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Why Do Highly Sensitive People Struggle to Remember Their Needs and How to Overcome It

Being a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) comes with its unique set of strengths and challenges. Many of the Sensitives that I now work with, come to engage with the medicine of Yoga because they also experience these challenges. As HSPs, we are wired to perceive the world in a profound way, often excelling in problem-solving, empathy, and the ability to see the bigger picture. Amidst these innate qualities, we are also more inclined to neglect our own needs and put others before ourselves.


This is certainly part of my story and often the one I see in my clients. For far too long, I completely disconnected from my body, in order to prioritise the needs of others. For me, this eventually resulted in complete burnout, anxiety & panic disorder. For others, it may be depression, various autoimmune conditions, debilitating migraines, and so many other conditions. Ultimately when we neglect our true needs, it will eventually manifest some way through the body. In this post, I’ll share why this happens and provide some important ways us sensitives can reconnect with self-care practices that get to the core of what we actually need.



Why Do Highly Sensitive People Forget Themselves?


1.    We are Wired to Help: 

We HSPs possess an extraordinary ability to understand different perspectives, grasp details, and see the broader picture. As such, we are our community’s natural counsellors, advisors, therapists and healers. We are often the friend that people know they can rely on for sound advice and practical help. This is not just a behavioural difference – our brains have real structural differences that reflects these abilities. For example, cells in the brain, known as mirror neurons are more active in HSPs. It is these cells that contribute to HSPs having a heightened empathy and understanding of others. These aspects of being sensitive, are absolutely one of the things that make us awesome!  However, when we are predisposed to have our attention ‘out there’ concerned with others, it can lead to an imbalance of where we put our time and energy.


2.    Meaningful Work and Causes: 

There is nothing more passionate and driven than a Highly Sensitive Person, who feels deeply about their work or cause. Whether this is your paid work, family life, or local/global issue, the motivation to ‘give it all you’ve got’ can be strong when you’re someone who feels things so deeply. The passion and dedication we bring to these endeavours can be all-consuming, making it easy to forget personal well-being in the pursuit of a greater purpose. We are also natural analysts and change-makers – perfect for the times we are living in! We need these qualities more than ever; whether it is campaigning for environmental issues or social injustice, raising funds for your local school, or the huge task of consciously raising children, we need those who can see the importance of the cause and the desire to make positive change. Yet this drive to make change can fuel the belief that the cause is more important than even our basic self-care.  


3.    People-Pleasing as a Coping Mechanism: Many of us sensitives have also developed a tendency to please others in order to be accepted, liked and to manage big feelings within or around us. This can be especially true for sensitives who grew up in difficult circumstances. In childhood, it may have felt easier and safer to become the helper/carer/smallest version of yourself because you were in a situation that was chaotic, unpredictable, or unreliable. This desire to maintain harmony and please others can carry over into all aspects of our life as we get older, overriding our awareness of our own needs. We might find ourselves saying things like ‘I don’t mind’, ‘Yes, of course I will help’, ‘Don’t worry about me’, ‘I will go with whatever you want to do’, and so on. This can be such a deeply ingrained pattern that until we start to really dig in, we might not even recognise that we are doing it. Personally, I have been working on this pattern for the last couple of years and while I am so much better at honouring my true wants and needs, I have realised that there are many layers to this pattern so can still slip up from time to time.


4.    Overwhelming Needs: 

Being in a sensitive body can be intense! When your sensory experience means taking in more information and processing it all so deeply, it can make being in a sensitive body overwhelming. The truth is a sensitive body often needs different things to a neurotypical body. This can include the need for extra sleep, more down time, greater need for quiet and space, as well as other things. So being in a sensitive body and looking after it can be a lot to accept and execute. It can also be out of kilter with what is acceptable in the dominant culture (e.g., the Monday to Friday 9 to 5, often doesn’t work well for HSPs). This could make it more likely for us sensitives to ‘switch off’ or detach from our bodies, although the needs still remain and can therefore go unmet.


5.    Society’s  Messaging:

The dominant culture in our modern, Western society tells us that being sensitive is a weakness, and that the only way we can be acceptable is to minimise our needs and ourselves. In addition, we have been bombarded with messages that tell us to choose productivity and efficiency over quality and depth, to multi-task over doing one thing at a time, to be fast rather than slow, and to always be busy rather than rest – all of which are often the ways that best suit us HSPs! So for a HSP to prioritise their needs, they would have to be comfortable with going against the  grain. Choosing to give yourself what you need might look like ;  saying no,  being less available for others,  focusing on one or two main commitments and pulling back from others, resting more and working differently to others. This is a hard ask of those of us that often have a hard time with  going against expectations.

 

There are so many influences that impact our ability to remember ourselves and what we need. There are just a few of the main ones that often affect sensitives, but your reasons will be as unique as you are. The important thing is to become aware of what draws you away from yourself the most. What is it that so easily lures YOU in to looking after the other and forgetting yourself?


How can us HSPs Prioritise Self-Care?


One of the greatest qualities of being a HSP is the greater ability to take on and embody new learnings. Of course, all of us can do this, but combining the curious mind with that depth of processing allows us sensitives to be more likely to take new learnings into our lives. Here are some of the main ways that you can cultivate a greater ability to recognise your needs and tend to them as a priority.


1.    Connect with Your Body: 

As mentioned, being in a sensitive body can be overwhelming, and so some of us can have a pattern of disconnecting with our body in order to cope. Yet in order to meet our needs, we have to reconnect because it is our body that has the the answers to what those needs are. This can be especially difficult for any of us that have experienced traumatic events, in which case it may have been necessary to disconnect. However, with support and a steady approach, it is possible to be fully aware of and more comfortable in your body again, so that you can feel those changing needs as they arise and practise responding to them. For me, early in my healing journey it was as simple as recognising when I needed to go to the loo, or when I needed a drink, or a rest. I had spent so much of my early life ‘out there’, hyper aware of what others needed or may need, that I had developed a pattern of complete disconnection to basic needs. Committing to a regular practice of connecting with your body and its sensations is so important. Whether through mindfulness, meditation, yoga or other mindful movement practice, tuning into your body is the first step to greater bodily awareness.


2.    Reflect on Your Relationship with Yourself:

When you start to become aware of your needs, it can lead to some difficult feelings and realisations. For example, you might start to feel things such as guilt when you choose to take a yoga class, or you might feel sadness at how much you have ignored your needs in the past. In these instances, it can be helpful to look at what is behind the feeling. Low self-esteem and self love can often be low in HSPs due to experiences of not being accepted by others. When we become more connected to ourselves, we can start to see what beliefs at the core of us might be driving our self-care neglect. For example, we might have the faulty belief that we are not as worthy of love and care as others are. In this case, taking time for self-reflection can be an important part of building a more compassionate relationship with yourself and to start challenging those held beliefs. As with many of these tools, you may benefit from receiving the support from a professional as you use them, as some of them can raise difficult emotions. Trust yourself to know when you need to reach out and give yourself permission to do so as the need arises.


3.    Cultivate Compassion for Yourself: 

Similarly, when we start to reflect we can often realise that we aren’t very kind to ourselves at all. One of the shadow sides of being a Highly Sensitive Person is that the inner critic is often very loud and we can struggle to accept ourselves as we fall short of this critic's unrealistically high expectations. The good news is, that with our heightened sense of empathy, we can practice turning those feelings towards ourselves. This can feel hard to begin with as we more well practised at critique! However, regularly practicing self-compassion can help build the muscle of self love, care and empathy. as well as developing the habit of treating yourself with kindness and understanding - even and especially when you make a mistake! In turn, this may contribute towards you acknowledging that your needs are just as valid and deserving of attention.


4.    Audit Your Relationships: 

Our sensitive natures can see us getting into friendships, romantic relationships, family & work dynamics that are imbalanced. You may have had the experience of the friend that is always dumping their stresses on you but rarely asks about you, or the partner that manipulates every disagreement so that you always come away feeling at fault, or the family member who often needs help but never offers any. Evaluating the relationships in your life can be a hugely daunting thing to do, but it is key to any HSP looking to care for themselves better to ask the following questions: Who drains me? In which relationships do I feel seen, heard and accepted? Which relationships have a balance of give and take? With whom do I struggle to create and maintain boundaries with? If this feels like a monstrous task, know that you do not need to do anything about it to begin with, and that it can be helpful to seek support from a trusted friend, therapist, or coach if you are struggling. Ultimately, awareness is the first step. Simply start to identify those relationships that are balanced and nourishing, and those that drain your energy. When you feel ready, you can begin to think about what boundaries you might want to put in place to minimise the impact of those that have a negative effect on your well-being.


5.    Remind Yourself of Your Preferences:

Often HSPs have different preferences to the majority – that is part of being a minority group and has to do with our unique wiring. How you prefer to socialise might be different, your hobbies, how you like to holiday, what you prefer to watch on TV, all of these and more are likely to be a little bit different. For a long time, I minimised what I liked and didn’t like just to fit in. I went out to loud, crowded night clubs, tried to see the point of alcohol, watched action-packed films, and generally tried to be ‘normal’. This seems crazy to me now, because I now know what I like and I couldn’t imagine a worse way for me to spend my time! Through lots of body work and inner reflection, I am now clear on what I don’t like and continually getting to know what I do. More importantly I fully accept myself in those preferences, even when they are different to most. Thankfully most of my friends are also neurodiverse in some way, so we all embrace each other’s uniqueness and this definitely has helped me feel a sense of belonging as I practised building compassion for myself. So this could be your cue to ask; What do I truly like, love and enjoy? What do I categorically not like, love or enjoy?


6.    Awareness of Your Patterns:

We all have ways of being that are  patterns or habits that we have developed as a strategy to navigate certain life circumstances. For example, you might have developed the habit of being super organised due to a time in your life that seemed difficult to control. Another example might be the habit of perfectionism, which may have been born out of a painful memory of being criticised for something. The thing about habits and patterns, is that they are  learned. They are not us, not our true nature. While we may have predispositions, they are separate from our true nature, which often can lie beneath these layers. These patterns are not inherently ‘bad’, they served a purpose at the time they were formed and may well have been necessary. Yet, later in life they can prevent us from expanding into our fullest self and living a life true to us. They can also prevent us from caring for ourselves in the way that we want and need. There is no quick and easy answer to this, other than to deepen your awareness of your own patterns and when they crop up. The beauty of being highly sensitive is that we are really good at reflecting. Making use of meditation, or a journal as a place to notice your thoughts, patterns and habits is a great place to begin, as well as chatting things through with a trusted friend.



I truly believe that being a Highly Sensitive Person is a gift. We are here for a reason and the world needs us to share our gifts. However, being highly sensitive means we need to make intentional efforts towards our healing and to uncovering the barriers that prevent our self care from taking greater priority. By understanding the reasons behind forgetting our needs and committing to practical tools that help us stay connected to ourselves, we can honour our sensitivity, well-being and the gifts that we have to share. Remembering ourselves is not selfish; it's a fundamental aspect of leading a fulfilling and harmonious life as an HSP - and you're worth it!


If you are looking for additional support for yourself as you navigate your healing journey and look to create self-care habits that nourish you from the inside out, why not get in touch? My Yoga Therapy & Mentoring packages might just be the right container for you.




 

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