The Othering Of The Highly Sensitive Person

The Othering Of The Highly Sensitive Person - HSP Health Blog
Source: In The Shadows – Derrick T – Flickr

The highly sensitive person is different.

Being different means that they often live in the shadows.

I thought about this today when I was reading an article about feminism in Great Britain, written by Anna Ford, a respected British journalist.

What struck me about the article was her wonderful description about the marginalisation of women, an endlessly repeating story that she has experienced her whole life.

The wonderful qualities that women bring to the table are mostly devalued.

Isn’t that also true of highly sensitive people?

The Marginalization Of The Highly Sensitive Person

Marginalization is an interesting and recurring experience for many people.

It manifests in the process of othering.

Othering is nasty.

It is a way of relating to someone as if they really do not have the same right to be here on the planet, that in being different there is something wrong with them.

Are there any HSPs who haven’t had that experience?

As a highly sensitive person, I have been othered my whole life.

Othering can be subtle or overt.

It is often patronizing or condescending.

When being othered you are often invisible.

What Is Othering?

According to Advanced Apes:

the othering process is the human tendency to believe that the group (race, religion, ethnicity, culture, gender, country, sexual orientation, species etc.) that they are a part of is inherently the ‘right’ way to be human.  As a consequence of this, people who other consciously, or subconsciously, believe that anyone who is not apart of their group is a threat, an enemy or a liability that must be converted to conform immediately to the norms and standards of their group, subjugated permanently, or eradicated completely…

The phenomenon of othering has its roots in our evolutionary history.  We know from primatological studies that group solidarity is exceptionally important in all of the African apes.  Knowing who is, and who isn’t a member of your group is exceptionally important for reasons intimately connected to survival.  And basic evolution theory states that any behaviour or trait that confers a survival advantage will be selected for; and the stronger the survival advantage, the stronger it will be selected for.  In the case of ‘othering’ behaviour, it probably became an extremely valuable behaviour that would have become permanently fixed within our lineage millions of years ago.  Whenever territory, food, and mates were scarce (which would have been frequently, and in most cases permanently), intra-species competition would have been strong and othering behaviour would have been selected for.  Forming a group can allow you to align yourself with other individuals altruistically to maximize your own (and everyone else in the groups) ability to acquire territory, food and mating opportunities.

The Experience Of Othering For The Highly Sensitive Person

Many highly sensitive people are very uncomfortable socially. They experience themselves as different and unwelcome in the world.

They may also be subject to bullying, taunts and social rejection.

Highly sensitive people are in the minority in the world since only 15-20% of the world’s population is highly sensitive.

Their different biology means that they do not share the interest in competitiveness and aggression that unites the non-HSP population.

HSPs offer wisdom, perspective, compassion and empathy to those around them, but those traits are not as valued as competitive skills.

As a result, many highly sensitive people, experience themselves being excluded, treated with condescension and even blamed for their different nature.

When we are othered, we are treated as not normal, and not right. People around us including our families often try to change us into a “normal” person, someone who is right by their standard of normalcy.

They are wrong to do so.

There is nothing wrong with the highly sensitive person. HSPs are simply different.





  1. says

    I enjoyed visiting your blog. One of my daughter’s is deaf and may be highly sensitive. I am going to leave you with one of my favorite quotes.”Being normal can never be amazing!

    • says

      Hi Linda,

      Thanks for stopping by. It is great that you are so aware; it will help you daughter immensely. There are a number of great coaches if you need one. May Kay Parkinson is one. I would also suggest adopting Ayurveda, and encouraging a meditation practice for her. They will reduce stress and toxins for her as part of her daily living and make it easier for her to function well.

      Let me know if I can help,

  2. says

    Thank you for this. It expressed precisely what I have been feeling. This is my blog that I wrote about being “weird”. I want to share this blog as a guest blog on my blog. If that makes sense. Thank you for writing so honestly and openly. It’s good to know that us HSP are not alone. This is one of the blogs I wrote about it. tigerlilysgarden. Many blessings, Kathy

    • says

      Hi Kathy,

      Thank you for stopping by. I appreciate your honest feedback. I think many of us, myself included, are experiencing many highs and lows right now. I think your article nails it that we are having to let go of our old stuff as we move through this time of transition. One writer I saw called it letting go of our stories.

      If you would like to post the article you may as long as we do not run foul of Google’s duplicate content penalties. A note at the top of the article would be a good idea with a link, that way Google does not get the wrong idea. This is the link:

      Thanks for sharing. Let me know of there is anything I can do for you.

  3. Kaitlin says

    So true – I absolutely love this post and this blog, so glad I stumbled upon it. As an HSP female (who has recently begun learning how to embrace and develop my true nature, instead of resist it), given how hard of a time I’ve had struggling against my sensitivity in the past, I almost can’t imagine how difficult it must be to be for an HSP male, where the expectation of aggression and competitiveness is all the more pervasive.

    Again, thanks for this and this blog! :)

    • says

      Hi Kaitlin,

      I agree – it must be very difficult to be an HSP male, although increasingly women are expected to adopt macho characteristics to survive. I am glad that you are working to accept your nature and find its gifts. I firmly believe that we have tremendous gifts that the world badly needs. Keep going and let me know if I can help. I am glad you like the blog.

      All the best,

  4. Elisabeth says

    I can definitely identify with this. I have experienced this throughout my life, in the workforce, and especially within my own family. I have 3 sisters, and 3 brothers. I don’t identify with any of my sisters and have been treated pretty appallingly by them. I have finally distanced myself from 2 of them, not because I hate them, but for the sake of my health & wellbeing. I often wonder whether there is anyone out there who I will ever genuinely be able to call a friend. I went through a very difficult time last year & was amazed at how few people stood by me.

    • says

      Hi Elisabeth,

      You are expressing a common concern for highly sensitive people. In a materialistic world, many people do not get us and do not know what to make of us and are afraid of us. HSPs upset the apple cart by being different and a lot of people do not want that. I think that you can have friends but you need to seek people who are closely aligned with your values or your relationships will struggle to survive.

      I hope this helps,

      • Elisabeth says

        Thanks Maria. I’m definitely moving more towards connecting with people I’m more closely aligned with. I know now where not to find them, and that’s a start :-) however much I’ve struggled, I still wouldn’t want to be a different person, as many of the people who’ve had problems with me, or want to change me, or seem to have it all materialistically, don’t seem very happy.


        • says

          I know what you mean. Materialism is not a great strategy for a happy life. There are more and more groups creating a more equitable and sustainable world. I am sure you can find kindred spirits.


  5. says

    I can totally relate to this. It reminds me of a book I read once. It’s called, “The Introvert Advantage, How To Survive In An Extrovert World.”
    How the majority of people put you in a bucket after judging from what they have briefly observed and what their expectations are of you, if that makes sense.

    • says

      Hi Brittany,

      I remember the Introvert Advantage book also. I think we are underappreciated and it affects us negatively. When we start appreciating ourselves we can start to reverse some of the damage.

      All the best,

  6. says

    I have always felt different, like a shadow. I describe how it feels here:

    I am currently in recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder, which is caused by a HSP being brought up in an invalidating environment. I was bullied all through school. I am doing much better since doing DBT (Dialectical Behaviour Therapy) and would like others to be able to recover as well. Please check out my blog here: Thank you!

    • says

      Thanks, Joyce. I am glad you are doing better. If you would like to write about your experience for this site I would be happy to host your article.

      All the best,

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