The HSP World Podcast Ep. 34: Highly Sensitives Navigating Relationships

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This podcast is brought to you by The HSP World Mastery Program dedicated to inspiring and empowering HSPs. 

Thomas: Hi and welcome to The HSP World podcast. With each episode we have a conversation about an interesting HSP-related topic.

We’re not coaches or therapists. We’re HSPs holding space with you. I’m one of your hosts, Thomas and your other hosts are; 

Robyn: Robyn.

Rayne: and Rayne.

Robyn: Welcome back everybody to another episode of our podcast. We have a special new topic for you today. Something that we haven’t touched on explicitly before, but that I’m sure a lot of you have been wondering about, and it is one of the classic questions a lot of HSPs ask themselves.

So today we’re talking about relationships between HSPs and HSPs, versus HSPs and non-HSPs.

Well, we’re going to look at both and we’re going to explore what are some of the strengths and challenges that might come up in this pairing of a person who is Highly Sensitive and a person who is either the same or not as sensitive.

And one thing that we’d like to flag for you is that this is actually a topic that’s been written about in depth by Elaine Aron, probably others as well, but she actually devotes a couple of chapters of her book, The Highly Sensitive Person in Love, to exactly that topic.

She’s mainly discussing romantic relationships and partnerships. We’re going to try to expand that today too, and talk a little bit about friendships as well. Or other relationships that you might have more generally.

But if you haven’t seen that book you know, it comes really highly recommended. There’s an entire chapter on HSPs with non-HSPs and a second chapter on HSPs together. So fun stuff to check out. 

Rayne: So we’re going to be talking about a couple of examples of our personal experiences with HSPs or a non- HSP, and just kind of, what we’ve noticed? 

Robyn: Yeah. Okay. Let’s start looking at HSPs and non-HSPs. I actually have a copy of Elaine Aron’s book here.

She breaks up each chapter into discussing some of the strengths and benefits that come from a partnership of an HSP with a non-HSP.

And, then she also talks about some of the struggles to anticipate or potential conflicts or difficulties that could arise.

So some of the benefits, first of all, more flexibility and strength within the team or the partnership, right?

You have more versatility. One person can specialize in being Highly Sensitive and everything that that brings while the other can specialize in being less sensitive and all the benefits that that brings. So you have this whole range of sensitivity levels available to you as a team or a partnership, right?

So one person can, I don’t know, go out into the crowd, do all the phone calls and the errands and stuff more easily than the other person who might be doing, I don’t know, more sensitive work, I guess you could say.

It will certainly be an interesting relationship, right? You’ll have different contrasts to discuss and different perspectives to share with each other.

I know that’s something that I can relate to is having a different perspective from your own way of thinking. So it will open you up to that.

It will also, you know, you can also rub off on each other, right? So individually you can become more versatile and learn sometimes how to behave a little bit the way that non-HSP might, whereas they might behave a little bit more as an HSP would.

And then she says something else that’s interesting here for the HSP specifically in that kind of relationship. If you’re with a non-HSP partner, I guess friend who, who really does love and respect you, you benefit from having an affirmation of your sensitivity, right? Which is something that can be very difficult in our culture, as we’ve often said, right.

So having someone who sees you as you are and appreciates that part of you, can be very affirming for you in your own life. 

Thomas: Well, I can definitely speak to the HSP/non-HSP relationship. That’s my main relationship. And, you know, one of the things that I really appreciate about the relationship is that I get pushed out of my comfort zone.

I mean, in one way, it feels, you know, it’s like, no, I don’t want to be pushed out of there, but in truth, I do. Right? In truth, I know that when I get pushed out of my comfort zones, as an example, calling someone on the phone or just calling like, ‘Hey, let’s order some pizza,’ or whatever. I was always reluctant to do that. It was not the thing I wanted to do, but my partner does insist that I do it and it’s good.

It’s something that I know it’s a way for me to grow and expand. So that’s something that I really do appreciate. Another thing is I know that we have adventures that I would not normally choose. Whether it’s traveling to  certain countries or even just, you know, the choices that we make in where we go on a weekend.

Again, it’s something that I feel it expands my horizons and I know that I do the same for my partner. We go to places that she wouldn’t have chosen.

And as we reflect, you know how when you are with someone for a long time, you start reflecting and thinking of different memories and things that have happened. You know, you get to laugh over silly things and a lot of those are just a direct result of places that I chose or the places that she chose that, given, if we’re just ourselves, we wouldn’t have chosen to go to those places. So we have great memories that we built up as a result. 

Robyn: Funny. I’m seeing that actually in the book as well. And she’s saying how the HSP will benefit because they’re going to have more adventures. They’ll be brought on more adventures. And then the HSP will take their partner on HSP-type adventures. 

Thomas: Yeah. It’s definitely true. I mean, we definitely take on certain roles. You know, like I have the role of the person who reads the maps and gets us to places. And she has the role of interacting with people more, more than I do, so, so we found a way to be as a unit. 

So, I like that. And then there’s also the part of, as I had mentioned, when you grow as a person, you know, I came out of young adulthood with some shadows, with some things that I didn’t like about myself.

And I think just by myself, I think those would have persisted.

But with having someone else there, especially someone who is not an HSP. Those types of things are surfaced. I don’t know if I’m expressing it right, but sometimes there are, there are things that you, make up about yourself or things that you’ve learned about yourself that are not, Hmm. I don’t want to say not true, but I think it’s more like, they’re aspects of yourself you don’t like, and there’s a way that your partner can help shine a light on those and bring a little bit of resolution to them, I guess.

Robyn: It’s like you’re predicting what’s in the book because that’s in there too. She says, you’ll learn more about your shadow. you’ll learn more about that side and help you bring it to awareness. 

Thomas: When I was a young adult, I definitely did not like how I was so afraid of interacting with people. I was so… and I know the word shy gets overused, but I guess it was more than that. It was really like, I shied away from conflict to the extent that, that I shied away from, from relationships because of fear of conflict, right?

I didn’t even want to connect with people because I had the fear that, well, if I connected with people there would be some sort of conflict somewhere, and I didn’t want to deal with it, you know? So that was a shadow that I had that my partner helped me with, right?

It’s like, yeah, you have to deal with conflict. It’s just, that’s part of being human and part of being connected is dealing with conflict. So it’s helped me a great deal, to have her help me with that.

Now one of the challenges that I have in the relationship is that we just, we have different, we have different responses to things. And so things that I react to, she may not react to.

And she definitely reacts to a lot of things that I don’t react to at all. So that can be a challenge.

Robyn: Yeah, but you know, I’ve seen that with HSPs in an HSP/HSP relationship too. So I think actually I do want to highlight a point here, which is that, all HSPs actually would do well to pay attention to these dynamics that can crop up between an HSP and a non-HSP; because it’s very unlikely that you will find many people who are the exact same kind of sensitivity, who’ll have the exact same level and type of sensitivity as you do.

It’s pretty much impossible to find someone who has exactly the same profile. You can be similar, but someone will always be more sensitive than another one, right?

Cause we’re all we’re along this spectrum of sensitivity. Because even if two HSPs are in a relationship together, at times, it might feel like one is a non-HSP because you’re talking about something that, you know, for example, I’m not particularly sensitive to fabric and I don’t really know anyone who is, but if I were to have a friend or a partner who was extremely sensitive to fabric, I would be like a non-HSP to them.

I would be looking at them saying, ‘Yeah, I really, I don’t get it.’ Right? So then that’s where this kind of dynamic that we’ve been talking about. I mean, that’s one small example, but inevitably there’ll be different things that we might be more or less sensitive to. So you have to keep that in mind.

I don’t have very many experiences that come to mind of close relationships with non-HSPs these days, not recent ones.

I do have a very good friendship with a friend who’s not an HSP, and I really enjoy that dynamic because we definitely like to trade perspectives a lot. She’ll tell me, oh, Robyn, you’re my ethical conscientious friend, like, uh, tell me, you know, tell me what’s the sensitive thing to do here.

And I’ll tell her, oh, you’re my pragmatic friend, you know, you can just kind of tune out the noise and do what you gotta do. And I mean, I’m, I’m overgeneralizing here, right?

But these are two, this is an area where our sensitivities don’t line up and it’s led to so many fruitful conversations and exchanges over the last couple of years and, it’s really helped me to talk to her about some things and sometimes she’ll ask me my opinion. So, and the thing that, that, again, that really makes it key is that the respect is there, right?

Um, sometimes she’ll, she’ll ask me or I’ll tell her how I feel about something and she’ll say, ‘Wow, I really, that’s just not how I see the situation,’ but it’s really interesting that you see at that way. And she means it, you know? So that’s a fun kind of exchange.

And I am thinking of another relationship where it was with a person who was not HSP, but had many HSPs in their life.

And so, they kind of already understood what I was talking about and they were very open and receptive to it and they were like, ‘Yeah, I really appreciate working with highly sensitives.’ And to them it was very normal. They were surrounded by HSPs.

So again, it’s like the most important thing really is how do you see your own sensitivity or how does the other person see sensitivity as a Trait? Is it respected and appreciated as a difference, or is it treated as a problem, as an anomaly, as something that needs to be worked on. 

Thomas: It’s such a gift to have friends that respect your sensitivity.

Rayne: Absolutely.

Robyn: And, and their, own 

Thomas: and their, and their own. 

Robyn: Yeah.

Rayne: So when the question first came up about relationships between HSPs and non-HSPs, I for some reason instantly went to relationships between HSPs and HSPs. Not necessarily romantic or anything, but just relationship, right?

And I found something, well, this is what sort of helped me a little bit, kind of, because I was, I was trying to… I had never thought before this topic came up, I hadn’t really thought about the relationships I have, and are they with HSPs or non-HSPs and have I noticed a difference?

So I kind of had to go back to, I went back to square one… So I’m reading, I’m reading this out of a study of 2018.

The floral metaphor distinguishes orchids, so that’s a high level of sensory processing. Tulips, they have a moderately sensitive. And dandelions, they’re the lowest level of sensitivity.

I would take that to mean, you know, after dandelions comes a non-HSP, kind of thing, to some degree, because we’ve talked about this before and sensitivity is on a spectrum, right?

So for me, when I started thinking about this, I had to recognize and say, okay, so, on this, floral metaphor, I guess I would fall under orchids, so that’s high level of sensory processing. So that’s good for me to know.

And a really good friend of mine is also an orchid. And for me, our relationship is different from other relationships I have. And, um, I think part of the reason was, was this person, we learned around the same, I think they had learned a couple of years earlier that they had the HSP Trait.

But I find for me, there’s a level of understanding when we share time and space with each other. There’s just a depth to our friendship that’s rare. There’s like unspoken understandings because we’re focused on our own, but we’re also focused on the others’ state of being, you know what I mean?

Like, like I’ll be, I’ll be, I won’t know I’m doing it in a way, but I’ll be looking to pick up cues as to whether, is she feeling overwhelmed? Is she feeling anxious? How, you know, that kind of thing?

I’ve just been finding like over the past few years that, it just feels like we’re just quite compassionate with one another and supportive of one another. I don’t know, we just communicate with one another openly, asking questions. Again, I think it’s because we both know we have the Trait, so we’re more aware of our sensitivities.

So then it makes it easier to ask the other person, you know. Or for the other person to share. Yeah. Gee, you know, it’s been quite, quite the last couple of days. I’m, uh, I, I’m feeling overwhelmed, it just, it’s, it’s easy to say, it’s easy to, it’s easy to communicate in it. So in a way, it’s more challenging because we’re communicating in different ways and are picking up on the subtleties.

So the other person’s voice, hesitation, facial expressions, length of time since our last connection. Because, it was funny, we hadn’t connected for about three months and my friend emailed me and she was like, you know, is, I’m not a very good friend, you know, I haven’t been in touch and, this is why and that type of thing.

But I completely understood. you know, she was basically sharing to me that she thought that that was a downfall of hers was that she feels overwhelmed and then she’ll retreat kind of thing. Right? So, so yeah, and I can see, you know, I’m, I’m sure I’ve done that as well. Right?

But there’s also really cool things like we’ll be chatting about something related to High Sensitivity and how we’re experiencing an aspect of it. So that’s really, I find that really helpful just to know somebody else is experiencing it as well.

Yeah. I find our relationship highly rewarding simply because the level of understanding is already there. I’m not required to try to translate what I’m feeling, understanding and thinking as much, or in as much detail. You know, my friend just gets it. 

Thomas: Yeah, I have a friend like that too. And I just appreciate just the level of sympatico that, that we have over our sensitivity.

Thomas: After the break, Robyn continues the discussion on relationships with other HSPs. We’ll be right back, after this.

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Robyn: I have quite a lot of experience with relationships with other Highly Sensitives. I don’t know how I’ve done it, but the last few years I seem to have really surrounded myself mainly with HSPs or people who are close, close to being considered HSPs.

So I think what Rayne has just described I think is, gets very much at the, advantages of two people with having the same Trait. But I’m going to add there, I think that the most important for me, because I’ve also had relationships with HSPs go bad. Whether friends or romantic relationships, I’ve had very difficult dynamics.

And I think the key piece in all of that is, that whoever is, I mean, in any relationship with an HSP, but even more so with two HSPs, self-acceptance of sensitivity. Awareness, first of all, and then acceptance of it is extremely important.

Because to the extent that people don’t understand, realize, or give themselves enough, or their partners enough space to be sensitive in the ways that they need to be sensitive. Then it’s just painful and you’re constantly in rejection of self rejection of the other, or both.

And it’s not like it’s something that you can get away from, right? It’s not like, okay, we have different interests or we disagree on something. It’s, it’s your way of being, it’s your way of acting. It’s your way of processing life around you. So everything can be impacted for the worse.

So, another thing that I’m thinking of here is, an example would be if you, um, I had a Highly Sensitive roommate who had very different sensitivities from mine. So, she would ask for, you know, the house to be quiet after a certain time. And then I would feel very restricted in my movements. And, these are things that now I’m a little bit more comfortable discussing my own boundaries in terms of managing sensitivities and the other person’s boundaries.

So now I feel like I’m in a place where I could talk about that more comfortably, but at the time, I didn’t really know how to articulate, like, okay, I want to, you know, respect your request for the house to be quiet, but I’m feeling a little bit put upon. And I, you know, I don’t like not being able to move around after a certain time.

So, communication is important. Communication, but also just, you know, accepting, all right, I feel this way about certain things, or this is what happens to me under certain conditions and we both need to respect that. 

Rayne: That’s a good point.

Yeah. I, you know, it’s funny because when, when I was trying to think of the differences I’ve noticed in my relationships with non-HSPs versus with HSPs, I don’t know, I found a lot has depended, and depends, present tense, first on my own relationship to my sensitivities. And secondly, on that other person.

So for me, my main significant relationship, cause this is about relationships. My main significant relationship is with myself. So for me, it’s prioritizing that.

Yeah, I’ve been finding the most relationship I can have is with my own sensitivities first.

How I view sensitivity, how I view my own sensitivities, what sensitivities do I have? And to what extent do I have a particular sensitivity? Have I noticed a change in the strength of that particular sensitivity over time? And recognizing if there’s still sensitivities that I need to accept and honor. 

You know, because learning to tune into my sensitivity that’s like fully embracing who I actually am, not what’s convenient or standard for the majority, right? 

Robyn: Yeah. 

Rayne: That to me has been the biggest challenge is to connect, accept, and honor my sensitivities. Because for me, for a long time before I knew that I had the Trait, I spent the majority of my time feeling incredibly challenged by my sensitivities. I didn’t even know what they were. That that’s what it was at the time and adopting survival habits that were not beneficial right? 

Robyn: Yeah. 

Rayne: So while I found it really helpful to create stronger boundaries with others, you know, turning down invitations and stuff like that, it’s also been about creating boundaries with myself, to allow myself to use my sensitivity in a way that supports, you know, a healthy lifestyle for me.

And it’s not going to look the same as for anybody else, and it’s ongoing, like it’s ongoing. I, I it’s, it’s, it’s a continual growth process and I have to constantly check in with myself you know, because how I operated before finding out I had the Trait was about apologizing away or ignoring, right? 

Robyn: Yeah.

Rayne: My sensitivities. So it’s, it’s a lot different now, it just seems to be getting more and more nuanced and, yeah. Interesting.

Robyn: So my experience of being in a relationship with someone who’s around equally sensitive, and also accepting of it. So there isn’t like a, an active self-rejection there, is basically the kind of dynamic that you’re describing Rayne, but then amplified because we, right, because we each have with ourselves, but then we also constantly have that discussion with each other and on a, on a couple level, right?

Like, okay. So the couple is going to be easily overwhelmed. The couple is going to easily have things that they cannot, you know, that they’re not comfortable doing or just drains them, right, of energy.

So it’s that same, we’re, we’re confronted with that same idea of, okay, there’s certain things that I have to say no to, there’s certain things that really, you know, they, they may not seem what the average person would do, but we’ve got to set it up that way.

And it’s one of the differences, one of the challenges compared it to a relationship of an HSP with a non-HSP. Cause as we were saying before, you can do a little bit that division of labor, right? Give the HSP more of the tasks and, and, I guess, well, anyway, you delegate to them whatever it would be that would overwhelm the HSP more easily. 

Rayne: Hmm. 

Robyn: But if you’re both Highly Sensitive you can’t do that. So you have to be, you have to be more creative. I don’t know. It’s still, still a work in progress. You have to be more creative.

You also just have to, I think, accept certain limits on things. And, uh, and you have to constantly be talking about it and checking it. It’s a lot of communicating and checking in. But that’s good too. That’s good because, you know, then at least, I mean, I would be having those conversations just with myself anyway, or those considerations just by myself anyway.

So sometimes it’s nice to have another person who shares that reality. And says, okay. Yeah. I’ve got to manage that too.

And I’ve noticed that as well with friends, with coworkers when you’re… Um, it’s actually interesting with coworkers as well. I have some highly sensitive colleagues And it’s nice because again, I find when you’re in a shared situation with similar pressures, it’s so nice to have a chance to talk together and, and compare notes on. Okay. How do you get through that stressful part of your job? How do you get through that, you know, that stressful situation or overwhelming situation? 

Rayne: Hmm.

Thomas: It sounds to me like a beautiful safe harbor. It’s like a retreat that you can go to with your, your partners. And, you know, I love that idea of the safe harbor. 

Robyn: And it can also be, I mean, the, Yeah, it can strengthen the friendship or the relationship in some ways, because you know, when you are aware of what it can mean to, to be Highly Sensitive and have those needs right, then you, it, it can be easier for you to say, okay, this is how I can help that person.

You can maybe recognize overwhelm more easily and say, okay, I have to, this is where we need to step in and like, say, okay, let’s assess the situation. Is this an overwhelm situation? Okay, what can we do here? You know? Well, let’s talk very carefully about preventing overwhelm, stuff like that. So it allows you to anticipate their needs bit better. Right.

I do want to say though, like, it’s very much a question of degree, right? Because I think the most difficult scenarios are when people are very far apart on the spectrum. When you’ve got someone who’s really, really low sensitivity with someone who’s really, really high sensitivity, that’s gonna, you’re going to be worlds apart.

That’s always going to feel a little bit difficult. And I have had, a different roommate that I lived with was definitely not an HSP. Was respectful and with curiously, you know, ask me questions about it. But every time I could see, he was just like, wow, that’s, that is not how my brain works. Not at all.

And it was just kind of a, yeah, it was, uh, you know, occasionally it felt a little alienating, but other times it was just like, okay, we’re different. That’s fine. You know.

Thomas: Yeah, it just points out how important respect is in a relationship, and to your point Rayne how important it is to know yourself and to have a positive relationship with your sensitivities.

Rayne: Yeah. 

Thomas: Well, thank you Robyn. Thank you, Rayne. I think this was a wonderful conversation. 

Rayne: Yeah, I really enjoyed it, great topic. Um, I’ll be thinking about it a little bit more thinking and feeling into it a bit more.

Thomas: Yeah, me too. 

Robyn: Well, thank you. And of course thank you to our listeners.

So please join us for our next episode where we’ll be having another interesting HSP conversation and to any Highly Sensitive out there who have a burning HSP-related question, big or small, we invite you to ask it on the HSP World podcast, just email and a friendly reminder to visit the HSP world website at HSP dot world. 

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Music credit: Intro and Outro music from the YouTube Music Library. Song is Clover 3.

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