The difference between being highly sensitive, and being highly reactive to triggers

Liesel Teversham

Liesel helps HSP introverts to embrace their sensitivity as a superpower, and overcome obstacles so they can thrive. She also works with clients to solve their health issues, and has authored 2 books. More here.

Published on 2019/08/12

If you’re reading this article, I’m guessing that you are someone who identifies with having a sensitive nervous system. Maybe you’re an HSP or Empath. And perhaps you feel that it’s very hard to be in the world with all it’s challenges, when one is this sensitive.

I get it! I’m one too.

For those who are not in one of the above categories: did you know that around 20% of the world’s population have a physical nervous system that is more sensitive than the other 80%? It’s not a flaw, it’s not good or bad. It does make us feel a bit different from the rest of the world.

It can feel hard for the sensitive 20%, especially when friends or family keep saying “You’re too sensitive! Grow a thicker skin.” That’s a bit like telling someone “Your eyes are too blue, grow brown eyes!”

And on the other hand….

I’m in many different Facebook groups for HSPs, Empaths and Introverts. I am noticing a particular energy and type of posts there that seem to send out the message that sensitive people are victims, that no-one understands how bad they have it. That they are SO sensitive that they need to hide from the world, and can’t bear being in it.

Recently I’ve had this very discussion in my own group for Introverts.

I have a few thoughts about Sensitives and our role in the world.

First: Empathy

If you’re an HSP or Empath and have felt that it’s difficult to face all the things that make your nervous system cringe or shrink back, I’m with you. It CAN be really hard on us when we see animals, plants or humans suffer and endure terrible things. I’m both an HSP and Empath and I’ve had my share of suffering because of the sensitivity.

Second: Sensitivity is a gift

We’re not victims, and we don’t need to cower in a corner because of all our perception of a cruel world. We came to Earth with very beautiful gifts. Kindness, love, compassion, gentleness, empathy, understanding, a healing spirit…. And I don’t believe for one single second that we came here to suffer because of our sensitivity. We came here to make a difference, to heal the rifts, the harsh places, the things that people don’t understand about each other.

Third: Sensitive vs reactive

There is a huge difference between having a sensitive nervous system (the 20%) and being constantly and highly reactive to our triggers in unhealthy ways. Every human being goes through things in childhood that set up triggers. As adults, we all have reactions when the triggers are set off.

It might be true that HSP’s end up with more triggers than the 80%, because their nervous system took more “note” of things that felt unsafe in childhood.

And…. We don’t have to KEEP being so triggered. We can learn healthier ways to respond to difficult things, by processing the roots of our triggers… so that we don’t have to react so strongly, and constantly, to things that send our nervous system into overdrive.

Fourth: Do the inner work

It’s up to each of us to take responsibility for healing our triggers. The world will not stop doing what it does because we’re uncomfortable. It will not suddenly become a kinder, more caring place… and if we keep hiding and cowering in our little corner “because it’s so tough out there”, no-one will show the world how to become more caring.

That, I believe, IS The role of sensitive people. We bring kindness, compassion, caring, love, gentleness, empathy, the ability to “be” with someone in their suffering without having to “do” or “fix”… IF we have done our inner work to become the strong sensitive people that I believe we can be.

What is inner work?

It’s the work we need to do to find the origins and roots of those triggers. We can do some of that work ourselves, and often we need the support of a professional objective person, to help us dig a little deeper. The origins of our traumatized nervous systems are often hidden in the subconscious – out of our own reach. We need someone to kindly, gently, ask the questions, lead the way, help us remember and then clear the charge around it.

We need to clear up the fight-flight-freeze response that is triggered by the amygdala, due to triggers (small, and big) set up in childhood.

With persistence, patience, and kindness, we are absolutely able to get past the “over-sensitive” nervous system reactions. Then we won’t get triggered around every corner – and we ARE able to function in a strong way, with our gifts.

What it won’t do or mean

It doesn’t mean that our beautiful, kind, sensitive nature will disappear. We fortunately can’t process a sensitive nervous system “away”.

What WILL happen is we will become less reactive and able to have healthier responses to triggers…. The same things simply won’t trigger us anymore into fight, flight or freeze mode. We’ll be able to think more clearly and take appropriate action.

As sensitive people, we still might not want to be the activist who fights for animal or child rights…. Because our nervous system is designed for something else, and our strengths might lie elsewhere. However – we will have a healthier ability to function in the world – without the need to cower in corners and complain that “the world is just such a cruel place and I can’t bear it here.”

We will never condone cruelty, violence or harshness…. Yet we can learn to feel stronger when we do encounter it.

Your thoughts

I’d love to hear your thoughts. I feel very strongly about the job sensitive people came to do. We cannot fulfil that role if we’re not emotionally healthy and available for it. Feel free to drop a comment below.

Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay


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