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The Othering Of The Highly Sensitive Person

Sensitive people are different. Being different means that they often live in the shadows.

I thought about this today when I was reading an article about feminism in Great Britain, written by Anna Ford, a respected British journalist.

What struck me about the article was her wonderful description of the devaluation and marginalization of women, an endlessly repeating story that she has experienced her whole life.

The wonderful qualities that women can bring to the table are mostly devalued.

Isn’t that also true of highly sensitive people?

The Marginalization Of The Highly Sensitive Person

Marginalization is an interesting and recurring experience for many people. It manifests in the process of othering. In order for there to be an other, there has to be a non-other. Who is that non-other? Non-sensitive, often subscribing and living the masculine defined ideas about identity and what is real, these are the people who are treated as the benchmark for “normal” human behavior.

Othering can be very rejecting and nasty.

It is a way of relating to someone as if they really do not have the same right to be here on the planet, that in being different there is something wrong with them.

Are there any sensitive people who haven’t had that experience?

As a sensitive person, I have been othered my whole life. Othering can be subtle or overt. It can manifest as a patronizing or condescending way of relating. Often you may be treated as if the world is doing you a favor.

When being othered you are often invisible.

What Is Othering?

According to Advanced Apes:

the othering process is the human tendency to believe that the group (race, religion, ethnicity, culture, gender, country, sexual orientation, species etc.) that they are a part of is inherently the ‘right’ way to be human.  As a consequence of this, people who other consciously, or subconsciously, believe that anyone who is not apart of their group is a threat, an enemy or a liability that must be converted to conform immediately to the norms and standards of their group, subjugated permanently, or eradicated completely…

The phenomenon of othering has its roots in our evolutionary history.  We know from primatological studies that group solidarity is exceptionally important in all of the African apes.  Knowing who is, and who isn’t a member of your group is exceptionally important for reasons intimately connected to survival.  And basic evolution theory states that any behaviour or trait that confers a survival advantage will be selected for; and the stronger the survival advantage, the stronger it will be selected for.  In the case of ‘othering’ behaviour, it probably became an extremely valuable behaviour that would have become permanently fixed within our lineage millions of years ago.  Whenever territory, food, and mates were scarce (which would have been frequently, and in most cases permanently), intra-species competition would have been strong and othering behaviour would have been selected for.  Forming a group can allow you to align yourself with other individuals altruistically to maximize your own (and everyone else in the groups) ability to acquire territory, food and mating opportunities.

The Experience Of Othering For The Highly Sensitive Person

Many highly sensitive people are very uncomfortable socially. They experience themselves as different and unwelcome in the world.

They may also be subject to bullying, taunts, and social rejection.

Sensitive people are in the minority in the world since only 15-20% of the world’s population is highly sensitive. Their different biology means that they do not necessarily share an affinity for the non-sensitive, competitive, and aggressive model that unites many of the non-sensitive population.

Sensitive people have the potential to offer wisdom, perspective, compassion, and empathy to those around them, but those traits are not as valued as competitive skills.

As a result, many highly sensitive people, experience themselves being excluded, treated with condescension and even blamed for their different nature.

When we are othered, we are treated as not normal, and not right. People around us including our families often try to change us into a “normal” person, someone who is right by their standard of normalcy.

They are wrong to do so.

There is nothing wrong with the sensitive person. HSPs are simply different.

What is especially unfortunate is that in a highly interdependent world, we need many different skills and wisdom to create healthy and productive living environments. Sensitive people have something to give to support a healthy world.

By excluding sensitive people, by othering them, we are all missing out. I hope we can change that.

About Maria Hill

Maria Hill is the founder of Sensitive Evolution. She is the author of The Emerging Sensitive: A Guide For Finding Your Place In The World. In addition, she has created the immersive Emerging Sensitive Program of "sensory processing yoga" using frameworks to help sensitive people master their sensitivity and turn it into the asset it can be. She also offers the Emerging Sensitive Movie Club focused on movies and discussions about living in the world as a sensitive person and navigating the challenging cultural shifts of our times. She is a longtime meditator, reiki master, student of alternative health and Ayurveda. Maria is also an abstract painter whose portfolio can be found at Infinite Shape and also very interested in animal and human rights and the environment.

16 Comments

  1. Kaitlin on July 29, 2014 at 1:50 pm

    So true – I absolutely love this post and this blog, so glad I stumbled upon it. As an HSP female (who has recently begun learning how to embrace and develop my true nature, instead of resist it), given how hard of a time I’ve had struggling against my sensitivity in the past, I almost can’t imagine how difficult it must be to be for an HSP male, where the expectation of aggression and competitiveness is all the more pervasive.

    Again, thanks for this and this blog! 🙂



    • Maria on July 29, 2014 at 2:23 pm

      Hi Kaitlin,

      I agree – it must be very difficult to be an HSP male, although increasingly women are expected to adopt macho characteristics to survive. I am glad that you are working to accept your nature and find its gifts. I firmly believe that we have tremendous gifts that the world badly needs. Keep going and let me know if I can help. I am glad you like the blog.

      All the best,
      Maria



  2. Elisabeth on March 18, 2015 at 8:27 am

    I can definitely identify with this. I have experienced this throughout my life, in the workforce, and especially within my own family. I have 3 sisters, and 3 brothers. I don’t identify with any of my sisters and have been treated pretty appallingly by them. I have finally distanced myself from 2 of them, not because I hate them, but for the sake of my health & wellbeing. I often wonder whether there is anyone out there who I will ever genuinely be able to call a friend. I went through a very difficult time last year & was amazed at how few people stood by me.



    • Maria Hill on March 18, 2015 at 8:30 am

      Hi Elisabeth,

      You are expressing a common concern for highly sensitive people. In a materialistic world, many people do not get us and do not know what to make of us and are afraid of us. HSPs upset the apple cart by being different and a lot of people do not want that. I think that you can have friends but you need to seek people who are closely aligned with your values or your relationships will struggle to survive.

      I hope this helps,
      Maria



    • Elisabeth on March 18, 2015 at 8:36 am

      Thanks Maria. I’m definitely moving more towards connecting with people I’m more closely aligned with. I know now where not to find them, and that’s a start 🙂 however much I’ve struggled, I still wouldn’t want to be a different person, as many of the people who’ve had problems with me, or want to change me, or seem to have it all materialistically, don’t seem very happy.

      Elisabeth



    • Maria Hill on March 18, 2015 at 8:38 am

      I know what you mean. Materialism is not a great strategy for a happy life. There are more and more groups creating a more equitable and sustainable world. I am sure you can find kindred spirits.

      Maria



  3. Brittany on March 18, 2015 at 11:19 pm

    I can totally relate to this. It reminds me of a book I read once. It’s called, “The Introvert Advantage, How To Survive In An Extrovert World.”
    How the majority of people put you in a bucket after judging from what they have briefly observed and what their expectations are of you, if that makes sense.



    • Maria Hill on March 19, 2015 at 6:45 am

      Hi Brittany,

      I remember the Introvert Advantage book also. I think we are underappreciated and it affects us negatively. When we start appreciating ourselves we can start to reverse some of the damage.

      All the best,
      Maria



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