Boundaries- Set and maintain your boundaries. Setting clear boundaries of what behavior is and is not acceptable is vitally important. By setting these boundaries, it relieves some of the pressure off you in the moment because if it violates a previously set boundary you can just say “No” (easier said than done, I know). You won’t have to analyze the situation in the moment because you have already defined your boundaries and can clearly see if the behavior has violated that boundary. Maintaining your boundaries is the hardest part, but after sticking to it for a while, it gets easier.
As a part of our series about How To Survive And Thrive As A Highly Sensitive Person, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tameeka Leon.
Tameeka is a Confidence and Goal Success Coach, founder of the Coffee.Yoga.Life blog, and the Mindful Success Membership. She helps high-achieving women redefine what success means to them and create a realistic action plan to being more fulfilled in life and work. As a woman who is also highly sensitive, Tameeka’s methodology is a little different in that it focuses on mindfulness and self-care as the keys to success, in combination with the “hit it hard, knock it out of the park” style of goal-setting, plus a touch (or slightly more) of the Law of Attraction.
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 a Confidence and Goal Success Coach, and I help women redefine what success means to them so that they can create a plan to living a more fulfilling life. I love working with my clients to create a realistic plan and being a source of accountability, motivation, and support as they work toward achieving their goals.
I am a bit of a personal development junkie, and I love personality quizzes (think Meyers-Briggs, Enneagram, and Human Design). My coaching journey began after fighting my strongest battle with low self-esteem, low self-confidence, and imposter syndrome. After several months of this internal battle, I decided that I was tired of trying to live according to everyone else’s definition of success and was going to start focusing on what I wanted, but first I had to figure out what I wanted. And what I wanted was to help other women who were fighting the same struggle that I was. I wanted to help other high-achieving women define success for themselves and help them find the strength to stand in their power.
As a coach, my goal is to help women be happy with who they are, to better understand what makes them happy, and to take care of themselves for themselves. I believe it is ok to want something other than what you “should” want. It is ok to be ambitious and go after your goals. And it is ok to create the life of your dreams.
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?
Despite the way it sounds, being highly sensitive is not about your feelings being hurt or you feeling offended easily. Being highly sensitive describes how your brain processes stimuli, it means that you are more sensitive to stimulation, and can become overstimulated quite quickly. Yes, this can include your sense of hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, or your vision, but it is definitely not just about your 5 senses. It’s being able to sense subtle energy shifts in a room, a change in a person’s body language, or even a subtle change in a person’s tone of voice that others may miss. It means that as you walk into a room, or while you’re out running errands, your brain is processing much more of the information that it is coming across. Being highly sensitive means that your brain is much more detailed in the type and amount of information that it processes. Lights, sounds, colors, accents, body language, speech, temperament, smells, and feelings. So many things that most people are able to block out or not feel quite as strongly about. Because highly sensitive people are processing more information, they can become overstimulated quicker than those who are not highly sensitive.
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?
Yes, I do believe that being highly sensitive has the effect of making you more empathic. To be honest, I think it’s a natural side effect. Being highly sensitive, you are better able to sense what is happening, better able to see when someone is hurting, even if they try to hide it. But whether or not an HSP would be easily offended by hurtful remarks made about someone else, I think that depends on the situation. If the other person is around when the comments are said, or if they know the person that the remarks were made about, then yes, I’m pretty positive that a highly sensitive person would become offended. Especially if the HSP happened to see the person’s response in their body language and hear a shift in their voice when responding.
I’m also quite sure a highly sensitive person would get upset when hearing a stranger being spoken of in a negative manner, depending on what is said. Again, I think you would see a stronger reaction from an HSP who has witnessed the person’s response to the hurtful words.
But just like everyone, HSPs are individuals with unique life experiences that would make it difficult to say all HSPs will have the same or similar reaction. I think that an HSP who has also heard similar things said about them or someone they care about would be more upset than if they never had that experience. I think the experience, whether the exact same or similar, is what would trigger a stronger reaction from an HSP.
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 my opinion, yes, HSPs have a greater difficulty with depictions of pain, any kind of pain really. As an HSP, when you see someone in pain, you get a sense of how they are feeling, you can see it in their physical response, hear it in their voice, see it I how they carry themselves afterward. And you empathize with what they are feeling, or were feeling when it happened to them. Because of this extra information processing happening your brain, you start to imagine what it would have been like to be in their shoes, and sometimes you may even have a physical response as well.
We live in a world where everyone feels that they have the right to do and say anything they want, without any consequences. And for so long this has been allowed because a lot of the people who were victimized were not valued in our society. I’ve never been one to like hearing stories of abuse because I could always feel the victim’s pain, not necessarily feel it physical pain but the emotional turmoil. The MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements were really hard for me. As a woman of color, I have a strong connection to the groups represented in both movements. And I have personally had experiences related to both, though much more on the MeToo side. Seeing the courageous women (and men) coming forward to tell the stories of their pain, only to be shamed and ridiculed by a cold heartless crowd who wanted things to stay the same as they’d always been, was extremely hard for me. Seeing such hatred for people who just wanted justice, and to be seen and treated equitably, was intensely heartbreaking. And I didn’t realize how much of it I was dealing with until one day, I broke down into tears as I pulled into a Target parking lot. Luckily, I was able to park my car before I completely lost it, and “ugly cried” for a good 5 minutes before I could compose myself enough to get out of the car and grab some groceries. That cry was such a powerful emotional release for me, but I didn’t even realize I had been absorbing it because I had been trying to avoid all news related to the protests, the fighting, and basically just avoiding the news in general and most of social media.
Can you please share a story about how your highly sensitive nature created problems at work or socially?
Being highly sensitive, and not knowing, can definitely be troublesome, and make you feel as if there is something wrong with you. I remember there was a time when I would see something change in someone’s body language, even if just for a split second. But it was a change that felt so “off” that I couldn’t just ignore it, I didn’t want to be around that person anymore. And of course, no one else saw anything. So, when I started declining invitations to hang out if that person was going to be there, it led to less invitations and drifting apart from friends.
There was also a time in my corporate career when a new program manager started and I could almost immediately tell that working with him was going to be hell, but I couldn’t put it into words because I had no proof. At first, he seemed nice enough to everyone, so it would have made me look really bad had I said anything about my hunch in the beginning. Unfortunately, my hunch was proven right a few months after he started, and because of some organizational changes, I was now working directly with him. Trying to be overly professional, while ignoring all the impulses that I was getting only caused me to hate working with him even more. When his true colors started showing, I allowed myself to get pulled in and we argued (quite loudly) at almost every meeting, which was weekly at this point. The problem was that I was already dealing with the anxiety of having to work with him every week, and then the extremely negative energy I felt anytime I was around him, and the condescending manner in which he spoke to the people he felt were beneath him. I let all of it get to me, and it impacted my professionalism. Others saw how he was, but there was only one other person in the office who had a similar response to him at that time.
The working situation did eventually improve, but not before it made me dread going into the office every day.
Looking back, had I understood HSP coping strategies, I believe that I could have handled that situation much better.
When did you suspect that your level of sensitivity was above the societal norm? How did you come to see yourself as “too sensitive”?
To be honest, I hadn’t heard of the term “highly sensitive person” until 2020. I knew the term empath, and felt that it was somewhat of an accurate description of me. Then I happened to come across an article in “The Elephant Journal”, with a link to take a quiz created by Julie Bjelland. So of course, I took the quiz (I mean, who doesn’t love quizzes, right?) and that’s when I learned that I was highly sensitive. But because I was so averse to being thought of as sensitive, I looked at the score and told myself that I was only slightly highly sensitive. Bear in mind that the results just say that if you score over 33 then you are highly sensitive. I scored 34. And there was no scale of sensitivity. I simply could not accept that I was considered sensitive. The funniest part of it is that no one else saw my score, or even knew I took the test. I just did not want to be thought of as sensitive, even if only to myself.
Looking back, I can’t remember thinking of myself as too sensitive. But I will say that around the age of 13 is when I started really fighting back against everything. I know that’s probably pretty typical for kids at that age, but for me it felt like a battle of survival. We had moved to a new school half way through the previous school year, and there was a noticeable difference in the attitudes of the students. In my new environment I never felt like I could just relax and be myself, I had to always be “on”. And in those days, I didn’t understand that I was an introvert, which was often discouraged. Now I can see that I was constantly overstimulated as well as trying to be someone other than who I was meant to be. With anger being the only acceptable “bad” emotion, that’s how I let out my frustration.
So, while I never thought of myself as too sensitive, I did know that I wanted to be somewhere where I could just be myself, and not have to abide by all the rules of society.
I’m sure that being Highly Sensitive also gives you certain advantages. Can you tell us a few advantages that Highly Sensitive people have?
I think the two greatest advantages of being highly sensitive are being able to sense the energy in a room and being able to read subtle clues from people so that you know how to interact with them.
When you walk into a room and can sense the energy, you get a feel for what’s going on around you and it can help you make decisions as to how much you are going to interact, with whom you will interact, and when you are ready to leave. If it is a group of people that you are comfortable with, you can find ways to lighten the mood if it is heavy (and if you have the energy), or enjoy the happiness of the room if it is a happy energy. You can also decide if you just want to turn around and leave. The ability to sense the energy in a room has helped me tremendously, especially in situations where I am nervous about presenting but I can tell that the people in the room are excited to hear what I have to say, or even if they are just in a good mood.
It is very similar when you have the ability to sense what others are feeling. Now part of this is also being to read subtle body language clues, though I will admit it’s hard for me to put my into words. Generally, I feel like I “just know” or I might have a hunch. This ability is great when meeting someone for the first time or when trying to build relationships with others. If you are out at a networking event, you can find the people who seem a bit uncomfortable and strike up a conversation with them. While helping them feel a bit more at ease, you are also making yourself much more memorable (which is the purpose of a networking event). You could be out with a friend and notice that she may be acting “normal” but something feels off. You could ask how she’s doing, and get her to talk through whatever she is going through. This has been a huge benefit for me. I have been in meetings where I could sense that something was wrong as soon as someone walked in the door, and give them a minute or two at the beginning of the meeting to get it off their chest. This makes for a more productive meeting because now they are focused, but you have also built a closer relationship with that person because you listened and they were able to get a reprieve from their stress, even if only for a minute.
Being an HSP allows you to create tighter bonds with the people you care about, and who are able to respect you just as you are.
Can you share a story from your own life where your great sensitivity was actually an advantage?
This happened a few years before I knew what it meant to be highly sensitive, though I had heard of the term empath by this point. There were several times, at work, where I was able to sense what others were feeling and made it a point to talk to them one on one. I never approached it as “I know something’s going on and you have to tell me” it was more like just having a conversation where I made them feel comfortable enough to talk about it. There were so many times that I was able to then use that insight to influence subtle changes to make them more comfortable. This happened several times over the years. Adjusting my approach to fit each situation, and my ability to actually sense what they were feeling, allowed me to build stronger relationships throughout our organization. This was made even stronger when I started leading employee engagement groups. Overall, I’d definitely say that my sensitivity helped me earn promotions.
There seems to be no harm in being overly empathetic. What’s the line drawn between being empathetic and being Highly Sensitive?
I wouldn’t say that there’s no harm in being overly empathic. The key that makes you an empath, vs being highly sensitive, is your ability to actually absorb the emotions of others. As an empath you take on the feelings of others as if they are your own. If you understand that you are an empath, and realize that you are feeling someone else’s feelings, then there are things you can do to release the feelings. As an empath who has not recognized yourself as an empath, you will struggle with this. You will be confused, as will those around you, as to why your moods shift so suddenly and with no triggers. You may push people away because of this. But it will also be exhausting and stressful for you.
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?
As an HSP, being on social media can be a horrible experience. There seems to be so much anger and hatred on social media nowadays. But, as you mentioned, there are definitely benefits to being on social media as well. It is a great place to connect with family and friends and get to see what everyone is up to. It is also a great place for networking with others who have the same interests as you.
I’ve had to relearn how to use social media so that I do not feel rundown by it all the time. Two things that have helped me tremendously are turning off the Facebook and Instagram notifications on my phone and using News Feed Eradicator on my laptop.
By turning off the notifications, I have taken back my power. Instead of seeing a notification pop up, I now have to actively decide that I want to check Facebook and Instagram. Since turning off the notifications, I have had days where I never think about going on social media.
By turning off the FB news feed, I am much more focused when I am on Facebook. The only things I can see are profiles and groups. So those are the only places I go when I’m on my laptop. It eliminates stress by eliminating the negativity of the news feed.
How would you respond if something you hear or see bothers or effects you, but others comment that you are being petty or that it is minor?
Over the years I have learned to do a self-check-in. When something bothers me, I have learned to first ask myself what emotion am I feeling, then I ask why. Asking why is the key for me because I can step back and see if something deeper is being triggered or if the person is just being a jerk. Now, this self-check-in is not normally my first reaction, I still get upset and want to lash out just like everyone else, but it does help me de-escalate rather quickly. A lot of times I will also write about it in my journal to help me further process what happened.
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?
Honestly, I don’t spend much time focusing on whether or not others see me as overly sensitive. Sometimes people may feel the need to withhold information if they think it will cause an issue, or unwanted response. So maybe that’s how they deal with me if they think I am overly sensitive. But if I feel that someone is holding back or withholding information from me, if I care enough, I will ask them about it. Otherwise, my focus is on ensuring that I make time for my self-care needs. The first thing that I block on my calendar, and that I instruct my clients to block in theirs as well, is time for self-care. By giving myself enough regular down time, I am ensuring that I limit opportunities to get too overwhelmed and that I‘m able to function at optimal levels most of the time. Of course, things will come up last minute and schedules will need to be adjusted accordingly. For example, if I have a particularly rough day, then I will normally use that evening as self-care time instead of waiting until the end of the week.
Being mindful of your energy levels is also key. If you take a look at your schedule for the week and notice that you will be super busy for a couple days, you can schedule self-care time before and after. And also make a mental note to do some mindfulness exercises throughout the day. Going into a busy day with a plan to decompress can relieve some of the anxiety that you feel going into the day, because you know that you have relief coming.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a Highly Sensitive Person? Can you explain what you mean?
I think the term “highly sensitive” is accurate but misleading. Accurate because it describes how our bodies respond to the stimulation of the amount of information our brains are processing but misleading because sensitivity is generally associated with feelings and emotions. Being highly sensitive does not mean that your feelings are easily hurt, or that you cry all the time. It has very little to do with your senses, though they can be affected.
Another myth is that being highly sensitive means that you are also an empath. While it is true that if you are highly sensitive, you may also be an empath, the terms are not interchangeable. An HSP might sense the feelings of someone else, but an empath will actually absorb those feelings and feel them as their own.
And being highly sensitive doesn’t make you less of a leader. I think it actually makes you a better leader because you are able to really understand your team and you will work to ensure they are happy, fulfilled, and productive. Your team will come to trust you because they know you have their best interest in mind.
When misunderstood, yes being highly sensitive can be an emotionally, mentally, and physically draining aspect of your life. But once you understand it, and learn how to take care of your needs as an HSP, you will begin to see the power that you can wield.
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?
Here I think the answer is in how we communicate with, and respect, each other. I shouldn’t have to explain to someone why I can’t stop being so sensitive. If I have mentioned that something bothers me or is hurtful, I expect the behavior to change not, to be told that I should be less sensitive. Consider what the world would be like if instead of asking “why can’t you just stop being so sensitive?” you ask “what do you need to help you feel more comfortable?”
I do think that as a society we need to stop ostracizing people who don’t fit into the very narrow expectation of what is “normal”. We need to understand that people are to be respected, period. Stop teaching children that something is wrong with them for not being like all the other kids. Teach them to understand that what makes them different is what makes them unique, and that also goes for everyone else. Our differences are to be respected, and celebrated, just as much as our similarities.
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.
- Self-care is an absolute must- I believe that self-care is a must for everyone but as an HSP, you need to focus more on your self-care. Block out time every week (minimum) for you to decompress. Do activities that you find fun. But also make sure you are taking care of your mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health. For me, I have Friday evenings blocked off as self-care time, with a reminder that starts on Thursdays, which helps to build excitement and anticipation for the time to myself. I am also a morning person, so I make sure I get up early enough to have a few hours to myself before my husband wakes up and before the rest of the world starts moving around outside. And journaling is a huge part of my mental health care.
- Mindfulness- Allowing yourself time to just be. Like self-care, I think mindfulness is important for everyone but more so for HSPs. Allow yourself to just be in the moment, to acknowledge what you are feeling without judgement. Once you know what you are feeling then you can work through it. Throughout the day, constantly check-in with yourself to see how you’re feeling and where you may need to adjust or take a break. Mindfulness is also the key to balancing yourself when you feel overwhelmed. You can do a 2-minute breathing exercise, or do the 5 senses exercise, or go for a mindful walk. Whatever works best for you is the key. Now keep in mind that mindfulness is also part of self-care. So, a 15-minute meditation is both mindfulness and self-care. Going for a walk can be both mindfulness (if doing a mindful walk) and self-care.
- Boundaries- Set and maintain your boundaries. Setting clear boundaries of what behavior is and is not acceptable is vitally important. By setting these boundaries, it relieves some of the pressure off you in the moment because if it violates a previously set boundary you can just say “No” (easier said than done, I know). You won’t have to analyze the situation in the moment because you have already defined your boundaries and can clearly see if the behavior has violated that boundary. Maintaining your boundaries is the hardest part, but after sticking to it for a while, it gets easier.
- Know Your Limits. Pay attention to your energy levels throughout the week and each day. Understanding your energy levels will help you plan activities during the most optimal time of day, week, and month for you. Working within your energy levels will help limit the chance of you becoming overwhelmed. I know this can only be controlled so much if you do not work for yourself. If you know that you are generally more tired in the afternoons and evenings, see if you can work a morning shift. If you have regularly scheduled meetings, see if you can schedule them during the days and times when you are at your peak. If you can’t control your schedule, then ensure you get enough rest and eat healthy so give your body optimal energy.
- Journal it out- your journal is your best friend. You can write pages and pages of your thoughts; you can work through so many of your worries just by writing. I first noticed the power of journaling when I was very early in starting my business. I felt so overwhelmed by everything, I was getting migraines, and I was having trouble sleeping. Then one morning I grabbed my journal and just started writing. 4 pages later I felt like the weight of the world was off my shoulders. I could breathe, I had worked through my worries, and I could think clearly again. All of a sudden, I was ready to get back to work learning about building my business. Since that time, I’ve developed a morning habit of journaling. I don’t give myself a time limit, I just write until I feel like I’ve gotten everything out. Some days it’s a few sentences, and some days it can be as much as 5–6 pages.
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.
I love this question! I would love to see a movement of women who make self-care and mindfulness part of their goal plans. A goal plan that makes you also focus on ensuring that your needs are met is the key to success.
A movement like this would increase the number of happy women in the world, and the world could definitely use more happiness. It would also support an increased understanding that everyone has unique needs and they are to be honored and respected. And as women showcase what it means to make themselves a priority, they will be teaching the younger generations that it is ok to be ambitious and make yourself a priority. It would break the cycle of shaming women for having goals that are not only about their families.
How can our readers follow you online?
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.
Tameeka Leon of The Coffee/Yoga/Life Blog: 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.