The Dark Side of Highly Sensitive People
by Sally Mynewskin*
I work with a lot with Highly Sensitive People in my private psychotherapy practice. I have two very different perspectives on them.
(When I am finished with this article I expect to get a lot of unhappy, critical responses.Years ago I would not have written this article. I didn’t want to take the crap I expect to get. Yes, a part of me is an HSP. But because of my evolution, I have toughened my hide and am jumping into the pit and bracing for blowback).
What You See and What You Get
Perspective 1: Indeed HSP folks are creative, artistic, friendly, misunderstood and under-appreciated. Their inward reflections and thoughtfulness adds a lot to the understanding of human dynamics. And the world would be emotionally and intellectually poorer if they didn’t exist. So a tip of the hat to the contributions they make to marriage, family and society.
But there’s a definite dark side to an HSP.
Perspective 2: Their hypersensitivity makes HSPs really difficult to live with. They are rarely direct with their wants and needs. They pout when don’t get what they want. They hate conflict and disagreement, so they don’t speak up or negotiate effectively. They give lip service to change as long as “We can be nice to each other.”
They hope their minds get read so they don’t have to assert themselves to get what they want. They are often passive aggressive.
They feel abused when raised voices happen during normal marital disagreements.
I Don’t Want to Hear It
When they show up in couple’s therapy and I give them feedback or insights into their own contribution to their marital mess (believe me, there is never an innocent participant in marital distress), they get testy, defensive and howl that I am picking on them.
If I soften my feedback so they can handle it, they miss the point and merrily believe they are innocent and the partner is the real culprit for the mess the marriage is in. I have to edit what I say to walk the thin line between insight and confrontation, while offering tools and teaching communication skills.
And they don’t really believe they need or want to be taught better communication and negotiation skills – which means being more assertive – which may lead to tension and disagreement. For HSPs such change is to be avoided like a pit of rattlesnakes.
So, to recap. HSPs are misunderstood (which is what most of humanity thinks as well) and under-appreciated (also, which most of humanity believes), and they do make insightful, creative contributions to the world in many, many fields.
But they can be a pain in the ass to live with.
We Need to See Someone
What happens if one HSP marries another HSP? I can only speak for those that show up in my practice. They enter therapy with one of two major complaints:
Their kids are in trouble or underachieving.
They describe their marriage as stable but boring. There is no passion. They want more passion in their marriage but do not want to do anything that may arouse a strong emotion in their partner. Trying to get them to create some energy in their relationship so it has more life is like trying to start a fire underwater.
HSPs see the irony. There is little passion without strong self-definition. But they do not want to tolerate the tension for the sake of a more alive marriage.
That’s all for now.
Comments are welcome. But please be gentle.
* A pseudonym