are. When you feel good about yourself, you will attract people who feel good about themselves too and have the ability to give back.
2. It will keep you focused on your own needs, rather than someone else’s, which will help to prevent you from being lured into people’s problems and stop them from seeing you as a life preserver.
The more you understand yourself and what you need – peace, quiet, calm, creativity – the easier it will be to say no to what you don’t need. And the more you say no to what’s wrong, the more space you make for what’s right. And that includes the right relationship.
Second, you will be more likely to find the right partner if you do things you like to do because you will be happier. You may also need to push yourself out of your comfort zone a little bit and join a group or a class so that you can meet like-minded people. Sensitive people can often be found in places like book clubs, art classes, writing groups, local orchestras, or nature groups. HSPs can easily become locked in their own imagination and too fearful of the overstimulating outside world to engage with others. But you can have connection without being hurt. You can be part of a community without feeling overwhelmed. You just need to find the one that fits you, instead of trying to fit yourself into something that’s not right.
As a highly sensitive person, you will always want to help people. Just make sure that your helping helps you too. Using your sensitivity to help others should make you feel bigger, braver, stronger, smarter, healthier. You should feel empowered and confident. If you feel weaker, smaller, more fearful, more confused or more exhausted, you’re not helping – you’re sacrificing. Save your empathy for people who really appreciate it and will be there for you too. Just because your sensitive doesn’t mean you should do all the giving.
These changes won’t happen overnight. But noticing how you feel in any situation can make you more aware of your unconscious choices. And then you can decide what you want based on your own feelings, whether that means staying or leaving a party, a job or a relationship. Never mind what anyone else says. Just remember to stay on shore where you can keep your sensitivity safe and not get dragged out to sea.