The 3 Biggest Relationship Challenges For Highly Sensitive People
Do you ever feel like you get swept up and absorbed into relationships? Or tend to take care of the people you date more than yourself?
Welcome to the unique challenges of being a sensitive soul.
Who are sensitive souls?
Highly sensitive people, also known as empaths or "HSPs," experience life like the volume is turned up more than the average person. These tuned-in individuals can feel overwhelmed, overstimulated, and overextended from this heightened experience of life without skillful engagement. Some estimates say up to one-third of the population might fall into this category, and there's some research that suggests this empathic personality trait is genetic.
In modern culture, emotions, sensitivity, and feelings still often come second to the rational, linear, objective way of life. This relegation of sensitive experience often means empathic people receive feedback that they are "too much," "too emotional," or "too complicated" at work and at home.
Throughout my client work, I find that sensitive people unknowingly sense both their own feelings and the feelings of others they date. Unaware of the dynamic, a person's clarity about their own needs, feelings, truths, and relationship beliefs becomes fuzzy over time.
Here are the three top challenges highly sensitive people experience in relationships and what you can do about each one.
Challenge #1: Unhealthy boundaries.
Most highly sensitive people struggle with creating healthy boundaries with others in their lives. They have almost no boundaries with others because they're deeply giving and compassionate with others by nature. However, out of balance, this beautiful intention can lead a person to lose themselves in relationship. In other words, you may discover suddenly you are consumed by the experiences, thoughts, and beliefs of your partner—they've become inseparable from your own. Where they end and you begin becomes unclear.
These people will often not have healthy time or thought space to process their own emotions because their head is completely in their relationship.
Solution: Establish healthy boundaries.
The No. 1 thing that highly sensitive people need to create in relationships is healthy boundaries. A healthy boundary is a boundary that supports you to thrive and grow. This type of boundary feels expansive, supportive, safe, loving, respectful, and honoring. I recommend sensitive souls do an initial boundary inventory of the key relationships in their life and ask, "Do I feel like I can truly be myself in this relationship? Do I feel like this person would respect my need for space to recharge my battery if I asked for it? Does this person currently respect healthy boundaries I currently create?"
Challenge #2: Playing the parent instead of partner.
Do you tend to play more of a caretaker role in your romantic relationships? I get it. Often seen as a healing presence in the lives of others around you, you may take on a nurturing role—but this creates significant imbalance and unhealthy power dynamics. Over time, when you parent more than partner, you put the other person's needs first to the detriment of your own. This can facilitate codependent relationships, not only draining your time and energy but also teaching your partner to over-rely on you for survival.
Solution: Connect to your own feelings, daily.
The key to being a highly sensitive person thriving in a relationship is to have a consistent pulse on your own feelings. You're already great at knowing what other people are thinking and feeling—so you need to spend more time homing in on your own inner world. You can do this through a daily practice of "stream-of-consciousness" writing your own feelings, for example, or meditating to get in touch with the sensations and emotional feelings in your body. A daily check-in can empower you to develop a deeper understanding of your core relationship needs, desires, and where your feelings begin and your partner's end.
Challenge #3: Dimming your sensitivity.
Sensitive souls often feel misunderstood and deeply desire to belong. With your uniquely heightened sensitivity, you may shift into people-pleasing, not asking for what you need, and shapeshifting in relationships to what you perceive is the "right size" for the other person to avoid rejection, which can be a powerful emotion for you. Over time, this constant pushing down and shrinking of your authentic self can lead to a crisis of truth, where suddenly you may be unclear what is true for you and what is not. In worst-case scenarios, this can lead sensitive people to create relationships with highly narcissistic, manipulative, and abusive partners.
Solution: Get clear on your relationship fears.
When sensitive souls dim their sensitivity, the decision is always out of fear. You may have a fear of being "too much," being rejected, not belonging, and ultimately the greatest fear that you are unlovable for who you are. To shift this, create an inventory of your core relationship fears by asking yourself, "What do I fear the most if I allowed myself to be 100 percent of who I am? To be fully seen? To be fully known?" Write these fears down—and then burn or shred them for a cathartic release. When we bring our fears into our conscious awareness, we can more easily see them the next time they pop up and make a different choice that is no longer fueled by fear.
From kryptonite to superpower.
I have a dream of shifting the understanding of highly sensitive people to being seen as highly gifted. Through my own personal healing journey and client work, I know that when sensitive souls learn the right skills and tools, their sensitivity can be their most powerful ally. Over time with the right awareness, tools, and supportive relationships, sensitive souls who struggle in relationships can learn to shift their relationship to their sensitivity from kryptonite to superpower.
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