Author Shannon Kaiser: How To Survive And Thrive As A Highly Sensitive Person

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Make peace your priority so negativity cannot exist. In all situations, we have an option to see the dark or the light, to embrace fear, or walk in love. Peace lives in every moment when you make it a priority. You may be stuck in fear, but fear breeds fear, which means every choice you make in fear will give you even more fear. So instead, relinquish your control and let love in. Inviting light to all situations will help uplift you and bring you harmony.

As a part of our series about How To Survive And Thrive As A Highly Sensitive Person, I had the pleasure of interviewing Shannon Kaiser.

Shannon Kaiser is a world-renowned spiritual and self-love teacher, speaker, and empowerment coach. A bestselling author of five books on the psychology of happiness and fulfillment, she guides people to awaken and align to their true selves so they can live to their highest potential. Out on April 5, 2022, Shannon’s newest book, RETURN TO YOU: 11 SPIRITUAL LESSONS FOR UNSHAKABLE INNER PEACE, is a complete guide to Shannon’s most effective strategies for tapping your innate wisdom and stepping into your true power. Named among the “Top 100 Women to Watch in Wellness” by mindbodygreen and “your go-to happiness booster” by Health magazine, Shannon lives in Portland, Oregon, with her rescue dog, Chance.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and what you do professionally?

I am the bestselling author of five books on the psychology of happiness and fulfillment, including The Self-Love Experiment, Find Your Happy Daily Mantras, and my new book, Return to You: 11 Spiritual Lessons for Unshakable Inner Peace (April 5, 2022). I am also an oracle card creator. As an international life (mindset) coach, speaker, and retreat leader, I help people connect to their true selves to live the life they are made for.

Thank you for your bravery and strength in being so open with us. I understand how hard this is. Can you help define for our readers what is meant by a Highly Sensitive Person? Does it simply mean that feelings are easily hurt or offended?

Growing up, I didn’t know I was a highly sensitive person. I felt and was told I was different, so it caused a lot of disharmony in my life, including eating disorders, drug addiction, depression, and anxiety. Like so many others, I was trying to fit into the world, but as highly sensitive persons (HSP), we feel things deeply and see the world through our emotions. For example, we can be sitting next to someone who tells us they are doing well, but we feel they are really sad. We feel emotions, whether they are ours or someone else’s, and sometimes we think those emotions are ours (which partly caused my depression and panic attacks).

So it doesn’t mean your feelings get hurt or you get offended (some HSPs do), but these aspects are closely linked to a person’s ability not to take things personally.

For someone who is not an HSP, yes, it will look like the highly sensitive person gets hurt easily and is always offended, but this is because their brains and the way they process their emotions are very different.

Does a Highly Sensitive Person have a higher degree of empathy towards others? Is a Highly Sensitive Person offended by hurtful remarks made about other people?

It has been estimated that roughly 15–20% of the population is highly sensitive. As an HSP, it simply means one is highly sensitive to their environment. Sights, sounds, smells, and other forms of sensory input may cause a heightened experience for HSPs. For example, a barely perceptible sound to most people may be very noticeable and possibly even painful to an HSP. This trait reflects a certain type of survival strategy: being observant before acting. The brains of highly sensitive persons (HSPs) work a little differently than others. An HSP can perceive with all sense or senses. They are susceptible to slight differences or changes in the environment, and they process information differently as it is felt first before it is understood.

So it really has nothing to do with remarks or being offended but how we navigate and process the world. The highly sensitive person tends to have a higher degree of empathy toward others, as they want to make others feel better and take away the world’s pain.

Does a Highly Sensitive Person have greater difficulty with certain parts of popular culture, entertainment or news, that depict emotional or physical pain? Can you explain or give a story?

In most Western cultures, sensitivity is not valued, so HSPs tend to have low self-esteem. We are told our entire life that something is wrong with us because our dominant sense is our emotions, and we navigate life by feeling. As feelers, living in a world that teaches us not to feel, we are then told, “don’t be so sensitive,” so we feel abnormal. In fact, the worst thing you can say to an HSP is, “You’re being too sensitive.”

Can you please share a story about how your highly sensitive nature created problems at work or socially?

Yes, I share how this has impacted me in the first lesson of my book Return to You:

A childhood friend reached out to me, someone I hadn’t heard from in over twenty-eight years. He mentioned he was going through old boxes and had found a letter and poem that I’d written for him when I was thirteen. He sent a photo of the handwritten poem and letter, along with the message, “You always know how to make people feel special.” Little did he know how special it was to me that he’d sent me that note.

When I read the letter, I flashed back in time to thirteen-year-old me, the one who loved writing and expressing herself through words. I didn’t know it when I was little, but I was an extremely sensitive and empathic child, so I felt into other people’s energy. I always wanted to make people feel better; this was my superpower, my natural-born gift. I wanted so much to take away others’ pain, and writing became the avenue through which I could do that best.

I believe we all have natural gifts, which stem from what I call our true nature, that unique aspect of us that brings us immense joy and peace. For me it has always been writing and helping people feel better. Thank goodness this is now what I do for a career as an author and empowerment coach, but it was a long, windy road to return to me.

My thirteen-year-old self didn’t know this was my true essence, and fitting in and being liked became a bigger priority than liking myself or doing what I enjoyed. When I was younger, I had a learning disability that made it difficult for me to learn how to read, spell and write efficiently. Other kids made fun of me for this. The bullying continued each year, so in order to feel safe from the ridicule, I gave up my natural expressions of self, and quit writing and being there for people. I turned off my sensitivity by turning to food. By age fourteen, I had fallen away from me. It’s no coincidence that my eating disorders started then, as well as my negative self-talk and self-hate.

It is no secret that we live in a world that invites us to abandon our true selves in the pursuit of fitting in. We want so desperately to be liked that we sacrifice our real self, never asking, who am I really? For over three decades, my need to be liked and to fit in, along with my concern about what others thought about me, overshadowed my ability to be my true self. This is called the split: It’s the moment our soul falls away from its whole self in an effort to maintain safety and the status quo.

Excerpted from Return To You: 11 Spiritual Lessons for Unshakable Inner Peace. Sounds True, April 2022. Reprinted with permission.

When did you suspect that your level of sensitivity was above the societal norm? How did you come to see yourself as “too sensitive”?

From a very young age, I saw the world differently. I felt the energy of nature and could feel other people’s pain. I have never once thought I am “too sensitive,” but the world has told me that throughout my entire life, which is why I have suffered from low self-esteem, body issues, and lack of self-love. But I wrote a book about it, The Self-Love Experiment, and have thankfully worked through aspects of that and now see it as a superpower, not a weakness.

I’m sure that being Highly Sensitive also gives you certain advantages. Can you tell us a few advantages that Highly Sensitive people have?

Once I made peace with the way I was born, I learned how to weather the storms of life and fully enjoy the many advantages of being sensitive. Some top advantages:

  • Sensitive people can be very perceptive.
  • We are usually open-minded and accept others easily.
  • We care deeply about others and want to take away the pain, making us good activists, nurturers, and caretakers.
  • We are usually super creative.
  • We can help others feel seen and heard with compassion and understanding as we feel for the struggles that other people face.

Can you share a story from your own life where your great sensitivity was actually an advantage?

When I was younger, I used to think that everyone was equally as sensitive as I was. I figured everyone cared deeply about the world and others from their heart as I did — they just didn’t admit it. This has helped me give people the benefit of the doubt throughout life. I see the good in people, which helps them feel acknowledged, loved, and understood. A friend of mine shared that my compassion and willingness to be there for them when no one else was, saved them from taking their own life.

There seems to be no harm in being overly empathetic. What’s the line drawn between being empathetic and being Highly Sensitive?

The worst thing you can say to an HSP is, “you’re being too sensitive.” It hurts to the core because we can’t be who we are. Feeling the world to such depths is like breathing to us. It’s pretty hard to turn off. So the line is really seeing that there is no line, and these are just people who are feelers and process emotions and the intensity of the world differently. The difficulty is really with the relationship with self. We tend to beat ourselves up when falling short of our own expectations or feeling like we don’t fit into this world. We are often overthinkers and our sensitive mind can become overworked easily, which makes HSPs prone to becoming overstimulated or emotionally overloaded.

Social Media can often be casually callous. How does Social Media affect a Highly Sensitive Person? How can a Highly Sensitive Person utilize the benefits of social media without being pulled down by it?

HSPs will compare themselves with others often (in physical, relational, social, work, financial, or other scenarios), and we can fall into unhappy feelings from negative social comparison by exaggerating or painting a story in our mind about others being better off or having it all together. But as an HSP, we can use social media to connect and establish real, meaningful communities of like-minded people.

How would you respond if something you hear or see bothers or affects you, but others comment that you are being petty or that it is minor?

This is the story of my life. It still stings a bit when people I love and care about say this, but I now have the awareness to know this isn’t true. What people say and do is more about them than us, and my feelings are important and valid. What I feel is an indicator and direction my higher self is guiding me. Ignoring them keeps me disconnected from life and the world at large. I no longer apologize or feel bad for caring about the world and living from my heart.

What strategies do you use to overcome the perception that others may have of you as overly sensitive without changing your caring and empathetic nature?

I don’t care about what others think about me anymore because their perception of me says more about them than me. As I share in my book Return to You, our beliefs create our reality. If someone has been taught that feeling your emotions is not safe, they will project their disconnect onto someone like me, an HSP. We all have beliefs and perspectives that are important to us and help shape our worldview. Still, when we are presented with new information that threatens or contradicts this original view, we try to ignore it or explain it away because it makes us uncomfortable. Your brain and ego try to avoid discomfort, so the most important strategy is a process I take people through in my book Return to You.

The next time you are met with criticism or a belief someone else has about you, ask yourself these same questions:

  1. Why did this person say what they are saying?
  2. What is their belief (worldview) that creates this reality for them?
  3. Is there truth in what they are saying?
  4. If there is no truth, then why am I angry?
  5. Can I transform this situation with more love and forgiveness?

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a Highly Sensitive Person? Can you explain what you mean?

  • Myth #1: Being highly sensitive is weak. It is not weak to care about others and feel our feelings.
  • Myth #2: Sensitive people need to “toughen up.” We can’t because being sensitive is who we are. We are born this way.
  • Myth #3: All sensitive people take things personally and easily get offended

Sensitive people are born to be gentle and to experience life on high alert through the lens of their feelings and senses. They are not better or worse than anyone else, just different.

Although they may have traits in common, they are not all the same. Every sensitive person is unique.

As you know, one of the challenges of being a Highly Sensitive Person is the harmful, and dismissive sentiment of “why can’t you just stop being so sensitive?” What do you think needs to be done to make it apparent that it just doesn’t work that way?

We are born this way. Extending more compassion and empathy to others who are different from you is important for all of us on earth. Empathy, intuition, creativity, gentleness, and compassion are personality traits that unite rather than divide, and they are all defining traits of the highly sensitive individual. We are all born with a unique genetic code. The key to a fulfilling life is not to repress, deny, or try to hide our uniqueness but to make the most of what life has given us. If you are sensitive, you must understand that this is not a weakness. On the contrary, it is a strength and a potentially healing gift both for yourself and the human race.

Ok, here is the main question for our discussion. Can you share with us your “5 Things You Need To Know To Survive And Thrive As A Highly Sensitive Person? Please give a story or an example for each.

  • Step 1: Free Your Feelings

Jess King, a self-love advocate and Peloton fitness instructor says emotions only last five to six minutes max. You can always move through it if you can hold on and then ride it like a wave. One night I felt really balanced. I had just finished a great workout, and I was cooking a healthy meal. I went to put on music while I cooked, and within seconds of the first song that played, I felt an overwhelming force of sadness rush over me. It hit like a tidal wave of grief, and I could do nothing more but fall to my knees and weep. I cried heavy tears of sadness for the state of the world, the families who had lost their homes, and the helplessness I felt — all of it pouring through me, releasing in the warm, wet tears. I sat with it and allowed it all. I didn’t judge my tears but invited them. These feelings were important to feel. Instead of trying to work or distract myself from them, I embraced them. Sure enough, within a few minutes, the tears dried up, and I felt a sense of relief wash over me. A healing presence set in, and I knew I had transmuted my sadness into love. Then my inner voice said, There is more you can do. You are not helpless.

After I expressed my “reaction” of sadness, I could move gracefully back into my true nature, one of love and peace, which gave me the insight to be of service and help in more ways. I felt inspired to help those who the wildfire had directly impacted. I went around my house and gathered food items and new and lightly used clothes to donate. I went to the store and bought care packages of toiletries and socks for families in need. I donated all proceeds that month from my meditation albums to nonprofits collecting for the victims of the wildfires. I woke up each morning with the desire to help and be of service, and all of this happened because I felt my feelings. If I didn’t allow myself to express the sensations, I would have still been stuck in a place of overwhelming sadness. My brain and heart would have never arrived at a place of support, solution, and action. But feeling my feelings was the key to coming back into balance.

  • Step 2: Choose Love

In Sherianna Boyle’s book Emotional Detox: 7 Steps to Release Toxicity and Energize Joy, she states that feeling our emotions is key to help flush out negativity and clear a path for new positive habits. She says, “There is only one emotion, love. Everything else is a reaction.” The emotions we feel are reactions to situations we experience. My sadness was a reaction to the wildfires and worldwide catastrophe, and health crisis. The only real, pure state is one of love. So, when I felt the feelings and allowed them to move through me, heal, and be released, I could then return back to my state of wholeness.

We aren’t taught how to express ourselves through emotions, but this is built into our DNA and human function. In fact, society will often tell you to hide your feelings, using statements such as “Suck it up,” “Big girls don’t cry!” “Be a man, don’t show emotion!” or “Don’t be such a baby.” This common vernacular gets drilled into us at a young age and disconnects us from experiencing the real, raw human experience. But we have it backward. Leading with love will connect us all.

Our emotions are gateways to our higher self and divine connection to Source energy. When you allow yourself to feel, you open up your energy field to access the divine wisdom available to us all. In the teaching of Taoism, the heart is your message center. We can connect to love through our heart. It is not the everyday human ego (stuck in the head) self, but a deeper self — your true self, the innate wisdom within. True self is a state of peace, while the ego-self is easily agitated and disturbed by life. The true self is love, while the ego-self feels a lack of love, which is why it constantly seeks love and acceptance from outside sources and attachments. When we go within our heart, we can allow the true self to be our full self.

  • Step 3: Detach from drama.

The more you can disengage from the drama happening outside of you in the world, the easier it is to go inward and focus on your own healing. So often, the world tries to pull us in different directions. Daily demands and to-dos can keep you from being fully present on your journey. Instead of giving your attention away to these outside forces, declare, “Peace is my priority, and I detach from drama.” Begin by paying attention to what you are consuming — what you watch on TV, what you read on social media, who you listen to for advice. What you consume will ultimately consume you, because we always get more of what we focus on. Be aware of your thoughts and intentions. Stop focusing on what is going on out in the world, and instead focus on your inner world and actively choose peaceful thoughts. Cultivate kind thoughts and see fear for what it is: a distraction and an illusion that tries to manipulate our reality.

  • Step 4: Grow past what you know.

Kimberly Carter Gamble, the producer, and director of the movies THRIVE and THRIVE II, shared a story about her grandmother, who lived a long, healthy, and happy life to the age of 103. Her grandmother believed that the success of her life and making it through such challenging times in history was because of her ability to try on an idea. She said, “You have to be able to try on an idea like an outfit. You don’t have to like it, you can even return it, but at least you try it on.” If we all commit to listening to one another with compassion and an open heart, we can come together in our humanity and unite with more love. This requires a personal responsibility to commit to going beyond what we already know. Be open to learning more, and question your own beliefs often. To grow, we must push to new levels of awareness. One of the most important tools we have is critical thinking. If we can be more open-minded and willing to look beyond what we already know, our world can shift. This requires an ability to suspend disbelief and temporarily hold conflicting views long enough to see if the new perspective feels right. The truth will always be revealed when we can do this, and freedom prevails.

  • Step 5: Make peace your priority so negativity cannot exist.

In all situations, we have an option to see the dark or the light, to embrace fear, or walk in love. Peace lives in every moment when you make it a priority. You may be stuck in fear, but fear breeds fear, which means every choice you make in fear will give you even more fear. So instead, relinquish your control and let love in. Inviting light to all situations will help uplift you and bring you harmony.

These are all tips from Return to You: 11 Spiritual Lessons for Unshakable Inner Peace.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

#BeTrueYou #ComeTogether #WeAreOne #LoveIsTheOnlyAnswer. Today it seems everywhere we look, we are asked to pick sides. With this division and clear line in the sand, it can be hard to feel connection and a sense of belonging. This separation keeps us from seeing the real beauty of being alive: we are more alike in our humanity than we realize, and we need each other. We can all exist together by allowing each other to be who we really are. It’s no doubt we are in a time of great divide, but this can ultimately bring us closer when we see that our differences are our strengths. We don’t have to agree or see the world the same way or make the same choices to support, protect, help, love, and uplift one another. The movement I stand for is unity! Despite our differences, we are all one in our humanity and all sourced from the divine.

We are all in this together, and loving compassion is key and the power that can move us through.

How can our readers follow you online?

  • Purchase my new book, Return to You.
  • Take the FREE What’s your intuition style HERE.
  • Follow me on Instagram and Facebook!

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

Author Shannon Kaiser: How To Survive And Thrive As A Highly Sensitive Person was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.