Everyone can have difficulties with friendships and romance, but being highly sensitive may include additional challenges.
Elaine N. Aron, PhD, in an interview about her book The Highly Sensitive Person In Love, said people with more sensitive and excitable constitutions and personalities “need help with intimacy.” She explains:
“Maybe we are afraid, have been hurt, and can’t forget it. Or we have trouble being known and appreciated for who we really are. Or we have trouble in relationships because of our different needs, so that we always feel ‘too much’ or ‘overly sensitive.'”
She also says highly sensitive people are “more likely to find sex to be mysterious and powerful, to be turned on by subtle rather than explicit sexual cues, to be easily distracted or physically hurt during sex, and to find it difficult to go right back to normal life afterwards.”
Actor Kristin Kreuk – a “self-described introvert” according to some writers – made comments you may relate to if you are highly sensitive:
“I am shy and I don’t start relationships with people normally. I guess I have a way that can seem aloof and sort of cold. They didn’t like me that much, but I never resented it. I was different than they were.”
[Interviewer: “Did you ever have a high school boyfriend?”]
Kristin Kreuk : “No one worth mentioning — it just wasn’t something I found. I got a lot done that way!…
“The friends that I surrounded myself with — we didn’t talk about boys and clothes and makeup; we talked about world issues and philosophy and the meaning of life. I had friends who were dealing with major issues, like abuse.”
[Many sensitive and creative people experience abuse and other forms of trauma – see my post Creative People and Trauma.]
“A lot of my friends found their strength when they were young. Being able to be a part of their healing process means a lot to me; it makes our friendships even stronger. I only had a few close friends [in high school], but they are still my closest friends.” [Seventeen.com interview March 2003]
Her comments remind me of some quotes of Jessica Chastain (“Zero Dark Thirty”; “Interstellar” and other films):
“I was the girl who cut school to go to the park, and the other kids would be smoking and drinking and I’d be reading Shakespeare.”
Being highly sensitive may include or even encourage social isolation, and involve more than usual challenges with friendships and romance. True peer relationships can be rare and more demanding.
Of course, highly sensitive is not the same as shy, but a majority of HSPs are introverted, which can mean you don’t seek out friends or other relationships as easily as most people seem to do.
People who are highly sensitive may also find they need emotionally protective separation, even from well-meaning family and friends, and likely romantic partners, to protect and more fully realize themselves.
Emotional reactivity may be part of the challenges of any relationship, but can be particularly acute for HSPs.
In his book The Highly Sensitive Person’s Survival Guide: Essential Skills for Living Well in an Overstimulating World, Dr. Ted Zeff has a chapter titled “Harmonious Relationships for the HSP” in which he offers strategies to help work with strong feelings and reactions.
“Practice the 1 percent apology. Because of their sensitivity to emotional turmoil it’s important for HSPs to develop conflict resolution skills that help them to restore harmony to a relationship with a minimum of emotional strife. Take responsibility for your part in the conflict – even if it is only 1 percent.
“Your expression of remorse gives an opening for the other person to apologize for their part of the disagreement… even if the other person doesn’t apologize, you have created peace of mind for yourself by opening your heart, not blaming anyone, and taking responsibility for your actions,” he says.
“Silence is golden and talking can tarnish the metal. Since HSPs feel more peaceful in a quiet environment it’s important for them to reduce the time they spend in mindless chatter. They should choose words carefully to avoid overstimulation.”
[Also hear my podcast interview with Dr. Zeff.]
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Linda Kreger Silverman, Ph.D., head of the Gifted Development Center, has talked about another issue: putting a relationship ahead of your own emotional needs.
She comments in her article “Different Worlds at the Extremes”: “Gifted children and adults often try to repress the real needs of the Self in order to maintain connections with others.
“They feel they must choose between loneliness and the negation of the Self.”
In his “Learn to Be Lonely” lyrics for The Phantom Of The Opera, Charles Hart acknowledges loneliness, but also encourages:
Ever dreamed out in the world / There are arms to hold you?
You’ve always known / Your heart was on its own
So laugh in your loneliness / Learn to be lonely
life can be lived / life can be loved / Alone.
Most of us when we were adolescents felt needs and pressures to be accepted and acceptable.
But being intellectually or creatively exceptional or gifted – and perhaps highly sensitive on top of that – often includes having temperaments and qualities such as divergent thinking, asynchronous development and introversion which make fitting in with others difficult, even if you want to.
And many of us never really wanted to that much.
Not to sound too much like “socially awkward” physicist Sheldon (played by Jim Parsons, left) on tv show The Big Bang Theory, but intellectual and creative interests can be very highly valued by many of us – even more than relationships.
Elaine Aron has found in her research there are as many men born with this trait as women, despite the cultural ideal for men to be aggressive.
In an article of his, Dr. Zeff writes:
“Males are also taught that it is a sign of weakness to ask for help. This follows logically from the pressure to suppress negative emotions besides anger; after all, if you are not supposed to have distressing emotions, why would you need help for them?
“The result is that many men suffer in silence, which can have horrific effects for a male in his relationships, career, and health.”
From article: Sensitive Men Can Save The Planet.
He is author of the book The Strong, Sensitive Boy.
This photo of Thai football players is from the post: Ted Zeff on highly sensitive boys and men.
High sensitivity can be an underlying inner pressure for many to avoid relationships that could become more than casual friendship.
For many highly talented people, isolation or reduction in social contacts can be a way to better incubate self development, and creative thinking and projects.
But there can be problems with isolation.
A research study found, “Teens who spend more time watching television or using computers appear to have poorer relationships with their parents and peers.” But there is no indication in the news story that teens were evaluated for giftedness or high sensitivity: Teens With More Screen Time Have Lower-Quality Relationships.
And if we choose to be in a relationship, there are special challenges, as both Elaine Aron and Ted Zeff write.
Anxiety can affect relationships.
One of those challenges may be anxiety, which can be especially intense for HSPs.
Mia Wasikowska (pronounced Vash-i-kov-ska) plays the lead role in TIm Burton’s movie “Alice in Wonderland.”
She has commented, “As a teenager I was very anxious. I had a lot of energy and passion that I wanted to channel into creative things, and I always felt like I wasn’t achieving enough.”
From post Mia Wasikowska on teen anxiety and energy.
For a variety of self-help and non-drug programs, see the Anxiety Relief Solutions site.
Related article: Sex and the Highly Gifted Adolescent, By Annette Revel Sheely.