The first step is figuring out your sensitivity level, or whether or not you classify as an HSP (highly sensitive person). Books for Better Living covered this topic last year, and research continues to confirm the existence and importance of HSPs. Perhaps this is because our individualistic, capitalist, “go-getter” society shows little acceptance for those who are highly sensitive, even though this describes 15-20% of the population.
Being an HSP is an adaptive evolutionary trait. It means that your nervous system takes in subtleties in your environment that others may not notice. In addition to absorbing more information, you also spend more time processing it, which can make you easily overstimulated or exhausted.
Many equate HSPs with introverts, which isn’t true — an estimated 30% of HSPs are actually extroverts. However, being an HSP means that you need to take your sensitive system into account in all aspects of your life, including your love life. While HSPs have many positive traits, including being intuitive, empathetic, and concerned about social justice, they also encounter challenges due to their nature. Aron’s book The Highly Sensitive Person in Love shines a light on these difficulties, as well as how HSPs can use their strengths to practice the best approach for a fulfilling relationship.
Love Challenges and Strengths for HSPs
In the relationship realm, HSPs can be more fearful of intimacy. Those who have grown up in difficult families were likely deeply affected by it and can be prone to low self-esteem and an insecure attachment style. HSPs were also likely affected by societal and cultural messages about their perceived gender. Those who grew up as boys learned that they had to hide or repress their sensitivity to be masculine, and those who grew up as girls were taught to feel shame for not living up to the feminine ideal. All of these childhood experiences can serve to make HSPs insecure and distrustful of others who they might want to enter into relationships with.
Due to their empathic nature, HSPs may also be wary of relationships for fear of being engulfed or overly influenced by their partner. HSPs often find themselves taking on responsibility for their partner’s moods and emotions, putting their partner’s needs before their own. HSPs also tend to feel guilty about taking time alone to process and rest, especially in new relationships. Finally, HSPs may be afraid of potential conflict with partners, given their sensitivity to criticism and harsh words. For all of these reasons, HSPs may consider it easier to be on their own or to have one-sided crushes.
Sign up to receive inspiring, expert advice on living your best life from Books for Better Living and Penguin Random House.
Luckily, HSPs also have important strengths that can help them build loving relationships. Aron asserts that the key to healthy relationships is that partners are able to recognize their innate differences and learn how to communicate about the conflict these differences will undoubtedly bring up. While many think that conflict itself is a red flag, it’s actually normal in relationships. The problem comes when people aren’t able to talk about the reasons behind the conflict and come up with creative solutions to address it.
Given HSPs’ insight, they might actually have an advantage in this area.
Tips for HSPs and their Partners
To understand their nature, HSPs need to go on a journey of self-discovery, especially if they endured past trauma. This journey may include therapy, meditation, and journaling. HSPs often enjoy these activities, given their ability to reflect deeply. And whether HSPs are single or in relationships, this investigation will strengthen their self-awareness and build confidence so that they can better support themselves in relationships.
State needs and boundaries
HSPs may find themselves being too giving in relationships, at the expense of taking care of themselves. Instead, HSPs need to let their partners take responsibility for their own emotions and moods. HSPs should also practice stating their own needs, which may include time alone. If their partners are non-HSPs, they should try to understand and respect this need.
Accept imperfection, from yourself and others
In the same way, HSPs need to be understanding of their partners, too. HSPs should work to accept their partners’ quirks and try to focus on their positive qualities. HSPs should also realize that they are not perfect, and they should feel comfortable owning their biological idiosyncrasies. This is a good starting place for any discussion about a conflict.
Research shows that heterosexual relationships are happier when both partners show traditionally “feminine” traits, such as being nurturing, emotionally expressive, and willing to discuss issues in the relationship. HSPs may be able to model this behavior for a non-HSP or repressed HSP partner. When partners are not able to speak openly and honestly about the state of their relationship, this is a warning sign that the relationship may not last.
Accept the risk
No one can be sure going into a relationship that they won’t be hurt. The key for HSPs is to know that if they have to end or leave the relationship, they will have the support of themselves and others to do so. This may make the risk more tolerable, and the commitment more appealing.
With these tips, HSPs may find that relationships offer them a unique opportunity to go deeper into themselves, as well as others. Relationships may be somewhat uncertain, but they can also be profound, fulfilling, and a lot of fun.
Find more on The Highly Sensitive Person in Love here.
Photo Credit: Vladimir Kudinov/Unsplash