How Highly Sensitive People Can Overcome Feeling Misunderstood

There may be times when you may feel others don’t understand you fully, or perhaps at all. 

Being misunderstood may relate to a certain situation and what you say or how you act; when how it’s meant and subsequently received are at odds with each other. 

Feelings of frustration or even anger may come up as a result. 

And from the outset, I assume you’re aware of your sensitivity, at some level, and I’ll consider examples when others are either knowledgeable of the HSP Trait, say a close friend, or ignorant of it, for example, a total stranger.

With family and friends—if they aren’t aware you have the trait, would you (and they) benefit if you shared it?  

This would depend on if you feel comfortable doing so, and might, in part, be tempered by the reaction you think (not necessarily) you’ll receive from them.

If you’re in a family unit where members of the group are dismissive about your sensitivity, then your concern about noise or light, say in a restaurant, might be met with, “get over it,” deal with it,” e.t.c. 

In other words, an adult version of “toughen up” phrase you may have heard as a child.

For me, I like to think of a traffic light system; green being optimum, while still being all too easy to leave this zone. 

Amber would be raised stimulation, where ideally you would act on the signals, to reduce the effect, if you are aware; and red would be full-on overwhelmed. 

You may have experienced going from green to red in a split second. 

Let’s go back to the restaurant. If the ambiance, staff, table location spike you, then appropriate avoidance would be sensible. 

Walk straight back out, or ask for a different table. 

To some, this might seem like overreacting. But for an HSP it’s going from Amber to Green, rather than potentially going the other way. 

Think of it as helping you live an authentic life as an HSP; it might be easier for some than others initially, but until we have “HSP-friendly” restaurants, it’s the best way in this scenario to avoid feeling misunderstood.

Imagine you’re attending a course or going to a party, (the pandemic won’t last forever). 

If you’re an HSP and introverted, all sorts of thoughts will be coursing through your mind—we never simply have a single thought, do we?

Questions like: What am I going to say? How can I get beyond small talk? Will I put people off if I go straight to a deep topic? Will I be liked?

Will I become overwhelmed when it’s my turn to speak? Are there too many people? Is there too little space? Is it too dark, or noisy?

Will the people I meet be understanding? Will people assume that I am shy or think I am “weird”? Will my “narcissist detector” see the warning signs early enough, so I can make myself scarce?

While you can surround yourself with friends who at least accept you as you are, without necessarily knowing about the HSP Trait, types of events such as a work social evening, a student reunion, or a wedding party will contain a majority non-HSP mix. 

If you feel you can’t politely decline altogether and remember the aim is to avoid Red, what can you do to minimize your exposure?

Keep in mind that there is nothing wrong with you! 

Sure, you are perhaps a little different from the majority, and you may be less talkative, feeling uneasy in a large social group, where many people don’t know each other.

It is easy for others to assume your silence is because you are shy, disinterested, or simply aloof, this last one being the default I give off. 

I may be simply in my thoughts or focusing on what I’m currently doing. I appreciate that from the outside I could come across in these ways. 

I would never make one of those talkative taxi drivers, who give you their life history, or ask what you’re doing in their city, then promptly tell you the best places to eat in or areas to avoid. 

I’ve said the wrong thing on occasion due to feeling overwhelmed rather than insensitivity. 

This probably wouldn’t have happened if I were writing an email and had space and time to choose my words carefully and no time pressure to reply instantly. 

Sadly if you correct yourself, this backtracking is not seen as a mistake but more devious behavior. 

Over time I’ve got better at this, yet doubt it can be avoided completely. 

I find the way forward is to work on your reaction. And this needs to be considered in light of any reinforced message you may have internalized over time e.g. “I’m weird”, “there’s something wrong with me” e.t.c. 

Keep in mind that there is nothing wrong with you.

Say you’re at a wedding of about 100 guests, anywhere between 15-20 people there will also be an HSP. Even if they don’t know about the HSP Trait, they will be feeling similar to you and find it awkward to strike up a conversation with a stranger about superficial things.

Perhaps they will be outside taking some fresh air, or in the kitchen at a party. 

With some practice and your natural intuition, you can assess who is likely to be receptive to you and who is not. 

If all else fails, ground yourself with wildlife until you can make your apologies and leave – pet the neighbor’s dog at the party, or the birds on the pond at the hotel reception.

Some things you can no doubt get more accustomed to, if not fully okay with, would be suggesting a place that you already know would mean there would be fewer chances of a surprise, which would reduce your overall level of stimulation.

If you’re a man reading this, it is worth stating the different experience you may have as a man with high sensitivity and being misunderstood. 

In the Western world at least, the default is to be an alpha male, with its varying definitions, including characteristics such as having a thick skin, being composed under pressure, two aspects less common in an HSP. 

I can multitask, yet I can feel the pressure that doesn’t always sit well. 

Increasingly all employees are expected to multitask, and if you can’t or don’t want to, you’re destined to clash with the mainstream non-HSP world. 

As previously mentioned, choosing who you surround yourself with and what social events you attend can drastically reduce your exposure to those who may not be appreciative of the positive, let alone the more challenging parts of being an HSP.

Learning as much about yourself and the trait is part of the evolution of an HSP. 

Consider taking a Myer-Briggs and Enneagram test if you haven’t already. The test results can give you a different insight into yourself and be part of your increasing self-knowledge.

Your work and workplace can inevitably play a huge part in your well-being as an HSP. Ensuring you do work that fulfills you and motivates you, rather than just being driven by the money you receive, is worth looking at in avoiding misunderstandings.

What are some strategies you’ve tried to avoid feeling misunderstood?


Interested in a similar topic? Read or listen to The HSP World Podcast Ep. 7: How Can Highly Sensitive People Manage Their Energy?


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David is a Highly Sensitive Person, High Sensation Seeker and INFJ. He is an integrative therapist and HSP mentor to parents of highly sensitive children. He lives in Stroud, UK, and in his spare time he reads, writes, cooks, cycles, and enjoys music and time with his family.

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