When Highly Sensitive Turns Highly Selfish

Though nobody is immune to struggle in this world, there are certain struggles that highly sensitive people have in common. The process of evolving as a highly sensitive person tends to follow a pattern.

In the beginning, we struggle to feel normal in a non-sensitive and often abrasive world. We struggle with feeling different and separate from everyone else. We paddle through these murky waters until our desire to improve our situation becomes big enough to seek help.

If we are successful in this, we enter the discovery phase. This hopeful phase fills us with empowering knowledge about our traits. We are relieved to discover why we are the way we are. Once this resonates, we then move towards accepting ourselves and our highly sensitive label.


Highly Sensitive “Victims” of an insensitive world.

During all of these phases, there are times when we may find ourselves “victims” of an insensitive world. We feel harmed by people, environments, situations and the world in general. As a result, we have to learn how to put self-care first because this doesn’t come naturally to us. And though we like to think our sensitivities always include being sensitive to others, it’s not always the case.

We may make unfair demands on those around us in an attempt to get our needs met. We may use our “highly sensitive” label as an excuse to control our surroundings, or withdraw from them. This can sometimes become a habit for highly sensitive people. We may forget to consider other people’s needs or preferences while trying to take care of ourselves.

The following are ways that highly sensitive people may unintentionally focus on their needs, before others.

1. Needing to control the type of music and volume level played in the house/car, while with others.

2. Not willing to go to certain locations with friends or family (i.e. concerts, sporting events, trips).

3. Not attending family functions or holiday gatherings.

4. Withdrawing into ourselves, not being physically or mentally present for those we live with.

5. Needing to dictate what restaurant to go to when eating out with others.

6. Not giving physical affection to others (spouse, children).

7. Refusing or avoiding specific duties/tasks at the work place.

8. Judging others based on their lack of sensitivity, compartmentalizing people.

9. Not supporting a loved one during a difficult time because it affects us too negatively.

10. Ignoring difficult friends or family, neglecting to communicate with them.

We need to be completely honest with ourselves if we want to adopt healthy boundaries where our needs get met, but also stay sensitive to the needs of our loved ones. We can learn how to be mindful of everyone involved by incorporating the following five strategies into our lives.

5 Strategies for the Highly Sensitive

1. Be willing to try new things and venture outside of our labeled box.

This is one of the best things we can do to move past any self-imposed limitations in our lives. When we try something new, either by ourselves or with others, we may discover we actually enjoy it. If our friends and family have been trying to get us to join them, then not only have we made them happy, but we have discovered that we can handle the situation after all. It becomes an opportunity to increase our self-esteem and self-confidence. Trying a new hobby/sport, going to a concert/class, taking a vacation, meeting new people, are all healthy activities for everyone to try. We must not assume it’s not a possibility for us until we try it first.


2. Increase our tolerance for unpleasant emotions and sensations.

Building our tolerance for uncomfortable feelings is a powerful coping technique for situations or people we can’t avoid in life. We can learn how to protect ourselves from absorbing other people’s energy as well as practice gentle breath work when we are overwhelmed with emotions. Increasing this tolerance starts with accepting what is and not resisting what our bodies or minds are doing. With practice, this technique of observing and accepting what is will increase our confidence in effectively handling the situation. We can also take comfort in knowing that no feeling is final.


  1. Hello Nicole,

    Love your site on being sensitive. As a sensitive person myself I definitely have been selfish in the number 9 and 10 situations. I have gone months without talking to family members because their presumptions manner was so exhausting for me. I also have not contacted friends in the past when a loved one of theirs passed. I felt so illequipped to show up for them.

    Thankfully I have learned how to use your number 2 strategy over the years through my own routines of morning self care including meditation. My resilience has increased and I know now that if I would like fulfilling relationships in my life I have to learn to show up for people when the need arises.

    Thanks for sharing! So nice to find others like me


    • Nicole Taffs Reply

      Hi Lorena,
      I’m glad you enjoyed this post and thanks for sharing how you have increased your tolerance for the “unpleasant” and adopted healthy coping strategies. I know many can relate to your story. Thanks for reading,

  2. Antoniette Hanscamp Reply

    Hi Nicole, I have just learned of you and your website. Reading through some of your material has allowed me to recognise that I am a HSP. Thank you so much. I am 60 years old and have struggled with this all my life. With tear of gratitude streaming down my face as i write this. Again, Thank you Nicole.

    Much love


    • Nicole Taffs Reply

      I’m so happy to hear this Toni! I know the feeling you describe when you read something that resonates and then it all comes together. Here at The Sensitive Life there is much more to come… posts on techniques that help you use sensitivity as an “extra sense,” to achieve what you want in life. Stay tuned:)

  3. Hello Nicole,

    Firstly, thank you so much for your articles. I have been struggling for all of my life as a highly sensitive person and I am 30 now. I had a mental breakdown 3 months ago, was really depressed and had some panic attacks. It is really unbearable. Now I seriously want to get out of these messes and take action to live a happier life. I am always in the situation where I stucked between my own need and others’s needs. I always feel guilty, selfish because of my highly sensitive personality. I become undecisive, don’t know what I need, what I want to do and feel like I am worthless, cannot do anything. May you let me know how I know when I should follow my desire or other’s desires? I have a tendency of staying quiet and holding it all in me, which makes me feel breathless and too exhausted.
    Once again, thank you so much!


    • Nicole Taffs Reply

      Hi Ngoc,
      Finding that balance of meeting your needs while helping others is not easy for anyone, let alone a highly sensitive person. First off, I would recommend recognizing that you are doing the best you can with the knowledge you have, and you are not worthless. You are great! Acknowledge your worth and trust that you are figuring this all out. Become intimate with your needs. Know what you need to do to feel re-charged. When we are strong and focused, we then have the capacity to support others in helping them meet their own needs. We do not need to feel guilty about our personality traits, it’s who we are and it serves a purpose. Letting the guilt go, fully accepting ourselves, doing things to re-energize us, all of these things help us make the best decisions for ourselves…and others.

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