Highly Sensitive People (HSPs), Introverts, and Feelings of Loneliness

I want to write about Highly Sensitive Persons (HSPs), and feelings of deep, profound, gutting, “loneliness” that they often find themselves having to deal with.

To begin with, the majority of HSPs would probably describe themselves as “Introverts”, in the sense that they recharge energy not through being in a group of people, but rather by having some time to themselves.

For that reason, HSPs will find it inevitably important to schedule sufficient periods of “downtime” into their lives.  Whether that means breaks from work, from friends and family even, etc.    It is important for them to have enough time for themselves to recharge, for their own mental and even physical health.

That said, from speaking with and working with many HSPs (and also from personal experience), I have found that HSPs are still likely to have dealt with (sometimes very acutely), at certain times in their lives (or for extended periods, or chronically even), feelings of “loneliness,”  “aloneness,”  wanting companionship, or just feeling a bit too alone.

It is interesting, because on one hand as HSP’s, we demand and crave aloneness — yet on the other hand, we can feel acutely separated and alone at times.

Part of this may have to do with our natural differences from others — as a minority of the population (say, 15-20% it is often estimated),  HSPs are outnumbered by those who think and feel perhaps not to the same degree of depth, or in the same way,  so they may isolate themselves,  consciously or unconsciously, from the grunting and mawing of regular society, which can be so exhausting, and often unfulfilling.

So why then should HSP’s also complain of feeling “too lonely” at times?   Are HSP’s just complainers?   Do they just want to have everything “just right”?

There may be something to that last suggesting — of everything needing to be “Just Right.”  We might call this the “Goldilocks Syndrome” (can’t be too hot, too cold, needs to be just perfect, or one feels uncomfortable).    Many of us as HSP’s may have been criticized, mocked, or blamed for seemingly being so hard to please — though we may be reluctant frankly to make demands on others,  others may see that we are made uncomfortable by anything outside of a specific range.

That is to say, that while HSP’s are more sensitive to goodness, joy, and beauty, they are also equally more sensitive to pain, sadness, and suffering.   There is a quote from Alan Watts to the effect that,  “One cannot become more sensitive to joy without correspondingly becoming more sensitive to precisely the same degree to suffering.”

Thus, while HSP’s may be able to derive tremendous joy, a wonderful feeling of serenity, calm, and fulfillment from just sitting alone quietly, perhaps by a river somewhere doing nothing  (one recalls Ram Dass saying, that after all of his years of spiritual practice, he is perfectly happy just to sit and look at a wall all day long — it brings him great joy);   at the same time,  they are also more sensitive to the negative feelings that may be associated with being a bit “too” alone.

That what others, the majority of the population, may feel as vague boredom,  for the Sensitive Person it may be a feeling of being struck from the depth of their heart, with a profound aloneness, sadness, lack of love, etc.    Even if they are not alone chronically!  Even if I was with my partner, best friend, or at work yesterday, if today I am suddenly all alone with nobody to turn to, this feeling may sneak up like a snake through the weeds!

It can certainly be surprising, for those of us who love solitude so much, to suddenly feel afflicted by our solitude.  Who saw it coming?   But it may help, at least a little bit, just to know that this is entirely a natural phenomenon, it is part of our being more sensitive to both the good things and the unpleasant in life;  we need not be ashamed of it;  and at the same time we need not (though we surely know this already!)  make a big deal of it either.    We can remember,  the most important words on the signet ring in the well-known story:   This Too Shall Pass. 

God Bless and Love to all Sensitive Persons who have felt loneliness, and who may even be feeling it now.   Here are some particular ways to deal with loneliness, as an HSP  (OK, just one overall suggestion, but perhaps more to come later:   )

  1.  Go Out for a Walk or Bike Ride (or some similar exercise) in a Natural Place

Nature and Exercise are two profoundly healthy and healing stimuli for the body, especially  for the Highly Sensitive Body.    Studies have found that people dealing with depression, may receive the same mood life they got by taking an anti-depressant pill, from simply going for a brisk walk.  Just 5-10 minutes of exercise (just tell yourself that, and you are likely to start enjoying yourself so much after 5-10 minutes, that you will want to stay out for 30 minutes or more — the whole day even),  has been to shown to lift one’s mood immensely.

If you want a longer term plan,  pack up some water bottles, a snack or two, etc., whatever makes you feel comfortable, maybe bring a book to read or something interesting to look at,  put them in a backpack,  and head out for a long bike ride somewhere.   Make a day of it.  Make your own picnic.   If it is a nice day, you are sure to end up having a glorious day on your own.

There is a quote from Emerson to the effect that, the Oyster becomes more beautiful through healing it’s own shell with Pearl.

That is, when you can learn to deal with your emotions yourself, and to sit with (or bike with, walk with, run with, exercise with), what you are feeling, you become stronger, more beautiful, a more real person.    All the best people are the people who have struggled with physical or emotional pain or difficulty.    All the most meaningful people’s lives have been fraught with tough times of varying degrees.

So perhaps we should celebrate our loneliness or feelings of pain, no?   It makes us deeper, more compassionate, more beautiful people in the end.  Even if you can’t tell that that is happening now.


Highly Sensitive Men (HSM), the Masculine, and Gandhi

I have been quite interested in the last few years in the phenomena of Highly Sensitive Persons (HSPs), largely because I am a Highly Sensitive Person myself;  and in particular recently in Highly Sensitive Men; again, because I am one myself.

What is High Sensitivity?  With the reader’s indulgence, I will copy my introduction from elsewhere:

High Sensitivity is an innate psycho-physical trait which comes with great benefits but also very real challenges.  It is found in 15-20% of the population — too many to be a disorder, but not enough to be well understood by the majority of those around you. HSPs have a greater sensitivity to their surroundings, often greater empathy (generally involuntary), a tendency to pick up on myriad subtleties in their environments, as well as to be overwhelmed more easily, due precisely to their perception involuntarily picking up on so much….


The bulk of the research on this has been done by the terrific Dr Elaine Aron, who pioneered this research and work, and has written several books and done much to publicize the emerging-ly understood phenomenon of HSP.   This trait, I would remind non-HSP’s as well as HSP’s themselves, is well-supported by empirical research.   Elaine Aron’s website, HSPerson.com, is a great starting point.



But why I am interested in the situation of Highly Sensitive Men (HSM), is multi-faceted.

For one thing, I find there to be what we might call an interesting tension between the masculine archetype on the one hand — which David Deida, for example, characterizes as being defined by an “unwavering consciousness”, as well as a toughness or independence, an ability to stand outside of a situation and view it dispassionately, an ability to be a warrior, whether physical or spiritual; and so on.


And on the other hand, the situation of Highly Sensitive Men. Being more sensitive to the stimuli in their environment, it may be more difficult for Highly Sensitive Men to maintain their strong and unwavering consciousness —


Largely because, simply we might say, their consciousness is aware of so much more    than the consciousness of the majority of the human population.

As empaths or sensitives, they are taking in a tremendous amount of stimuli;  and this much more easily leads to over-stimulation, giving them what might seem like a less strong or masculine aspect.

Also an increased sensitivity to pain, to loud noises or bright lights, to the emotions and energies of others around them;  would all seem to contribute to making it more difficult for the Highly Sensitive Man to take on the Warrior archetype.


That said, perhaps we should be mindful of the great achievements of certain Highly Sensitive Men throughout history, who were warriors in their own way.


The most relevant to this discussion jump out as Abraham Lincoln and Mahatma Gandhi.  These two were almost certainly Highly Sensitive Men.

Gandhi’s story in particular is the story of the evolution and growth of a man who was incredibly sensitive (for all of his life).   In childhood, Gandhi’s sensitivity made him at times painfully shy and nervous.  Even having grown up and moved to England, he had a terrific fear of public speaking.

In his autobiography, Gandhi recounts the story of how he was to make a brief address at his Vegetarian club (really an unimposing small group of unusual Englishmen, the English vegetarians of the 19th century) — he planned merely to read his speech off of a paper, but upon standing up, his head spun and he nearly fainted from this novel situation, and was unable to read his speech.  He gave it to another man to read it out for him.


This was the same man, who years later would address millions, who would speak to crowds of many thousands, with an extraordinary self-assuredness and not a trace of fear or uncertainty.  A man who would become one of the greatest leaders of his century, and indeed one of the greatest human leaders in history.


Gandhi’s example shows that Highly Sensitive Men, by embracing their unique gifts, can become spiritual warriors of the highest degree.  In our next post, we will examine more carefully the example of Gandhi, and how he used his sensitivity to his advantage, despite the real difficulties it must have put in his way.

The wish of the HSP or Empath to “Help the World,” and preliminary thoughts on roles as teachers

[Appended Note: though this post came from the heart, it is of something of a low quality, largely due to the feelings of mental fatigue and residue of slight overwhelm referred to in the narrative. The quality of the thinking or writing may not be top-notch, and I have not yet been able to take this and edit it for improvements. Just wanted to let you know. Peace and goodwill.]

I have been very tired today – actually, mostly this afternoon. It has been a good but busy day here at Amritapuri, Amma’s Ashram in Kerala.

In the morning I did my laundry (handwash in a bucket as always), before going off to do my Seva shift with the compost team.

After this I had lunch, prior to coming back to my room. My roommate, Didanath, is a really cool and nice guy; he has been affiliated with Amma in some way since 1989, when at the age of 5 he met Amma with his mother. At that time Amma had only a handful of followers.

Amritapuri ashram, by the  Kerala backwaters
Amritapuri ashram, by the Kerala backwaters

Now of course, Amma must have thousands upon thousands of followers worldwide. I am not sure precisely what is the population of this ashram, but at any given time, particularly on weekends, there must be at least a thousand (perhaps a couple of thousands) of people here.

This must be one of the largest ashrams on earth, if not the very largest.

What actually tired out and overwhelmed me perhaps the most today, was talking at such length with my roommate Didanath. As I said, he is a really cool guy. That said, perhaps many HSP’s can relate to the notion of being thoroughly worn out by certain conversations, particularly with extroverts, particularly at certain times of the day, or in certain circumstances.

As it stands, this is not quite the easiest circumstance for me – that of sharing a room.

I think many HSP’s will recognize this feeling – the difficulty of lacking one’s own, completely private space to spend time in.

My situation is not so bad, as I am very lucky and blessed, that as Didanath is in many ways part of Amma’s own “inner circle” he actually spends very little time in the room itself. So a lot of the time it is my room.

But, I really like to have my own space, as I believe is the case with most HSP’s. It gives a feeling of security, of safety.

In any case, I could have just not spoken to D very much this afternoon. I was very tired – after doing my morning’s work, and then having a substantial lunch, I had entered what felt like a “siesta/rest” time of the day.

But, how to say…. I guess, since we have been roommates for several days already, and have barely spoken at all, I just wanted to “get him on my side,” so to speak. To show that I was a good person, and to develop some camaraderie, friendship, or at least good feelings, between us.

And in that, I think this being – this Highly Sensitive Person, with ulterior motives – was pretty successful.

We all want to be liked. And we all want others around us to think and to know that we like them as well (at least, HSP’s generally feel this way).

And so that was good. It tired me out, and it prevented me from perhaps being productive in other ways that I had planned.

But perhaps it is all for the best.

The Purpose of HSP’s here on Earth?

This discussion tunes me into and reminds me a little bit of the wider subject of higher purposes, particularly of those who are HSP’s or what are called in some circles, “Empaths.”

I get the impression, reading the literature on HSP’s and Empaths, and also speaking to the HSP’s and Empaths whom I know personally, that HSP’s/Empaths above all tend to have a strong sense of their purpose and drive as being some destiny or importance to help others or to help the world.

There seems to be a strong element and desire for selfless service in the HSP or Empath.

(In this sense, life at projects like Sadhana Forest, as well as at Ashrams such as Amma’s Ashram, where there is a focus on karma yoga, or the yoga of action – manifesting as Seva or selfless service (that is, work not for one’s own personal good, but work as spiritual practice, or work for the good of humanity, etc.) would seem to be something that HSP’s and Empaths should give a try to sometime during their lives. I personally highly recommend trying to get into some sort of voluntarism or selfless service – that said, I tend to believe that likely the majority of HSP’s are already involved in some kinds of voluntary work already)…

I have noted in myself, even when it comes to something as mundane as “conversations” – that often there will arise in me a strong drive, simply, to “make the other person happy.”

Often, there will be a feeling on my own end, that a conversation, that talking, is really not something that I want to do right now.empath thing aura bubble

I feel like it will wear me out, suck out my energy, etc., etc.

But there is a feeling that it may be good for the other person.

So it was in part this early afternoon with Didanath. I wanted to make him happy, and make him feel good about the arrangement in his room.

Though of course there was also my own personal ulterior motive previously alluded to – that of making my roommate “like me” – and become an ally and friend of mine, particularly useful early on in this relationship, prior to any possible issues arising with the room and energies surrounding it.

This leads to the interesting question, of whether we, as HSP’s or Empaths, are really helping people, by simply making them feel happy (even when it is done through an activity that we may experience as draining).

I believe this is a complex question, and may depend on the individual situation.

That said, I was very inspired to read at one time, in this direction, something about the mission of HSP’s and Empaths in general, “on earth.”

As Empaths, we tend to be able to take on the negative feelings and energies of other people.

We can sometimes absorb all of their energies like a sponge (and generally do).

That said, I was reading (and now I wish I remembered the source), that the real mission of HSP’s is not simply to absorb everyone’s energy, and give back love and light.

But that rather, in particular, the mission of HSP’s is not simply to alter people’s moods, in the moment, but —

To show people how not to be attached to their changing moods; or to show them how to bring out positivity in themselves, by themselves or for themselves.

(A little bit like the simple old proverb – that to give a man a fish is to feed him for a day, but to teach him to fish, is to feed him for a lifetime.)

I was struck and inspired by this notion and image of HSP’s and Empaths as teachers. As teachers in particular of how to avoid negativity, and how to bring out the sensitivity, positivity, and light, which are the true homes of HSP’s when they are in balance.

Thoughts for Later On

As I am wearing myself out a little bit writing all of this, on this long day, perhaps I should pause here for now.

That said, I wish to take this up in more detail in future posts – I wish to continue to look along the lines of, how specifically HSPs or Empaths can be teachers of these disciplines… And what sort of disciplines in particular these are.

The first things that come to me are that the disciplines of mindfulness, of equanimity, of meditation, and so on, would seem to be largely central in this regard.

That Empaths and HSP’s – so prone to getting caught in the world-wide-web of emotional energy, that is all around us, themselves – could, if they are able to master certain techniques for handling these powerful emotional energies – end up being individuals who can pass on this knowledge to the rest of the world.

Perhaps HSPs and Empaths can, then, help the world in this way. I like the thought that this can be the kind of positive outlet for the desire for selfless service that is native to the HSP temperament.

I am very interested as always to hear your feedback. Love and peace. : )