Relationships for Highly Sensitive People
As Highly Sensitive People (HSPs), we may find it difficult to connect with others due to our heightened sensitivity. When meeting new people, and going to group events, your mind can become quickly overwhelmed by everything you get to know about the person. You might be very alert to their body language and facial expressions. You might want to make a good impression, and might therefore be very intense.
You might be constantly scanning your environment, and all the other people around you, and trying to interpret all their signals and actions, so nothing will surprise you unexpectedly. This leads you to quickly feel drained, and you soon need to tune out. This may lead to on-and-off behavior, as you know you want to be more social and you want to connect, but the very act is taxing for you, especially if you are a highly sensitive introvert, but even HSP extroverts struggle with this.
The problem? You’re treating the act of making friends and connecting with others as a 100-meter “as fast as you can” sprint when it’s in fact a long, slow marathon. Running your gas at max is going to quickly empty your tank. Being too sensitive to other people, too preoccupied with their needs, and making a good impression, will cause you to perceive social relationships as taxing rather than recharging or positive. You want your friends to be people who you can be yourself around. People you feel safe around. People that make you smile when you need it.
Building healthy long-term relationships for the highly sensitive people
Japan is known for being a very polite and formal culture, but in Japanese friend groups, most breathe a sigh of relief once formalities are dropped. In Japan, you talk to strangers formally, and to friends in a more direct and non-formal manner. Similarly, as a highly sensitive person, you might benefit from approaching general social situations in a slightly more guarded and reserved manner, while approaching friends in a more relaxed and easygoing manner.
The idea is that a friend is someone with whom you can express negative feelings, or be yourself around, someone you trust to have your back, even if you aren’t always in positive spirits. You can hang out with your best friend even when tired, and hanging out can be just sitting on the couch together, watching a tv show.
Friendship doesn’t have to be a non-stop thrill ride rollercoaster, and you don’t always have to be funny or of service. Your room doesn’t have to be perfectly clean when they come over. And it can be enough to just meet up and chat for an hour and leave if you don’t feel like staying around longer.
What if you don’t have any friends though? Connecting with people locally online can be a nice and easy way to start connecting with others, and there are plenty of apps like Bumble BFF that can help you find cool people in your area. Going to events on Meetup.com, like board game events, philosophical cafes, and more relaxed socials can be really rewarding too. I don’t recommend parties and large events for the HSPs. Try to focus on smaller group activities, which invite more deep and rewarding connections. In large groups, you can take your time to open up and allow yourself to be more reserved. You can talk more slowly and take more time to open up. You don’t have to be overly friendly or bubbly. You are allowed to be there as a quiet, sensitive introvert, just observing, not talking much. You might connect with people more slowly, but you will experience the connection as more rewarding and effortless.
Building up Oxytocin as a Highly Sensitive Person
In a manner of speaking, it’s all an exercise in building trust with other people. If you are able to relax around other people, you give other people permission to relax around you, too. Think about how the sheep evolved to be so non-threatening and gentle, with its soft fur. Trust can be built in social settings in many ways, for example:
- Shared activities: Engaging in activities together, such as cooking, reading the same book and discussing it later, playing games, working out, sharing a hobby, or taking a class, can help to build oxytocin levels.
- Positive communication: Using positive and affectionate language, such as saying “I love you” or “I appreciate you,” can help to build oxytocin levels.
- Eye contact: Making eye contact and maintaining it during conversations or interactions can also help to build oxytocin levels.
Also, consider the importance of touch also with friends. A simple act such as a high five, a hug, or tapping their shoulder gently can also help people relax more around each other. It’s all about bonding and creating moments and opportunities to bond with one another in a relaxed and authentic manner, that feels comfortable for you. If you approach the act of making friends as something taxing for you, you pay the price later down the line. Perhaps you overwhelm yourself, or the other person, who might just also be a highly sensitive person. It’s not that rare. At least 20% of the general population shows a higher-than-average sensitivity.
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