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Communication and the Sensitive Personality

Popular perception of highly sensitive people is that they can’t take a joke, you have to be careful what you say and you never really know what they want from you. From the highly sensitive person’s (HSP) perspective the regular 80% of the population are loud, tend to be rude and never seem to think about your feelings before they speak. So how do we close the gap? How do we deal with love relationships when there are two such different communication styles?

Having a deep understanding of your communication partner and moving from a place of love is the foundation of any relationship. Even with your co-workers. There are some basic characteristics of communication styles that you should know. If you’ve been following the articles on sensitive personality you know that HSP’s take in more information and then process that information deeply. The more time you spend thinking about something, the more emotion is attached to those thoughts. The brain is also primed to look for connections. So an HSP quickly takes in more information, of both a verbal and non-verbal nature, and then figures out what all the implications of those connections mean.

For instance, if an HSP asks if you would like to go for a coffee and you reply “We could do that.” You might be meaning: Yes. End of sentence. The HSP hears that and thinks of the possibilities: it means that there are other things we could do. It could also mean that you don’t want to do that and you don’t know how to say no (like most HSP’s). It could mean there is somewhere else you’d rather be, or you are too nice to tell them you don’t want to spend time with them, or that you haven’t decided if there is something else better that might come along – for both of you or maybe just you . . . The possibilities are literally endless in those four words. And most of them will go through the HSP’s head for the next 30 minutes, taking away both emotional presence and confidence.

Because of this ability to think through ALL possibilities, HSP’s also pick up on subtleties incredibly easily. If you are of two minds on something, the HSP will be the first to pick up on that. But it also means that their style of communication is subtle, expecting others to understand them. Generally speaking, the 80% of the population that does not have the capabilities of the sensitive personality does not always pick up on the small eyebrow movements, tremors or timbre of voice that would give clues to an emotional state. So when an HSP agrees to something they don’t want to do, hoping that their boss will see how distressed they are by the possibility, they will be disappointed if they are not speaking to an HSP.

The main difficulty in communication on both sides is directness. HSP’s are not direct because they communicate the way they understand. For an HSP, listening to someone being really direct seems both rude and even a little condescending. This perception needs to change on both sides for true communication to take place without hurt feelings.

Challenge #2

This week’s challenge is for both HSP’s and their communication partners. Working on being direct and speaking your truth can have barriers for those who have difficulties with relationships in general. If you feel relationships are dangerous because you’ve had betrayals in the past you may also need to work on your self-esteem, so here are two exercises for you to try:

Exercise 1: Use affirmations before you go into any difficult meetings or conversations to remind yourself that you deserve as much time and space as your communication partners. Think to yourself: I have every right to have my opinions heard as anyone else in this room. Perhaps create a sentence that gives you inspiration to speak your truth, you can pin it to your mirror or keep it in your work desk drawer to remind you when you need some friendly back up.

Exercise 2: Try using concise sentences that convey EXACTLY what you mean. When you like something you can say that, specifically. When you don’t like something you can state that. Still be kind about it, but be specific. Using positives first sometimes softens a blow but still gets your message across. For instance: “I can see the merit in that idea, but it does not work for me.” Or “I can see that you put a lot of effort into this and I really appreciate that, but I will not be able to do that”. Don’t add ‘Not at this time’ or ‘not right now’. Just “I will not be doing that.” If they want to discuss why, remember you don’t have to tell them everything, you don’t owe them an apology and you don’t have to take care of their feelings. It may be uncomfortable in the short run but being direct and truthful creates freedom for you both. We all know where we stand and we can move on.

Some extra difficulties you may encounter is that feeling you are disappointing or hurting someone. You are not responsible for the happiness of every person you encounter. We are each responsible for our own happiness and we have to trust each other, as adults, with the ability to regulate that. We have to let people have their own emotions and not try to manipulate them. That can be excruciating to feel at first, especially since an HSP is so good at feeling other people’s feelings. But you need to focus on yourself and your needs first – NOT last. If you don’t even take care of yourself why should anyone else?

Once you get the hang of being direct but kind, you will find your communication becomes easier and less emotionally messy. That doesn’t mean you are not sensitive and don’t care about others, it means that you are strong enough to allow others to live their feelings too. It becomes one less thing you have to carry around everyday. Enjoy your freedom.

– Gillian Strange-Dell, Psychotherapist and Director of the Emotional Health Dept., Wellness Path. The largest Holistic Health Centre in Durham.

To read last week’s article find it here:

If you want to talk more about it, Gillian Strange-Dell offers a free 30 minute consult at the Wellness Path. Call 905.623.9232 or email to make your appointment.

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