The Highly Sensitive Person’s Bill of Relationship Rights

People who are sensitive often have a hard time owning their emotions and understanding that they, too, have a right to express those feelings.

Highly Sensitive People (HSPs), as defined by researcher and author Elaine Aron, are those who are sensitive to stimulus (whether it is emotional information, noise, or other sensory input). They might prefer situations which are less noisy or crowded, and might need more time to process ideas and feelings.

As a result, HSPs might keep their feelings to themselves, especially in relationships — the very place where emotions must be expressed (and appreciated!). Often, over the course of their life, an HSP might hear things like: “Just get over it,” “Stop being so sensitive,” or “Let it go.” In response to these negative remarks, I have developed a Bill of Rights specifically for HSPs in a relationship.

Want to know if you’re an HSP? Take the test here.

  1. Your specialty is emotions. That’s great. Me too! There are others like us. In fact, 15-20% of the population are thought to be HSPs. These are people with nervous systems that are keen on inner experience and overwhelmed by outer experience (Aron, Elaine).
  2. Own it. You cannot get respect or demand respect if you first don’t respect yourself. Often, our unhappiness at differences with our partner are actually reflections of unhappinesses within ourselves. If we can accept ourselves, only then can we express that to our partner, and then, accept our partner, too.
  3. In other cultures and in other moments in history, HSPs have been highly valued for their intuitiveness and empathy. Find your own “team” of people who value your traits and who depend on you for the perspective you bring.
  4. Be genuine even if it feels like a terrifying living death and you’re sure the world will explode the minute you say your feelings out loud.
  5. If someone disagrees with your point of view, it doesn’t mean they hate you or will stop loving you. A disagreement is a starting point to proper communication and ultimate understanding. It might take awhile. And that’s ok.
  6. It’s not flip flopping if you change your mind about your feelings, it’s called having range.
  7. An honest relationship has both happy and sad times. Both are required for balance.
  8. You cannot truly love someone if you can’t tell them how a certain behavior affected you. Honesty confers respect, even if it’s a tough truth.
  9. Trust that every emotion that comes out of you is the truth. And the truth must reveal itself. But do it nicely, just as you’d have it done unto you.
  10. Help people understand you. Also say what you need the other person to do for you. Use detail. Make drawings. Be clear. Other people are not you. If they love you, then they want to understand.
  11. Explain where your feelings are coming from (give context). Think back on previous situations where you felt that way. Often our feelings come from childhood or from other major life experiences. The more context you can give your partner, the more they will be able to understand you as a whole person.
  12. Good communication is a habit you build over time. It’s ok to continue a discussion the next day, for a week, for a month. It’s ok to check-in every month, every year.
  13. If you’re having trouble getting all your giant emotions out of your human-sized mouth, try starting your sentences with “I feel…”. This is also helpful if you’re journaling. Listing your feelings first can often help you to figure out what names to give those emotional sounds in your mind.
  14. Have a big discussion coming up? Have a pre-discussion where you talk about how afraid you are about the discussion or about expressing something. Say what you will need during the discussion to feel heard.
  15. And here is one more: You are just as worthy a human as everyone else. You deserve to say how you feel. And you deserve to be heard, with respect, and with validation.

Sensitive people sometimes overlook their own feelings in order to please others. But, HSPs can have more fulfilling relationships if they learn how to speak their truths.

Having a handle on your emotional rights, and feeling safe to express yourself, also means that you can then reciprocate and allow you partner to also feel safe when they express themselves to you. Having this rapport will take time, and your process will be unique to you and your relationship. But it’s the effort that ultimately counts. You’ll both feel better just knowing that your feelings will be accepted and heard.

If you are still having trouble expressing your inner truths, then consider practicing with a therapist. Learning how to communicate is a complex skill; a therapist can often show you what clear speaking and good listening ought to feel like.