I have a 6th sense.
You do, too, if you’re a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP). In fact, it seems 20% of bipedal humanoids are HSPs. And possibly 100% of all dogs. For those of us who know what it means, it’s a call to arms…human arms. It makes us reach out to those who identify and relay our own story to further the bond. HSPs Unite! Those who do not know what it means might have a negative perception simply by its sound. Look at those silly humans and their silly feelings, pff. It feels like we’re constantly fighting some battle, whether internal or external. It never feels like we can come up for air.
I’ll be the first to tell you that this 6th sense doesn’t always feel like a gift.
I won’t lie. It tends to overexpose me and alienate those around me who cannot understand the surge of emotions I reveal. Heck, my own husband sometimes rolls his eyes at me when I get tears in my eyes watching Planet Life. That’s nature, honey! But it sure looks like a family being torn apart whose kid will never have the chance to see the true beauty of this Earth…at least to me. Let’s not even get into the story of the killer whale that carried its dead calf for 17 days. I feel every part of that whale mom’s grief, and I think about it frequently.
I tend to cry at the most mundane things, such as Laundry Detergent, Pampers, & Grocery Stores commercials. Go figure. Show me a close-knit family, a rambunctious dog, and a crawling baby, and I’m in tears. You got me. And then I tear up at everything else. Orchestras. Ballet. Paintings. Anything raw that people put out into the world, I absorb and feel with every ounce of my being.
But that’s not all.
I get inner panic attacks when I look out the window, and I see my husband arguing with a neighbor. Oh my goodness, what will they think of me?! I lie awake at night trying to come up with the right words to say to apologize for something I’m not even remotely involved in. I notice every side-eye, every whispered word, and every indifferent aura as I walk by pissed-off neighbors—the price of being married to my complete opposite.
Being an HSP also means that I absorb everyone else’s dreams and letdowns as if they were my own. For as long as I can remember, I placed the blame on my shoulders for every single fight my parents had. Even today, if someone close to me is in a bad mood, I take it personally. I try to diffuse any and every situation until I feel the shift in mood. I’m unable to sleep or function as long as the conflict is unresolved. Again, even if I have nothing to do with it. If my husband is having a bad day at work, my whole day is unraveled because I soak up his energy when I walk into the house.
The funny thing is that I’ve been like this my entire life.
Yet, I had no idea I was an HSP until a few months ago. I sure as heck identified with it the moment I read the words: absorb other people’s feelings. No wonder I’m so darn exhausted ALL the time *running to let the husband know*.
And it’s no longer a wonder that for many years, my mood at work reflected that of those around me. A single off-comment from a colleague would put me on edge. A flat-toned response from my manager to a request made me feel worthless for days.
And for goodness sake, it’s no wonder that I am so darn jumpy with loud noises, or whenever I walk into a room, and my husband is literally standing there like a statue. Waiting for me to scream my little heart out…on purpose, no less. He seems to think it’s hilarious that it takes me a good second or two to understand what just happened and to recognize him after my shrieks bounce off the walls.
Now that I know better and have assessed my personality against all the signs of being an HSP, I can finally express what it’s like working in corporate America with this 6th sense.
Here are 4 things that affect an HSP at work
1. Walking by without acknowledging me is like throwing a dagger to my heart
Taking things personally is the name of the game for an HSP. I’ve learned to manage it throughout the years and shrug things off for the most part, but the smallest gesture of not saying good morning when you walk by my desk/cubicle still hits me straight in the heart. It takes NO effort—literally none. You walk by, you say good morning, or anything to acknowledge that I exist. We work together, for goodness sake!
And that’s not even the most frustrating part, to be honest, because if there was never an acknowledgment from the beginning, I could live with that consistency. But if you walk by one day and ignore me, while the next day you’re all sunshine and rainbows, I’m going to have a problem with that. I’m going to think I did something to piss you off. And there’s nothing I hate more than trying to figure that out.
2. Replying with unfeeling and emoji-empty e-mails makes me anxious
This might totally be a millennial thing, but if you’re not matching my level of e-mail energy back, I’m going to assume you don’t like me. It’s even more concerning to me when a reply comes back from a manager, and it’s completely tone-deaf. A few years ago, I had my baby and sent out an e-mail with an update. While most of the responses back were filled with balloons and happy faces, my manager replied with a flat congratulations. Great, now I can’t even enjoy my newborn. And that’s not even the most frustrating part. If during our one-on-one conversations, you’re this happy-go-lucky person, but then you respond to my e-mails Morticia style, I’m going to think there’s a problem with the work I’m doing or that you’re a straight-up shape-shifter.
3. Not including me in a group lunch or celebration creates resentment
Listen, I’m an introvert. I love lunches at my desk or alone in the park with my audible on, but I also seek connection just as much as the next door extrovert, so when I see people that I talk to frequently congregate, walk by, and not ask me to join their group lunch, I silently cry inside. Disclaimer: this feeling happens when I’ve been included previously. Most people assume that because I decline an invitation once, they should opt-out of asking again. Ask again. Unless you really don’t like me, then I get it. It takes no effort to ask, yet it means the world to an HSP. We DO want to be included, even though we enjoy being on our own most of the time.
4. Not paying attention to who you recognize tugs at my worthiness
There’s a monthly occurrence at work where the entire team recognizes one another and celebrates any and all recent achievements. We jot down our colleagues’ and managers’ names on cards, and we personally recognize them for a specific value they exhibited. Of course, some people are more prolific in giving out recognition, and if it just so happens that you work with inconsiderate colleagues who don’t take the time to write down something, you’re gonna be left by the wayside. It happens.
But if a particular person I work with knows how much effort I put in, or if I share some wins with my manager, and I’m being left out during the recognition meeting, I will feel unvalued. As an HSP, I look at everyone’s face when they get (and not) recognized. I tally up how many times people get recognized (and not) to do my part and include as many people as I can. But when that’s not reciprocated, my sensitivity kicks into high gear. And I become cynical.
Other things tug at my soul, but these are the most recurring ones.
At times, I wish I could shed this 6th sense just to breathe easier and go to bed peacefully. But the more I accept and fully embody being an HSP, the more I appreciate the exceptional visibility I have into the hidden world surrounding me. I love that I feel so deeply and so immensely. It allows me to connect with those around me at a much higher level and understand them in ways they probably don’t.
Ultimately I have to accept that most people around me will not reciprocate back, but the more I let them know what affects me, the closer I can get them.
This article was featured in Highly Sensitive Refuge.