7 Ways to Support Sensitive SoulsHighly sensitive people are too often perceived as weaklings or damaged goods. To feel intensely is not a symptom of weakness, it is the trademark of the truly alive and compassionate. ~Anthon St. Maarten
Not everyone is familiar with the term Highly Sensitive Persons (HSPs), but chances are you probably know someone who fits the definition. To generalize, we can say that HSPs experience life on a larger spectrum than the average person — both highs and lows.
This is neither inherently good nor disadvantageous — it all depends on how well an HSP manages his or her sensitivity. As an HSP myself, I can say one of the greatest challenges is handling big emotions.
And if you’re in a relationship with an HSP, it can also provide a challenge for you! Ultimately, everyone must own their personal responsibility to grow self-awareness and manage their emotions.
But for any of you supporting someone with big, sensitive emotions on their quest to learn and grow, here are some tips from my own experience as an HSP.
1. Meet Them Where They’re At
If your loved one is an HSP, it is very important for you to join him or her in their (heightened) emotions. Even if you are not an HSP, for their sake, up your intensity a notch or two … just briefly.
Regardless if the emotions are anger, frustration, sadness, disappointment, despair or X, try to mirror them. Show them that you understand that X is a big deal — because that’s how it feels to them.
Your loved one will feel seen, heard and validated — that you get it. This will have a better, natural calming effect than you trying to force calm on them from the outset.
2. Be Affectionate
When I feel really riled up, sometimes the last thing I think I need or want is to be held. Usually, when I’m still expressing big emotions, I don’t want to be touched just then.
But once that’s cleared out, and I’m starting to feel some calm and relief, loving touch has a powerfully positive effect. My husband has been learning to strategically reach out to me gently and in small ways — a hand on mine, sitting close, arm around my shoulder — until I’m ready for full-on hugging.
Remember to hold that hug nice and long for maximum effect! Added bonus: breathe deeply. Together.
3. Practice Active Listening
Even though the extremity of your HSP’s emotions has abated, your HSP probably still needs to talk it out — a lot. Active listening doesn’t simply mean that you’re quiet and your loved one is doing the talking.
Active listening means that you’re emotionally engaged. Encouraging small, relatively non-invasive amounts of physical contact while the big feeler is talking it out is huge.
Other great small things you can do for a big impact are
- Maintain intent eye contact
- Sprinkle in head nods, “Umhmm’s” and “Ah-hahs” and such
- Ask brief questions such as “How so?” or say “Tell me more”
4. Gently Coach
Your HSP is calmed down and feeling seen and heard. Now you’re ready to start asking deeper questions to help them gain some insight into why they were triggered into such big emotional distress.
Re-cap what the HSP shared about his or her emotions and thoughts. Say “So, I hear you saying that you feel (disillusioned, irritated, slighted, etc.) and that you’re thinking that it’s your fault, no one loves you, this is never going to end, etc.”
Get confirmation from the person that you’ve understood them well. Then, ask them when they know they’ve felt this way before. Work together to try to discover patterns and thus glean insight from the experience.
5. Just Be There
Your HSP wants to know that you’re not frightened, annoyed or disgusted by their big emotions — that you’re not going to leave them when they need you most. Riding out those big emotions is a huge testimony to them that you really do care a lot about them.
They know they’re sometimes not awesome to be around when they’re “feeling big.” They know it’s difficult and not how you wanted to spend your Saturday night.
But just lovingly and patiently sitting it out speaks volumes to an HSP and grows their sense of trust and security in you and your relationship.
6. Less is More
Whether it’s during the big emotional outburst, during the long hug, or while you’re listening or coaching, don’t be afraid of silence and long pauses. Don’t worry about having a lot to say.
When your HSP is ready to talk, you’re just a discussion facilitator anyway. Just as you don’t want to try to cajole an HSP into suddenly not feeling big (anything that equates to “Just calm down,” is pretty much the worst thing you could say at any point in a big deal moment), don’t try to force them to process their emotions and thoughts before they’re ready, and don’t offer premature solutions.
7. Let it Go
You HSP might worry that they are a burden on you. They are intentionally working on better managing their sensitivities and your awesome support is helping a ton.
But no one is perfect (and they probably suffer from perfectionism), and they will likely feel very self-conscious after an emotional trigger of big proportions. After all the processing, your HSP really wants to just let it go and move on.
He or she might be feeling a bit embarrassed and will likely apologize. The kindest response you can have is to reassure them that you love them and are happy to be there for them. Then move on as if it’s no big deal.
Life isn’t easy as a Highly Sensitive Person, and if there is low self-awareness, high sensitivities and big emotions can be a huge liability. Remember to encourage and praise the HSP in your life as he or she intentionally seeks to better understand themselves and regulate their emotions.
An HSP will never not live life on a broader emotional spectrum, and we wouldn’t want that anyway. By utilizing these seven tips for how to help HSPs navigate emotional distress, however, you can successfully support your loved one’s goal of better overall emotions management and also likely cut down on the length and severity of the emotional distress in the moment.