As a highly sensitive person, I sometimes feel like a burden to others. I have different needs than non-sensitives, and this isn’t always easy for the people close to me to deal with.
Simply put, I don’t feel as hardy as other people. Because of my highly reactive nervous system, I get overstimulated easily. For example, after working at my job or hanging out with friends, I need quiet downtime to calm my ramped up senses. I prefer to spend this time alone—which means I’m not always available to hang out with my boyfriend or friends.
Little things, like bright lights and loud sounds, bother me. I’m always asking my roommate to turn off some lights or turn down the volume of his music.
A lack of sleep (less than 7 or 8 hours) is enough to ruin my day. I’m the person always saying, “We should make it an early night.”
Like many sensitive people, I feel things deeply. Sometimes my emotions overwhelm me. I cry, or worse, I become too emotional to cry or even speak. A sad song, a heart-wrenching TV commercial about animal abuse, or a stray thought can change my mood instantly. Suddenly I turn inward and become quiet. The people around me don’t know why.
I worry that my sensitivity wears on my relationships. Do people get sick of putting up with my sensitivity? Even though they’re not saying it, do they wish I would toughen up?
These worries are probably mostly in my head, but I can’t help but wonder.
This made me ask: what strengths do highly sensitive people bring to relationships? Because being sensitive can’t be all bad.
1. We’re tuned in to you.
Sensitive people tend to pay close attention to the people around them. We tune in to body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice. We notice when someone’s mood changes–even slightly. When someone is “not themselves,” we see it.
We also use our powers of perception to notice what makes others happy. Dr. Elaine N. Aron, author of the The Highly Sensitive Person, calls this remarkable ability “mate sensitivity.” Aron told the Huffington Post, “they not just in tune to what’s good for them but also what’s good for others.” This applies to non-romantic relationships as well.
Basically, it makes us happy to make others happy. And who wouldn’t want a friend or partner who looks out for them?
2. We’re empathetic.
Interestingly, highly sensitive people do not just have an idea of how someone else feels. They actually feel that way themselves to some extent. That’s because empathy is wired into sensitive people’s brains. According to Aron, one study found that sensitive people reacted more than non-sensitives when they saw photos of their loved ones being unhappy. Certain areas of their brain–related to empathy and the desire to do something–became active. So when we say we understand how you feel, we really do.
3. We try to deal with conflict gently.
Conflict isn’t pleasant, no matter who you are. But for highly sensitive people, fighting with a loved one can be torture. Aron explained that when a disagreement arises, a battle begins in the sensitive person’s mind. We feel torn between speaking up for what we believe is right and sitting back so we don’t provoke an angry reaction from the other person. Sensitive people often “go along to get along.”
It’s understandable why sensitive people avoid conflict, but this can lead to trouble in the long run. It means the sensitive person is frequently not getting their needs met. And an unbalanced relationship won’t last.
The good news: when sensitive people do engage in conflict, they do it gently—because they understand how emotionally painful fighting can be. In fact, sensitive people are capable of making great conflict resolvers. Because of our high levels of empathy, we tend to see things from the other person’s perspective. Someone who understands your side is just the person you want to be solving a disagreement with.
4. We’ll make the relationship more meaningful.
Sensitive people want to connect with others on a deep level. They want to talk about big ideas and personal thoughts. They may get restless or dissatisfied in relationships that lack meaningful interactions. In fact, Aron’s research found that sensitive people tend to get more bored in marriages than non-sensitives. This is mostly due to the lack of meaningful interaction that happens naturally as time goes on.
But there’s an upside to this: sensitive people may work harder to have stimulating conversations with their partners, Aron explained. They bring a level of intimacy and meaning to the relationship that’s hard to find elsewhere.
5. For us, sex is powerful.
Sensitive people—especially women—may feel out of place in today’s culture that seems to glorify one night stands and casual sex. In her book, The Highly Sensitive Person in Love: Understanding and Managing Relationships When the World Overwhelms You, Aron wrote that sensitive women are more likely to have fewer sexual partners over their lifetime compared to non-sensitive women. They are more likely to have sex for the first time at an older age, and they need to feel loving toward their partners in order to enjoy sex. (Interestingly, sensitive men did not report the same things, but they were more likely to currently be in a relationship than non-sensitive men.)
This is because sensitive people don’t take sex lightly. They’re more likely to view sex as “mysterious and powerful,” according to Aron. For many sensitive people, sex is truly an act of love-making that is infused with emotion and intimacy. It’s another way they bring deeper meaning to a relationship.
6. We love deeply.
Sensitive people are often driven by their emotions. So it should be no surprise that they tend to fall in love harder than non-sensitives, Aron found. This is because we don’t take any relationship, or our feelings, lightly. “We don’t think about anything if we’re not motivated by some emotion, whether it’s curiosity, love, anger or fear,” Aron said. “We think about things because we feel something about them.”
Life isn’t always easy for us sensitive people, and we chose our relationships carefully. If you’re a friend or the partner of a sensitive person, know that we treasure you deeply—and our emotions prove it.