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“How to be less sensitive” is a question that most highly sensitive people have probably thrown out into the universe at one time or another.  

It’s a question that’s certainly asked a lot by sensitive people who have never learned that high sensitivity is “a thing” or that it’s actually a normal personality variation.  It’s asked by people who feel like there’s something wrong with them.  People who feel like they are somehow defective and in need of fixing.  

But my hunch is that it’s a question that has come up even for those of us who are more aware and those of us who have learned to be more accepting of our sensitive selves.  I know I’ve had my moments.  Being a sensitive person in a world that prizes toughness isn’t all fun and games, so I think it’s reasonable to question what you can and can’t do about it.

So let’s go over it.

how to be less sensitive (And should you try)

You Can’t Stop Being A Highly Sensitive Person

According to current scientific understanding, your degree of sensitivity is determined by three factors:

  1. Your genetics.  Some genes make it more likely that you will have a more reactive nervous system than the average person.
  2. The conditions in the womb when your mother was pregnant.  If your mother was stressed out a lot during pregnancy, her stress hormones may have communicated to your developing nervous system that you are about to enter a stressful environment and made your nervous system more reactive.
  3. Your childhood environment.  If you were exposed to a lot of stressors as a child, your brain and nervous  system would have gotten used to being in an alert state.  

Sensitivity occurs on a continuum, and because of some combination of the three factors above, roughly one third of us have more reactive nervous systems than the other two thirds.  Our nervous systems “wake up” from less provoking than other people’s.  It may take less for us to react and our reactions might be more intense to sensory stimuli like lights, sounds, smells, and touch, social stimuli like meeting new people or receiving criticism, and emotional stimuli like our own and other people’s feelings. 

Another thing to take into account is that the word “autonomic” in “autonomic nervous system” means involuntary or unconscious.  The reactions of the autonomic nervous system are so fast that they happen before your conscious mind has a chance to register what’s happening.

These are all things you can’t change.  You can’t change your genetics, the conditions in your mother’s womb, your childhood environment, or the fact that your nervous system leads a life of its own.

You can wish it wasn’t so.  You can try to pretend you are not sensitive.  You can try to ignore your stress response when it activates.  You can try to ignore how all your sensitivities are impacting you.  You can try to stuff your emotions.  You can try to numb them with food or with substances.

But all of this trying – no matter how hard – won’t change the fact that you are a member of the HSP club.  

And actually…  Once most people learn about the upsides of sensitivity and once they learn how to mitigate the downsides, they no longer even wish to change that fact.

So let’s talk about what you CAN do about the downsides. 

You Can Stop Participating In The Insane “Who Can Tolerate The Most” Competition

One reason why so many sensitive people are desperate to become less sensitive is because that’s what they’ve been told to do.  A large chunk of society operates under the assumption that the more hardship you can tolerate the better.  That it’s somehow shameful to express your needs and to want to have them met.  That any display of emotion is a sign of weakness.  In Sensitive: The Hidden Power of the Highly Sensitive Person, authors Jenn Granneman and Andre Solo call this the “Toughness Myth”.  The tougher you are, the better.

But really???  

Do you really believe that the purpose of humanity and life on earth is to engage in a competition to see who can tolerate the most?  Who is the least affected by abuse, aggression, or other people’s suffering?  Who is the best at hiding their emotions, or even better, just flat out not experiencing any?  Who can withstand the most pummeling from their stress response without getting sick?  Who can work the longest hours on the least amount of rest and the shittiest nutrition?  

I sure don’t.  I agree with Granneman and Solo when they state that the Toughness Myth “leads to harmful choices about our wellbeing, our work-life balance, how we allow ourselves to be treated, and how we treat one another.”  

The good thing is that we don’t have to buy into this myth.  If other people want to follow it and spout it from the rooftops, let them.  You don’t have to go along with it.  You can join those of us who choose to use different standards to judge ourselves and others.   

You Can Make Your Sensitivity Hurt Less

Another thing you can do is make your life as a sensitive person less of a struggle.  The life of a highly sensitive person doesn’t need to be a nonstop stream of chronic stress and reactivity.  The life of a highly sensitive person can be joyful, rewarding, and meaningful. 

You can work on meeting your basic physical needs for rest, movement, and good nutrition.  This will ensure that you are facing the challenges of life from a place of strength and at your full capacity rather than from a place of depletion.  

You can learn strategies for calming down your nervous system and for processing and regulating your emotions.  This will help you come out of a chronic state of activation and not get stuck in it in the future.  Instead of dreading stressors and emotional triggers, you will start meeting them with confidence, knowing that you can handle whatever life throws at you.

You can learn to have compassion toward yourself and you can learn to value yourself.  This will give you the strength to set boundaries around what you will and will not accept from other people.  You will naturally start moving away from circumstances that are bringing you down and moving toward environments and relationships that bring out the best in you.  

These are not easy feats to accomplish, but I can tell you from personal experience that it’s very much worth the effort. If you are on this journey and you need support along the way, I hope you find all the resources on this website helpful! 🙂     

About the Author

Hi, I'm Anni! I'm a life and career coach for stressed out highly sensitive people. My mission is to help you discover your true self and create a life you ACTUALLY like.

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