The first tool that will help you deal with emotional overwhelm is to simply understand what it means to be a highly sensitive person. Your “openness” means that you can be an incredible philosopher, teacher, or whatever you want to be. On the other hand, you may not be a great explorer or engineer, pursuits which sometimes require a detachment that highly sensitive people usually cannot maintain. But regardless of the career goals you have, your empathetic tendencies are fundamental to who you are. They cannot be changed or “worked through.” Instead, highly sensitive people must learn to work with their brains to interact effectively with their world. If you can understand who you are and how your body and brain work, then you can accept those parts of yourself and learn to work with them.
Of course, acceptance is not easy. Many highly sensitive empaths believe that if we can just change this one “different” part of who we are, all our troubles would disappear. We think, “No, I can’t just be happy with who I am because then I’ll never be better.” But learning to deal with overwhelm is not about simply being “happy” that you are empathetic. It’s about understanding who you are so you can adapt. It means choosing to stop wresting with yourself so that you can move forward. Imagine watching a marathon, and at Mile 9, you see one runner start wrestling with another runner. Clearly, neither runner is going to get very far in the race. But that kind of wrestling is exactly what many highly sensitive people do in life, only inside themselves.
For example, you may hate being sensitive or hate picking up on other people’s sadness or hate the fact that you often get overwhelmed. So you respond by trying to make yourself be different. You try to act like everyone else. You pretend to be “normal.” But the internal discord, this constant tug-of-war, keeps you from moving forward, just like our runner-turned-wrestler.
The fact is, highly sensitive people are not like other people. This sensitivity is part of who you are. It’s not going to change any time soon. You’re not crazy. You are not odd. You are not broken. You have, literally, a different sympathetic nervous system; in this particular area, your brain is built differently. And that makes you different. And it’s only when you accept that this is who you are that you can adapt your life, you’re thinking, and your behaviors, enabling yourself to move forward.
Acceptance simply means recognizing your strengths and weaknesses and compensating for them when necessary. Unfortunately, our society often focuses too much on weaknesses. Think about the kid in school who gets straight A’s in every subject, except math. In math, he gets a C. What gets the most attention? That C in math. So he gets a tutor for math and does extra work and focuses all his energy on his grade in math. We focus on his weakness. Instead, we need to tell him, “So math isn’t your strong suit. Okay. Don’t become a mathematician. Become something else that you’re good at.” Forward progress can only happen when we recognize our weakness and learn to adjust for it.
For highly sensitive people, this could mean accepting that your emotional sensitivity requires you not to watch certain movies or cable news. You may have to stick to comedies instead of dramas. You may have to read the news because of how it affects your emotional stability. And that is okay. Instead of focusing on your “massive ears” as a weakness, accept them as a fact and adjust to their presence in your life.
Highly sensitive people must stop trying to be different than they are. You cannot wait until you get your overwhelm “under control” to be happy. You must accept who you are, all of who you are. Returning to the metaphor of a flood, Deibler says, “Think of acceptance as riding out a wave.” You acknowledge the overwhelming amounts of emotion, but instead of trying to swim for shore, you choose instead to float until the wave passes under you. Simply put, you understand your starting point and then begin to move forward.