Tree Franklyn of Empathic Awakening Academy: How To Survive And Thrive As A Highly Sensitive Person

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Your emotions are valid. No matter what others tell you you should or should not feel, the only feelings you truly should be feeling are the ones you’re feeling. Period. You’ll have good-feeling emotions and bad-feeling emotions. Neither are better than the other. Treat them both with respect and welcome them equally.

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

Tree is a bestselling author and founder of the Empathic Awakening Academy. She helps sensitive people manage and release their overwhelming emotions so they can stand in their strength and reconnect with who they truly are to create a life of deep meaning, power and purpose. Her work has been featured in The Huffington Post, The Shift Network, Tiny Buddha, MindBodyGreen, Guideposts and more.

Her international media appearances include interviews in Inspired Coach magazine, Entrepreneurs on Fire, Kauneus & Terveys and more.

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

Thank you for having me here! I’m thrilled to be interviewed by Authority Magazine.

I’m a writer, coach and founder of the Empathic Awakening Academy, an online school with on-demand courses and live training events specifically created for empathic and sensitive people. Growing up sensitive, I struggled to make sense of the world and find my place in it. For the longest time, I truly thought I was an alien because I didn’t fit in. It was the only explanation my young mind could come up with that made sense. Everything seemed upside down and inside out and it felt like I was the only one who saw things that way. While others could shrug off their hurt feelings or flippantly look the other way when people were mean and unkind, life affected me deeply and my emotions overwhelmed me. As I became older, I discovered that my sensitivity is a strength, not a weakness, and I became a coach for highly sensitive people and empaths, creating my Academy so that those like me can also discover their own power and strength. People who are sensitive, empathic and even highly intuitive have specific struggles and challenges unique to their sensitivity. While we also have everyday struggles like everyone else, our sensitivity layers on a different set of challenges for us, and following trite, generic advice given to everyone else, such as “toughen up” or “don’t take things so personally” just doesn’t work for us. That’s why I created the Academy, which is filled with on-demand courses and trainings specifically for the unique circumstances of those who are sensitive and empathic.

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?

Dr. Elaine Aron, a pioneer and leading researcher of the innate trait of sensory processing sensitivity, defines a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) as someone who processes their experiences more deeply, is easily overstimulated, emotionally reactive, and sensitive to subtle stimuli. This doesn’t necessarily mean that their feelings are easily hurt or offended, though, there are many highly sensitive people who have not yet learned their own worth and inherent value, so they are indeed easily hurt and offended. But this is also true for those who aren’t highly sensitive. If you don’t believe in yourself, you’ll be easily offended and hurt whether you’re highly sensitive or not.

Taking offense to something is more about identifying with your ego than it is about being highly sensitive. The ego is easily hurt and offended, at the slightest remark that may appear to challenge it. A Highly Sensitive Person in touch with who they truly are does not get easily hurt or offended. It’s more of an ego problem than a highly sensitive problem.

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?

Absolutely, HSPs have more empathy towards others. We have an abundance of empathy and those of us who are also highly empathic absorb other people’s emotions as if they were our own. It’s almost as if we don’t know where one person’s sadness ends and ours begins, for example. For that reason, we tend to take responsibility for other people’s feelings. That’s one reason why it’s so difficult for many HSPs to set boundaries, by the way. Because we viscerally feel the other person’s disappointment in our being, and then we take it on as if it was our own.

When we experience hurtful remarks made about other people, it hurts us too, for several reasons. The first reason I just talked about, is because we feel the other person’s emotions as if they were our own. So, we can feel their pain from the hurtful remark. The second reason is that we have a deep belief that everyone should be kind and loving. This is the world we intuitively know inside us, and that’s part of why the outside world seemed upside down and inside out to me as a child. The vision I had of the world inside me didn’t match the world I saw out there. That’s why sensitive and empathic people have a very hard time understanding and dealing with the world as it is. The world inside us is loving, peaceful and harmonic; everyone is connected as one. But the world we live in appears cruel, unjust and fragmented; everyone is disconnected. This causes a lot of dissonance within us and that’s often why sensitive and empathic people always feel so torn.

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?

HSPs are typically deep feelers and thinkers. We have greater depth of processing than those who aren’t highly sensitive. That means that we process things that are happening around us in a much deeper, more thoughtful way than others, picking up on subtle stimuli that others don’t notice. Popular culture and social media are geared toward a quick hit, in other words, they have two seconds to capture your attention before you scroll on to the next story in your feed. In the marketing world, pain is proven to be a powerful attention grabber, more so than pleasure. The hyped-up, attention-grabbing headlines and photos depicting emotional or physical pain are difficult for HSPs; we’d rather have our attention jolted by stories of love, beauty and grace, things that touch us positively and resonate deeply in our souls. But pop culture caters to the 80% who aren’t highly sensitive, rightly so, otherwise, it would be called “unpopular” culture.

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

Well, for starters, I have a low tolerance for mindless chit-chat. Needless to say, that doesn’t make me very popular at parties. I’d rather stare blankly into the air than engage in a two-hour conversation about surface stuff. I want to know what makes you cry when no one’s looking, what lights a fire in your soul, what brings you to your knees in prayer, rather than what work you do, what degrees you hold, or how the weather was this weekend. I understand the importance of social chit-chat, and I can easily turn on my extrovert game face when needed, but I can only do it for a short time until I want to go home and curl up in bed with a good book. Social chit chat, when used as an ice breaker tool to start a conversation that leads to greater exploration, true connection and depth, is wonderful. But when it stays at the surface level and doesn’t go deeper, it becomes laborious and exhausting.

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

As a child, my parents could never kill an insect in front of me without me bursting into tears so when a spider happened to crawl by while we were in the living room watching TV, my mom would put a piece of paper in front of it, wait patiently for it to crawl onto the paper, and then carry the spider outside to set it free. If I wasn’t watching, she’d smash it. I couldn’t even watch my mom pull weeds in her garden; I felt bad for the weed.

To me, it was just normal to be attuned to all living things, to care deeply for the world and to be sad when animals were hurt. It wasn’t until others called me “too sensitive” that I began to judge my sensitivity and thought it was wrong. When I witnessed school kids making fun of other kids, people hurting animals without regard to the animal’s pain, or parents being mean to their children, it affected me strongly, and I had a hard time making sense of it and letting it go. The rest of the world seemed to be okay with this type of behavior, so I began to think that there was something wrong with me.

But now I know it’s not that I’m too sensitive, it’s that the world is not sensitive enough. Society has been desensitized. I think I’m just the right amount of sensitive.

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 guess in some ways, you could say my sensitivity saved the lives of countless spiders and insects in the Franklyn household. So that’s an advantage for the insects. But seriously, I think there are many advantages to being Highly Sensitive. We have a lot of empathy, and because of this, we naturally help people feel understood and validated, which is one of the fundamental needs of humanity — to be seen and heard. We also notice subtle clues in a person’s body language, the way they may say something, or even a slight shift in their energy to tell that they might be lying or hiding something. We’re human lie detectors and often have an intuitive feeling when something’s not quite right. We may not know how to explain it, but we FEEL it. It’s almost like a Spidey Sense.

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

I feel like my sensitivity is always an advantage. There has never been a time in my life where it wasn’t an advantage. Growing up sensitive and not fitting into a desensitized world may feel like a disadvantage, especially when you’re young and fitting in is paramount, but there’s a Universal balance and harmony to all of this. The world needs those who are Highly Sensitive as well as those who aren’t. It’s a beautiful ebb and flow.

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

You don’t have to be Highly Sensitive to be empathetic. There are many people who are empathetic and aren’t Highly Sensitive. There are four main aspects that define a Highly Sensitive Person (see my description above). Being empathetic is simply one quality.

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?

“Casually callous,” what a wonderfully fitting phrase! I agree, and I’m not a fan of casual callousness or social media. If I didn’t have to use it for my business, I wouldn’t have any social media accounts. My teenage niece opened an Instagram account for me years ago and I’m just now learning how to use it. I have a Twitter account that I haven’t used in years, I don’t even remember the password, and a Facebook account where I post sporadically. When I’m launching a workshop or training, I go live on Facebook and am more active, but I limit my attention to the specific group I’ve set up and I only engage in the group. When I’m not teaching a workshop, I hardly ever scroll through my feed, and I don’t linger in Facebook longer than it takes me to connect with my students and teach. I suggest using social media sparingly for those who are highly sensitive unless you enjoy it and find fulfillment from it.

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?

Honestly, no one has ever told me I’m being petty.

I see relationships as a series of concentric circles with each circle larger than the next, expanding outward from the center. The innermost circle, the smallest one, includes people who are nearest and dearest to me. My closest family and friends. The people in this circle are the only ones whose opinions truly matter to me. The next circle out has family and friends as well, but they’re not as close to me as the ones in the innermost circle, and on and on.

When I was younger, I didn’t understand the importance of choosing my inner circle. I didn’t know I had a choice. I thought I was supposed to be friends with everyone and please everyone, but I’ve since learned that’s not only impossible but also unhealthy. A better aim is to surround yourself with people who are supportive and accepting of who you are and allow only those people in your inner circle. If someone in my inner circle were to tell me I’m being petty or that something bothering me is minor, I would seriously consider their opinion and reflect within myself to see if that’s true. It’s important to surround yourself with people you trust and respect, those who are loving enough to be honest with you and genuinely want to help you, and at the same time, it’s important to remember that you’re at the center of your circle and ultimately, it’s your opinion that matters the most. Not your ego’s opinion, but yours. That’s a very important distinction.

Going back to your social media question, if someone in my outer circle or a stranger made a comment on a social media post calling me petty, I wouldn’t think twice about it. It’s not worth my time or energy, which is very precious to me.

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 use any strategies to overcome other people’s perceptions. Other people’s perceptions and judgments are about them, not about the person they’re judging. We judge because of who we are, not because of who someone else is. For that reason, someone else’s perception of me is none of my business because it has nothing to do with me and everything to do with them.

My dad cared a lot about how other people perceived him. He was often nicer to strangers than he was to his own family. And I never understood that, though it’s very common. Most people tend to be nicer to strangers and acquaintances than they are to those who love them most and live with them every day. When he was dying, only those who were in his innermost circle flew to Maine to be with him. We were the ones he didn’t always treat so nicely, but in the end, we were the ones who mattered most to him, and we were there for him during his last breath. It might sound morbid, but I often ask myself, “If I was on my deathbed, would this person’s opinion matter to me?” Almost always, the answer is no. There are only a handful of people who would elicit a yes answer.

You can ask the same question about problems that arise in your life. “If I was on my deathbed, would this problem matter to me?” Too often we make small problems larger and more troublesome than they really are. When you ask this question, the problem tends to diminish immediately because it no longer holds the gravity you had given it. It helps you put your problems into perspective.

Speaking of deathbeds, allow me to go off on a bit of a tangent here.

I have a notebook that I labeled “Things I Love About Life”. The idea came to me from an episode of the TV show “Lost” where one of the characters, Charlie, played by actor Dominic Monaghan, knew he was dying, and started a list of the top five moments of his life. Each of these moments is told in a flashback story and we have a sense of the beauty, synchronicity, and grace of life experiences as Charlie relives them. Life is a gift. When I look through my notebook, many of the things I’ve written were once problems and painful experiences that have now become beautiful moments and memories I treasure. They include things such as, “That time Wanda (my sister) and I fought each other behind the swings on the playground,” and “When I crashed dad’s car and had to wake him up to tell him.” These were very difficult moments in my life, and back then, they were definitely not treasured moments! But now that time has passed and I’ve gained the gift of perspective, they’ve become precious memories to me and part of the beauty that I get to experience because of this wonderful thing called life with all its ups and downs.

I highly recommend starting a similar notebook or journal of your own.

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

Perhaps the biggest myth is that sensitivity is a weakness. An HSP’s capacity to love and feel deeply is the reason for their ability to live a rich, meaningful, and purpose-driven life. Being highly sensitive is not a disorder, a condition, a flaw, a curse, or a hindrance. It’s simply a personality trait. It doesn’t make you broken, on the contrary, it makes you whole. While many people treat HSPs like delicate flowers, it’s possible to be a delicate flower and an indestructible pillar at the same time. An HSP’s sensitivity is their strength and superpower.

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?

I used to want to turn that question around to the person asking and say, “why can’t you just stop being so insensitive?” But that was more of an ego-response than a soul-based response. Going back to my answer above about other people’s judgments, it’s just not worth it to engage in these types of conversations. At the root of this question, it’s essentially saying, “why can’t you stop being who you are and be someone else?” And beyond that, you could take that question further with, “why can’t you stop being who you are and be the person I want you to be.”

Odds are an HSP has pretty much spent their entire childhood, if not adult life, trying to be someone other than who they are so they can fit in, please others and otherwise not be judged or criticized. But the truth is this is more damaging to us than society telling us we need to be a certain way. An HSP craves genuine authenticity, and when we can’t be authentic to ourselves, it tears us up inside. We feel fake, flawed and weak. We lose respect for ourselves.

It’s more important that we embrace who we are and start seeing our sensitivity for what it is — a strength. It doesn’t matter what others think about it, what matters is that you see the immense inner strength within yourself and stand confidently in your own sensitive power. You’re a force of light in this world. No one wins when you dim your light. Let your light shine that others may awaken to the glory within themselves. This is your purpose as an empathic, sensitive soul.

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.

Only 5? As you can tell, I’m a bit long-winded, ha! ☺ If I had to narrow it down to five, here they are:

  1. Your emotions are valid. No matter what others tell you you should or should not feel, the only feelings you truly should be feeling are the ones you’re feeling. Period. You’ll have good-feeling emotions and bad-feeling emotions. Neither are better than the other. Treat them both with respect and welcome them equally.
  2. Your emotions are nothing more than energy in motion. Don’t make anything more of them than that. Don’t judge, resist, or create drama around them. And most of all, don’t criticize yourself or others for feeling them. You are stronger than your most powerful, painful emotion.
  3. Your values are not the world’s values. In the same way that the world is trying to fit you into its box of “the way you should be,” don’t try to fit the big, vast world into your small box of “the way things should be”. It will only cause frustration, pain and suffering.
  4. What you feel and know in that unexplainable place deep inside you is true. There is nothing in this world that is not energy. It’s ALL energy. Don’t believe the forms the energy takes, instead, meet it at the unexplainable place deep inside the presence, where the source of energy exists.
  5. You’re a soul, first and foremost. Live life from the center, the seat of the soul, rather than from your ego’s limited perspective of who you are.
    And one more because I can’t resist…

You are loved. You are loved. You are loved.

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.

Wow, thank you for the compliment. If I could inspire a movement, I would make an “Emotions 101” class a required study in grade schools across the globe.

I think that the most fundamental lesson we can learn in life is not given much credence in schools and that there should be an “Emotions 101” class in our formative years teaching what emotions are and what to do with them. Our society teaches us to suppress, deny or otherwise resist our emotions. Unfortunately, this causes emotions to become trapped in us because we’re not adequately dealing with them. We’re pushing them down, repressing and avoiding them. Then at some random point when we least expect it, we erupt. All that trapped emotion must go somewhere, it can’t remain inside us forever.

Instead, if society really knew what emotions are then we can learn to allow them, not feel bad about feeling bad, and let them flow. Emotions are simply energy in motion. It only takes SECONDS for emotions to flow through us. Many of us hold on to anger for months, years, and sometimes a lifetime (!) when really, if we allowed ourselves to feel them openly, they’ll flow through quickly and we can move on and be happy rather than holding on forever.

This is not to say that we should go around dumping our anger, for example, onto the next poor sap who happens to walk in front of us. There are healthy ways of flowing emotions and then there are harmful, toxic ways of flowing emotions. I call that emotional vomiting. Don’t spew your emotional vomit onto others. I have courses in my Academy that dive deeper into how to flow emotions in a healthy way. In fact, there’s a free video on my website that shows a simple four-step technique to release strong painful emotion and turn it into something more powerful and positive.

If everyone could learn this one technique, we would all have healthier relationships, less conflict, and happier lives. But at its basest level, it’s just about knowing that emotions are simply energy in motion and we need to learn healthier ways to keep them in motion rather than bottling them up. I think this should be required teaching in all public and private schools.

How can our readers follow you online?

The best place to follow me is on my website at where I blog regularly and offer free resources and tools for empaths, lightworkers and sensitive souls.

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

Thank you for having me, it’s been fun! I appreciate your interest in this topic.

Tree Franklyn of Empathic Awakening Academy: 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.