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Are You Numbing Your Sensitivity?

Are your numbing your sensitivity? I do sometimes.

As I stood in line waiting to order my cup of coffee, I reached for my phone in my purse. You know, just in case there were any new updates within the last 5 minutes since the last time I checked it.

I didn’t feel the need to check. I just did it. You might be thinking that yes, you do this, too. It’s like we are on autopilot sometimes. Or are we?

Avoiding Our Sensitivity

What if we aren’t? What if we know exactly what we are doing?

What if we are checking our phones—or eating when we’re not hungry, or watching another episode on Netflix, or {insert supposedly mindless activity here}—because feeling our sensitivity just feels like it’s too much?

Do you do this? Do you participate in little actions throughout your day to avoid your sensitive self-feeling too much, feeling life around you? You are numbing your sensitivity.

Why You Are Numbing Your Sensitivity

I get it. We HSPs know what it’s like to truly feel our way through life. It can get overwhelming. Eye contact with a stranger. Sitting too close to someone on the train. Returning a phone call we don’t want to make. Showing up to a stressful job. Meeting new people at a party. Heck, even being with our own families at a holiday gathering.

It can be a lot to handle. Because we feel life’s moments more intensely, the volume can feel like it’s turned up too high a lot of the time. Mere eye contact with a stranger can feel like it’s just too much to handle when you’ve already got an ongoing to-do list in your mind, plus you’re still dwelling on the conversation you had earlier with a friend that just didn’t sit well with you.

Because there’s already so much going on internally, numbing our sensitivity to the stimulation around us can feel like the most natural thing in the world to HSPs.

Sensitivity Does Not Have To Be A Trap

But what if that moment you’re missing is one that may change your life? What if you could have both—a lively inner world and a way to meet the stimulating present moment with courage and calm, at the same time?

It takes some heart to heart time with your intuition, regular practice, and compassion for yourself along the way, but it is possible. With practice, HSPs can slowly baby step their way out of numbing their sensitivity and begin looking at life around them with curiosity, offering it their attention even if it feels awkward. Even if it feels scary.

A nod to a stranger, a “How are you?” to your cashier at the supermarket, showing up to a networking event, not looking at your phone during time spent with a loved one—it may not seem like it, but these are all brave acts for the HSP.

They require us to feel multiple things at once. They ask us to get real with the world around us.

Checking our phones to avoid feeling the world around us is just one way we may be numbing our sensitivity. The ways are endless, and some much more destructive than others. Avoiding feeling too much by drinking alcohol, doing drugs, sleeping too much, eating too much, the list goes on.

Do you catch yourself numbing your sensitivity? If so, how do you do it? What is one small step you can take this week to connect to the world around you while still feeling safe and OK in your HSP skin?


About Kathryn Nulf

Highly sensitive souls have a lively inner world + fire within, but that fire can be easily swayed by stress and overwhelm. When your inner light wavers and you aren't living from a strong and grounded center, stress eating occurs. You hope that food will fuel our inner fire and stop the overwhelm, but does it? As a certified health coach and registered yoga teacher, Kathryn Nulf supports HSPs in her private and group coaching programs to step out of overwhelm and finally feel free and at peace around food. Her passion is to help HSPs discover what it's like to have an inner flame so strong that it's not swayed by every stressful event in life. Kathryn helps her clients embrace their unique trait so that their whole self can embrace life. If you'd like to find out what working together might look like, set up a {free} discovery session at her website. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Google+,.


  1. Kelly on October 21, 2013 at 7:00 am

    Thanks for this post. I never thought of things like checking a phone as being ways to avoid sensitivity. For me, I think I have a long way to go. I’d still rather “dull” my sensitivity. It’s easier, less scary, and less stressful that way.

    • Kathryn Nulf on October 21, 2013 at 8:43 am

      Loving your insight, Kelly. I feel that as HSPs we are “all in this together” and yet we all have our unique experiences. I used to fault myself for my sensitivity, and for me that goes hand in hand with the “numbing” as a way to be anything but feeling what I’m feeling when faced with overwhelm. Even in moments of overwhelm I practice mindfulness—moment to moment awareness—and remind myself that there’s nothing to be fixed, just parts of myself to be learned about and supported at a deeper level. At times it is the better choice to “dull” the sensitivity I feel, and then there are those moments when I want to explore this overwhelming moment just as I am without having to hide. It feels very vulnerable and scary to even just breathe into that moment as an HSP, without distraction. It’s a practice of accepting who I am, even if it feels risky.


  2. Colin Machan on October 21, 2013 at 7:51 am

    I’m trying to separate myself from the headphones that I wear as a matter of course when travelling to and from work. Sometimes I play music or a podcast. Other times they are there to say “don’t talk to me.” It’s a work in progress. Depends on how my day is going…

    • Maria on October 21, 2013 at 8:28 am

      Hi Colin,

      You have to do what you have to do. This frenetic culture is hard on us. I am glad that you are protecting yourself.

      All the best,

    • Kathryn Nulf on October 21, 2013 at 8:31 am

      Thanks for sharing, Colin! I know what you mean. It’s wonderful to know yourself and what you need, day to day. I too use the headphones as a sign that I want to be left alone sometimes. 🙂 Hey, it works!


  3. Kim on October 22, 2013 at 3:28 pm

    I thought I was just weird for checking my phone all the time, but I’m glad to see it was just a way of dealing with stress. I’ve also gained 20 lbs in the past year from stress eating. I’m an INFJ who recently came out of an emotionally abusive marriage, and I see I have been doing these things as a way of keeping myself occupied so I wouldn’t have to face the pain. Wow…I feel different already.

    • Maria on October 22, 2013 at 8:39 pm

      Hi Kim,

      Thanks for stopping by. An abusive marriage will result in emotional eating. I do not believe that it is a sign of your own weakness as many people like to iner. I think that abusive people drain our energies and when we eat we are trying to protect our life force from the damage we are experiencing.

      I am glad that you are making a new life for yourself. Keep me posted on your progress.

      All the best,

    • Kathryn Nulf on October 22, 2013 at 8:49 pm

      Thank you for sharing, Kim. Food can absolutely be used as a way to cope with stress. It’s when we are turning to it on a regular basis to avoid feeling our way through emotions that we want to take a closer look at what is going on. I wish you all the best on your new journey forward.


  4. Jihad on May 14, 2014 at 7:24 am

    Hi there …
    firstly , i thank you so much for this great artcile , that describe what i feel exactly all the time … I just have trouble in moving forward , i feel like i’am stuck in my position for a long time . Is that fear of failure if i move on ? plus , i keep repeating the same activities , the ones that i feel confortable with , but in the other hand , i feel stuck
    How can i get throught that ?
    Thank you 🙂

    • Maria on May 14, 2014 at 7:27 am

      Hi Jihad,

      You are experiencing a common problem. Many times the negativity we experience can cause us to have difficulty moving forward. I suggest taking baby steps and looking for actions that increase that serves the values of increased well being and quality of life. Then you can be secure that you are taking positive steps.

      Good luck!

    • Kathryn Nulf on May 14, 2014 at 7:51 am

      Thanks for reading and sharing here, Jihad! I like Maria’s comments about taking small steps to slowly start increasing positive changes in your life. I can relate to repeating activities we are comfortable with – and feeling stuck when it comes to changing things up. That can be scary. But it is certainly possible with small steps and a courageous heart. I believe in you!

      Best wishes,

  5. Stephanie on November 18, 2014 at 4:19 am

    Interesting article that made me think – yes I do numb my sensitivity by checking my phone knowing there is nothing new… on the other hand, nowadays when I step into the elevators, out of 10 people, 9 are checking their phone or on their BB, so do they all want to ‘numb’ their sensitivity or are they just socially handicapped or simply shy ?
    My job is a desk job and unfortunately in an open space so there I do put on earphones just to block out the external noises/disruptions and calm down the sensitivity, and when I don’t have them and I get overwhelmed by my environment or can’t get out, I try to talk to myself and calm myself down by rationalizing my feelings and take a distance mentally from the scene.
    My main issue is taking things too personally, I’m so sensitive to comments, I get told to stop being so sensitive and I really would like to learn to deal with this ! If there is an article coming up on that then I would love to read it – thank you very much

    • Maria Hill on November 18, 2014 at 5:49 am

      Hi Stephanie,

      Being in a cubicle is hard for highly sensitive people. I think using earphones is a great idea because you need to detach from everything else in order to focus. There is the idea in our culture that if something bothers us it is a fault in us that we are not strong or cannot cope. That is a macho model of a human that is totally wrong and unrealistic. However, it creates the idea that abuse is the fault of the victim and that sensitivity is a weakness – and these ideas are totally wrong.

      Sensitivity provides us with information. It is worth detaching your sensitivity from other people’s perceptions about it so that it can inform you. When you detach your sensitivity from other people then you can begin to assess people without letting your sensitivity be the basis of it. Sometimes we are very sensitive when others meant no harm, but more often than not, we are objecting to the rudeness and bad manners of others. It is OK to dislike others poor social skills. It is also a useful skill not to take those poor social skills as you distance yourself from them.

      I hope this helps.

      All the best,

    • Sally Milow on March 27, 2018 at 7:33 pm

      This reply from Maria is spot on. I will share it with others.

    • Maria Hill on March 27, 2018 at 7:59 pm

      Thanks, Sally for your insight and for sharing.


  6. Andy on November 19, 2014 at 12:49 am

    I go into my head and into another space and time. I have friends who told me that I seemed spaced out sometime. And sometime I missed the first few words of a conversation just because I wasn’t mindfully present at that moment. Sometime I can get away with it, sometime I can’t. And I will have people telling me that I could be hard of hearing and should go have my ears checked. Haha.

    • Maria Hill on November 19, 2014 at 6:25 am

      Hi Andy,

      I love that you have a sense of humor about it! Listening to our sensitivity takes a lot so it is natural that sometimes you will seem spaced out to others sometimes especially of they are engaged in chit-chat which we HSPs do not find all that interesting. We can only do the best we can so it is good that you are not taking it too seriously.

      All the best,

  7. Keith Bush on December 21, 2014 at 1:52 pm

    Namaste Kathryn, as for me I used to drink & do drugs just to keep my own feelings at bay,cause when i found out that i was hsp,empath & natural healer my world just never felt the same again,all the stress from the world just came on me so hard,I wouldn’t let my mom touch me anymore,I would distance myself from friends & family and wouldn’t leave my home i became an emotional eater.i just didn’t feel the love anymore,and to be a survivor of hiv+19 yrs,just made it that more worst for me,But now that I have started grounding myself and I got rid of the mind chatter,I can meditate better,I eat organic fruits & veggies,I am cutting back on my meat intake,and I have changed my lifestyle 360,I have more peace & I so am trying to get my Spiritual Healer-Advisor-Teacher-Medium Ship & Palmistry business off the ground,I heard a word one day telling me to stay sober & I could have whatever I wanted today is day 51..12-21-2014=4..and I am so proud of the work that your doing for all of us,a tear just come to my eyes.we arent alone after all.we all have support from each other.God Bless you Beloved,May your Holidays be filled with Joy & Laughter.light & love..i love you!!!

    • Maria Hill on December 21, 2014 at 2:11 pm

      Hi Keith,

      I am Maria and this is my website. I just saw your words and had to respond. I am very touched by your courageous story and your willingness to share it. I think loneliness is such a serious challenge for us sensitives. So many of us suffer from the pain of being perceived as different and therefore unwelcome. It hurts deeply. I am impressed by your 19 year HIV survivorship. I wanted to pass on to you that I have discovered an herb: Neem which supports the immune system and I have read that it is effective in helping with HIV.

      I hope your holidays are wonderful and that you have a fabulous 2015.


    • Kathryn on December 21, 2014 at 3:31 pm

      Thank you so much for your insights, Keith, and congratulations on your sobriety. I too am sober – for almost two years now. I can relate to what you shared. It’s true – when you start to add in small healthy changes, life starts to feel more meaningful, and you feel more grounded. Blessings to you this holiday season!


  8. Debi on August 3, 2015 at 10:52 am

    Thanks for the article.. recently discovered that I am HSP and not crazy. I had to end my relationship once I realized why I was stressed out and miserable all the time.. all we did is socialize in large groups with heavy drinking.. I am not introverted but felt sadenned at the shallowness of these situations. I would engage people and want to get to know them. But no one was interested in any thing but talking about themselves. Any way I would drink heavily just to deal with being there and would dread every week end. I also had some very strong flight or fight reactions where I would get upset and stressed for no apparent reason and just leave a situation…
    My boyfriend did not understand me and said its a made up condition for antisocial people..
    Any way.. now I am completely alone and its really hard because I really love having people in my life.. just not 20 loud drunk ones every single week end who dont even want to get to know me

    • Maria Hill on August 3, 2015 at 11:10 am

      Hi Debi,

      It sounds like you have been through a tough time. There is a a lot of shallow socializing and it is not fun or interesting. I think your reactions were your desire to leave which I am glad you did. I know it can be lonely going your own way but perhaps you can start to create your own club of special friends. It might be worth it.

      All the best,

    • Rob on August 8, 2015 at 3:50 pm

      Yes yes yes this! And also thank you Marie for these articles. I’m so glad I inadvertently happen to find this site through a Jeff Buckley Facebook post the other day haha. It seems to describe exactly how I have felt on and off for a while now.

      I am INFP and I’ve continually battled and tried to control my sensitivity particularly over last few years. I’ve been guilty of sublimating it in many different ways thinking this would help. Only that, I have now found myself increasingly numbing it and hardening my feelings anytime I find myself in company of others. Not only does this make me hate myself more for not acknowledging who i am: my sensitive nature, I can never find a peaceful resolution with my mind. I am constantly restless in a battle with my state of mind and thus constantly overthinking and feeling more sensitive. Part of this has been in due part to new position I myself in, as I feel increased sense of loneliness since I’ve graduated from uni.

      My predicament is that I feel unloved by my family as have strenuous , most of my friends are in relationships and often don’t have time to see me, thus this has made me feel more isolated and feel I like I it’s something I won’t be able to break from. All ever want is to get to know people and have fun, but feel no matter what I do I can’t forge new friendships like I’ve been accustomed to doing easily and naturally in the past.

      I’ve always been perceived as being sensitive, butI’ve stop going out in social situations which involve the consumption of alcohol. As I came to realise those friendships were null and devoid of any value or meaning other than to drink. Since then I’ve taken decision to stop drinking as I never like to drink to begin with.

      But what worries me is the when do exercise or I am in social situations now is that never feel properly attuned or connected to people or what is going around me. Even more so when I’ve done something fun, I feel it is temporarily short lived and I find myself more often than not coming home and feeling sad and sat on my own thoughts for a long time and unable to just let them or things go.

      For instance last weekend a good day with friend ended up in an argument because of something I said which was in no way intended to cause offence. We both apologised, but he failed to acknowledge how I felt when he yelled at me in his car and swore at me. This has since brought up bad memories and unwarranted feelings of anger.

      When I got home, the part that worries me is I ended up, for the first time, writing a long rambling diary (much like now haha) of how I felt. I felt like this for a while now and don’t what I can do to try and forge some meaningful friendships that will last. Sorry for the long post, I will Appreciate your time and feedback if you’re able to respond to that haha.

      Kind Regards,


    • Maria Hill on August 8, 2015 at 6:00 pm

      Hi Rob,

      I think you need to make a big effort to connect with other sensitive people. You could start a meetup. You will find many among artists and healers. Trying to fit in does not work and only will bring you down. It takes awhile to find like minded people but I am sure you can do it. You might also consider your interests and look for HSPs there as well.

      Good luck!

  9. Sofie on August 3, 2015 at 2:23 pm

    Thank you for the article.
    It came at just the right time.
    One of my wishes for today was not to feel everything all the time.
    I have been numbing myself watching series all afternoon.
    In life, I am trying to be a professional actress, next to the fact of constantly feeling too much, my passion comes with no security, no substantial funding yet and feeling like I a hunted animal all the time.
    I want to pursue this passion with all my heart but it is gruesomely difficult with a tender and highlysensitive heart.
    If you would have any advice, I would gladly hear it.
    Thank you.

    • Maria Hill on August 3, 2015 at 2:43 pm

      Hi Sofie,

      Thanks for writing. I am impressed with your ambition! Being an artist is challenging especially acting which has demanding production schedules.

      I am an abstract painter so I understand your concern about financial stability. I recommend that you create a source of income for yourself that will sustain you while you pursue your acting. Something online or portable would be best. There are online businesses you can start which will support you and also work like coaching that is portable. How about creativity coaching?

      I think you acting work will be enriched by knowing that you do not need a part. You can then give your all to it without a lingering fear of loss which can hold people back.

      I hope this helps. Let me know how you do.

      All the best,

  10. Lianne on April 10, 2017 at 10:18 am

    This article resonates deeply with me, especially reframing what I’m doing from avoiding to numbing is powerful. I do many things to numb – smoking, eating, TV, Facebook…I also have fibromyalgia and PTSD, so my central nervous system is constantly overactive. The point made about eye contact, and how threatening that can feel at times to an overwhelmed mind and body hit home. I feel I’m at a tipping point in my awareness…I see how these distractions are not serving me, yet feel somewhat powerless to change. The reminder to take baby steps is very helpful. Thank you for a great article!

    • Maria Hill on April 11, 2017 at 2:45 pm

      Hi Lianne,

      I am glad that the article helped. It is very important to take baby steps. You fully deserve to feel healthy and joyful in life and I know it can be a struggle sometimes. One thing to keep in mind is that when we try to make positive steps, there is a part of us that is afraid to give up the status quo. SO if you can develop a soothing practice for that part of you it may help you.

      All the best,

  11. Mia on March 16, 2018 at 11:02 am

    What an eye-opener. I became aware <3 and that is the first step for healing.

    I eat very often. Even when I'm not hungry. I emotionally eat.

    I often sit at the computer because I cannot stand to be in silence or alone.

    At work I force myself to speak even if I would like to be quiet. I also sit with my collegues even if I would like to go to a silent and calm place to breathe. To be alone.

    Thank you <3

    • Maria Hill on March 16, 2018 at 11:05 am

      We all do things to fit in some of the time. I am glad the article helped.


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