A Perspective Shift for when you Worry you’re “Too Sensitive” and “just need to Toughen Up”

by Caroline van Kimmenade

Nobody wants to be too much of anything. Am I right? So as a Highly Sensitive Person, you definitely don’t want to be too sensitive.

At the same time though, are you equally concerned that you may not be sensitive enough?

How are you supposed to know what is too much and what is too little anyway?

Most of us base that assessment off of what our parents say. Yet, what may be a lot for them, may be just a little bit for someone else.

Sensitivity is about Perceptivity

Here’s what I mean: as a healer, I need to be very sensitive. I need to feel things that my clients don’t feel, and then I need to feel underneath that. Otherwise, how can I be of any help?

If someone comes to me for help and they say they feel fine, and I don’t sense any more than that, what’s the point?

Yet, when someone comes to me and says they feel fine, yet I feel a huge anxiety emanating from them… well, then I have usefull information! Now I have a place to start from, an emotional x-ray if you will.

If it wasn’t for my sensitivity, I wouldn’t have that kind of information at all.

High Sensitivity is not Dramatic and Self-Absorbed

Often, sensitivity gets conflated with a lot of other things. When people say someone is sensitive, often what they mean is:

  • dramatic
  • unstable
  • easily offended
  • ungrounded
  • impractical
  • aery-fairy
  • won’t survive in the real world
  • no control over their emotions
  • lashes out at others for no reason
  • hides away at home all the time because they’re overwhelmed
  • depressed
  • anxious
  • difficult to get along with

Yikes, right? The good news is, that is not what sensitivity, in the sense of being a Highly Sensitive Person means at all.

At root, high sensitivity is about how perceptive, how finely-tuned you are to the world around you and the world inside you. Obviously, if you pick up more about your surroundings and your insides, it is easier to get overwhelmed. You potentially have more stuff to process.

However, that’s not the full story.

A Library Story to Better Understand High Sensitivity

Imagine a librarian in a library. The library is full of books. Thousands of them!

Now, would it be easier for the librarian to be overwhelmed by books, than say for someone who only has 10 books at home?

Maybe, but I think not!

When you look at the sheer number of books, it seems like thousands of books would mean thousands of times more overwhelm.

Yet in practice: librarians tend to love books. That’s why they became librarians! They have also been trained to organize and keep track of books really well. They have systems. They have routines.


If you put an utter slob in charge of thousands of books, yes, they might get overwhelmed, or simply not care about the mess.

The point is though: the number of books is not the problem. In fact, libraries are often wonderful places! Many older libraries are simply beautiful and there is so much knowledge stored on those shelves!

A good librarian is someone who loves books and is good at organizing them. They need to care because it’s a lot to keep track of. If you have to organize something you don’t give a damn about, or hate even, things get overwhelming quick. Not because it’s too much, but because you just don’t want to deal with it.

So, why am I going on and on about librarians? Because it’s a great metaphor for being a Highly Sensitive Person.

Think of every piece of sensory input as a book.


As a Highly Sensitive Person you collect more books than most people. Does that mean you have to be overwhelmed? Does it mean you have to be dramatic and start throwing those books at innocent visitors? Does it mean people will come into your library all the time and say: “Geez, there are just TOO MANY BOOKS here!”

I can’t imagine anyone saying that. What they might say though is:

“Geez, this library is a mess. There are books everywhere and nothing is organized. There are even books half-ripped apart. They need to be repaired or thrown away, but they’re just strewn all over the floor!”

Overwhelmed by your sensitivity? THIS is key

What we Highly Sensitive People need is smart ways to organize our perceptiveness.

The goal is not to walk into the library and yell: “books are stupid, just burn them all!”

The goal is not to treat everything you’re picking up on as I am too much, I am too sensitive and there is just something wrong with me.

Many Highly Sensitive People have fascinating inner libraries but those libraries lack organization. They’ve been told so often that their inner “books” are too much and stupid etc that they try to not care about them and just ignore them. As a result, those inner libraries are a total – overwhelming – mess. And going in there as little as possible doesn’t make that inner library go away.

In fact, when you’re trying to find something, decide something, figure something out.. you need that inner library. And you need it to be clean and organized.

It can’t be a horror house you’re afraid to visit, or a giant pile of stuff you just keep adding to.

Yet somehow, there’s an idea out there that the solution to sensitivity is just to not care so much. To power through, ignore things, shut down, ignore your feelings, push away anything intuitive and mysterious. In short, try to turn the library into a parking lot for huge monster trucks.

Oh look, if you take down 20 library aisles, you can park one monster truck!


And that’s great if you love monster trucks. But you’re a librarian at heart.

You need a clean, well-organized library. Not a parking lot full of monstertrucks.

Now obviously, the monster truck people will disagree! What’s wrong with you! Libraries are stupid! Monster trucks are where it’s at! You’re just too much of a librarian and too little of a monster trucker. Here, climb on this huge wheel and race around the track, that’ll sort you out!


The first step HSPs need to take

For your inner library to get organized, the first step you need to take is start caring about it. Start caring about those perceptions you have. Start noticing if you have piles of stuff on the inside that you don’t know how to organize.

Librarians weren’t born with all their librarian skills! They learned. This is why being a librarian is a profession. In a way, being Highly Sensitive is also a profession.

You are born with certain abilities, and certain tendencies. If you’ve learned to ignore, ridicule and constantly criticize this part of yourself, you’ll never get to the good part: the part where you get to be a trained librarian!

Librarians love books first and learn how to manage them second. They don’t go around hating books, then putting themselves through school for something they hate, then organizing a library and then – suddenly – loving books! No, they start with an affinity, an interest, a love for books. Clearly, books matter!

As a Highly Sensitive Person you have to start with this attitude towards your inner self as well. It’s the only way to start getting organized. Show an interest in your own perceptions. Be curious about them. Care about them. Even if it feels like this makes life a mess, you need to start there.

You have to acknowledge, see and hold the books before you can organize them.

The next step is to notice where – indeed – your inner library is a confusing mess, and get some help learning the techniques and insights to make it better!

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