Why Highly Sensitive People Are Prone to Developing People-Pleasing Behaviors (And How to Break the Cycle)

Do you have a need to please?

People-pleasing is an extremely common coping mechanism for highly sensitive people (HSPs)

Harriet B. Braiker, Ph.D. was a clinical psychologist and author of the best-selling book, The Disease to Please: Curing the People-Pleasing Syndrome.

In her book, Braiker stresses the dangers of developing a people-pleasing mindset as a self-fulfilling prophecy and goes as far as to call this detrimental mindset a disease. 

Though I don’t fully agree in calling people-pleasing a disease per se, it is a self-destructive behavior influenced by unhealthy beliefs and coping mechanisms built to protect ourselves from emotional harm.

Since several factors can influence the need to please, a people-pleasing mindset is easy to “misdiagnose” or left untreated. 

In the short term, people-pleasing can protect you from uncomfortable feelings, confrontation, and uncomfortable experiences.

But in the long term, it holds you back from:

  • Developing a career and feeling fulfilled
  • Building a loving and trusting long-term relationship
  • Caring for others in a healthy manner

Ultimately, an untreated people-pleasing mindset can take a toll on your self-esteem and sense of self-worth.

So what exactly causes the need to please? And when does it become detrimental on our overall well-being? 

This essay breaks down how our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors make up the people-pleasing syndrome. 

What drives the need to please?

On the surface, people-pleasers are considered flexible, agreeable, and of course — “nice.”

Initially, being a people-pleaser can seem harmless. You’re always willing to help out, make a situation easier for all parties involved, and pride yourself by being fully available for others. 

But if you’re not careful about what’s driving your motivation to please, it can do more damage than good to your emotional, physical, and mental health. 

Sacrificing your own needs for the needs of others can be viewed as a responsibility or a call to duty — and this belief can be driven by a multitude of factors: spirituality, religion, culture, family values, learned experiences, etc. 

This is where it gets challenging.

Giving to others is a good thing. In fact, being a giver leads to greater success than being someone who only takes from others. 

But being a giver isn’t the problem; the need to please is. Being a people-pleaser versus showing up for others is driven by two entirely different motives. 

Are you a giver or a people-pleaser? 

The answer lies in what’s driving the need to please. 

People-pleasing is a coping mechanism against dealing with hard situations and feeling negative emotions intensely. 

But over time, this coping mechanism doesn’t protect you but rather pushes you closer to what you feared the most.

The more you avoid hard feelings by hiding behind the need to please, the more you’ll end up feeling worse than imagined. 

With a people-pleasing mindset, you will end up in emotional debt

If negative, painful, and hard feelings are not given the space they need to be heard, they’ll soon speak louder.

Eventually, the emotional debt collectors will show up in your mind and body, which can cause anxiety, hormonal imbalance, and illness. 

If you think you might be a people-pleaser, the first step in identifying what’s driving your need to please to building more self-awareness.

Let’s take a look at the three primary symptoms of the people-pleasing mindset. 

The people-pleasing syndrome 

There are three primary symptoms (or causes) of people-pleasing that operate together:

  • Your thoughts
  • Your feelings  
  • Your behaviors

Depending on your past experiences, relationships personality, and other factors — one symptom might dominate over the other.

But in most cases, the people-pleasing cycle looks like this:



Possible behaviors 

“It’s important for me to be liked.”

“If I’m not liked, I’m worthless.”

  • Overdelivering/overfunctioning
  • Avoiding conflict
  • Saying “yes” when you want to say “no”

Thoughts trigger an emotion, which lead to a feeling. And our behaviors are influenced by how we feel. 

But if you’re an HSP, you might find that your feelings that derive from thoughts are what causes you to please. 

Whether it’s your thoughts, emotions, or behaviors that initiated the need to please, all three symptoms feed off each other. 

Think of it as a traffic circle — no matter how you enter into this devastating mindset, overtime you’ll end up in vicious circle unless you exit!

Identifying thoughts patterns

Our thoughts are driven by our beliefs and personal values.

So it’s no wonder the common gateway towards developing a people-pleasing mindset is our thoughts. 

Here are some examples of how people-pleasing might be showing up in your thoughts:

  • “It’s important for me to be liked.”
  • “My needs take a backseat to the people I care about, or else it would be considered selfish.”
  • “I do too much for other people to avoid being rejected.”
  • “If I make others need me, I won’t be left behind.”
  • “I need to give all my time to others to be worthy of love, or else I’m a bad person.

If your people-pleasing thoughts are driven by old beliefs and values that no longer serve you, you will need to evaluate what is causing you to have negative thoughts.

Again, it all starts with self-awareness. 

Negative beliefs can drive negative thoughts

During coaching sessions, I use storytelling to help my clients build self-awareness.

Storytelling is a powerful strategy in building self-awareness because it helps you identify the motives, values, and beliefs of the main character (you!) and how it all influences the script (your life). 

When writing your own story, you’re given ownership to play the role you desire in life by getting in touch with the values, motives, and beliefs that serve you well. 

According to Carol S. Pearson, there are six archetypes we play throughout our lives that influence how we think, feel, and do:


Plot Structure


How I suffered (or)

How I survived


How I escaped (or)

How I found my own way


How I achieved my goals (or)

How I defeated my enemies


How I gave to others (or) 

How I sacrificed 


How I found happiness


How I changed my world 

One of the most common archetypes that my sensitive clients relate to when they first start working with me is the Altruists.  

Altruists are known to commit to something greater than themselves. They are driven by the greater good and believe that to make progressive change in the world, you must show up for others and make sacrifices along the way. 

The most common example of an empowered Altruist is a parent who makes sacrifices for the sake of their child.

They also understand that in order to show up fully for their child, they must rest and take care of their own needs, so they have the energy to be fully present.

And anyone who has been in a serious romantic relationship knows that you have to make sacrifices and compromises to make the relationship work long term. 

But people-pleasing can be a pseudo-altruist act if you give only to expect something in return. 

When a people-pleaser is part of a relationship, there’s an unwritten contract.

As the people-pleaser in the relationship, you’ll make sure not to disappoint the other person and you expect them to never disappoint you (also known as codependency). 

What’s really happening is the people-pleaser is asking the other person to spare them conflict or confrontation by giving everything they have to the other person.

It’s an unhealthy tradeoff and at the end, no one gains. 

The expectation of receiving nothing but positive feedback from others is what creates a dangerous downward spiral for people-pleasers. 

When this is the case, your need to please becomes a self-destructive act rather than an unselfish act.

People-pleasers therefore end up in the wrong plot playing the Orphan role (i.e., a martyr) rather than the empowered Altruist. 

“While the Orphan seeks rescue from suffering and loss, the Altruist accepts them as potentially transformational.”

– Carol S. Pearson, author of The Hero Within: Six Archetypes We Live By

If you’re a recovering people-pleaser, there is absolutely no shame.

It’s okay if your fear of conflict, disappointment, or trusting someone else fully pushed you in the wrong direction — which influenced your belief system. 

The act of putting your needs before others might seem taboo and even uncomfortable. Why? Because you consider it a selfish act (which it certainly isn’t). 

If you’re a woman and/or a person of color, it’s not uncommon to have learned this belief for survival.

Fortunately, things are changing for the better and putting out needs first is now considered an empowering habit that benefits us and others.

People-pleasing as an act of fear

Emotion-driven people-pleasing is caused by a fear of feeling a negative emotion intensely or taking ownership of another person’s bad feelings (due to our empathetic nature).

If you’re someone you feels deeply and has an empathetic nature, you might have learned to suppress hard emotions and make everyone else happy to protect yourself.

Unfortunately, using people-pleasing as a coping mechanism against feeling hards things can be detrimental to your health.

Braiker states:

“People-pleasing habits actually intensify your fears, cripple your communication, impair your ‘people skills,’ and limit your range of emotional intelligence and know-how.”

Here are some truths of an emotion-driven people pleaser: 

  • “I believe nothing good comes from conflict.”
  • “It’s easier to acknowledge negative feelings about myself than to express negative feelings toward others.”
  • “I almost never stand up to others because I don’t want to upset or make someone angry.”
  • “I feel anxious when I think about confronting someone.”
  • “I don’t like providing constructive criticism in case the other person gets angry or defensive about it.”

Though thoughts are what trigger an emotion, if you’re an HSP, you might find that the primary cause of your people-pleasing behavior is rooted in a fear of feeling a negative emotion, which then influences your thoughts long term.

In other words, it becomes a coping mechanism; a way to avoid feeling hard things. 

Pleasing to avoid hard feelings and conflict

Sometimes, people-pleasing shows up in different parts of our lives.

For example, you might lack a sense of psychological safety at work, so you say “yes” to projects when you want to say no or you hold back from speaking up in meetings.

To make up for your need to please at work, you might show more assertiveness at home where you’re comfortable in expressing your emotions. 

Whatever role triggers you to feel the need to please, it is often rooted in not only your belief system but past experiences that triggered a memorable, negative emotion. 

Though it’s okay to feel hard things, if you felt as if you couldn’t express your emotions fully in a certain situation, it can lead to conflict or confrontation avoidance in similar situations in the future. 

Suppressing negative feelings leads to poor emotional regulation

If you grew up being told your emotions are too big or you’re too sensitive, people-pleasing others by withholding how you really feel is tied to your self-worth.

If you had parents who simply didn’t understand your sensitive trait (or worse — grew up in a household with a narcissist) you most likely experienced chronic invalidation — when a person finds that all their thoughts and feelings are judged or considered unworthy to express.

The people-pleasing HSP who has dealt with chronic invalidation oftentimes falls into the trap of people-pleasing due to a fear of:

A) Feeling negative emotions intensely

B) Feeling an intense emotion and believing you have no outlet for it

And if you’re an empathetic HSP, you do everything you can to ensure everyone else around you feels happy in fear that their negative emotions will impact you.

A common coping mechanism for avoiding unpleasant feelings is by keeping everyone around you happy, which makes you feel as if you’re in control. 

Perhaps you are a child of divorce and you took on the role as the peacemaker.

You wanted to take away your parent’s pain, so you did everything you could to make them happy, such as excelling at school, making them laugh, going to bed on time, etc.  

To make matters worse, maybe one or both of your parents took advantage of this and became co-dependent, toggling back and forth each other’s pain like a game of hot potato. 

Like mentioned earlier, the need to please often comes from a good place.

But what happens when, over time, the expectation to make everyone around you happy starts to chip away at your needs and moves you further away from what you truly desire?

People-pleasing is an unhealthy habit

“We’ve become conditioned to compromise and shrink ourselves in order to be liked. The problem is, when you work so hard to get everyone to like you, you very often end up not liking yourself so much.”

― Reshma Saujani, author of Brave, Not Perfect: Fear Less, Fail More, and Live Bolder

Lastly, our thoughts and emotions can drive our behaviors.

Remember, thoughts create an emotion. Once we experience an emotion, our feelings then impact how we respond.

If you find yourself always seeking validation from outside yourself, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with feeling validated. If there was, I wouldn’t have a podcast called Valid Feelings!

But rather than showing up for others because you want to, you show up for others because you’re seeking validation.

There is a tremendous difference between being a giver versus giving primarily for your own self-interest.

One of the most common examples of behavior-driven people-pleasing is an inability to delegate.

Failing to delegate work and responsibility to others, at home and at the workplace, is actually a disservice to the people around you.

In most cases, if you’re surrounded by helpful, supportive people (a motivated team or a loving family) they most likely have a desire to take the lead on something — whether it’s your partner wanting to help out with dinner or a co-worker who would love to collaborate with you on a project. 

But if you find yourself hoarding all the responsibilities, you might come off as someone who doesn’t trust anyone else but yourself.

Therefore you take on all the work only to feel resentment at the end. 

It’s a lose-lose situation.

If you have ever heard yourself saying, “I do everything for this [company or person], and I never get anything in return!” Then it’s time to make a major shift in our thoughts and emotions to change our behaviors. 

When you develop a need to be liked, rather than a desire to be liked, then you’ll continue to put your needs aside to make sure you’re perceived as needed. 

After a while, this need to please through unhealthy behaviors becomes an addictive habit.

You will constantly give more and more in hopes you’ll get approval or praise. But soon enough, you’ll experience burnout and it will be a long road to recovery.

How to break the people-pleasing cycle

People-pleasing is an exhausting mindset.

It holds you back from feeling fulfilled at work and in your personal life, and in building stronger bonds with others.

Ultimately, it stunts personal and emotional growth.  

So how do we break the cycle?

The first step is to recognize how it shows up for you — in your thoughts, in your emotions, and in your behaviors. 

For an HSP, it’s often caused by believing that feeling a negative emotion is a bad thing, therefore we take on the role of being the “nice” person as a way to avoid negative feelings at all costs.

After all, nice people are accepted, loved, cared for, and feel happy all the time. Right?

Not exactly.

Nice people are often taken advantage of and lose respect from others due to their people-pleasing behaviors. Though others might not consciously pick up on it, people-pleasing behavior is self-serving. 

The world needs more kindness, but kindness is different than being nice.

Kindness is when we show up with a desire to serve others.

And we show up as our best selves because we believe that in order to give fully, we must take care of ourselves first so we have the energy to be present and giving. 

“Nice” is driven by an emotional fear of:

  • Rejection
  • Abandonment 
  • Conflict or confrontation
  • Criticism 
  • Loneliness 
  • Feeling anger

When you’re nice, you’re not being true to yourself. You’re not showing up authentically, which is what the people who love you the most need from you — your fully present, authentic self. 

Living unauthentically leads to low self-esteem, shame, and resentment.

But showing up as yourself, giving to others fully, and allowing your emotions to be expressed fully leads to greater self-esteem, confidence, and fulfillment. 

If you consider yourself a people-pleaser, you’re not alone

So many of us have built this inauthentic version of ourselves as a coping mechanism for dealing with intense, negative emotions. 

Believe me — I’m a recovering people-pleaser, but I’ve made the commitment to join PPA. That’s “people-pleaser anonymous” and yes, I just made that up. 

Over the years, learning about my sensitive trait and practicing emotional regulation has helped me build healthier habits.

People-pleasing thoughts, emotions and behaviors still show up for me from time to time and it’s usually when I’m tired and feeling vulnerable. 

It’s not about overcoming people-pleasing behavior cold turkey. If you’re a caregiving, thoughtful, and sensitive person — people pleasing can creep in when you’re the most vulnerable. 

But if your people-pleasing thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are disrupting your life and holding you back, rest assured there are tools, resources, and techniques you can use to break the cycle.

You don’t have to live with people-pleasing as your sole identity.

At Tonia Moon Coaching, I work with individuals to help them overcome common challenges HSPs in survival mode face:

  • People-pleasing
  • Perfectionism
  • Overfunctioning

If you’re struggling with a people-pleasing mindset and you’re ready to make some major shifts in how you show up for yourself and others, let’s chat!

People-pleasing FAQs

People-pleasing is more than being a “nice” person. It’s a detrimental mindset that can hold you back from living a fulfilling life. Here are answers to common questions related to people-pleasing. 

Is people-pleasing and codependency the same thing?

Codependency is influenced by a need to please. In many codependent relationships, there are factors of people-pleasing displayed. However, it’s always advised that you seek a professional who can help you navigate codependent behaviors. But if you’re looking to break away from a people-pleasing cycle, a highly sensitive coach can help.  

What are people-pleasing behaviors?

People-pleasing behaviors show up in a variety of ways. Here are some examples: saying “yes” when you want to say no to projects or additional responsibilities, doing things for others in search of praise, and overworking or overfunctioning to avoid negative feedback, feelings, or confrontation.

Is people-pleasing a syndrome?

There are three symptoms that make up the people-pleasing syndrome: thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Our thoughts are driven by beliefs that ultimately influence how we feel and act.

How do I stop people-pleasing?

The first step is recognizing what thoughts and emotions are driving your need to please. Practicing mindfulness and self-awareness is the best place to start. You will need to recognize old belief systems that no longer serve you so you can start to do inner work to change your inner belief system.

What is a Highly Sensitive Child: 6 Highly Sensitive Child Parenting Strategies

When I was a child and a teen, I despised sleepovers. Whether it was a group of girls getting together to watch movies and eat popcorn or sleeping over at a babysitter’s house, I missed the comfort of my own bed, going to sleep as soon as I got tired, and knowing how to get to the bathroom in the dark.

Looking back, I now know that my discomfort towards sleepovers was due to my highly sensitive trait. 

American psychologist Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D. in 1991, coined the term “highly sensitive person” to identify the 20% of the population born with a tendency to notice more in their environments and feel deeper.

In both children and adults, highly sensitive individuals tend to be more empathetic, smart, creative, and conscientious. 

Highly sensitive people (HSPs) tend to become overwhelmed and overstimulated much sooner than a non-sensitive person, i.e., a non-HSP; not to be confused with being insensitive. 

So what exactly does it mean to have a highly sensitive child? 

This article provides insights into what it means to be highly sensitive and some tips on how to parent a highly sensitive child.

What does it mean to be a highly sensitive child?

“High sensitivity” refers to individuals born with the ability to notice subtitles in their environment. They also tend to think and feel much deeper than non-sensitive individuals.

Most parents know sooner than later they have a sensitive child. Though any newborn can have sleeping problems or be colicky, sensitive babies get overwhelmed when too much is happening for too long. 

Sensitive people are born with the trait. However, how understood a child is by their parents, as well as teachers, influences whether or not an HSC will develop a strong sense of self-worth or low self-esteem. 

Understanding highly sensitive children traits

Before we dive into the different facets of a sensitive child, there’s one crucial thing to note: 

There is no such thing as “overly sensitive” and sensitivity found in a child is not a problem or a disorder that should be cured. 

Additionally, high sensitivity doesn’t put all sensitive kids into one category. Though your child might be highly sensitive, they are still unique to their sensitive peers.

Let’s say you have two children that are sensitive. You might find that one child has sensitive tendencies towards wearing clothing that is “too tight.” Your other child might wear anything you buy them, but they might require much more time to recharge after doing a highly stimulating activity.

Overall, a common trait amongst all sensitive children is how easy it is for them to feel overwhelmed and overstimulated. What overwhelms them, however, varies.

Especially in the U.S., sensitivity is often misunderstood. To debunk a few misconceptions, here are some facts:

  • High sensitivity is gender neutral – studies have shown that there is absolutely no indication that sensitivity is much more common in females than males (if you have a sensitive boy, read this!).
  • 30% of HSPs are extroverted – one of the most common myths about HSPs is they are all introverted. Extroverted HSPs enjoy social interaction and are sensation-seekers, but they also value their time alone and need reflection. Also, introverted HSPs (70% of HSPs) don’t “dislike” people, but they do benefit from interacting with others in less stimulating environments. 
  • Sensitivity is not the same as being shy or fearful – Children can be born with the highly sensitive trait, but shyness, timidness, and fear are emotions that arise from bad experiences and are not genetic.

What makes high sensitivity hard to identify in a child is that it’s often confused with hyperactivity or autism (please see an autistic expert if you suspect your child is autistic). Though it’s always recommended to talk to a professional, here are some signs that your child is most likely not an HSC: 

  • They are sensitive about one thing, especially if that one thing is expected of their age. For instance, most children have a fear towards strangers in the second half of the first year. 
  • They didn’t show any sense of sensitivity until a major stress of change influenced their environment, such as a divorce, a new sibling, or a big move. 
  • Been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADD). ADD is, in a lot of ways, the opposite of HSCs. Though HSCs can get distracted because they notice so much, they also have the ability to make decisions, focus, and reflect when their environment allows. 

If you think your child is highly sensitive, I recommend referring to Aron’s questionnaire designed to identify a highly sensitive child. But please note that a proper diagnosis will take weeks, not hours. So be sure to speak with your child’s teachers, childcare providers, and other professionals who have gotten to know your child.

Strategies to help raise an empowered highly sensitive child

There are five common facets (or signs) of a highly sensitive child. After taking the questionnaire, you will find that one facet might be more present in your child than another. 

Understanding where your child is struggling the most with their sensitive trait can help you find ways to support them.

Here are the five facets and a few strategies to help support and empower your highly sensitive child. For more strategies, I highly recommend checking out Aron’s book, The Highly Sensitive Child.

1. They are highly aware of subtleties

An HSC who is highly aware of their environment and changes within it can be challenging at first. They might not eat a meal the second time if it looks or taste slightly difference. Or they might think their room stinks even if you don’t smell anything. 

They also have a tendency to pick up on someone else’s “vibe.” For instance, if your child is coming home claiming a peer is mistreating them, but the teacher doesn’t seem to be aware of anything, it could be a sign that your child is picking up on passive-aggressive behavior.

HSCs often pick up on things that you might not (unless you’re an HSP yourself!). This might cause frustration at first, but there are ways to cope.

Here are some strategies: 

  • Make sure your child knows you believe them, even if they sense something you don’t.
  • Put limits on what you can be expected to do. For instance, if your child is sensitive to shoes, let them know ahead of time that you will try three times to tie them to their comfort with their instruction before giving up. 
  • When possible, put your child in charge of the solution. Have them pick out their own clothing, decorate their own room, etc.

2. They are easily overwhelmed

Since HSCs are deeply aware of subtleties, they tend to become overwhelmed easier. For a child especially, the overwhelm can come from their external environment but also their inner world.

Many sensitive children have a deep inner world — in which they tend to hold on to for the rest of their lives, therefore, their inner world can cause them to feel “too much” even if their environment doesn’t seem overwhelming to you. Your child might also space out if their thoughts are causing them to feel a strong emotion (maybe they thought of “spooky” creatures that crawl in the night and it made them feel worried).

Signs that your child is easily overwhelmed might also come from perceived performance anxiety. If your child is great at hitting the ball at home, they might trip up and do poorly during a game. In a lot of cases, performance anxiety can be the product of an overstimulating environment, but that doesn’t mean your child isn’t eager to perform — what a conundrum!

The good news is that your HSC is less likely to get bored. And when it comes to performing, they do very well in activities that require strategy, care, and deeper thought. 

Here are some strategies:

  • Find at least one area of competence your child shows interest in. Whether it’s the arts or sports, once they show interest, make an effort to help them prepare and practice often. By reaching a level of competence sooner than later enables your child to manage external stimulation much easier.
  • Ensure that your child gets downtime after a performance, game, or other stimulating activity. 
  • Along with an area of competence, also introduce noncompetitive activities, such as singing in the car, keeping a diary, or painting for fun. This allows your child to enjoy activities without the pressures of becoming a “pro.”

3. They have strong emotional reactions 

HSCs feel deeply, which means they might show stronger emotional reactions to situations. In my opinion, this is the most challenging since HSCs, depending on the age, might not have the skills yet to identify, label, and manage deep emotions

The upside is your child will experience incredible moments of joy and happiness, but at the same time, when they feel sad they feel miserable.

This can be the most challenging facet of raising a highly sensitive child, however, it does get easier as your child grows older — as long as you take the time to teach your child emotional intelligence best practices.

Here are some strategies:

  • Learn the power of emotional intelligence and encourage your child to express their emotions, good and bad. Additionally, think about how you want your child to handle different types of emotions and lead by example the best you can.
  • Be attuned to your child’s positive emotions as much as the negative. For instance, do not squash a child’s happy mood by responding like, “If you’re so happy, how about you clean your room?” which will discourage your child’s enthusiasm.
  • If your child is expressing a strong emotion for several days, it’s recommended to seek some help. 

(Note: To learn more about emotional intelligence and how it impacts kids, I recommend Marc Brackett’s Permission to Feel.) 

4. They show empathy 

Since HSCs feel deeply and pick up on subtleties much easier than non-HSCs, it’s no wonder that your child might also have a strong sense of empathy. Though an HSC can be sensitive without being considered an “empath,” it is still highly common correlation.

Empathy is a wonderful trait for your child to have. The downside is your child will be highly attuned to your feelings and your level of care. If your family is going through a difficult time, this child will be more likely to pick up on your feelings more so than your non-sensitive child. In other words, it’s hard to emotionally hide from an HSC. 

The worst you can do is try to pretend everything is okay or tell them everything is fine. Your highly sensitive child will know better, and they might turn inward and start doubting heir empathic abilities. 

Here are some strategies: 

  • Be honest with your child about how you feel. This will help your child learn the power of their empathy, as well as their intuitiveness. 
  • Teach your child how they can help others. Share ideas like donating, volunteering, or what clubs or organizations they can join that help support others. And allow them to choose how they want to help.
  • Teach by example the importance of taking care of themselves first and creating boundaries by doing it for yourself. For example, you can explain to your child why you need time alone too or need space to work on a project — your HSC will understand. 

5. They are highly cautious 

Think about your favorite story in literature or in film. A bold protagonist will forge forward without sometimes thinking.

Fortunately, there is often a mentor archetype guiding the protagonist away from making a big mistake. How many bad decisions would Aladdin have made if Genie didn’t feel empowered to advise him of his questionable decision-making

Sensitive children notice potential danger sooner and they often work well with non-sensitive kids to help develop strategies and a plan of action when working on projects. Having a group of both sensitive and non-sensitive kids working together is a wonderful combination. 

However, being cautious is not always valued, and at the same time, being overly cautious can hold your child back from experiencing new things (or even expressing new ideas).

Here are some strategies: 

  • Think of your child’s viewpoint. You might have experienced the situation plenty of times, but they might not have. 
  • Point out what is familiar and remind them of what they’ve already mastered. If your child is worried about performing in front of a crowd, remind them of the time they performed in front of a small group of family members and how well it went. 
  • Just like you would if you were teaching them to swim, take it one step at a time. Have them experience small wins before diving right in.

6. Their differences attract unwanted attention 

Unless your child tends to hide their sensitivity well, they will be known as someone who feels and notices much more than their peers. 

Aron’s has a motto for raising HSCs: to have an exceptional child you have to be willing to have an exceptional child. This means embracing the fact that your child might be considered “different,” and that’s okay. 

Some teachers, peers, and family members will think your sensitive child’s differences are wonderful, and it’s being surrounded by these people that your child will gain self-esteem. As they grow older, they will be more likely to show confidence, despite their differences if they feel empowered by their sensitivity as a child.

With a world that continues to suffer due to an ongoing pandemic, climate change, and racism (plus a plethora of other challenges), sensitivity is what’s helped our society move towards positive change through activism, empathy, and awareness of the world’s suffering. 

That’s why spreading awareness around sensitivity is important, so why not start with educating and empowering your sensitive child? 

Here are some strategies: 

  • Be aware of how often your child is around those who might make them feel inferior, and how your child responds. Coach your child in understanding why this might be.
  • Examine your own attitude towards the trait. If you don’t value it, your child will struggle to value it.
  • When the child is old enough, talk openly about what it means to be sensitive — the benefits and its challenges — and don’t sugarcoat anything. 

Why the world needs more highly sensitive children

Sensitive children, when empowered and seen, are more likely to strive in a multitude of meaningful careers, from scientists to teachers, to psychologists to historians, lawyers, and doctors, as well as artists and creatives. 

It’s safe to say the world is not limited for the sensitive child.

Understanding your sensitive child not only helps them feel more confident, but you’re also doing a wonderful service for the 20% of the population that identify as being highly sensitive. The more we understand the power of sensitivity, the more we can positively influence the next generation of parents, activists, careerists, mentors, and leaders. 

Today, I still feel the same way about sleepovers. Fortunately, sleepovers died out by the age of 13 (phew!). But as an adult, the challenges show up in different ways: open-space work environments, overstimulated when traveling, multiple deadlines, etc.

But the more I’ve learned about the power of sensitivity, the more fulfilled I’ve become. If only I understood my sensitive trait before the age of 30 …

By empowering our highly sensitive children to be who they are, we can help strengthen our communities, families, as well as the workplace by encouraging them to share their gifts with the world.

3 Universal Experiences as a Result of the Ongoing Pandemic

It’s been 18-19 months since the world turned upside down due to the pandemic. In some cases, many issues were brought to the surface (e.g., overworked moms, broken work systems, outdated government policies).

Many people lost their jobs while others quit their jobs or made huge changes in their careers (now known as ‘The Great Recognition’.)

Many people’s lives were lost, others missed out on important milestones, and some people had an opportunity to rekindle with their immediate families or significant others while being forced into quarantine.

Others ended up underworked, left with too much time on their hands while others felt burned out and overworked, taking on more responsibility at home.

Though we’ve all have gone through different experiences, there’s no doubt we have all undergone a lot of change — all at different extremes. 

For highly sensitive people (HSPs), not only do we have a great sense of self-awareness, but we are also very much in tuned to what’s going on around us — not just physically but also universally. When the world is transforming, we feel it deeply.

Feeling is one thing, but understanding how we feel is another.

Throughout the 18 months or so, I’ve been following a few of my favorite thinkers, such as social psychologists and authors, which have provide great insight into how people are commonly feeling.

How are reacting to these changes while also dealing with an ongoing pandemic? What is it doing to our minds?

What I have found is that there have been three major “universal experiences” that we’ve all been feeling — with highly sensitive people feeling it much deeper than others.

Below I share these emotional concepts that psychologists have been bringing to light that can help you make sense of how you’re feeling and why.

Feeling depleted? ‘Surge Capacity’ 

“Surge capacity is a collection of adaptive systems — mental and physical — that humans draw on for short-term survival in acutely stressful situations, such as natural disasters.


But natural disasters occur over a short period, even if recovery is long. Pandemics are different — the disaster itself stretches out indefinitely.”


– Tara Haelle, science journalist  

As human beings, we have this innate and extraordinary ability to respond to a crisis. 

Imagine how communities come together when there is a natural crisis. Once the storm passes, people rush in to support and they start the rebuild phase as soon as possible. 

Surge capacity is another way to explain a phenomenon in which our rational brain kicks into gear and automatically trumps our emotional brain. It’s caused by a sudden rush of adrenaline in order to survive. 

But after a while, our adrenaline runs out. What happens next? We become depleted. 

As the pandemic continues, it’s become clear that there is no pre-determined “rebuilding phase.” The new normal, if you will, is indefinite uncertainty. What do we do next? It’s really hard to say. 

[Recommended Reading: Your ‘Surge Capacity’ Is Depleted — It’s Why You Feel Awful]


Feeling stagnate, blah, and bored? ‘Languishing’

“Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield. And it might be the dominant emotion of 2021.”


– Adam Grant, American psychologist and author

What Adam Grant considers “the neglected middle child of mental health,” is the strong sense of languishing. It’s not depression, but rather a sense of stagnation and emptiness. 

I sure felt it. About six months after I moved out of state and continued building a new business, I started to feel depressed.

The strange thing was I also felt grateful. I had my health, my fiancé and my dog, and I now lived close to a beach. But there was so much missing: time with family and friends, and even small encounters with everyday people. 

It weighed on me heavily, and it caused a slow-down in business development. I took this time to sit with the “blah” feeling. It wasn’t comfortable, but it was much needed. 

When you’re languishing, you’re just going through the motions day-to-day, not really feeling much at all. In a sense, we’re still in survival mode, but we’ve depleted our energy to really forge ahead, so instead we continue to coast. 

With this emotion, we feel as if there’s no sense of control. But Adam Grant has a few tips, one of them being the art of mastering. 

In a recent TedTalk, Adam Grant tells a personal story about how he turned to playing video games with his family to build a sense of mastery.

For me, I picked up sewing as a brand new skill. I put a lot of time into learning how to do overstitches, finished seams, and cutting out PDF sewing patterns. It helped me get through a time period in which I was feeling incredible uninspired. 

What mastery helps to do is to conjure a sense of “flow,” which can help build yourself up towards the feeling of “flourishing.”

If you’re feeling a sense of languishing, it might be time to pick up a new skill or any type of activity that requires goal setting and the opportunity to advance.

[Recommended Reading: There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing]


Feeling anxious? ‘Pandemic Flux Syndrome’

Around 4th of July, many people had a sudden rush of excitement and optimism. They thought they had seen a light at the end of the tunnel. Are we about to enter normalcy again? The answer was simply no.

As friends and family started making plans to gather for the holiday, the delta variant reared its ugly head, causing many people to feel sad or very anxious, which also led to the strong need to take control; in many cases this meant making a dramatic change.

Whether it’s moving from the city to the farm to raise alpacas (I’d be lying if this didn’t cross my mind once or twice), or taking on a new career or going back to school.

The want for something new was caused by the need to break-free of the anxiety and start to take our life into our own hands by making the most of our situations.

Amy Cuddy and author JillEllyn Riley coined the term “pandemic flux syndrome” to make sense of this collective phenomenon. 

“But now, many people are experiencing a starkly different set of feelings — blunted emotions, spikes in anxiety and depression, and a desire to drastically change something about their lives.


If this sounds familiar, you might be one of the many people experiencing what we’ve begun to refer to as “pandemic flux syndrome.” It’s admittedly not a clinical term, but it seems to capture something about the moment we’re living through.”


– Amy Cuddy (Social psychologist and author) & JillEllyn Riley (author)

[Recommended Reading: Why this stage of the pandemic makes us so anxious]

[Recommended Podcast Episode: Brene with Amy Cuddy]


If you’re going through tremendous change that is causing hard emotions to surface, I can help! I offer 1:1 coaching for HSPs. Schedule a free chemistry call.



5 Sneaky Sensitive Habits That Cause Decision-Making Fatigue

“Generally, in our culture, we say something was the right decision if it was a success and the wrong decision if it was failure.”

Emily P. Freeman

One of the things I ask my highly-sensitive students often is:

How are you distributing your energy?

As a highly sensitive person (HSP), it’s important to know how to preserve and distribute your energy and be thoughtful on how you spend it. I like to refer to an HSP’s energy as emotional currency as a way to describe how HSP’s “spending” habits impact their emotional balance. 

There are so many parts of our lives that can deplete our energy quickly if we’re not careful, from the stresses at work to giving too much of ourselves to others. 

But just like spending $4 here and there at your favorite coffee shop, decision-making habits sneak up on us, and overtime can put us into emotional debt. 

How decision-making impacts our energy levels

They say the average person makes about 35,000 decisions a day. 

Some are consciously made and others are automatic, depending on our habits, daily routines, and even the way we think. Deciding to wake up (or not) when the alarm goes off is a decision we make every day. 

Heading into work at the time your manager expects you might seem like it’s out of your control, but it’s ultimately your decision.

With 35,000 decisions a day, it’s hard to imagine where to find the energy to focus and find clarity on the hard, scary, and life-changing decisions.

From deciding to pursue a career to pursuing a romantic relationship, the decisions that lead to forks in the road and come with a level of risk and consequences (and sometimes wrong turns) require you to make a decision. If not, it just sits in the back of your mind, causing a sense of dissatisfaction and other negative feelings.

As an HSP, I started digging into how difficult decisions impact the highly sensitive. What I found was incredibly interesting and eye-opening. 

But when it comes down to understanding an HSP’s greatest strengths and limitations, what holds HSPs back from making decisions or causing decision-making fatigue is not so surprising. 

Below I provide an overview of how ineffective, indecisive decision-making can deplete our energy. 

(Author note: Highly sensitive traits sit on a spectrum. Meaning, every HSP is unique. For the blog, I use generalizations. For instance, you might consider yourself a highly sensitive person, but you consider yourself empathetic.)

1. Perfectionism

“Perfectionism is a dream killer, because it’s just fear disguised as trying to do your best.” 

Mastin Kipp

The fear of making a mistake can leave opportunities left on the table. 

By fearing to make mistakes, you face the fear of the unknown. And without knowing exactly what will happen or not being certain that you will do something well can lead to the inability to make any decisions that come with a certain level of risk. 

As a result, you might avoid starting a creative project, taking a job that you don’t feel qualified for (even though you are), or moving somewhere new.

After all, a new project could always go not as planned, or the job might not meet your expectations, or moving to a new city might make you feel homesick. 

But to make big decisions, we have to get comfortable with letting what we can’t control simply unfold.

After all, not ever making a decision can prevent us from growing and keep us stagnant. Avoiding a decision can also be a mistake, especially if your goal is to continuously grow and feel fulfilled. For instance, staying in a job for too long will eventually lead to burnout and you won’t have the energy to make a change. 

I talk a lot about the importance of clarity on this blog, but like anything, not moving forward with a decision because the outcome is not clear will only hold you back. The only thing you can be clear of is knowing what you really want — whether it works out or not. 

2. People-pleasing

When I was a young adult, it seemed like every time I went to make a hard decision, I had my mom’s voice in my head saying: “I told you so.”

Whether it’s from love or someone who doesn’t have your best interest in mind, people can easily sway your thought-process and make you believe that a decision you “should” make is the right decision. 

Focusing too much on what others feel you should do is often tied with the need to please people. Being prone to people-pleasing can cause an HSP to be even more vulnerable to external opinions and advice.

 In some cases, it’s not just from one person but a society as a whole. If you were also told to go to college, for instance, it’s likely you’d be persuaded to go to college even if you know it’s the wrong path for you. 

Remember, other people’s opinions are just opinions. Everyone has their own opinion based on their experience and their own set of knowledge. Even the ones that know you the best and have your best interest in mind will offer an opinion, but it’s not always the right choice for you. 

Listen always, but the ultimate decision-maker is your soul. 

3. Too many options

Think of the last time you’ve been in the grocery store. Just picking out oatmeal offers a wide range ofoptions. Should you go with organic? A household brand or a new one? Should I buy the generic option and save $2? 

We live in a world full of options. Let’s imagine you have the option to go back to college or take a high-paying job.

You can break this option down further: what college should I attend or what job should I take (if you were to get multiple offers). 

Having the choice to choose might seem like a wonderful thing, but I find that sometimes it can muddy the waters and make decision-making even more difficult. 

Instead of choosing, you might withdraw from even moving forward with a decision. In this example, maybe you decide to stay at your current job that pays okay-dollars.

4. Beginner-phobia

I recently read The Next Right Thing by Emily P. Freeman. In making big decisions, Freeman pulls a tremendous amount of insight from her faith, but you don’t have to be religious to enjoy this book and her soul-searching perspective.

My biggest takeaway from reading her book was her thoughts on being a beginner. 

In my experience, I like to think of myself as a “late bloomer” with a lot of the choices I’ve made in my life. It took me until my 30s to finally (somewhat) know what I want to be when I “grow” up. 

It’s much easier to be open to being a beginner when you’re very young. I’m talking 3rd grade — when you and all your peers are beginners. It’s exciting and you’re not jaded from the disappointment of not being as good as you thought you could be, or losing interest too quickly, or making a mistake and feeling discouraged (again, back to that sneaky thing called perfectionism). 

Here’s the thing I felt Freeman spoke of well of. In every chapter or phase of our life, we are always a beginner at something. Whether it’s being a parent for the first time, starting your first day at a new job, being a newlywed, trying a new hobby, or cooking a new meal — we are constantly playing the role of the beginner. 

If you haven’t been a beginner at something in a long time, ask yourself: Is there something holding me back from experiencing or trying something new? 

5. The fear of following through

“The ability to go all in — and the knowledge that going all in is an option for everyone around us — is the crucial variable that makes so many decisions so very difficult.” 

Maria Konnikova

Lastly, there’s the fear of following through. Once you make a decision, a commitment follows. The idea of following through can be a really scary thing, especially if we’re struggling with finding clarity or have no idea what to expect once you do make the decision. 

Here’s the thing: You can always change your mind. Especially when it comes to decisions that impact your well-being. 

On Brene Brown’s podcast, she interviewed the author of Grit, Angela Duckworth on the importance of trying new things. She spoke about commitment and the idea that it’s always okay to change your mind or try a different path.

Duckworth shares a strategy she uses with her kids that if they try something new, such as a new sport, they must commit for at least six months before they make a decision to quit or not. 

Creating a commitment plan takes the edge of, as well as builds resilience as it pushes you through the hard stages of being a beginner. That way, you don’t give up too easily or too soon.

But like many HSPs, you might feel like you’re not “gritty” enough if you don’t stick with something long term. If that’s the case, a commitment plan done ahead of time has the potential to ease the uncertainty, reduce the feeling of guilt, and open your heart to trying new things. 

Decision-making questions to help you find clarity

When it comes down to it, making decisions can be scary. If you find that making decisions is a challenge for you, it’s important to find stillness, so you check in with yourself and see if you can identify any causes that are holding you back. 

The 5 sneaky sensitive habits that cause decision-making challenges all have a common trait: fear. 

Is fear holding you back? Is there a fear of:

Here are a few other questions you can ask yourself to find clarity in your decision-making process:

  1. Making a mistake?
  2. Letting other’s down?
  3. The pain of feeling regret?
  4. Looking like a fool?
  5. Starting?
  6. All of the above. 
  1. Am I being led by love or pushed by fear?
  2. Is there an excitement within that you haven’t given yourself permission to explore?
  3. When I think of making a decision, how does it make my body feel?
  4. If I end up making the “wrong” decision, what am I willing to risk?
  5. What does my past experiences tell me about this?
  6. Is there a hurt you haven’t quite let go? 
  7. A regret that’s been following you for so long you think it’s normal?

Lastly, when it comes to making a life-changing decision, the ultimate question is always: What do you really want?

Why Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) Are Prone to Burnout

Burnout is real. 

Before I knew I was a highly sensitive person (HSP), I suffered burnout at work not just once but several times. And I didn’t know how to cope with it. 

Instead, I turned inward.

I thought I didn’t have what it took to deal with the pressure. But the truth is, everyone is vulnerable to burnout. Though HSPs are more prone to it, burnout is an epidemic in our society that glamorizes the hustle and the daily grind. 

Unfortunately, how we approach work is drilled into our heads, which is it’s common for anyone (including non-HSPs) to burn out and burn out fast.

When I found out I was an HSP after years of experiencing burnout at work, it all made sense, but it wasn’t my sensitivity to blame — there were so many other factors.

But with burnout being so common, HSPs have an advantage:

HSPs can sense when it’s time to take a break, and we’re very in tuned to our needs. We already have the skills and the tools to protect us from burning out. And if we do find ourselves burned out, we have what it takes to get out of an overwhelming, demanding, or toxic environment, or take a step back from work (even if we love what we do). 

If you know you’re an HSP, it’s important to be proactive in avoiding burnout. Fortunately, you have what it takes to protect yourself. 

Here is a closer look at how burnout impacts HSPs, plus ways to survive burnout based on my own experience.

Why HSPs tend to burnout faster

It’s important to note that HSPs are not the only ones unprotected from burnout. It’s an all-too common emotional problem across the world. 

But there are additional factors that cause HSPs to be more vulnerable to burnout, such as:

  • A higher need to rest — Our strengths take up a lot of energy
  • Sensitive to physical space — fluorescent lights, chatter, etc.
  • Our desire to do work that is meaningful — being understimulated can also cause burnout
  • Deep empathy — we absorb and carry other people’s emotions
  • Attentive to detail — we constantly notice subtleties, putting our brains into overdrive

Signs of burnout

Burnout creeps up fast. There are physical signs to look out for, such as:

  • Tension headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Feeling sick and achy

Mentally, I often hear my clients say:

“I don’t have time to do anything else.”

“I’m having a hard time sleeping.”

“I just don’t have the energy to do the work.”

“I’m not doing what I love.”

“I don’t feel creative.”

“I have nightmares about work.” 

Constant negative talk about work is a big sign. If you find yourself talking to your friends and family about how much you can’t stand your job, you constantly complain to your coworkers, and you feel as if you never leave work (because you’re always talking about it), you might be experiencing burnout. 

Additionally, people close to you might notice you withdrawing from responsibilities outside of work, social events, or hobbies that usually bring you joy.

Emotionally, you went into the job feeling excited and confident only to feel like an imposter or a failure. You find yourself questioning your talents and skills. 

When you are constantly questioning your abilities, this is burnout attacking your emotional wisdom, which can do a lot of damage to your self-esteem. You might feel shame, guilt, helpless, or incompetent. Instead of feeling like an empowered HSP, you fall into the danger zone — known as “survival mode.”

Why understimulation is just as dangerous as overstimulation

Just because HSPs get overwhelmed easily doesn’t mean we don’t need stimulation. I like to think of HSPs as “emotional minimalist” as we need to be cautious about how we spend our energy. 

Energy is our emotional currency and we have to be careful not to spend it too fast.

I love this quote: 

“The only difference between a rut and a grave are the dimensions.

Ellen Glasgow

For an HSP, feeling like we’re not doing meaningful work or we’re just downright bored, it’s not uncommon to feel empty (or dramatically speaking — dead inside). 

I’ve been in certain environments and have done work that is so incredibly boring that my creative abilities just falls to wayside. 

As an HSP, the dangers of being understimulated are not talked about as often as overstimulation, but it can be just as emotionally draining. In fact, both HSPs and non-HSPs do their best with an optimal amount of stimulation

At work, feeling understimulated can happen when:

  • There are too many decision makers and not enough room for you to express new ideas
  • Your work has to go through a rigorous approval process before you can complete it
  • You spend too much of your time doing mindless or “busy” work
  • You find yourself working on projects that lack purpose 

Ways to prevent burnout

The scariest thing about burnout is that it can suck up all your energy and lower self-esteem to the point in which all your emotional wisdom within you is depleted. 

In the midst of burnout, it can be challenging to move forward, make changes, and establish yourself in a new environment that works for you while getting the rest you need along the way to recharge. 

As I look back at my time feeling burned out, helpless, and stuck, these are the tactics that helped me move forward. 

(Note: I have to admit, it wasn’t easy. I had allowed myself to live with burnout for too long and didn’t know enough about my sensitive trait at the time. So it took me much longer to make changes and get to a place that is right for me.

That’s why I believe that knowing you’re an HSP and accepting it is your armor. You know what you need, which is the first step to finding meaningful work to prevent burnout. Lastly, meaningful work can also lead to burnout if you don’t give yourself time to rest.)

1. Pay attention to your environment

Not just the space but the people operating the space. 

Being surrounded by people displaying negative behavior, like passive-agressiveness or disrespect towards others, can also suck up your energy. If everyone around you seem always busy, overwhelmed, constantly moving, late to meetings, talking about each other negatively, blaming others, then it’s not an active and lively work culture — it’s just chaos. 

In my opinion, a lively, productive, and creative work environment provides structure, flexibility, respect for one another, and trust to enable people to feel inspired, work together, and love what they do. 

The actual physical space does matter too. Be sure to do a walkthrough of the workspace before accepting any job. If it’s all done virtually, ask for a virtual tour. For instance, a lack of windows might make you feel too closed in.

2. Accept your way of working (take your time)

HSPs bring a lot to the table. We’re creative, detailed-oriented, and make great mentors and leaders with our empathy skills.

But are greatest strengths can only be used when we take our time at work. For instance, to be creative, we must allow our minds to wonder, brainstorm, look for inspiration, or take a break to clear our minds. If you’re doing editing work or checking anything for errors, it’s always important to take your time. 

Your colleagues might move faster than you. Let them. At the end of the day, you know how to produce your best work. If deadlines are too tight, you might want to consider talking to your manager about timelines that work for you (as well as your team) — which takes us to the next tactic. 

3. Ask for what you need

“If you ask for what you need, what’s the worst that can happen?”

I often ask my clients this when they make it clear what they need, yet they tend to avoid asking for what they need.

A lot of times, we tend to assume that our employer won’t provide us flexibility, but in most cases, it’s because we never asked. 

But we can’t control how other’s respond. So when do we ask for what we need, there is always a chance we’ll be turned down. Believe me, I’ve been in these situations, and they totally suck. But looking back, this was exactly the validation I needed. Once I asked for what I needed, I couldn’t make any more excuses; it was time to move on. 

The more you ask for what you need, the easier it will become and the more confident you will become. 

4. Be the observer, not the participant 

As HSPs, we want to feel a deep connection with what we do and work closely with the people we work with. But this can backfire if we get too involved if the environment isn’t emotionally healthy.

It’s easy to be a chameleon to our work culture. We absorb people’s emotions, which makes us vulnerable to becoming part of the problem. 

For instance, if you see someone else struggling, you might look at it as a way to connect with someone for validation, vent, and gossip. It brings a sense of emotional relief short term, but long term — you only become part of the problem. 

Instead, become the observer. Watch what we people do, how they behave, and look for signs as to why things are the way they are. You’ll learn so much about what drives people to do what they do, what motivates them, and what makes (or doesn’t make) a healthy work culture. 

This knowledge will come in handy when your interviewing for your next job move or you find yourself in a leadership position

Burnout happens. Don’t blame yourself …

Don’t blame yourself and definitely don’t blame your sensitivity. 

Knowledge, acceptance, and emotional wisdom — these are your tools. Learn how to use them and always ask for what you need to do your work and do it well. 

Are You an HSP Applying for Jobs? How to Spot a Toxic Work Environment

If you’re a highly sensitive person (HSP) looking for a job, though it’s overwhelming process, it’s also a great opportunity to use your deep intuition.

Not only are you most likely looking for a job that allows you to use your skill set to the fullest, but a company’s culture and work environment is just as important (skills can always be learned — especially in a healthy workplace). 

Applying for multiple jobs is tremendously time-consuming. That’s the reality, but there are ways to get smart on which jobs you apply for, so that you’re on the right path to finding the right position and work environment that fits your needs.

Over the years, I have learned my lesson on reading job descriptions closely. Many times, you don’t really know what a company is like until you start working for them. At that point, you put in a lot of time and effort into landing the job, so it can be hard to back out (Note: but you always can and sooner the better, if the job isn’t what you expected or you see signs of toxicity right away). 

In the past, I have definitely applied for a lot of jobs, and at the same time, I was in the position to write job descriptions and hire people. Through my experience being on both sides, I have found a few red flags that are so commonly seen in job descriptions and the descriptions for company cultures. 

What I’ve learned is you can understand a lot about a company and the role you’re applying for all from the words and phrases used to describe the role, the culture, and the work environment.

How? Read between the lines.

Toxic phrases used in job descriptions

A job description can tell you whether or not a company has strong emotional intelligence.

It’s tempting to just scroll through to the requirements and qualifications, then apply for the job. But reading how they describe the culture and the words used to illustrate job duties is so important. 

Some things on a job description are written to lure the best candidates in, but they lack authenticity. This only leads to the best employees feeling stressed in their first three months and eventually quitting.

In my experience, here are three phrases that I have seen in job description that scream “toxic.” 

1. “Work hard, play hard.”

This is often used in the tech / startup world, but it became a really “trendy” phrase to use when identifying a fun and engaged culture. However, in my experience this phrase is a hidden message. It really means that you will not only be expected to put in the long hours, but you will also be expected to attend all the social events. 

The company and the people care about whether or not you can “hang.” They expect you to possibly have drinks with clients or attend weekly happy hours with the team. Don’t ever confuse this with “team building.” Though it’s absolutely important to build some sort of bond with your co-workers, especially if you depend on each other to get work done. But you don’t have to ever be expected to party with the work crew all night – and still be expected to show up for work the next morning.

If you’re sensitive to being around alcohol, this is most definitely a job to avoid.

2. “We are family.”

Though I believe that some companies mean no harm by this, and I want to believe that it’s used to illustrate the importance of respect and inclusivity — “we have each other’s backs,” “we’re loyal,” “we’re bonded.”

But here’s the thing. Unless you’re a family member working for your family’s business, most likely your employer is not your family. At the end of a day, a profit-based business is about making money. If sales aren’t going well, the economy is crashing, or your employer believes you’re no longer fit for the job – you can be laid off, fired, or whatever else — yet it’s not personal. 

Family is personal. Business is not.

This is a hard thing for an HSP to swallow. We want to connect on a deeper level — whether it’s with the company’s mission or a co-worker. 

You can still feel strongly about a company’s mission, which is a big reason to say “yes” to a job as it’s a big motivator for HSPs. And yes, you can definitely build bonds with the people you work with. Just remember, it’s not family. The company for and the people you work with is a different type of relationship. 

I do want to make note that many people I’ve worked in the past with became long-term friends. In fact, every job I have ever had I made one or two friends. My best friend (who I think of as family) is someone I met while working at a toxic environment. We always got along really well, but we didn’t truly open up to each other and become close until after we both left the job.  

“This job requires the ability to multitask”

Time and time again, science has proven that there’s no such thing as multitasking. If you believe it’s a thing, do your sensitive-self a favor and read this.

Multitasking became a productivity love affair. The idea of multitasking is used to describe someone who can do many things at once (how lovely!). However, in most cases, the most successful people don’t “multitask” — they delegate (which is a great skill to have and understand how to do right without taking advantage of others). 

Multitasking is a fancy way of saying: “We want you to do the job of three different people and do all three jobs very well.”

I do believe that there is an opportunity for people first starting their career to dabble in a few different things to really understand what they want to do, but if you know your skill set and know how you want to make a contribution, then being in a job where you’re expected to constantly “multitask” will only lead to burnout — with nothing accomplished or to show for. 

The dark side of company values

Another thing to look out for is a company’s written values. Since personal values help guide us towards our goals, values are just as important for a company to reach theirs. Most companies these days will include their values in the job description and/or on their website. 

It became “trendy” to have a mission, vision, and values in a company. Yet these three leadership must-haves have always been best practices in building a profitable and successful company that people love working for.

But with today’s working generation prioritizing a company’s” “why” to be a top factor in saying “yes” to the job (which is great news for HSPs), unfortunately company’s have taken advantage of it. Many companies use values to lure employees in with what they want to hear, only to disappoint employees once they find out that the values don’t align with the company’s real culture at all. 

When reading company values, look out for the phrases listed above, as well as vagueness. There are certain values that should be mandatory in a company culture and can go without saying, such as: integrity, respect for others, diversity, and inclusivity. If these are words used in a company’s written values — you have to wonder if the company is overcompensating for what they don’t offer.

Listen to your gut 

At the end of the day, it’s about how a job makes you feel. Are you excited to apply for the job? Did you like the people who interviewed you? Do you have an understanding of what will be expected out of you? Did you get a good sense of the work environment? 

The above red flags are based on my experience. I’m sharing them with you to encourage you to keep your eyes and ears open, and to always read between the lines. 

I do believe most companies mean well. But if you are an HSP reading this that’s currently in a leadership or HR position, know that words and phrases matter. Also, be honest when writing about your company culture and the role. You’ll be able to significantly improve your employee retention rate — guaranteed!

As an HSP, your job requires meaning, a healthy environment, opportunity, and much more — you deserve it. 

Remember to use your intuition and know that the right job is out there for you. If it’s not, you always have the opportunity to create it. 

What do you believe are red flags when searching and applying for jobs?