Many sensitive people seek 1:1 support at some time in their lives. When you understand the kind of support you need, you can more effectively find it. Even better, you can take proactive steps to have support in place.
I recently spotted a philosophical jewel among the birthday cards at the grocery store. On the cross-section of an old tree, the artist had superimposed a tiny arrow pointing to one of the growth rings, with a label that read, “You are here.”
Indeed. You are here. I am here. We are each exactly where we are. We each have a particular configuration of growth rings behind us, and an unknown number ahead of us. Some of our growth patterns are healthy, but others may be stunted and restricted by wounds we haven’t yet healed.
These unaddressed cracks and fissures can prevent highly sensitive people from fully living, loving, and expressing our creativity. To change these patterns and grow into healthier ones, we will likely need support.
Pain: the most common motivator
Typically, pain is our cue to seek support. I first visited the chiropractor when my neck got so stiff I could hardly move it. Similarly, I first sought therapy because my anxiety was becoming unbearable and was starting to affect my daily functioning. I wasn’t thinking about prevention. I just wanted relief as soon as possible so I could go back to my usual pursuits.
If you are in emotional pain, of course you want and need relief, as I did back then. And you should seek it. But take time also to look at the deeper patterns underneath the pain you are experiencing. The better you understand why you are in pain, the better you can discern what kind of support will help you address that pain in a deep, lasting way.
Here are three of the most common reasons sensitive people seek support. You may have experienced one, two, or even all three of these scenarios. Unpacking each one can help you recognize it and have more clarity of choice when you are considering getting support.
1—You experience extreme situational overwhelm
In any given moment, we each possess a certain level of resilience. Your resilience depends partly on current conditions. Are you physically well, or ill? Are you rested, or exhausted? Are you feeling calm, or out of sorts? Are your immediate surroundings supportive and harmonious, or conflictual and stressful?
Beyond these immediate conditions, though, your resilience depends on deeper factors:
- The stability and supportiveness of your close relationships
- The cumulative impact on you of your life experiences (positive, negative, even traumatic)
- Your physical self-care
- Your inner relationship
- Your resources of time, money, support, information, privacy, and more
Your self-care and resources may be excellent. But here’s the thing: our resilience is adequate…until it isn’t. Even the sturdiest person can be hit by a combination of events that leaves them overwhelmed. In fact, that’s one way to find out where your growth edge is: right there, at the place where events can still knock you for a loop.
If you feel essentially sturdy within yourself, but events have pushed you beyond the lines of manageable stress, 1:1 support can offer you relatively rapid relief. A few sessions—or even a single session with a practitioner you’ve worked with before— may be enough to restore your sense of equanimity.
On the other hand, perhaps you’ve suffered trauma. Your inner relationship is harsh. And your resources are thin. In that case, a challenging life situation will affect you more than someone who is more resourced and resilient. You will need support to weather the crisis at hand, but you will also benefit from the deeper inner relationship work described next in Part 2.
2—Your inner relationship needs attention
Sometimes we seek support for acute situational distress, only to discover that the issue goes deeper. It’s like you’ve hired a plasterer to fix cracks in your living room wall, and he comes back to you and says, “I can repair these cracks, but the real issue is that your foundation has shifted. If you don’t address that, your wall will crack again within a year.”
Ideally, your parents or primary caregivers modeled for you a healthy way of treating yourself. But your parents may have had pain or trauma of their own. If so, your inner relationship likely mirrors what you learned from them. To create a new, healthy inner relationship is a big job.
I don’t say that to be discouraging. On the contrary: when you know what you are getting into, you can plan more effectively to help you sustain the necessary effort. You are not repainting the guest bedroom. You are tearing out and remodeling the kitchen. You will feel discombobulated and will need more sleep than usual. Your productivity will temporarily suffer. But if you know this, you can be ready for it.
Our habitual coping behaviors—even our most painful, self-destructive ones—sprang into existence for good reason. They’ve kept us alive, sane, and adequately functional under difficult circumstances. Not surprisingly, given their important roles, these inner parts won’t simply take early retirement and move to Florida upon request.
In fact, you are likely merged with these parts: they feel like they are you. This means you will need support to develop loving adult presence with them. A skilled therapist or facilitator helps you hold this new space, much like a loving parent holds your bicycle seat while you are learning to ride, giving you the experience of what balance feels like.
3—You want to go deeper
Perhaps you were blessed to grow up sturdy and resilient. Many HSPs do. Or perhaps, with sustained effort, you have remodeled your inner relationship, and are enjoying greater resilience as a result. Whatever the route that brought you to a stable, peaceful state, you may already have discovered the third reason sensitive people seek 1:1 therapeutic support: they enjoy going deeper.
Elaine Aron puts it this way in The Highly Sensitive Person (page 185):
Depth work especially can also be a kind of playground for the HSP. Whereas others feel lost, we are as at home there as anyone dares to claim to be. This big, beautiful wilderness lets us travel through all kinds of terrain. We camp happily for a while with anything useful—books, courses, and relationships. We become companions with experts and amateurs discovered along the way. It’s a good land.
Depth work might mean a concentrated course of frequent work with the practitioner of a new modality you’ve discovered. Or you might have less frequent but equally deep sessions with a therapist other trusted 1:1 practitioner with whom you’ve cultivated a long-term relationship. In the latter case, your shared knowledge and trust can provide an invaluable resource of support. Even if you haven’t seen each other for a while, you can dive right into the shared field of experience to address the issue at hand.
You can also do depth work in the safe container of Focusing partnership. Focusing facilitates deep connection with self in the presence of another, which is both a core need for HSPs and a challenge for many of us. Once you’ve learned the skills, Focusing partnership has the added advantage of being free.
Looking at the long arc of the journey
I spent years approaching support in the way I described above in Part 1. I thought, “If I can just fix these issues like performance anxiety, I’ll be all set.” Gradually I realized my mental kitchen needed remodeling, and I spent years constructing a better inner relationship. Now I have the luxury of being stable enough to play with going deeper.
I still work on issues I find challenging, but I find the process more manageable. Metaphorically speaking, I no longer have to do my dishes in the tub or eat microwaved meals for weeks. It’s more like I have a workshop out back. I can go out there and make a mess, then come back to my harmonious house to rest and eat.
As I’ve done for years, I meet with partners twice a week for Focusing exchanges. I find I can best engage in the process of going deeper if I also invest in monthly sessions of therapy and body work. I simply plan on this, rather than going on an emergency basis.
Most months, I don’t notice anything particularly dramatic happening in these sessions. But in the years since I made this monthly commitment, I’ve gradually become more resilient, kind, and patient. I can “get myself back” more quickly when I do get overwhelmed. I have fewer aches and pains.
The power of regular support
These may sound like unremarkable accomplishments. In a way, though, that’s precisely the point. I used to wait to get help until remarkable, even dramatic pain drove me to it. Now that I’m more proactive about seeking support, my inner world doesn’t have to send me any remarkable signals to get my attention.
No doubt, my memories of the “bad old days,” when I was so terribly anxious much of the time, are never far from the front of my mind. I’ve worked hard to find the peace I enjoy now, and I don’t take it for granted. I know what I need to do to keep my distance from the edge of that cliff, and I make sure to do it.
Wherever you are on this journey, ponder your current life. Do you need support? If so, what kind? Don’t wait to seek what you need. The more proactive you are about your emotional self-care, the more you can turn your attention to the most important question of all—the one the poet Mary Oliver asks so beautifully:
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?