“Don’t underestimate me because I’m quiet. I know more than I say, think more than I speak and observe more than you know.” – Michaela Chung
“Why are you such a loner?”
“You’re too sensitive/emotional. You need to have thicker skin!”
“Why are you so complex? Keep things simple!”
“You won’t amount to much if you can’t speak up.”
“Why can’t you be more adjusted to your surroundings?”
If you’ve heard any of these statements in your life, the chances are that you might be an introvert and/or a highly sensitive person (HSP). But, before we proceed, let me clarify what introverted and HSP personalities look like.
Introverts tend to be quiet and reserved because of their natural tendency to focus on their inner universe. Unlike extroverts who gain energy from being around people, they usually expend energy in social settings and large groups of people, often feeling the need to step away and recharge their batteries. Introverts make up an estimated 25-40% of the world population.
Highly sensitive people, or HSPs, are sensitive to the world around them because of a nervous system that absorbs and processes more emotions and information than average allowing them to reflect on it on a deeper level. They tend to be more disturbed by loud noises, caffeine, strong smells and confrontations than others. About 15-20% of the global population are HSPs.
Even though introversion and high sensitivity are frequently lumped together, not all introverts are HSPs. An estimated 70% of HSPs are introverts. However, there is a lot of overlap between the two personality traits. Both introversion and high sensitivity are present from infancy, and they can’t be outgrown. Both traits cause a person to have an inward focus and a strong connection to their inner needs and thoughts. Keep in mind that there are different degrees of introversion and sensitivity.
It’s unfortunate that the characteristics of introverts or HSPs are rejected by some cultures where they are seen as ‘abnormal’ and ‘defective’. According to Arnie Kozak, author of The Everything Guide to the Introvert Edge, which touches on the cultural bias against sensitivity, he says, “Sensitivity is not valued in this culture; it is seen as a liability. You may have been told you were ‘too’ sensitive; you should have a ‘thicker skin’ … People may not understand your intensity. You may not understand it either.”
When I was a child, I was shy, reclusive and had a quiet disposition. I was perceived as being socially awkward because of my passive nature. I was picky about the kinds of foods I ate and had a low threshold for variation in my environment, something that others perceived as fussy behavior. As a result, like so many other introverts and HSPs, I grew up hearing that there was something wrong with me. I often felt like the strange one who was perpetually disengaged from mainstream society, watching others from the sidelines.
As I became increasingly self-aware, I began seeing my introversion and sensitivity as a strength. Being an introvert doesn’t mean that you’re socially anxious or shy, it just means that you need more space than others to recharge and introspect. To feel intensely, like an HSP, is not a weakness, but a sign of being a truly alive and compassionate being. Our heightened sensitivity and depth of processing allows us to absorb more data from our surroundings and analyze life’s subtleties on a deeper level.
It’s not the introvert or the HSP that’s broken, but society’s understanding of them that has become skewed and dysfunctional. We need to recognize and encourage their diligence, conscientiousness, ability to tune in to other people’s feelings, and their incredible attention to detail. They make great companions because they are tactful conversationalists who prefer to have a full understanding of a concept before blurting out their thoughts. They prefer deeper and more meaningful conversations as opposed to superficial small talk.
Because they spend so much time immersed in their own thoughts and feelings, they usually have rich and complex imaginations that brim with creative ideas and intuitive insights. Many innovators and pioneers in the fields of arts and science were textbook examples of introverts and HSPs such as Thomas Edison, Isaac Newton, Martin Luther King, Jane Goodall and the Dalai Lama.
Our introversion and sensitivity can be a major asset if we’re willing to perceive them in that light. Here are five ways that introverts and sensitive people, like you, can change the world:
1. Coming up with creative and innovative solutions: Introverts and HSPs tend to focus inward because they are more affected by external stimuli. They channel this energy into creative pursuits by tapping into their vivid imaginations filled with color, texture and knowledge. They’re more reflective, innovative and tend to process information and experiences in a deeper and fuller way. They use their dominant right-brain to connect the dots and come up with novel and groundbreaking ideas and solutions.
2. Facilitating peaceful negotiations: Introverts and HSPs tap into their natural empathy and heightened sensitivity to pick up on nuanced details that can facilitate peaceful negotiations. Although they prefer to avoid confrontation whenever possible, when they face it, they can understand the other person’s point of view and use it to dispel any tension. They can sense the emotions of those involved in a conflict and offer them comfort. Their infallible sense of justice makes them excellent mediators, capable of reducing stress for everyone involved. It’s precisely these gifts that give them the ability to put out the flames of anger, animosity, and blame in tense situations.
3. Beautifying the world: With their heightened senses and sensitivity, introverts and HSPs can pick up on the minute details that most people would miss. Their keen senses can trace all kinds of sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touch, absorbing them like a sponge. They can easily notice changes and errors because they process information more thoughtfully than others. Their creative flair, and ability to notice subtleties, make them great candidates for careers or hobbies that involve creativity, like fashion design, art, music, gardening, beauty therapy and plastic surgery. Some examples of HSPs and introverts in this field include Van Gogh, Leonardo Da Vinci, Michael Jackson, Mozart, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg.
4. Expressing kindness and compassion: Introverts and HSPs can easily tune into the emotions of those around them. For this reason, they display more empathy, compassion, and concern for others. They can pick up on vibes, nonverbal signs, and subtle gestures, which they use to read others and get a sense of their character and intentions. HSPs such as Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King and Eleanor Roosevelt are examples of famous historical figures that used their sensitivity to support their causes. They can even experience another person’s emotions as if they were their own, which is why they need to be extra careful about who, and where, they spend time, as the wrong people and places can drain their energy.
5. Being a source of wisdom and knowledge: As deeply profound and incisive thinkers, introverts and HSPs can pick up on truths and wisdom that others can’t. They process this data with their intricate senses and merge it with their creative musings, enabling them to connect the dots. The product of this cognitive digestion is insightful, original, and breakthrough ideas and concepts that often turn out to be pivotal sources of guidance for others.
So if you’re an HSP and/or an introvert, I encourage you to acknowledge and embrace your natural gifts. Be grateful for the kaleidoscopic lens through which you see the world and the wonderfully complex container of your inner world that captures all those details. With your keen sensitivity and awareness, you can enhance the world by sharing your wisdom, light, and beauty.
All my best on your journey,
Question: Do you consider yourself introverted and sensitive? If yes, which strengths do you identify with the most? How can you use those strengths to create a positive shift in your world?