An Ode To Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) At Work
Yes, I am a highly sensitive person (HSP) and I have a whole laundry list of things that are either a MUST or a NO WAY when it comes to my sanity, personal interactions, meetings and work spaces. And that laundry list of sensitivities has gotten me into trouble because I did not realize that I was highly sensitive until I started reading about it. I thought that I was just normal. Imposing “my standards” on others, I just couldn’t understand how others could be so insensitive, blatantly rude, condescending and disturbing when I just tried to survive another day at the office.
Being a HSP is not easy by any means as many other people don’t understand where we’re coming from. Probably they think we’re weird. They inadvertently push our buttons until we explode – or evade. They will step all over our sensitivities without even realizing that they might be hurting us. I’ve been called “too sensitive” by colleagues and supervisors. I’ve held back in meetings to not expose myself. I stayed away from social interaction at the office, keeping to myself to not “absorb” any energies (e.g. negative junk) from others.
It’s time to educate those who don’t feel like this what we’re about. So you can give us the working environment we need to thrive. So we can be set up for success. So we can create the energy and environment we need to feel safe to contribute, create and shine our light.
I mentioned my personal laundry list of sensitivities earlier. From experience of having interviewed, assessed and profiled many candidates, I know that sensitivities vary from individual to individual. Being ridiculed might deeply hurt one person, while another person feels physically hurt by loud noises for example. What I am sharing here are my observations.
While many people may experience some type of sensitivity from time to time, a highly sensitive person is wired differently: We are likely to feel intensely (they say “too much”) and profoundly (they say “too deep”). Some individuals may be highly sensitive to just one or two stimuli, while others may be strongly impacted by a long list of things. In my experience we can distinguish three sensitivity types: Emotional Sensitivity, Perceptual Sensitivity and Physical Sensitivity. My intention here is to give unassuming managers, leaders and even colleagues or friends an idea of what our inner life looks like:
- Highly aware of inner balance or lack thereof. Being “off-kilter” feels highly disturbing to us
- Experiencing intense emotional symptoms such as stress, anxiety or fear that can keep us from focusing
- Feeling intense highs and lows, where the highs tend towards euphoria and the lows towards depression and doom
- Getting stuck in negative emotions, low self-esteem and self-doubt, beating ourselves up over things that others just shrug off
- Tendency to avoid mistakes and failures to such an extent, we may not perform a task at all for the fear of failure
- Can hide and bottle up negative feelings, instead of processing them or telling others
- Can feel awkward in group situations, unable to “fit” or be authentic, feeling out of place
- Can easily get hurt but will not push back when it happens, or will alternatively create “drama”
- Afraid of overt or covert rejection: Kindness, compassion, courtesy and manners always go a long way with us
- Can feel annoyed, resentful or angry about situations where we feel we’ve been wronged
- Tendency to seek approval, often thinks/worries about what others are thinking about them, want to be liked
- Taking things personally, even if they are not intended as personal attack, take feedback as criticism
- Having a hard time letting go, holding on to grudges, even for what others think are minor incidents
- Tendency to feel judged, mistreated or provoked and might react strongly to it
- Highly sensitive to loud noises, smells, lighting, temperature and pressure changes that disrupt our concentration
- Feeling disturbed by “off” rooms, the wrong placement of furniture, crooked paintings etc.
- Strongly dislike any form of interruption, prefer to have our own office and the door closed – to stay in flow
- Feeling highly disturbed by any form of dirt, clutter and other obstructions of clean design and lines
- Being sensitive to the (residual) energy of rooms, some rooms just “feel wrong”
- Experiencing physical symptoms such as headaches, muscle aches (especially neck and shoulders), stomach cramps, dry cough and other symptoms as indicators that something is off
What is important to understand for so called “normal people” (we might as well call them insensitive and blind) is that we’re not doing this to annoy you, to get on your nerves or to be special in any way. We do this to protect ourselves. To stay in balance. To stay sane. To stay in flow. It’s something that happens on the energetic side. It’s invisible but has a tremendous impact on how we work. And yet, our sensitivity might be exactly what you need. We’re highly creative. We truly understand people. We are deep thinkers. We know before you know. We see beyond the obvious. We feel where you don’t. We are miles ahead in our perception. Our sensitivity is not a weakness – it’s our strength. Use it accordingly! Without us, you might just be lost.
We might actually be the best people you’ve ever worked with – if you create the right setting and environment that allows us to BE and bring in our strengths and talent.
Many Blessings, Dr. Vic