If you’re anything like me your temperament as a Highly Sensitive Introvert makes it easy to care deeply about your beloveds. It’s pretty likely that you love animals, too. And you might be so sensitive to other beings feeling pain—emotional or physical—that you stay away from news stories or movies that center on abuse, torture, or violence.
Is this ringing any bells?
I’ve been scolded many times for not keeping up with what’s happening in the news, but every time I take a chance and look at the front page of a newspaper there’s a story my system can’t handle—something that makes my heart hurt or brings images into my mind that are disturbing and not easily erased.
Sensitive Introverts are empathic (they have deep empathy) and this often means that they physically or emotionally feel the pain that others are experiencing.
They desperately want to change the systems that are creating pain for others and when this is impossible, they feel helpless, restless, or even guilty. If the helpless feeling is deepened with ongoing news of hurtful situations an SI may begin to feel hopeless, resigned, even depressed.
This is me to a T.
Every time there’s a story about a child being sexually abused, or babies taken from their parents and held in detention centers, climate change, or puppy mills my heart breaks. But after a while of hearing these stories I can’t take it—I feel like I’m paralyzed.
Your extreme empathy about things that are meaningful to you is one of the traits of the Sensitive Introvert.
But now I want to take you in a different direction. I’m betting that while you’ll bend over backwards to help someone you care about you’re still pretty hard on yourself.
You hold yourself to high (maybe impossible) standards, don’t cut yourself slack, feel guilty or weak when you’re not doing a super human job, and chastise yourself if you can’t keep up with everyone else.
You have empathy and understanding for others, but not for yourself.
It’s true that having high standards can be motivating, but it can also crush you—especially if you’re not aware of how to meet your needs and set yourself up for success.
For me, being effective requires me to screen out a lot of the news and plenty of movies. If I’m shut down due to the media I’ve let in, I can’t take care of my family or do my work to the best of my ability. Being the best version of myself means not paying attention to every shred of the hard stuff going on in the world. That was a difficult decision for me to get to, but I’ve found it’s better for me to focus on what I can change, not be in despair over what I can’t. It’s one of the ways I set my environment up for success.
Of course each person is unique, but Sensitive Introverts on the whole have a lot of similarities in what helps us to be productive and engaged without experiencing overwhelm or shut down. Here are a few things to start you thinking.
Often we have this idea that we have to work hard all the time, or deny ourselves pleasure, to be a good person. This was something ingrained in me as a child, but as an adult I’ve found the opposite to be true.
When I would try to grind through tasks without taking a break so that I could get more done, my attention would falter and I’d find myself distracted and surfing the web on a whim. In the end, because I didn’t take time to meet my needs, I wasted more time and got less done.
Now I’ll take an hour in the middle of the day to go for a walk with my dog and come back to my work energized, smiling, and with renewed brain power and resolve.
If I’m nodding off during a tedious task I listen to my body and take a short nap instead of trying to soldier through and end up doing a poor job.
Granted, I run my own business and have a lot of freedom in determining my work day which not everyone does. But I invite you to look at where you can be kinder to yourself during your day.
Where are you pushing too hard and not getting the result you want?
When do you need a short break to rest your mind or take a few minutes of solitude?
What makes you feel full of energy or helps to refocus your mind?
What small adjustment would allow you more comfort? (Having someone use headphones instead of playing music out loud, changing to a desk that’s not under the air conditioning vent, asking co-workers to take lengthy conversations to a conference room are some possibilities.)
Sometimes just stepping outside for five minutes and taking a few deep breaths can bring the clarity of mind and nourishment you need.
As a Sensitive Introvert you notice more subtle details and get overwhelmed more easily.
This is simply how the neurological system you were born with functions. Making adjustments in your environment or taking time to recharge are small things that can alleviate being miserable and allow you to function more authentically as your best self.
When you take care of yourself you're more available to help those you care about and to work on causes that are important to you.
Just as you have huge empathy for others, you can have empathy and understanding for yourself. It’s not unreasonable to create an environment for yourself, wherever you work, in which you can do your best by meeting your needs.