If you’re like me, the holidays are bittersweet, a mixed bag. I love the twinkly lights, poignant holiday songs, and the smell of pine mingled with hot chocolate. The holidays are also a time of navigating family dynamics, overstimulation, and memories of loved ones no longer with us.
Maybe you can relate to the intensity, the highs and the lows.
In my decade as a therapist working with Highly Sensitive People (who I prefer to call Intuitive Warriors) I’ve noticed a theme: the holidays bring up certain issues for everyone and then there are some challenges specific to HSPs.
Everyone, HSP or not, struggles with three aspects of the holidays:
Family dynamics: mom’s controlling behavior or dad’s criticism can’t be ignored when it’s right in front of you.
Feelings of loss: perhaps you’re aware of a family member who’s passed away or can’t be present, or an important relationship that’s ended. Whatever the circumstance, the holidays highlight change and loss.
The pressure to finish our to-do list: while getting everything done is stressful on any given day, our to-do lists becomes gargantuan during the holidays, creating buckets of anxiety.
The holidays also bring HSP-specific challenges:
Over-stimulation: particularly at places of commerce like malls or multi-purpose stores like Best-Buy or Target, we are bombarded with masses of frantic shopper and noisy, flashy holiday music and decor. For most HSPs, this has very little charm and quickly leads to overwhelm.
Self reflection: HSPs are blessed with the gift of processing everything deeply, and that includes ourselves. Often during the holidays and New Year, Intuitive Warriors consider how we feel about ourselves and our relationships as well as our life’s meaning and purpose. You know, the light stuff. While that reflection is rich and valuable, it can also bring up painful feelings about how we’re dissatisfied or ways we’ve let ourselves or others down (we tend to be hard on ourselves).
Worries and expectations: We are often thoughtful about the gifts we buy and ways to create a holiday special to loved ones. The downside of this beautiful intention can be overwhelm and perfectionism as we try to make everything “just right”.
Feelings of loneliness: HSPs need deep, quality relationships. In today’s culture, that can be hard to find. Also, some families are fractured and messy, and togetherness feels more like a minefield than a winter wonderland.
So how do we honor our nervous system, get through the challenges of the holidays, and embrace our gifts as Intuitive Warriors?
Honor the way you’re wired:
Make a plan for family time:
Embrace the gifts of being an Intuitive Warrior:
If you’re a Highly Sensitive Person, the holidays will deliver challenges right alongside the gifts. With a bit of awareness and a few tools though, you can make them work for you and get back to enjoying the magic.
For over a decade, a certain group of people have come into my office for therapy. They have sat opposite me and shown me how our culture has ravaged the way they see themselves.
I see people constantly second-guessing their decisions, questioning their feelings and reactions. They didn't develop these habits in isolation; their upbringing contributed to these patterns of behavior, this way of being.
They doubt their right to ask for what they need in the workplace, home, and relationships because they worry they’re “too needy”, “too emotional”, or “irrational”.
I see smart, creative people immobilized by overwhelm.
People who would rather “play small” than be themselves and be shamed for it, again.
These people feel deeply and often carry the pain of others.
What saddens me most is their deeply-felt sense that something is wrong with them; something shameful, something defective.
I’ve come to understand the commonality that binds this group of people together: they are, as Dr. Elaine Aron identified, Highly Sensitive People (HSP). Dr. Aron's work describes a gene that causes 1 in 5 people to have a more sensitive nervous system than others. HSPs process everything deeply, experience emotional intensity and strong empathy, are sensitive to subtlety, and can be easily overwhelmed.
As an HSP, My Life Was Peppered With Pain
My compassion for HSPs transcends professional interest. I understand well these finely-tuned people, not only because of my training and experience but also because I, too, am an HSP.
As an HSP, my life was similarly peppered with self-doubt, shame, insecurity, anxiety, overwhelm, and self-criticism. I also grew up misunderstood and came to believe something was wrong with me; something shameful, something defective.
I, too, learned to numb, hide, control, and chastise myself to avoid the pain.
Learning about the highly sensitive nervous system, I’ve come to see myself and others like me so differently than I did before. Working hard on my own personal growth and development was key to this transformation.
We Need a New Name: Intuitive Warriors
I am equally aware of our strengths as our struggles. I believe that the best way to throw off our shackles is to speak, with each other, about our experiences and to question the toxic messages we’ve been fed by those who didn’t understand; those who, while well-intentioned, were quick to adopt the pejorative paint of "too sensitive" terminology.
We need a new name; a brighter paint, a softer brush. A name that evokes the passion and power we possess. We are warriors. From this deeper understanding, new, empowered terminology has emerged: Intuitive Warriors.
It takes grit and resilience, qualities we have in spades, to survive in this often harsh world.
Intuitive Warriors are emotionally robust with amazing processing abilities. Once we learn to trust our intuition, it can act as a guide in making positive choices. We can intuit information about our world through our finely-tuned nervous systems to stand strong in the face of complexity.
I have a message for you: you can trust yourself, honor and accept your emotions, learn ways to calm your worry, and live in the present surrounded by people who love all of who you are. You have unique gifts to share with the world and experiences that other Intuitive Warriors need to hear.
If you're unsure, here are the 6 reasons your sensitivity makes you an Intuitive Warrior:
If this is you, know you are a gift. You aren't alone. We need you here.
If your intuition connected with these words, sign up below to start getting tools to empower you. First up is the FREE Intuitive Warrior video course,
Overwhelmed-to-Understood: Finding Peace as a Sensitive Person.
Brooke Nielsen, MA, MFT
Brooke Nielsen has over a decade of clinical experience specializing in working with Highly Sensitive People (HSPs). She is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist in private practice in Boulder, Colorado and also the founder of the Intuitive Warrior Programs and Community.
You are a gift to the world. You aren't alone. We need you here.