- Highly Sensitive People pick up on more subtle social cues.
- Highly Sensitive People have a heightened mirror neuron system.
- Highly Sensitive People process social interactions more deeply.
Let’s look at each of these a little closer!
HSPs and Subtle Social Cues
Interpersonal conflict is stressful for everyone, but even more so for highly sensitive people. HSPs notice more nuance than the non-sensitive—body language, voice inflection, facial expressions, etc. To HSPs, these so called “subtleties” are often anything but subtle, even if it's just the slightest eye-roll or a nearly imperceptible sigh.
These subtle cues, that non-sensitive people may or may not notice, register with the highly sensitive nervous system as a potential threat (interpersonal conflict is considered as a potential danger to the body). If our nervous system is registering that subtle level of stimuli so clearly, just imagine what happens to us when someone is being openly aggressive!
HSPs tend to avoid conflict because its highly stimulating to their nervous system.
HSPs and Mirror Neurons
Highly Sensitive People have a heightened mirror neuron system and therefore, can more readily and easily imagine and feel what others are experiencing. Mirror neurons are the part of the brain that leads to empathy, emotional attunement, and the desire to take action when witnessing the pain of others.
Highly Sensitive People often avoid conflict not only due to thier own discomfort, but because they are anticipating others’ discomfort as well. Witnessing someone else’s sadness, fear, anger, or slight awkwardness can be very uncomfortable when your mirror neurons are firing more readily.
HSPs and Deep Processing
Highly Sensitive People process information especially deeply, which means they go over their experiences more thoroughly, considering many angles, imagining different possibilities, asking questions, connecting dots, recognizing patterns, etc.
The more time we spend processing and integrating an experience, the more time we spend feeling the emotions associated with the experience. So, after a stressful social interaction, while a non-sensitive person might go about their day and recover quickly, HSPs tend to spend more time reliving it. And while this lends itself to truly impressive social-emotional intelligence (another perk of being an HSP!), it also makes it more challenging for HSPs to calm their nervous system following a stressful interaction.
So, How to Work with it?
Being highly sensitive does not doom you to a life of people-pleasing. HSPs who struggle with people-pleasing often find that understanding boundaries and how to set healthy boundaries can help them tremendously.Understanding codependency, getting curious about what kind of relational modeling we received in our family of origin, and processing our childhood trauma is also helpful.
Mindfulness practices are another way to begin shifting people-pleasing patterns. The more aware we are of our inner experience in the moment, the more choice we have regarding how we wish to respond. The more attuned we are to our bodies, the better we are at calming our nervous system and staying present with ourselves.
- Five Common Misconceptions about Highly Sensitive People
- Cultivating Curiosity: Invite Your Emotions In for Tea
- Self-Care for Highly Sensitive People
- The Highly Sensitive Person: A Form of Neurodivergence
- Boundaries, What Are They?
- What is Codependency?
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Ready to stop people-pleasing? My Lawrence, Kansas counseling practice specializes in providing therapy for highly sensitive adults, therapy for low self-esteem, therapy for anxiety, therapy for codependency, and grief counseling.
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