Talking To Your Family About Being A Highly Sensitive Person

Photo by my husband Florian Roquais

Talking to your family about being a Highly Sensitive Person can be really daunting.

By Highly Sensitive Person, I am not just referring to a tendency to take offence or cry a lot. I’m talking about the Highly Sensitive Person trait, something which totally changes the life experiences of 20% of the world population.

People with this personality trait process sound, light and emotions differently to Non-HSPs. We often spend years feeling like there’s something terribly wrong with us, before we learn to understand and embrace this gift.

If you think you might have the trait, you can do a self-test here.

Anyway, I digress!

Being in a family of Non-HSPs can leave you feeling like you are losing your mind.  But, once you have finally discovered and embraced the trait, you may well feel delighted. You might want nothing more than to share your findings with your family, but be afraid of how they might react,

Will they take me seriously? Will they think I’m being ridiculous? Will they get defensive?

Some families will totally identify with what you are saying and immediately get on board, making time to do further research and actively trying to modify their behaviour to accommodate your needs. 

Other people may not give you the initial reaction you had hoped for. This can lead to feelings of isolation and rejection, a recurring theme for HSPs all over the world. 

We can’t control how other people react to us revealing that we are HSP, but we can take steps to approach the conversation in a way that facilitates mutual understanding. 

Longboarding down to the ocean always helps me to process and reset as a HSP

Here are 5 tips to help you approach this important conversation with your loved ones:

Take it in stages 

As excited as you are to finally have your family understand your differences, all the new information can be hard for them to process if you attempt to tackle it all at once. If your loved ones have never heard of the Highly Sensitive Person before, it can be helpful to share the information with them in stages rather than one long blast. 

You could start off with sharing Elaine Aron’s Highly Sensitive Person test, telling them what you scored and asking if they would find out what they scored themselves. This will really help bolster mutual understanding as you can verbalise your fundamental differences that impact how you interact with the world around you. 

After doing this exercise with my Dad, our relationship became a lot easier. I scored ‘full marks’ of 27 on the test, whereas he came out with a score of 3. Now, when we start to approach a disagreement one of us can laugh and say ‘27’ or ‘3’, reminding one another that we aren’t in conflict with one another, just different. 

By sharing the occasional article or video about HSP with your loved ones and explaining that it resonated, you can slowly establish ‘HSP’ in your family vocabulary and it can put people under much less pressure than a sit down meeting where they have to understand everything all at once.

This can create a solid base from which you can continue to build on mutual understanding in the coming months and years. 

HSPs are creative and intuitive. Heading to the coast to practice yoga, it was a joy to find this fellow Sensitive Person painting at the cliffs

Defer to the experts 

Trying to explain your personality trait to your loved ones can be overwhelming. It can be difficult to know where to start and how to avoid slipping into old patterns of feeling you have to justify your existence. 

Sometimes, deferring to the experts can be helpful. After all, Dr. Elaine Aron studied and  worked for many years in order to perfect her theories and materials. You could try giving your partner or parents a book about the Highly Sensitive Person, asking them to read it and encouraging them to ask you any questions that arise. 

If you don’t think your family would be prepared to read a whole book, you could ask them to read a certain chapter or article that really resonates with you. 

If you would like to find out more about the books that could help you as a HSP, you could join my free Highly Sensitive Book Club!

Try not to get too personal 

Whenever we talk about something that matters to us, it’s easy to come across as accusatory.

This is accentuated by the fact that human beings are really bad at listening! As much as we try to hear one another, we are often hearing what we assume the person is going to say or what we think the person is hiding between their words, rather than deeply listening to the message they are trying to get across.  

This is totally normal and human. HSP and Non-HSP alike can be guilty of this! With that in mind, it’s important to keep the tone respectful and maintain safety throughout the conversation, trying to avoid accusations or judgement. 

For example, you could open the conversation by saying: 

‘There’s something I’d like to talk to you about to help us understand one another even better, would that be OK?’ 

By choosing this non-accusatory question to open the conversation, you are removing any personal element that might come with a sentence like: ‘I want you to understand me better’.

Keeping it neutral, rather than personal, helps support your listener to really engage with what you are saying without feeling threatened or attacked. A sense of respect and security is essential in order to establish a loving and nurturing conversation. 

I live full time in my off-grid, self-converted transit van. This lifestyle really complements my HSP traits. I get to wake up to views like this everyday!

Write it down

Having decided to talk to your loved ones about HSP, your brain is probably overflowing with ideas and concerns about how to broach the subject. Will they understand me? Will they think I’m being an attention seeker? Will they reject me? 

One way to help you organise your thoughts is to write down what you are feeling. T

he process is not only therapeutic in itself, but may be useful for those that find it difficult to articulate their feelings without being overwhelmed by emotions. For some people, writing a short letter or email to their family members explaining the trait may be easier and more productive than talking in person, especially if your relationships have a tendency toward conflict. 

When writing it all down, we can take time to make sure our words are loving and non confrontational, whilst still expressing what we want to say. 

Why not start out with: 

‘Hey Mum. I wanted to send you a few links to a personality trait that I discovered and see what you think. I feel like this could be very relevant to me and help us to be even more supportive to one another.  Could you please check it out and share you thoughts?’ 

If you have a relationship with an established history of safe discussion about your emotions, you could try a more personal letter. Try to keep your message a positive one rather than accusing your family of not understanding, as this will be easier for them to receive and process. 

Sunset, wild flowers and singing Dolly Parton. What more could a HSP need?

Practice self acceptance

Although being understood and accepted by those around us feels extremely important, it is far more important that we are to understand and accept ourselves. Remember that being a HSP is not an illness, but rather a personality trait with many wonderful strengths. 

You don’t need anyone else to approve of you in order to be worthy. You were born being everything that you need to be!

Unfortunately, some people will not accept us. This isn’t because we are flawed, but they will reject us for the very strengths that make us shine so brightly. Some people are toxic, even if they are our family. This is really sad, but there’s very little we can do to change it. You see, we cannot teach other people to be more understanding, we can only teach ourselves to be more resilient to this lack of understanding. 

One way to find this self acceptance is to realise that you are not alone! You can join one of the many HSP support groups on Facebook, where you will find yourself among thousands of like minded people who are rooting for you.  Once you realise that you are not crazy and your feelings are valid, getting the understanding of every person in your life becomes less important. 

A version of this article has also appeared on Highly Sensitive Refuge, a community and publication for highly sensitive people. 

If this article resonated, you might like to check out The Highly Sensitive Nomad book.

Alternatively, you can check out some more blog posts:

Thanks to Florian Roquais for the photos.

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Published by rph_writer

Freelance writer and Journalist. Author of Highly Sensitive Nomad.

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