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The Social Challenge Of Highly Sensitive People

Highly sensitive people can be independent and able to be alone. However, that does not mean that we necessarily are happy and comfortable with it. Recently I have been asking myself why being alone is considered, “bad” or a sign of a problem.

Do I need to be herded into a group, an identity, or a cause?

Why Is Being Alone Stigmatized?

Have you ever noticed that being alone carries a stigma? Why do some disparage the “crazy cat lady”, or the “poor” bachelor?

It amazes me that to this day the early definitions of human life still apply. You are to be married, have children, women should be mothers and men should be warriors. These were important and valued roles essential for our survival. They are the narratives that dominate most social discourse. Succeeding at them can give us status which, in turn, can give us social protection.

Does Status Protect Us?

Succeeding at these roles can give us status and acceptance. Sometimes that is a good thing but not always. It does, however, provide a lot of social incentive to conform!

Status may have had especially important survival implications in the past.  Consider an old civilization having food shortages. Who would eat and who would not? Certainly, the most valued would have had their needs met. There is a relationship between being valued and survival.

The popular social roles once had serious survival implications. People did not live long, so we continually required more people to sustain our social groups. War was common and soldiers were needed. War, disease and short life spans meant that only certain roles were supported, roles that affected the ability of the group to survive.

Those days may largely be over in some respects. As a species we have survived. However, they still seem to live in our minds. We have a significant investment in cultures that support and reinforce survival themes and have created many incentives to invite participation in our cultural systems. And the stories that we tell are often around our survival story.

Saving ourselves is a popular story and is like social grease in a complicated world of many differences and agendas.

Ostracism As Punishment

Being alone is often used as a punishment. It is the basis of shunning; ostracism is designed to engender conformity.

Being alone or the threat of abandonment is a great way to promote loyalty to a group. Since we need others to survive, ostracism is a serious threat. It does not matter whether you are an adult or child, ostracism can be very harmful to your health and well-being.

However, it is increasingly more of a social game than anything else in modern society – the game of who is in and who is out – but a game with consequences, nonetheless.

Social Rejection

For highly sensitive people, social rejection is a greater concern than being alone. Sensitive people recharge by being alone and often that means spending time alone in nature which helps heal the effects of stress.

Social rejection, however, for many highly sensitive people comes from being different, something over which they have no control.

Being holistic and inclusive thinkers, we do not naturally see the divisions, rules, and roles that others may call reality. The nervous system of sensitive people connects with energy so the survival game that engages so many people is not a natural conversation for highly sensitive people. Being different can be challenging for sensitive people since they are outnumbered and will be unlikely to have a significant voice in many social situations.

Highly sensitive people are good at seeing beyond social and cultural drama, so when they are being rejected it can be because they see life and what is important differently. The value of highly sensitive people does not lie in the survival drama, it lies in the insights created by their empathy, deep processing, and connection with nuances. Sensitive people have much to give in a world that can listen.

Finding Social Value For Highly Sensitive People

The Dalai Lama made the observation that we do not need more successful people, we need more healers and peacemakers. We need more people to lay down their weapons, give up chasing trophies. We need more people to become grounded in the reality that we are not really adversaries and there is no prize to be had. There is no one to beat.

Highly sensitive people offer a lot to a world that sorely needs their holistic brains in order to detach from the human survival story so that something new can emerge. Our social value comes from our wisdom and insights, our knowledge of the pain caused by repeating the survival drama with each new generation. We can question, offer new ideas, encourage new thinking, offer our creative prowess and friendship.

There are important social contributions that make highly sensitive people valuable and worth having around.

About Maria Hill

Maria Hill is the founder of Sensitive Evolution and Sensitive Evolution Radio. She is the author of The Emerging Sensitive: A Guide For Finding Your Place In The World as well as numerous courses for sensitives including The Emerging Sensitive Course using frameworks to help sensitive people master their sensitivity and turn it into the asset it can be. They can be found here. She is a long time meditator, reiki master, a 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.

21 Comments

  1. Darklight on August 24, 2015 at 6:33 pm

    The social challenge of highly sensitive people , that’s a great post 🙂

    I just want to add a different vision . That the real social challenge is not for the highly sensitive people but for the other humans and the social structures who surround those same highly sensitive souls .

    The way I see it is that every single highly sensitive is not meant to be labeled as such , he/she is a normal human being just having a different yet very essential social role to play . That Role is to be THE GUARDIAN of a very important human legacy ; the legacy of true Human Values.

    Here is Peter he is a highly sensitive or more precisely he is the GUARDIAN OF RESPECT, where ever Peter goes Respect goes with him.
    And here is Jessica she is a highly sensitive or in her specific case she is the GUARDIAN OF INTEGRITY , where ever she goes , when ever she walks , and with whomever she is the values of INTEGRITY walk with her see through her and behave through her, they are always present with her, it’s a deep soulful connection .

    Now the real Social challenge is for the other people surrounding those sensitive special GUARDIANS , and the question that is asked when ever they meet a guardian is : what will they do, help protect that value and that special human legacy ? or will they betrayed it, betray their very own humanity by rejecting those values, and forget who they really are ?

    (Because it’s about human values, it is very hard to distinguish between the inherited values and the human who received that heritage, and that’s what a Highly sensitive Person is, a Guardian )
    And Finally the highly sensitive people are never alone , it’s just that they have invisible friends that most people can’t see.



    • Maria Hill on August 24, 2015 at 8:35 pm

      You make some interesting points. We do stir the pot for others.

      All the best,
      Maria



  2. Robyn on May 29, 2017 at 7:21 am

    Great article Maria – describing a lifelong struggle for me here!
    As an extraverted HSP it can be even more difficult because as much as I crave my alone time I equally crave the close company of others. That can be extremely hard to find and maintain as the people I hang out with need to be understanding and open enough to accept my sensitivity and need to be different.
    I think it’s a bit true for all HSPs though -introverts need social time too.

    Solitude is OK; social rejection is tough. I would add loneliness, the lack of social connection, as a third common problem for HSPs. Unfortunately, I’m our current system in the West, you have to conform to certain standards to even have access to a social network; which, truly, is a basic human need. Why should social networks be reserved for extraverted married people with families?!?! (and even these people risk loneliness too)

    It’s wrong. And we need alternatives. HSPs unite!!



    • Maria Hill on May 29, 2017 at 7:25 am

      Thanks, Robyn. It is true there is a spectrum of togetherness needs and we are not all alike. I wonder how much our stress and other health issues are related to the imbalances in expectations about social requirements. A little flexibility would go a long way to helping us all live together more easily.