Highly sensitive people (HSP) are known to think and feel deeply. The scientific term is ‘sensory processing sensitivity,’ and 20% of the population identify as being an HSP (including myself). Some of our biggest strengths include empathy, intuition, and creativity — all really great traits that get tucked under the word ‘sensitive.’
However, in emotional intelligence (EI) training, the strengths of an HSP are taught, yet sensitive beings continue to struggle because their sensitivity is oftentimes not accepted by others.
When I first started practicing EI, I felt so connected to the importance of it. Yet, much of the teachings of EI, thus far and in my opinion, have a stoic undertone to them. In other words, it tends to focus on shutting down emotions, rather than looking at emotions as a strength.
I’m here to tell you that emotions are at the core of emotional intelligence (it’s not called ‘rational intelligence’ for a reason). Which means, HSPs have an advantage here, especially since emotional strengths like empathy are often in the center of EI teaching.
But EI often focuses on the rational side (i.e., logic) of our brain more so than emotions. But after years of researching and practicing EI myself, whether you’re an HSP or not, it’s all about finding emotional balance.
For an HSP, we tend to lean on emotions, rather than our rational thinking. This is a good thing because we tend to have a head start to finding emotional balance, which is known as the ‘wise mind.’
What is the wise mind?
There are three states of the mind: emotional mind, rational mind, and the wise mind. The rational mind is when you are focused on facts and logic to drive thoughts and behaviors. The emotional mind focuses on feelings and current mood to drive thoughts and behavior. But when both states of mind work together to find balance, it is known as the ‘wise mind.’
What does the wise mind have to do with being an HSP?
HSPs often feel overstimulated, which means our emotions tend to take over and drive their behaviors. This often clouds the rational mind from being able to “weigh in” on our decision making. But that doesn’t mean that our emotions cause us to think illogically. It just means that we have to put in some to work to effectively manage our emotions so they can collaborate with our rational mind.
The first step in emotional intelligence is self-awareness. At the center of self-awareness is the ability to identify and manage our own emotions. HSPs have an emotional advantage to reaching the ‘wise mind’ sooner because we naturally feel our emotions at a deeper level. But it can still be hard to identify exactly how we’re feeling.
The key is to not only feel our emotions but also be able to identify why we’re feeling them. One of the best traits of an HSP is that we already spend a lot of time thinking about our own thoughts. But unless we’re able to unravel our emotions in order to find clarity, it will be a challenge to get into a wise state of mind.
How can HSPs find clarity?
Anyone, both HSPs and non-HSPs, perform at their wisest when not overstimulated or too bored (understimulated). For an HSP, we’re often overstimulated, which causes us to feel confused, anxious, frazzled, which makes it hard to think rationally. But that doesn’t mean that boredom can also set in, since we tend to be very passionate.
But when we find a balance between feeling aroused and stimulated (i.e., an optimal level of arousal), our sensitivity provides us with all the emotional wisdom we need to support our rational mind to reach clarity. All we need to do is unpack our emotions so the rational mind can do its work as well.
As an HSP, we don’t have to worry about thinking about our feelings. We have that covered. But what helps us is to organize those feelings. It’s like having a library full of books, but with no organizational structure to find the book you want to read. So how do we go about identifying how we feel so we can organize our thoughts and allow our rational mind to collaborate with our emotional mind? The next step is to label your emotions.
How to label your emotions
It’s as simple as sitting down with a piece of paper and pen, or closing your eyes and taking a deep breath. Then, follow the steps below.
Step 1: Allow yourself to focus on your emotions (this should be easy).
Step 2: Label your emotions (this is the tricky part). You can use the emotional wheel (above) to help you. In fact, I highly recommend downloading it and keeping it handy for whenever you need it. You can save the photo above on your desktop or phone.
Step 3: Start with the obvious emotion. Are you feeling sad? Happy? Angry? Then, look deeper. Start to peel back the layers of your emotions until you get to the core of it. If you’re feeling sad, maybe your emotion is lonely or vulnerable. Unpack it until you feel a ‘ah-ha’ moment.
Step 4: Once you get to the core of how you’re feeling, ask yourself why? Why are you feeling this way? What is causing it? Is it a problem you’re trying to solve? Are you in conflict with someone?
[Daily journaling can help you find emotional balance. Try the 14 Days to Self Discovery journal prompts]
Here’s an example of how it works. Just this week I was feeling anxious. I sat down with a journal and started to unpack it more, and I realized that the anxiety was coming from feeling frustrated. Once I came to this realization, I was able to understand why and come up with a solution.
As soon as I was able to face what was frustrating me, it was a huge relief. But I would have never been able to release this emotion to find clarity, if I hadn’t taken the time to unpack how I was truly feeling deep down.
This is an example of the ‘wise mind’ at play. It is the ability to identify and manage emotions, so you can find emotional balance. It’s decision making at its best.
Start with your strength
You feel deeply. This is a big strength. The next step is to build a relationship with your emotions and introduce them to your rational mind. If you practice identifying your emotions at a deeper level every day, you’ll start to see positive change in how you’re able to make rational decisions.
Looking to find clarity in your strengths?