Friday, February 03, 2012

HSPs, Boundaries, Feeling Good, and Finding Balance

Sometimes it pays to pause to consider why you do what you're doing.

What motivates your choices?

There are lots of things we choose to do, in life. Often we are motivated to do things because they make us feel good. Of course, sometimes we're also motivated to do things because they are "good for us." Although it doesn't always hold true, we can at least hope that these two overlap, most of the time.

In a simplified and ideal world, the above would be the primary motivations behind what we choose to do. Alas, that's not the reality of life, especially for a Highly Sensitive Person. We make choices that hurt us, often based on fear and choices that are definitely not good for us. If "bad" choices seem to be a persistent pattern in our lives, we often become very adept at abandoning our accountability for them, instead creating an intricate web of rationalizations for why our choices were actually something that "happened TO us."

Many HSPs are very "compliant" by nature. Confrontation either frightens us, or we are "OK" with confrontation but still avoid it because it feels terribly overstimulating and we end up feeling "out of sorts" for days and hours after the actual confrontational event happened.

However, unless we are willing to stand up for ourselves-- and how we feel about a situation-- our personal boundaries tend to get overstepped or even completely ignored. It's no secret that setting healthy personal boundaries can be very challenging for HSPs. That said, we really cannot assume (and, unfortunately, many HSPs do) that the rest of the world will somehow "intuit" our needs, the way we might be able to, about them. Life just doesn't work that way!

I have met many HSPs for whom simply stating their opinion and "taking a stance" on something they believe in  (especially if it seems counter to "popular" or "majority" viewpoints) feels like "fighting" or "being difficult" in a way they find very unpleasant.

Even... if they clearly have the best idea in a group, meeting, family gathering, or whatever.

It can become a bit of a paradox, because asserting ourselves "doesn't feel good," but being ignored also "doesn't feel good."

Sadly, many HSPs choose to circumvent the issue altogether by isolating themselves, instead. They conclude that the world "is too painful" and choose to avoid contact, altogether. On some level, that choice might (at least in the short term) "feel good," but on a greater scale, it's hardly "good for us." I can't even begin to estimate how many hundreds of HSPs I've encountered (usually in online forums) over the past 15 years who have gone down this path only to become deeply depressed because they feel "all alone in the world."

Suppressing our true nature because we are fearful of the consequences of "being our TRUE selves" can be very damaging to us; to our self-esteem.

HSPs have a lot to offer the world, but the world will not benefit if we don't bring those gifts to the world.

I'm not advocating that we should become "militantly outspoken assholes" in order to make our point-- we merely must find a healthy balance by finding the courage to share our perspectives and be heard, even if our ideas aren't necessarily adopted.

As I write these words, I'm reminded of this (quite famous) Dr. Seuss quote:

"Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind."

We can learn from that, and guide ourselves to better choices. When we share-- especially in a group setting-- some people are going to think our ideas are marvelous! Those are the people we should aline ourselves with, because they get where we're coming from. We must attempt to focus our attention on the fact that "Bob LOVED my idea!" rather than feeling crestfallen because "Sue didn't like my idea."

That does take a bit of practice-- many of us have "trained" ourselves to dwell on what is "wrong," rather than celebrate what is "right."

Something else we must remember is that in most cases, we're not obliged to do things that make us feel bad. Saying "no" to spending the day at a noisy theme park with a group of colleagues from work (which will make us feel overstimulated and stressed) is a much healthier choice than compliantly saying "yes" and having a day we hate. Sure we will encounter exceptions where we are "obligated" to participate in something we don't like, but those are generally few and far between. Establishing a healthy boundary and saying no to things that genuinely feel bad is not the same thing as "isolating."

Finally, we must remind ourselves that "NO is a complete sentence."

When our neighbor asks "Are you coming to my noisy cousin's surprise birthday party at Noise World tomorrow?" it's OK to simply say "No, I'm sorry, I won't be attending" without concocting 500 excuses and reasons for why we won't be attending. If pressed by the person asking, we need say no more than "Sorry, it just won't work out for me."

You'll feel much better when you do.

Talk Back! Pause to consider what motivates your choices. How good (or bad) are you at setting boundaries? Do you do things that "feel bad," or are "bad for you," because you fear not going with the flow? Do you sometimes choose to not do things that feel good, for fear of being judged, for your choices? Consider how you set boundaries. Do you isolate yourself, as a way of setting "boundaries," or do you feel free to state your opinion? Does saying "no" to someone feel like a confrontation? Leave a comment and share your experiences!


  1. Thank you Peter, I needed to hear this today.

  2. I've been practicing speaking up. It's not easy. It seems like most people are not listening so much as waiting for their turn to talk. Still, I'm trying.

  3. So I just found out that I am HSP and it explains everything...except why, even though we now know this, my husband is not more understanding and we still are like fire and gasoline...until I found an article about HSP's and Narcissists...We had already figured out that he is a narcissist a long time add an HSP...Do you see? But we have 2 kids and have been married 5 years...there has to be some way that we can figure this out and make it!? Any idea's and thoughts you have on this would be very helpful! Sorry if this does not go with this post that great but I did not know how else to leave you a comment. Here is the article I was talking about if it helps.

  4. I don't know about you, but for me saying "no" can go way beyond being simply uncomfortable into the realm of physically painful. I've just lately started to deal with the anxiety and guilt I feel in regard to setting boundaries, but thankfully the joy of having avoided an unpleasant experience acts as an excellent reward.

    Great post!

  5. I had to speak up every day I was married to a very dominant man. It was exhausting but having mushy boundaries was painful too. We are divorced but I still speak with him frequently because of our children. I feel raw after every confrontation but I have found peace in solitude or with friends who align more with my temperament.

  6. I think it's good to be able to say no to protect ourselves and to simply turn someone down because we're not interested in them. However, I don't think it such a good thing to just say "no" and leave it at that. People deserve respect and a bit of an explanation if they're your friend.


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