I Cry a Lot, So What? : Self-Care for Highly Sensitive People

by Holly on September 18

I Cry A Lot

I’ve always been a highly sensitive person. When I was six years old, I watched E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial for the first time and could barely cope. I knew it wasn’t real and despite the fact he makes it home to his alien family in the end, I could not stop crying about how poor E.T. got lost, became ill, and was a science experiment for scary-looking humans. And when I say I could not stop crying, I mean I balled my eyes out for what was probably an hour after the movie had finished. I have a distinct memory of sitting curled up in a chair in our kitchen lamenting the terrible, terrible plight of E.T. while my mother swept the floor. She was comforting at first, of course, and then told me to “cut it out, Holly. He got home!” So I got over it, like six year olds do.

This wasn’t an isolated incident. I have a litany of memories of my little-self getting my feelings hurt easily and getting overly distressed about the pain of others as if that pain were my own, even if they were just fictional characters in books or movies.

It made a lot of sense to me when I learned, as an adult, that being a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) is in fact an innate and relatively common personality trait possessed by 15-20% of the population, and spread equally among men and women.

There are, however, more attributes to us folk than emotional sensitivity alone. If you aren’t familiar with the term, it was coined by clinical psychologist, Dr. Elaine Aaron, in 1996 to describe people have particularly sensitive nervous systems, are aware of subtleties in their surroundings, and who are more easily overwhelmed when in a highly stimulating environment. As a result, these individuals tend to feel things more deeply, are more emotionally reactive (not necessarily outwardly) and frequently require periods of down time in order to recuperate from external stimuli.

Being highly sensitive is not to be confused with being introverted (30% of HSPs are extroverts) nor is it to be confused with mental health issues like anxiety or depression, though one might speculate that HSPs are more prone to developing these sorts of issues because of their sensitive natures.

HSPs are highly attuned to their environment and the people around them. Similar to empaths (though I think they may be one in same), HSPs are often intuitive and can immediately sense the tone and energy of a room. This can be a positive thing; however, it can also make life feel a bit intense for the HSP, especially if they lack good boundaries and self-care practises.

Personal Boundaries

It’s been my observation and experience that HSPs are natural objects for other people’s projections and idealisations because psychic and emotional channels are wide open. As Jung wrote, “all projections provoke counter-projection when the object is unconscious of the quality projected upon it by the subject.” In other words, HSPs are more likely to find themselves involved in complicated ego defense wars.

I have attended numerous spirituality-based groups and classes. While I have had joyful and connected experiences with the people there, I’ve also experienced walking away feeling overwhelmed and disoriented by the all the pinging around of people’s raw emotional energy. Too much exposure to these situations without sufficient self-care, and I can start to feel confused about what is my shit and what is another person’s shit. The same thing can occur in one-to-one relationships.

With age and experience, I’ve learned that the key to creating and maintaining boundaries is to identify our most important values and then do our best to stick to them. The more in touch we are with ourselves, our needs and what it important to us, the more likely we are to uphold good boundaries and to step out of, or work through, interactions that engage ours and others’ unconscious gunk.

Protective Visualisations

One of the best tools I’ve learnt to stay centered and feel protected when I might find myself in confronting or emotionally laden situations, is to use protective visualisations. I have two that I use regularly. One is to imagine myself surrounded by a purple mist or bubble: a shield that allows me to interact with other people without absorbing their stuff like the emotional sponge I can be. The other is to erect a mental mirror between myself and the other person/people, so that their ego gunk bounces right back to them, and neither party ends up in swimming in each other’s murky unconscious waters.

Down Time

Getting sufficient down time is vital to feeling safe and engaged in our external worlds. HSPs are not only sensitive to other people, but to high levels of sensory input as well, such as light and sound, which can feel overwhelming depending on the individual’s saturation point. I am very much a people-person and I love loud music in live venues among other sense-inducing activities, but after certain point, I need to bunker down in Holly-land, which usually looks like long walks, music, daydreaming and writing. If you are an HSP, you’ll identify with feeling much happier, centered and productive in the real world when you have had some time to check-out, recharge or just simply be on your own for a while.

Embracing Your Sensitivity

There are benefits to being an HSP. We are said to have rich inner-lives and a natural appreciation for music and the arts. Many HSPs are highly creative people. The most notable benefit it has given me is the ability to feel deep empathy and compassion for other people and that makes me a good social worker.

I’m still a crier, sometimes in movies (a graceful adult weep, of course) but I’ve come to accept this as just one facet of my personality. Every now and then I still feel a pang of shame when somebody sees me cry but, really, so what? When it comes to the people and things I care about, I feel deeply, and sometimes that feeling moves me to tears.

You can find a short self-administered test here if you would like to learn more about the characteristics of HSPs and find out if you are one. (I scored a 17 which apparently makes me certified sensitive, as if I didn’t already know! Waaahhhhhhh!)

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Holly is a social worker, writer and social justice advocate. She became interested in personal development in her early 20s when she stumbled across a web forum where she met members of the Spiraling Up crew. Holly is interested in psychology, spirituality and astrology. She currently resides in Victoria, Australia where she works full-time as a support worker and plays with spoken word and written poetry.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Gail September 20, 2015 at 7:48 pm

Great read Holly! Took the self test at the end and scored at 24 – which explains a lot. (Like how I start to lose it when the man’s seat belt warning beeps for more than 3 seconds…)


Holly September 27, 2015 at 11:34 pm

Thanks Gail!


Saphy Pasy Poos September 27, 2015 at 2:24 pm

Great read Hols!! I can def relate to almost everything you wrote about here…awesome Blog Btw..! thanks for the visualisation tips too, i will try them out next time i feel i need to. Its been a hard journey to love myself being super sensitive, when all i wished is that i was just one of those insensitive fockers who doesnt feel at all, but like you say it can be a big part of creativity and i really dont think id be any good at Audio or writing songs if i wasnt so sensitive..the creative curse i guess. And its nice to know i have a friend who feels it too.


Holly September 27, 2015 at 11:38 pm

Thanks Saphi! Glad it resonated with you. Learning to accept ourselves as we are is a big part of it I think. And I love that our sensitivity increases our creative abilities!


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