Research by clinical psychologist, Elaine Aron (presented in her book, The Highly Sensitive Person) shows that the trait of high sensitivity applies to about 20% of the population.
Because of their differences and their sensitive nature, many HSPs experience difficulty finding and staying in a job that is a good fit for them. Being different from the majority of others at work can cause them to be ostracized, ignored for promotion, or even bullied. The amount of stimulation in a typical work environment can cause a great deal of stress, over-stimulation, frustration and a sense of overwhelm. Their unique trait means they often have tremendous potential, and work harder than their peers, yet they often feel ignored, undervalued and misunderstood.
We all need to earn a living, and it’s a shame that many HSPs have to work in situations that make them so unhappy. If you are an HSP and you are struggling in your professional life, here are some strategies that will help:
- Know Yourself – before you can expect others to understand you, you must first understand yourself. What are your sensitivities and your abilities? What are your unique talents? What do you particularly enjoy? What conditions enable you to do your best work? For example, do you need absolute quiet? Do you prefer to work alone?
- Accept Your Differences – as an HSP you are different from the majority of people. I’m sure you know this already, but you may put a lot of effort into trying to fit in, trying to be like others, and trying to do things the same way as others. This will never work. You are NOT like everyone else. Comparing yourself to others or trying to do things the same way will only cause you more frustration. You feel and see things differently, you do things differently and you know things that others don’t. Don’t expect others to know what you know – they are not receiving the same sensory input that you are, so they cannot know. The simple act of accepting your differences can bring a great sense of peace.
- Speak up – I know, this can be difficult for HSPs and for introverted HSPs in particular. You may be hesitant to speak up because you have been criticized in the past for being different. This is because people are afraid of what they don’t understand. They don’t understand you and they simply see you as being different, not only from them, but from most people. They can automatically jump to the conclusion that there must be something wrong with you. It’s up to you to put them straight. Knowing yourself at the deepest level, and accepting who you are – really owning it – will bring you confidence. Begin to speak up with confidence. Find someone (a boss, supervisor, or Human Resources professional) who is open and who will listen to you. Tell them what you need in order to be able to work most efficiently and effectively. Do this in a confident way, and not in a complaining way. Stick to facts. You might even point out that there is a trait known as high sensitivity (just like there is a trait of being extrovert or introvert) and you can refer them to Elaine Aron’s research. When you speak up and ask for what you need, you’ll be surprised at how willing some people may be to listen and do something to help you.
- Take Care of Your Energy – because it’s so easy for HSPs to become over-stimulated in a work environment, it’s important to make self-care a priority. There are many things that can help, for example:
- Make sure that your home is your sanctuary, a place where you can re-energize and re-balance yourself;
- Take care of your body by eating fresh, nourishing foods, exercising, and relaxing as much as you need to;
- Take care of your mind, by doing things like spending regular amounts of time alone, making time for prayer, meditation and/or journaling, reading and listening to inspirational messages, etc.;
- Make time for doing things that you enjoy and that are fulfilling to you – this could be at work if your work is very meaningful to you. If it isn’t, then make sure you have something else in your life that has meaning. It could be a hobby, or charity work or self-improvement of some kind;
- Connect with people who understand and support you. This can be difficult for HSPs because you may not personally know anyone else who is like you. There are active communities online, particularly on Facebook, of other HSPs and empaths. These are safe groups where you can share successes and receive input on challenges you’re experiencing. These are people who will understand and listen to you. This is particularly important if you don’t feel accepted and understood at work or at home;
- Make your work environment support you in whatever way you can – even if all you can do is have some plants or pictures of nature in your cubicle, that will help. Use noise-cancelling headphones if you need to and calming/inspiring music if you can. Take regular breaks to calm your mind and your energy. Use essential oils to balance your energy.
- Use Your Gifts – there are things that you know are your unique gifts. What are they? Hopefully you have listed these already, from Step 1. Once you know what they are and you accept that you have them, you want to make sure you use them. Nothing stifles your energy more than not using your innate gifts, talents and abilities. Do you have a strong intuition about certain things, do you know things without knowing how or why you know them? Are you someone that people come to for advice or to tell their problems to? All of these things are clues to your unique gifts. Once you identify them, you must use them in some way – this may be at work, or it may be in other ways. These are gifts that make you uniquely you and they need to be used. If you really don’t know what they are, make it your job now to find out, embrace them, and figure out how to use them.
Elaine Aron, who is the pioneer in this field says: “Someday, we will be so valued, I believe, that organizations will compete for their share of HSPs. Our needs will be met because it will be economically wise to do so.” I think she’s right. Change is coming. Awareness is growing. But until then, we must learn to take care of ourselves.
It is possible for HSPs to thrive in their professional lives, but we can’t wait for other people to know what we need and help us thrive. We have to take the lead. We have to help them to help us. People will understand what we’re really capable of, and see that we’re not a threat. When people see we have a great deal to offer, we will be fully accepted. That’s when organizations will start competing for their share of HSPs. It’s up to us.
These strategies will help you thrive both professionally and personally. This is a great place to start.
P.S. I've put together a Resource Guide for HSPs with 10 of my favorite books and other helpful tools. These have been so helpful for me, and I hope they will be for you too. If you'd like to download the Resource Guide, just click on the button below. You will be asked for your email address so I can send it to you - and because of the anti-spam laws you'll be asked to confirm - but I think you'll agree that it's worth it.