The other day I was in a therapy session with a couple. As the two of them were discussing a recent conflict, I realized that much of their difficulties were stemming from the fact that my client was an HSP or Highly Sensitive Person. This presents them with unique challenges.

My client is sensitive to the emotions of others. He is highly intuitive, empathic, and reads body language (without even knowing he is doing it). He is incredibly creative, insightful, and really good at solving problems in creative ways. He struggles at times to regulate himself when there are a lot of changes. But when there are a lot of changes, he struggles.

 His wife is down to earth, plain spoken. She can easily roll with the punches which daily life tends to hand out. Their problems typically come when my client is feeling a lot. And his wife is feeling a lot at the same time. She becomes momentarily unavailable to him. He tends to panic in those moments. The more upset he gets, the more she shuts down emotionally, the more alone he feels. So it goes.

My adult HSP client was once a child HSP. He was not parented with a lot of understanding and empathy for his highly sensitive nervous system. He was not taught any strategies for self-care; instead he was shamed for being sensitive. And that shame comes back when he and his wife are not getting along. He feels like he is just “too much” for her. He feels he is unloveable; he should not expect empathy and understanding from his wife. He is all alone with his charged-up feelings, as he was as a child. For him this is very dark place, and is intolerable. For his wife, his highly sensitive nervous system can be “too much” at times. She has to struggle to be as emotionally available as he needs.

As this couple have unpacked their struggles in my office, they are beginning to make sense of this dynamic between them. My client is mastering his feeling of shame; he is seeing the strengths and challenges of his sensitivity. Instead of feeling stuck in his “too muchness,” he is able to own the power his sensitivity gives him. His wife now has faith that he will not totally fall apart. She is beginning to be able to speak of her own needs in the relationship. During times of upset, she is finding her own voice. This, in turn, means he feels less alone. With their new perspectives, their relationship has grown out of the stuck dynamic.

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