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The Challenge of Friendships as a Highly Sensitive Person

Peter has written extensively about high sensitivity since 1997 when he learned he was an HSP.


HSPs and the Struggle With Friendships

In the roughly twenty years since I first learned about the HSP trait, I have met hundreds (if not thousands) of fellow sensitives both in person and through the Internet. One of the most common laments I hear goes something like this: "Why is it so hard for me to make and keep friends when it seems so easy for everyone else?"

I can completely relate to these sentiments, as I have also struggled with relationship/friendship dynamics for most of my own life. Until at least my late 30s, my friendship patterns were largely shaped by the meta-messages from society that I should be able to make friends with almost anyone, that I should have lots of friends, and then be able to keep those friendships for a lifetime.

In retrospect, you could say that I was more concerned about the number of friends that I had rather than the content of them. Bottom line was that most of my friendships failed because they really didn't feel good. Something had to change.

The Book That Started It All

During the course of years of serious self-inquiry, it became quite a puzzle for me to understand why so many friendships I formed would start out well enough but would fade away very quickly.

Now, I'm not for a moment suggesting that everyone doesn't struggle with friendships and relationships, now and then. However, there definitely are certain distinct challenges for HSPs, and the whole issue of friends seems more difficult for the HSP than for most people.

In the most general sense, it would seem that HSPs and non-HSPs often interpret and experience the same situations differently...and communication issues arise, even when both people have only the best of intentions.

When you consider that only 15-20% of the population have HSP traits, it will generally hold true that most people the average HSP meets will not be HSPs. This can result in an almost immediate "I really don't get who you are" dynamic, which is a rocky foundation on which to start building a friendship.

Mismatched Expectations

One of the things I have learned about us HSPs (both from reading and from personal interaction) is that we tend to be rather deep people. We also can come across as rather intense. Most HSPs I have met in person dislike—or even loathesmall talk and polite chit-chat and would much rather get directly into a profound conversation about the meaning of life, the origins of God, how to end world hunger, or how to create a better world.

So small talk and HSPs do not seem to mix well. However, except for the handful who are very self-absorbed, most HSPs also recognize the need for this idle chatter as a tool to create connection and are generally willing to indulge in it to a limited degree.

The word limited becomes key when trying to understand HSPs in relation to small talk and maintaining friendships because trouble arises when the HSP's desire for deep conversations runs into a non-HSP friend's contentment with keeping a connection purely at a surface level.

A Quick Poll of Friendship Patterns