Me and my niece at the Kripalu Center. Kripalu is a Sanscrit word meaning "compassion."

Me and my niece at the Kripalu Center. Kripalu is a Sanscrit word meaning “compassion.”

Ready for more intel on my weekend retreat for HSPs (Highly Sensitive People) conducted by Elaine Aron, Ph.D.If you missed the first part of this series, click here. Otherwise, let’s just jump in (or, if you’re highly sensitive, let’s just meander in)…

What to do when the World Overwhelms us

Elaine and many of the other 84 attendees had lots of suggestions for coping with overarousal (which sounds a lot more desirable than it is).

Most of these suggestions can be found in her books or any number of books written by others on the topic.

Many not-so-HSP types could probably benefit from these strategies, too.

** Pick one day a week for a “holiday” away from media and work. Rest, meditate, spend time in nature (near water if possible), and do things you enjoy.

** If you are the compulsive type who works without taking regular breaks to stretch your body and rest your eyes or brain, set an alarm clock in another room for every hour. That way you have to get up, turn it off, and reset it. Use that break to do a little task different from what you were doing, just to reset your mind and body.

** Saying “no” is hard for lots of people, but especially difficult for HSPs. But we have to set our boundaries to protect our emotional and physical health. So try saying, “I’m not sure I can fit that into my schedule. I’ll have to get back to you on that,” or “Gee, thanks, but I don’t think that’s going to work for me.”

** In intimate relationships, communicate clearly and kindly that you need your own private “down time” or that it takes you a while to process things or that you startle easily or hate to be tickled. Better yet, have your partner read Elaine’s book or at least go over your test results with you so you can explain your needs. The goal is to have everyone understand and come to a happy compromise.

The World Needs HSPs

I can say from both personal experience and from listening to the tales of others at the retreat that HSPs have it rough in a world that values fast-paced competition and in-your-face go-getters. We’ve been told all of our lives that there is something “wrong” with us: we’re too shy, too sensitive, too reclusive, overly emotional, indecisive, cry-babies, we can’t take care of ourselves, blah, blah, blah.

Elaine emphasized the highly positive aspects of being a highly sensitive person.

She suggested that we substitute the word “sensitive” with words like “creative,” “intuitive,” “empathetic,” “compassionate,” “thoughtful,” “sensual,” “perceptive,” “imaginative,” “conscientious,” “artistic,” “insightful,” “discerning,” “quick-witted,” “understanding,” “cooperative,” and “astute.”

Among our special gifts to the world are that we pick up on other people’s feelings through subtle cues. We know when to reach out to people in need. We experience love deeply and are very loyal to our partners. Most HSPs have a strong connection to nature, especially to animals–feeling compassion for them as we feel compassion for humans. Many HSPs claim abilities in the psychic realm, picking up on subtle metaphysical stimuli. I know I do.

The bottom line is that high sensitivity is not something that needs to be cured; it needs to be understood and managed!

One of two whites-boards listing HSPs' positive qualities.

One of two whites-boards listing HSPs’ positive qualities.

The second white-board. I think we could have used another.

The second white-board. I think we could have used another.


Not all HSPs are Alike

One of the most striking things I noticed about the people attending the retreat was how different we were from one another.

I fell into the trap that most people who are labeled fall into: if we are alike in one respect, we will be alike in most respects. NOT TRUE!

** About 15% of the attendees were men. That surprised me. I knew there had to be highly sensitive men out there, I just didn’t think they would be brave enough to admit it and pay to go to a retreat. Some were young, but most were middle-aged. A few were 60 or older.

**Among the women, we were all ages, shapes, sizes, and backgrounds. Some dressed business-conference conservative while others chose stretchy-clothes comfortable. Some wore make-up and took time with their hair; and others went native.

** The biggest difference among us, however, was that about 20% of the group were clearly extroverts. Yes, EXTROVERTS. I was stunned and more than a little disconcerted when they so obviously made themselves known right from the start by asking all the questions and dominating Elaine’s time.

How could a person who scored high enough on the HSP scale to be at that retreat also be an extrovert?

According to the Myers-Briggs personality test, an extrovert would agree with the following description: “I like getting my energy from active involvement in events and having a lot of different activities. I’m excited when I’m around people and I like to energize other people. I often understand a problem better when I can talk out loud about it and hear what others have to say.”

An introvert, on the other hand would be more likely to agree with: “I like getting my energy from dealing with the ideas, pictures, memories, and reactions that are inside my head, in my inner world. I often prefer doing things alone or with one or two people I feel comfortable with. I take time to reflect so that I have a clear idea of what I’ll be doing when I decide to act.”

Elaine explains it in this short Psychology Today article, but the brief answer is that introversion/extraversion has to do with sociability not sensitivity. A person can be highly social, but be very sensitive to all the stimuli that all the socializing brings to them, so they need to be careful to create down-town for themselves just like we introverted HSPs do.

She was probably an extroverted HSP, come to think of it...

She was probably an extroverted HSP, come to think of it…

I bet she was an HSP, but not an extrovert. What do you think?

I bet she was an HSP, but not an extrovert. What do you think?

In my final installment of this series, I’ll share a few other observations and some funny misadventures that only I would have trying to get to and from a relaxing retreat.