Loneliness and the Highly Sensitive Person

One question I get a lot is: Have you read The Highly Sensitive Person? I haven’t, partly because I feel as though I don’t need to read it. I AM the highly sensitive person. (People say this to me about Lonely, too: “Oh, I could read your book but it’s already my life. What else is there to know?”)

I do plan to read HSP. In fact, it’s probably going to get worked into Book The Second, at least in a tangential way. Is there a link between loneliness and the HSP? Here I’m on shakey ground, and feel a bit silly, because I haven’t read the book. But so many people have stressed that there must be a connection.

Here’s what I do know. I’m super sensitive to noise, and to heat, and to light in the summer. I’m also probably a bit more sensitive to rejection than the average person, but these things are hard to judge, and my sensitivity probably varies from situation to situation. I’ve also found myself in situations where I haven’t felt sensitive at all–such as having some senior partner at a law firm scream at me, or blowing off bad reviews of my work (we won’t talk about *that* ELLE review).

Is there a link to loneliness? Some researchers argue that people who struggle with loneliness are more sensitive to rejection than other people, and that this fear of rejection can fuel the loneliness cycle — the more you fear rejection, the less likely you are to reach out, and the more lonely you become. But I also hear from people (all the time) who can only be decribed as incredibly tough: they can handle isolation, job losses, break ups…and still write to me with an awful lot of good humour. So maybe they’re *not* more sensitive than the next person.

Am going to stop there. Could keep analyzing this but am so TOTALLY exhausted right now from writing more or less non stop that I might just collapse. Was not going to blog today, but picked up an HSP comment (thank you) and it got me thinking. If you have thoughts, feel free to add them.

This entry was posted on Saturday, June 2nd, 2012 at 10:30 am and is filed under the category General.

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15 Responses to “Loneliness and the Highly Sensitive Person”

  1. Ellie-p said:

    I believe comparing the HSP to loneliness is a case of “apples and oranges”. By virtue of being highly sensitive a person may indeed end up ‘being lonely’, but ‘being lonely’, to me, is different from ‘feeling lonely’. With effort, “being lonely” can be changed, whereas loneliness in and of itself has an inherent nature to it that is part of one’s daily existence.

  2. Campus Alien said:

    “Some researchers argue that people who struggle with loneliness are more sensitive to rejection than other people, and that this fear of rejection can fuel the loneliness cycle — the more you fear rejection, the less likely you are to reach out, and the more lonely you become.”

    Wow, way to describe my life in 1 sentence.

  3. Iamnotabozo said:

    Sensivity involves lots of aspects like enviromental, family dynamics, country, culture. I unfortunately faced rejection as a child and even in some of my adult relationships the rejections was emotionally painfull. For a few years I didn’t think I could face making new friends again but for two years I have been trying. I haven’t been successful but I am glad I haven’t given up. I think I am so afraid to give up putting myself out there because I have thirty more years on the planet. Got two air conditioners because in the heat and humidity I can’t think or sleep and I feel sick. After the air conditioners went in my stress level dropped like a anchor. Give me extreme cold anyday then heat.

  4. my life as an hsp said:

    HSPs need a lot of alone time generally, but it doesn´t have to mean we feel alone in a bad way. some of us enjoy the downtime deeply, but of course it is a fine line, some people around us might not understand our need for alone time, and there is a danger of tkaing on societys general view of a “loner” as something bad. I like being alone, but not feeling alone.

  5. Diane said:

    Thanks for this post and comments. It’s quite nice to wonder about an association between high sensitivity and learn I don’t have to think about it on my own – Emily and others picking it up almost immediately. I think HSP’s have a bigger need for withdrawal. Stimuli like heat and noise can trigger that, but also stimuli in interactions with other people. HSP’s notice more about the moods, the things not said, the condition other people are in, and need time to process all of that information. More need to be alone does not necessarily make one feel lonely, time alone can feel quite good. On the other hand being the one that does not join in for lunch with collegues in a noisy cafetaria, the only one that wants to sit in the shade, can place one outside the group and that can feel lonely.

  6. Nancy234 said:

    Well, when I was younger I was much more sensitive than I am today, but much less lonely, largely because the structure of my life just naturally had more people in close proximity (growing up with my family, then living in group situations at college, then living in cooperative households as a young adult). I have gotten much less over-sensitive over the years to rejection and such (through years of “working on myself”) and am not sensitive to noise, etc., but I find myself much lonelier, which for me is due largely to the fact of not having that close household proximity to a number of others (it is just myself and my young teen son). Many, many people I know seem to be ultra-busy just keeping up with the day-to-day, with little time for close friendship. I also struggle to find time for friends, given that I need to work more hours than I would like to make ends meet as a single parent. But even more than that I struggle to find people who want to dedicate the time to building a friendship.

    My personal loneliness vanishes when I am in situations where I am “filled up” people-wise, in the presence of people who love and care about and have time for me. In my personal experience, the structure of how many of us live today doesn’t support those of us who don’t automatically have lots of close family and friends nearby, have a loving relationship, etc. (even though it is certainly possible to still feel lonely with those people resources in place–there is no one “loneliness experience”).

  7. Anonymous in Boston said:

    I, too, thought of Elaine Aron’s book, The Highly Sensitive Person, when I read Lonely. I do believe there is overlap. Speaking for myself, I think fundamental attachment issues are at play. I often feel disconnected from the world, even when I’m in a group of people.

    Thank you so much for creating this Web site!

  8. I read Elaine’s book in about 2000. It was a lightbulb experience to learn that there was nothing wrong with me. My sensitivity was nature’s design. And no matter how many times I was told I had to toughen up, I wasn’t going to change fundamentally.

    I find that the more I experience something, the better I can cope. Its like building up immunity. So situations which many HSPs find hard I can deal with if I continue to expose myself to them. But.. only provided I don’t over do it. I do need to monitor my exposure to stressful situations.

    Has been an HSP made me lonely? Possibly. Not because I fear rejection. But because I find being with the wrong people draining. As I am sensitive to the moods and demands of others, I can get swamped by them. So I’ve learned to accept loneliness as part of my life.

    Conversely I don’t need much time out from people whose company I thrive on. I think we all need some time alone. But with people I feel at ease with I am content. I can be myself and take my place in the group.

    If you can bear to, I would recommend reading Elaine Aron’s book at some point. But it sounds like you are already aware of much it contains.

  9. Hello Emily,

    I have been a loner for as long as I can remember and I am 27 now. I think in my case, its just that I believe that I have been made that way. I wish I had a companion but I am unable to open up to people. Loneliness can sometimes get excruciating and very hard to bear and in these moments all one can see is darkness and despair. I somehow feel that I am destined to be lonely, but secretely find myself wishing otherwise. Thanks for this website!

    I do believe that loneliness does make us sensitive especially to people with depression. Are we really truly alone in this odyssey called life? Or is there some light at the end of this tunnel?

  10. Anonymous said:

    I recently read “Quiet” by Susan Cain, a book about introversion. I thought the book was excellent, and she has a chapter about the links betweeen introversion and high sensitivity. I’ve long been interested in how introversion plays out in our culture, as I am introverted myself. I don’t think one necessarily needs to be lonely because one is an introvert, however, since our nature tends to be more one-on-one or solitary (as opposed to gregarious) I think our very nature can contribute to loneliness.

    Extroverts generally have a wide circle of what they call friends (introverts would call a lot of them “acquaintences”) and have structured their lives that way. Introverts tend to seek out a few, deep relationships and when one of those goes missing, it can contribute to feelings of loneliness. Even though the introvert needs alone time to recharge, it can become too much of a good thing.

    So in conclusion, I would say there is definitely a link between high sensitivity, loneliness and introversion.

  11. Alicia said:

    These conversations are so awesome and enlightening! I am a sensitive and gentle woman, and deal with loneliness as well. Kind of off topic, but also not, our society tends to discourage openness with feelings and emotions because we have become so individualistic and self-sufficient, when in fact we are a very social species! I am reading a book called “Step into the Light: Living in the Shadow of the Ghosts of Grief,” by Alan Wolfelt, as I am working through many life losses, learning to “mourn” carried-grief (thoughts and feelings suppressed and not expressed in healthy life giving ways.) Mourning is the outward expression of Grief, “grief gone public”, as Wolfelt states.
    Highly sensitive people, among others, are often unable and even discouraged from mourning because of cultural norms, fear inflicted by family members, fear of being called a sissy and so on. This is very destructive to the soul of a person. Loneliness, and not finding that deep connection with others reminds me of some of the content of this book, and how bottling things up can lead to an outward social stigma of the aspect of life, and the inability to express it and talk about it with others.

  12. Someone said:

    I would think highly sensitive people would be more sensitive to loneliness, as they are more sensitive to anything else, so maybe they (we) are not more prone to loneliness but prone to feel it more intensely.

    Thought you might like to see this article on loneliness and elderly people from the SF Bay Area, Emily: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2012/06/19/MN311P40AV.DTL&tsp=1

    “For better or worse, we are what we do, and if we aren’t able to do much, then we’re less and less relevant to the social fabric,” Dane said. “If you want to avoid the feeling of irrelevancy, you need to maintain your friendships, maintain your family ties, stay an active part of other people’s lives in whatever way you can.

    Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2012/06/18/MN311P40AV.DTL#ixzz1yG3ELrcQ

    What’s hard is for the “highly sensitive” we don’t necessarily want to get out and DO MORE THINGS…which would overstimulate us…the trick is to maybe do what you said in a previous post, find an animal shelter where the schedule is loose, rather than one where we have to over-commit to a rigid schedule.

  13. Anonymous in Boston said:
  14. Iamnotabozo said:

    As a single older woman I am finding my age bracket of friends are on lots of different paths. Many have retired, are married or have grandchildren that they are enjoying and it has made me extremely lonely even though logically I understand. They are busy and I fill my day up with as many things that I can. I really miss my friends and as I get older it is definately getting scarier being alone, lonlier, disconnected, frail, unhealthy. I have become afraid to retire because I am afraid I won’t be worthwhile to anyone.

  15. Jacky Z said:

    I find myself lonely for my expectations of how friendships should be are very high. I seem to need some profundity in all friendships to feel connected. But fear from rejection in that keeps me from profound conversations. Superficial contacts I find very tiredsome. And that seems to be a high-sensitive character. It’s so complex.

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