Are you a Highly Sensitive Person? Your HSP is more valuable than you think


IF YOU ARE A HIGHLY SENSITIVE PERSON, it sometimes seems as if life is a burden rather than a joy. You are sensitive to other people’s moods, criticism impacts you more than it should, and you worry about issues others don’t even bother to think about.

How to put your HSP to good use
Still, in my experience HSP offers a set of valuable traits which could create a kinder, safer and more civilised society. But how exactly can you put your HSP to such use that you grow your self-confidence and make the most of your personal qualities? Mindfulness is the answer you’ve been looking for.

In this article I will explore the character traits of HSP and how mindfulness can help you contain the negatives, so that you, as a highly sensitive person, can live your life to the fullest.

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No time to read this article? Download my free ebook and discover how my unique mindfulness approach can change your life for the better. You’ll feel more balanced and emotionally stronger within just a week.

This article is going to change your life

If you have HSP, this is an important article to read. The information and advice I give here is different from anything else you’ve read before, since I won’t tire you with so-called 'insights' and 'advice' that you could easily have come up with yourself – and actually won’t help at all.

I used to be a complete stress-junkie but I’m now an experienced mindfulness expert. On top of that, I am also a highly sensitive person. With the help of my no-nonsense mindfulness approach, thousands of people in Europe, Australia and the US have ditched their stressful habits and turned their lives around.

No-nonsense mindfulness
Every issue that my clients write me about, I examine from the timeless wisdom of mindfulness. And so my approach differs dramatically from the standard and perfectly useless advice that psychologists so readily cough up, such as Feeling stressed? Just stop worrying! - duh!!

So, this article is different from what you expect and that’s why I think reading this might actually change your life. And don't worry, it only takes two minutes :-)

What does it mean to be a Highly Sensitive Person?

Highly Sensitive Person is the official term for a relatively new phenomenon, introduced in 1996 by the American psychologist Elaine Aron. But it’s not actually that new.  More than a century ago, the famous psychologist Carl Jung already wrote about the occurrence of extreme sensitivity among his patients. He already used the term HSP to distinguish introvert and extrovert personalities.

Researchers have recently created a comprehensible list of HSP characteristics. You will come across this list when you’re a bit further in this article, but I’m sure that you have seen this list before.

Understanding HSP
Still, I have included it because I haven’t written this article only for your benefits, but to also provide those who deal with highly sensitive persons in their private or professional lives with a better understanding of this personality type. The more people understand HSP and what it means to live with HSP, the easier it will be for you to pull HSP away from the realm of extravagant new ‘disorders’ and start dealing with it in a practical way.

My life as a highly sensitive person

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Hi, my name is Marisa Garau and for the first 40 years of my existence I was totally oblivious to the fact that I have a highly sensitive personality. Of course I knew that I was very sensitive, but when I grew up – this was in the 1970s – it was simply labelled ‘short-tempered’, ‘thin-skinned’ and ‘ill-humoured’ and that was the end of it.

Not a clue
Not very nice, of course, but in those days people simply didn't have a clue that HSP is a fairly complex personality. ‘Stop moaning and just get on with it’ was what I was told. Fortunately we know a lot more about this phenomenon today and I'd like to share with you how I managed to put my HSP to such good use that it now strengthens rather than hinders me.

A radical decision
After having run my advertising agency in Amsterdam for 10 long and stressful years, I burned out in 2006. For me this was a warning that I had to take a good, hard look at myself. If I was really honest with myself, I had to acknowledge that for most of my life I had been frightened, angry, stressed and easily hurt. I had developed numerous disorders… autoimmune disease, an eye disease, hyperventilation and serious depression that forced me to have psychotherapy for more than a year. The day when I vowed that enough was enough… that I had had enough of my stressful life and exhausted body… I took a radical decision.

I promised myself that I would change my life for the better.

Fortunately, a good friend advised me to follow a mindfulness training course, which back then was quite a new phenomenon. Mindfulness immediately caught my attention. Before I even started the training, I had devoured Jon Kabat-Zinn’s books and I was completely overwhelmed by the principles of the mindfulness philosophy, wow!

A dream life
Since then mindfulness is my life companion (and my husband’s) and my life has changed unrecognisably. I used to be a fearful, easily upset and supersensitive little mouse, but I’m now a successful internet-entrepreneur who writes self-help books and even historical novels, and is regularly featured in major magazines and newspapers. All my disorders have vanished and I now live the life I used to dream of: without stress, without fear, without grief, and without permanently feeling hurt by other people’s impertinence. 

From weakness to advantage
Even better: thanks to mindfulness I am a much stronger person. Not because I have turned myself into a relentless she-devil, but because I have embraced my sensitivities and use them to help other highly sensitive people feeling better about themselves and creating more fulfilling lives.

Mindfulness has enabled me to be my true self. This has grown my self-confidence to such an extend that I’m not only a happier person, but I can also be of help to others. While HSP used to be my weakness and enemy, now I see it is my advantage and I even managed to make a living from it.

The characteristics of HSP

Before I will continue to talk about mindfulness and how it can simplify and enrich your life as a highly sensitive person, I would like to discuss the characteristics of the highly sensitive personality.

Researchers have put together a list of 16 character traits which most highly sensitive persons share:

  • You have a complex inner life and your feelings go deeper than other people's feelings

  • You are emotionally more reactive than others

  • You take random remarks and jokes more personally, in a negative way

  • You rather exercise by yourself than in a team

  • You need more time to come to a decision

  • You are longer upset if you’ve taken a wrong decision

  • You have an eye for detail more than others

  • You are probably an introvert (although 30% of highly sensitive persons is an extrovert)

  • You are a great coworker as you have an analytic mind

  • You have a higher risk of developing anxiety or depression

  • You are sensitive to loud sounds

  • You are sensitive to horror or violent movies

  • You cry more often and more easily than others

  • You are very considerate of other people’s sensitivities

  • Criticism has a huge impact on you, that’s why you try to avoid it

  • You can’t perform in a shared office space and you work best in your own office

How HSP manifested itself within my behaviour

All these characteristics were exactly what I did and felt and suffered from before I started to practise mindfulness.

  • As a teenager I spent hours and hours in my own room, drawing and writing and listening to music

  • I was not a lighthearted girl because I yearned to know the meaning of life and had no-one to talk to about such a subject

  • I never went to parties because I couldn’t cope with shallow chit-chat about motorbikes, sports and boys

  • I never went to concerts or firework displays because of the noise

  • I was terrible at sports because at school we only played team sports

  • I understood people who didn’t feel at ease in a certain social situation so well (in real life or on TV) that it made me feel miserable too

  • I held on to criticism for many many years and felt just as hurt or guilty as if it had happened only yesterday

  • If I had been hurt or humiliated by a certain person, I cut all contact and never even considered the option of forgiveness

  • I couldn’t stand horror movies (luckily for me back then Halloween was not celebrated in Europe) and still, when in a scene the murderer appears, it still scares the hell out of me

  • I never even notice the newspaper headlines because my attention is draw to the tiniest spelling mistake in the left bottom column

  • In any random situation involving crawling toddlers, carelessly running dogs, hot coffee, a passing manoeuvre on the road or a steep descend in the mountains, I’m always the only one who understands what can go wrong and that precautions must be taken right now!!!

Only with mindfulness I was able to turn my so-called character flaws into strengths

Due to the ignorance surrounding HSP when I grew up, my sensitive and serious disposition wasn’t acknowledged by my parents and teachers. Since I differed from other children (anxious instead of carefree; thoughtful instead of spontaneous; serious instead of playful) I was encourage to develop thick skin. But when that didn’t catch on, I was told not to be so serious and ill-humoured. It was well-meant advice for sure, but didn’t quite help me to become the child people expected me to be.

The silent wallflower
Later in life HSP kept on limiting me, causing me stress and grief. During functions at my work I was the silent wallflower rather than the popular party animal – not surprisingly I didn’t have many friends, although the friends I did have also displayed HSP traits and so we formed a special bond.

As it was getting progressively harder to keep going in the highly competitive and ultra shallow universe of Amsterdam advertising agencies I decided to quit and start my own agency. This allowed me to relax my oversensitive and overworked brain a little and I no longer suffered from the pressure of expectation from colleagues and bosses.

Playing roles to fit in
Only after I had completed the standard mindfulness training course in 2006, I started to realise that all those ‘weaknesses’ and ‘oddnesses’ I had suffered from for my whole life, were in fact my very talents and strengths.

In order to cope as a child and as a teenager, I had buried my true self under layers of acceptable but to me foreign behaviour that had enabled me to get through school and all its social demands.

Only with mindfulness I started to peal off all those layers that now no longer served me, and bit by bit I became my true self. Only then I understood that I had played a variety of roles – the submissive child, the quiet teenager, the supportive colleague, the successful owner of an advertising agency.

HSP is only a problem in relation to others

If you are highly sensitive, it actually isn’t an issue at all. It only becomes an issue because of the people around you, of whom the majority don’t know how to value your HSP traits and judge these to be a problem rather than a strength.

In our Western society we (whoever we are and whatever our background is, genetically as well as social-demographically) are all expected to cope with stress effectively, not take anything personally and never cry for no apparent reason.

  • You must be able to weather criticism without flinching an eye, and you must not feel hurt when someone crushes your soul.

  • You must be a true team player and you must be capable of making life decisions in a split second because you’re supposed to know exactly what you want and what you don’t want.

  • You must feel strong, be convinced that you are right always, never shy away from nasty confrontations, and have an opinion on about everything and, more importantly, ventilate that opinion as often as possible because then others will respect you.

  • You must be top-dog, always speak first and make others listen to you, and never doubt yourself.

If this is not you, then you’re a loser. It's good enough to carve out an average existence, but don’t expect to live the high life. Sure, you are that wonderful coworker who’s always willing to be of support to others when they’re struggling, but please don’t expect to actually achieve something exceptional in your lifetime.

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Would you like to know more about mindfulness so you can start appreciating your HSP traits? My approach is easy because you don't have to meditate – instead you practise with everyday habits. Get my free e-book today.

Mindfulness will help you to find a new balance – not despite but thanks to your highly sensitive personality. Feel free to download my ebook and learn all about my unique approach of mindfulness. You’ll feel more balanced and emotionally stronger within just a week.

Mindfulness is a relief to highly sensitive persons like you and me

Mindfulness encourages you to look at old issues with new eyes. It makes you more open-minded, you’ll start to wonder about standard responses, you’ll find the courage to question tired habits –and you’ll examine your own responses and habits as well as those of others. You'll find yourself questioning social dogmas like:

  • Why should employees be able to cope with senseless stress?

  • Why should parents always be caring and loving?

  • Why should women be supportive?

  • Why should man be brave and ambitious?

  • Why must you know exactly what you want and what your goals are?

A different light
Each and every social dogma that you never questioned before and that you tried so hard to adapt to, you will now view in a different light to examine what its actual value is for you, and to find out if it’s worth honouring only to keep others happy.

We're only human
Thanks to mindfulness I found that deep inside we all are highly sensitive persons. Look at babies. Can they cope with senseless stress? Are they team players? Do they want to be right at all times and be top-dog? Do babies never cry for no apparent reason when they feel hurt of frightened? All these so-called weird and inconvenient HSP traits are what makes us human. We were all born with it, which explains why so many of us exhibit these characteristics.

Not appreciated
But only because we are stuck in the present era, these traits are not being appreciated. Even worse, they are being fought and condemned from when we are born. And so children learn to bury these good, gentle, valuable traits because they are being manipulated into thinking that these are their weaknesses which need fixing in order to suit the ideal of the tough men and women who are the heroes of our present-day world. Don’t blame your parents or teachers, because they didn’t know any better since they only copied their parents’ approach. But because of mindlessly copying, we still revere this unnatural model without questioning its use and impact.

Fixing perfectly normal people
And do we see any great results from this approach? I don’t think so. What we see is that an alarming number of children don’t fit our ideal. They are labelled ‘too intense’, ‘too quiet’, ‘too demanding’ or ‘too introvert’. And so they are swept to specialists and psychologists in an attempt to get their ‘disorders’ fixed. Countless children are given therapy and chemicals of which we have no clue what the long-term effects will be on their bodies, their brains and their sensitive souls.

With mindfulness you come back to your true self

  • Mindfulness opens your eyes to different, healthier possibilities.

  • Mindfulness encourages you to think about how you'd like to live your life, rather than how you’d best adapt to the outside world.

  • Mindfulness encourages you to think about your strengths, rather than worry about your so-called weaknesses.

  • Mindfulness encourages you to think about you and how you, with your unique qualities, can be of value to the wellbeing of other people, animals or nature at large, rather than thinking that you have some disorder which needs fixing.

Be who you truly are
With mindfulness you’ll find peace within yourself. Rather than mindlessly accepting the opinions and demands of others (that you should toughen up and just cope with senseless stress) you will start appreciating yourself for who you really are. With mindfulness you’ll understand that you no longer have to play roles, but that you can simply be who you truly are.

Socially accepted behaviour
All the people you know in your life play roles because they were expected to play roles when they were children. From a young age they have adopted certain behaviour when they noticed that it pleased their parents or teachers. But believe me: every one of us experiences stress, anxiety, insecurity and a lack of self-esteem. But it’s covered up with layers of socially accepted behaviour, so that it seems we have everything under controle. Simply because it's what our communities, parents, teachers and employers like to see – strong, self-confident, dominant alpha men and women who will sustain the human race and lead us into the unknown future.

Fooling each other
But in reality we’re all just messing around, aren’t we? Fighting insecurity, agitation, low self-esteem, jealousy, anger, stress, anxiety and ignorance, while we all try to fit the unrealistic image we have helped creating by our mindless expectations. From the simple street sweeper to the president and everyone in between – we all play roles and fool each other with it.

Emotionally richer person
With mindfulness you no longer need this. I now see that all my formerly impossible HSP traits are actually my best friends who helped me turn my life around and become a better, emotionally richer person.

Since I have discovered my true self and decided to no longer conform to people who don’t have a clue what they’re doing and only play roles to fit in, all these traits suit me just fine in my life as a mindfulness teacher, wife, daughter, sister, aunt, friend and business partner.

You have the power to change what you don’t like about your HSP

There are a few HSP traits I didn’t quite like. Thanks to mindfulness, I managed to shed these and replace them with more effective traits.

No more judging
I’m no longer emotionally reactive and do not automatically react to funny remarks and jokes negatively. I have learned to give a conscious response to potentially stressful situations. I no longer fall apart when being confronted with a nasty remark or a disapproving look, but I keep thinking sensibly and make sure that my mind doesn’t resort to negative judgements.

I now understand that a look is only a disapproving look when I see it like that. I now understand that negativity often originates from my own mind, and does not necessarily come from the other person. I now know that I can limit myself to ‘this man had a look in his eyes’ without labeling that look. The same goes for certain ‘jokes’ which would have hurt me tremendously in the past. Jokes are jokes, and I simply refrain from labeling them as ‘mean’.

Wrong decisions are also a thing from the past in my new life. I think about a decision and take all the time I need. But once I have decided, I trust that it is the right decision. Trusting is one of the 10 mindfulness principles and by practising trust I never have to reverse decisions. I know I took a decision consciously, and I trust that it was and remains the right thing to have done.

Controlling thoughts
Before mindfulness I have been seriously depressed and needed psychotherapy for more than a year, but since mindfulness I have never been depressed or down again. I now know how to control my thoughts and how to stop them from telling me silly stories. I examine each thought carefully, and then I decide whether I should entertain this thought a bit more or simply put it aside. I only allow thoughts that help me and offer solutions to practical problems. I no longer entertain senseless thoughts that only want to drag me into regret about past events or fear of future situations.

Mindfulness has totally changed my life

This new attitude has changed my life for the better. In the past four years I have moved two times and migrated to the far end of the world... twice. It’s not easy to adapt to the New Zealand culture, especially for a highly sensitive person like me. There are numerous little differences between Kiwi and Dutch culture that I had to adjust to in order to be accepted by Kiwis. But thanks to mindfulness and my natural HSP-eye for details and subtleties, I have been able to adapt quickly. I also conquered my aversion to parties. In the first few years in New Zealand I blindly accepted every invitation and managed to cope well during those social gatherings – something that would have totally freaked my former self out.

Strong social network
Within no-time I managed to build a strong social network with many amazingly good friends, and it’s often a struggle to fit all the lovely catch-up breakfasts, lunches and dinners into my agenda. Due to cultural differences some remarks seem odd to me, but I no longer worry about them and I now simply accept things the way they are – often wonderful and great, and sometimes hard to understand. But I can now let it go and focus on the important stuff, such as my relationships and work.

Seriously committed
Professionally I have also become a more confident and authentic person. This enables me to commit to seriously huge projects and actually complete them. Since I started to practise mindfulness in 2006, I have written 2 internationally published bestsellers on mindfulness plus a 120,000 word novel – mind you, this article is only 3,500 words :-) I develop highly practical, no-nonsense e-courses and write loads of articles and blogs about my unorthodox approach of mindfulness. I’m a guest blogger for websites such as Marie Claire and Men’s Health, I’m regularly being asked for interviews by magazines and newspapers and I’m often invited to share my insights at webinars about stress and related subjects.

I'm living prove that with mindfulness you can put your HSP traits to extremely good use. Download my free e-book and learn all about my unique approach of mindfulness. You’ll feel more balanced and emotionally stronger within just a week.

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Learn more about my down-to-earth mindfulness style and the great results you can achieve while following my approach. Get the free e-book now – no strings attached.

How can mindfulness help a highly sensitive person like you?

In this article you’ve read all about the ins and outs of HSP, and I hope that I have inspired you to embrace your highly sensitive personality and not regard it as a defect. I now give you 7 ways to celebrate your High Sensitive Personality by allowing mindfulness into your life.

Grow resilience

As a highly sensitive person you have been given special qualities and I would like to encourage you to use these without apologising or making excuses. I don’t know about you... but I feel hurt when someone makes a nasty remark. Everyone who claims that that doesn’t hurt, is not quite in touch with their feelings, now are they? But being sensitive doesn’t mean that you can’t make yourself a bit more resilient, and that’s exactly where mindfulness can add value to your life.

Unlearn limiting traits

With mindfulness you can benefit from those HSP traits that feel good and natural to you. The traits that seem to limit rather than serve you, can be unlearned or adjusted with the help of mindfulness, so that they will have less impact on your emotional wellbeing.

Calm worrying thoughts

Mindfulness teaches you how to calm busy, worrying thoughts so that you create space to see many areas of your life in a clearer light.

Make healthy decisions

While you were used to intuitively adapt to the demands and expectations of your family, friends or coworkers, you will now be able to take a good look at this attitude and see if it still serves you, or if it’s time to change certain relationships and maybe even consider leaving people behind when they take more than they give.

Honour your wishes

While you were used to do just about everything to live up to the requirements of your demanding job, you will now understand on a deep level that you can put your strong points to good use and adjust your work environment to your specific wishes, rather than waste your talents in a job that will never allow you to grow and blossom.

Understand the root of impertinent behaviour

While you were used to feel devastated for weeks or months because of someone’s silly remarks, you will now see that it’s useless to have other people’s impertinent behaviour impact you so severely, since it doesn’t actually have anything to do with you. It’s nothing but a projection of the negative feelings that they struggle with.

Enrich and deepen your own life

With mindfulness you will peal off all those layers you have built to fit the image of the ideal child, friend or colleague. You will return to being your original self with character traits that make you unique, and that will allow you to be of true worth to the world around you.

Mindfulness will help you to win back your inborn self-confidence, so that you will come to view your HSP traits in a positive light, and to put them to use in such a positive way that you will enrich and deepen your own life and that of others.

In my free ebook ‘In the flow of mindfulness – without time-consuming meditations’ I explain how my approach differs from the standard mindfulness training. I teach you, through my digital Karma Kickstart e-course, to apply mindfulness in everything you do.

So with my approach you don’t have to learn to meditate, but you can start enjoying the benefits of mindfulness today with the help of my straightforward and highly effective exercises and advice. Don’t be surprise to start feeling a lot more focussed, calmer and more balanced within a week.

So sign up (no strings attached) and get my free e-book in your inbox right away.

Make sure you check the final page where you’ll find my mystery goodie which will make it even easier to choose my no-nonsense approach of mindfulness.

Marisa x

Marisa Garau