What's Wrong with Me?
As a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) myself, I know firsthand how difficult it can be to have strong emotional reactions to things that other people seem to move past quickly, or maybe not even notice at all—it can start to make you feel like there’s something wrong with you! But there is nothing wrong with us as HSPs, we are just wired in such a way that we are more responsive to—and more deeply impacted by—our environment than those who are less sensitive.
The scientific term for high sensitivity is Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS). SPS is not a mental health diagnosis, but rather a temperament trait that is found in 20-30% of the population. In other words, it is a variation of normal; not a malfunction in our system. Researchers believe that Sensory Processing Sensitivity is a survival strategy and has a biological basis—simply put, it benefits animal species to have a small percentage of the population that is more observant and cautious (i.e. highly sensitive). This trait has been found in similar percentages in over 100 different animal species, ranging from fruit flies, to monkeys, to horses.
Is it Overthinking? Or is it Deep Processing?
One characteristic of HSPs is that we process things more deeply than our less sensitive peers. What do I mean by “processing”? I mean that we think about things longer and in more depth. We often aren’t satisfied with a surface level understanding; we want to know what something really means, how it impacts us, and what the larger implications are. And as we process, we also feel. The longer and more deeply we process something, the more opportunity we have to feel the emotions associated with it. Which is one of the reasons why HSPs feel things more intensely and are more deeply impacted by their emotions than the less sensitive.
None of this is a problem in and of itself. I often talk to HSPs who lament how they seem to “overthink” everything. And it’s common for therapists who are not aware of Sensory Processing Sensitivity and what is normal for HSPs, to pathologize this level of processing as “excessive rumination.” But this is just how our brains are wired. And while it might not be the way the majority of people function, it’s perfectly normal, and even healthy, for us as HSPs to think things through thoroughly. This is why Sensory Processing Sensitivity is a form of neurodivergence: because our brain functions differently! And that’s OK.
The Antidote to a Brain and Body that Work Overtime
When we have a brain and body that are wired to process and feel at an exceptionally deep level, it becomes incredibly important that we consciously and intentionally make an effort to get to know our internal world. Why? Because the more aware we are of what is happening inside of us, the more effectively we can actually show up for ourselves and regulate our thoughts and emotions. One way to do this is through strengthening our “inner observer.”
What is the Inner Observer?
Our inner observer is the part of us that watches and witnesses our thoughts, feelings, sensations, and impulses as they are actively unfolding. There are many different names for the inner observer—-the inner witness, meta-awareness, the observing ego, the Self, the Soul, and even Spirit.
Learning to observe our experience is powerful because it begins to expand our level of awareness, and the more awareness we have, the more consciously and intentionally we can live our lives.
Having a well developed inner observer is the basis for all inner child healing work as well—our inner observer not only watches and witnesses our experiences, but it is also a part of us that is wise and is able to remain neutral, curious, and supportive, even during times of great stress.
How nice would it be to have someone with you at all times who loved you unconditionally and was always willing to be there for you when you needed it? This is the kind of presence we can offer to ourselves through developing our inner observer. And this is the essence of inner child healing work—we learn how to offer ourselves the same kind of presence, compassion, and empathy that we are usually accustomed to offering other people.
Our inner observer is there to remind us that all feelings are transient and are simply energy moving through the body. Our inner observer is there to hold space for us and to remind us that we aren’t actually alone. Inner child healing is about learning how to show up and be there for ourselves, no matter how difficult or intense things get.
Learning to Access the Inner Observer is an Important Life Skill
Everyone has an inner observer. It is an inherent part of being human. Having ready access to it, however, requires practice. The more we practice, the more readily we can step into this observant, neutral, curious, compassionate, centered space within ourselves.
The key is practicing this life skill on a daily basis during times when we feel safe and calm. Repetition is how neural pathways are formed and strengthened. When we practice neutrally observing our inner experience, we are changing our brain and forging new neural networks and connections. Practicing during times of relative ease helps assure that we will have ready access to our inner observer during times of stress. Eventually, calling upon the inner observer will become second nature.
Start Practicing Today
Here are a few ways to practice strengthening access to your inner observer.
1. Mindfulness Meditation.
Start a daily mindfulness meditation practice. It doesn’t have to be long—shoot for 2-5 minutes at first. Let your breath be your anchor, and practice watching your thoughts and feeling what it’s like to actually be in your body. Use meditation to get acquainted with your inner world. Read more about how to start meditating in my article about Mindfulness Meditation.
2. Practice becoming aware of your thoughts.
You don’t have to formally meditate to practice mindfulness. You can practice watching your thoughts any time you want throughout the day. Do it while washing dishes, in the shower, or lying in bed before sleep. Approach them through the lens of a journalist or scientist—with neutral curiosity. You are gathering data about what it’s like in your own head. Label the thoughts. Say to yourself, “I was just planning. I was thinking about doing laundry and cooking dinner. And then I was worrying about the paper I have to write tomorrow.” Labeling and naming our thoughts helps create a bit of space and distance from them. We are practicing bringing our thoughts into conscious awareness; we are practicing seeing through the eyes of a neutral observer.
In the same manner, and with the same neutral attitude, practice noticing sensations in your body. You can start at your feet and scan all the way up to the tip of your head. Or you can start with a specific body part, like your hands. Hold something cool and smooth in your palm. Bring your attention to what it feels like against your skin. Simply observe.
4. Observe your emotions.
Practice observing your emotional reactions in the same way. Emotions are energy moving through the body, so feeling emotions always involves labeling and feeling sensations in the body. Notice thoughts and stories that come up in relation to the emotions you are feeling. How do you know you are feeling ______? How is your body telling you that?
5. Practice self-compassion.
Give yourself the same kind of compassion and kindness you would give a friend. The definition of mindfulness is “awareness of the present moment with acceptance.” In strengthening the inner observer, we are practicing being more aware of ourselves with acceptance. No thought, emotion, or sensation is a problem from the perspective of the inner observer. It simply is.
Meet the Author
Ready to heal your relationship with yourself?
Maggie is a therapist based out of Lawrence, Kansas who specializes in therapy for highly sensitive adults, therapy for self-worth, therapy for anxiety, therapy for childhood trauma.
Maggie is passionate about helping people overcome shame and the fear of being their true selves. Breaking the cycles of people-pleasing and self-abandonment is possible; you don't have to suffer alone. Maggie offers online therapy throughout the state of Kansas.
Reach out today to schedule your free 15 minute phone consultation!
Other Services Offered by Maggie
In addition to providing online therapy anywhere in Kansas, Maggie is also a professional astrologer, and offers Birth Chart Readings anywhere in the United States, as well as abroad.
Astrology is a powerful tool for gaining self-awareness, finding meaning in and understanding of our difficult experiences, and for receiving validation regarding our own unique life path. All of which supports our mental health in a positive way!
Interested in getting a Natal Chart Reading? Book a free phone consultation and let’s get started!