Human Biomonitor – HSPs and Environmental Sensitivities

As an HSP, you are probably familiar with Dr. Elaine Aron’s DOES acronym. Each letter stands for a trait that is common to all HSPs. D equals depth of processing, O stands for overstimulation, E equals emotional responsivity and empathy, and S stands for sensitivity to subtleties.

But there are other ancillary traits you may be more susceptible to as a highly sensitive person. These include chemical intolerances, sensitivities, and illnesses; certain smells, sounds or bright lights; even electromagnetic fields or radio frequencies. This list does not cover everything. Your body is unique even within the HSP spectrum.

If your sensitivities include environmental issues, you have an extra layer of sensitivity that makes you unique. As such, you are the biomonitor for substances that are toxic to humans. Here are a few examples:

MSG

I discovered this intolerance when I started my triggerless diet program in my attempt to reduce the number of migraines I had. I weeded out every food that was known (to me) at that time as a trigger and had begun to get a handle on the incessant migraines that I was experiencing. I was finally beginning to feel like I had some control over my health again. Then my family decided to go on an outing to the local Chinese restaurant we loved. I was careful to exclude mushrooms and other iffy foods. But the next day I had a monster of a migraine. When it finally subsided after about 36 hours, I felt fine for half a day. Then, it returned. It returned one more time to destroy my entire week.

The list I’d gathered did not include MSG because the author of the book I’d gotten the list from said that it may or may not be a trigger food. Indeed, the FDA had and continues to consider MSG “generally recognized as safe.”

In my case, I know MSG to be a trigger, and as such harmful to me. I also believe that many in the food production industry are aware of its adverse effects as there exists numerous pseudonyms for this substance that deceptively shy away from MSG or monosodium glutamate in their names.

Neurotoxins

Image by ATDSPHOTO from Pixabay

Sodium tripolyphosphate (STTP) is a neurotoxin used to soak fish in preparation for selling to the public. It makes your seafood “firmer, smoother, and glossier.” This chemical bath has caused me to experience migraines. It has other harmful side effects.

Labelling of this chemical is not required in the United States. You may be able to reduce your ingestion by asking your grocer or restaurant waiter if the fish is “wet” or “dry.” Wet means that your seafood has been soaked in this chemical. Dry means it has not.

Household cleaning products

I don’t have to go through the hazards of certain chemicals. Most people understand their potential for toxicity. But if you try to keep a clean home, you are probably going to expose yourself to chemical interaction. The way to avoid that is to mix your own cleaning solutions. Here is a good list to get you started.

Your body may be sensitive to other possibilities. Be watchful and aware. Avoiding your points of contention is a must.

It’s important to remember, too, if we collectively or individually have an intolerance to a certain substance, then it is certain to be on the harmful scale to others. Even those who do not feel it. This is a sacred privilege. It is part of our job as the minority sensitive human beings to be aware of, identify, and warn the general population of hazards in our environment. If we are sensitive to it, it more than likely is also harmful to the rest of us. It may just be on a more silent or stealthy path.

Copyright 2021, Monica Nelson

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Do you Always Have to be Kind to be Genuine?

We as HSPs are genuine by nature. Authenticity arises from the conscientious component in our makeup. We strive to be completely honest in our feelings and the expression of those feelings to the outer world. We have defined values and beliefs, and we support those in our actions. We are not happy unless we are living our true selves.

Kindness is a close cousin of genuineness. The two often combine to form a welcoming demeanor. People who express friendliness, generosity, and consideration toward us are positive forces that reduce stress and anxiety, boost the immune system, and just plain make us feel good inside. But do you always have to be kind to be genuine?

This may seem like a strange question to contemplate but let me explain.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Authenticity is a yes-or-no state of being. Kindness is an act that arises either as the spontaneous output of a genuine state, or as a device for ill gain. The truth is kindness has two sides, each a direct opposite of the other. In its truest sense, it is a beautiful quality that can promote positive relationships. But it can also be faked. Used as a tool for manipulation or deceit. In those cases, kindness kills trust, hope, love, among many other desirable virtues.

If we are to be kind and genuine, we must always strive to keep the honest side forward. It might be argued that you should be kind, whether someone is kind to you or not. In this way you put your best foot forward. I disagree. If we are kind when we don’t mean it, we further the falsehood. In this case, kindness should not be confused with civility. It is important to remain civil to others, refraining from harsh treatment or violence, but you can be cordial while keeping your integrity intact. Assertive congeniality in action.

Unfortunately, there are vultures out there – Dr. Judith Orloff calls them Energy Vampires – who are more than ready to take advantage of our large capacity for empathy. When we encounter those Energy Vampires, we must stand our ground, keep integrity foremost, and pull back on our impulsive kindness. Reserve it for the more deserving people we encounter.

So, my answer to this question is no, we don’t have to always be kind to be genuine. In fact, it is in this authenticity that we find and put forward true kindness when it is appropriate. But there are also times when we must replace our first-line kindness with a guarded cordiality. We often find it hard as an HSP to stand up for ourselves, but necessary.

For more on this subject, see Kindness Gone Wrong.

Copyright 2021, Monica Nelson

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How We as HSPs Think with Our Bodies

Embodied cognition, the premise that we think and feel with our bodies, is making science sit up and notice. For much of history it was assumed that thoughts and emotions originated in the brain, with our sensory and motor systems’ job limited only to the tasks of input and output. The theory of embodied cognition states that our behavior is sourced from more than just the brain. The brain is only one component in the wider system of perception of our world and the resulting behavior from that perception. Our nervous system is another component. Working together, they help us process our world view.

While the rest of the world is discovering this phenomenon, we who are highly sensitive know all too well that our sensitive nervous system affects our perceptions and behaviors. Here are some of the ways we perceive our world differently due to a sensitive nervous system.

Environmental and Emotional Perception

Being moved to tears by an emotional or empathetic experience when it does not affect someone with a typical nervous system in that way. The instantaneous effect on your body. Bright lights, strong smells, easily hurt and easily stimulated, fabrics that rub you the wrong way. The body feels the emotion, feels the reaction.

Image by John Hain from Pixabay

Enhanced Fight or Flight Mechanism

The fight or flight response to stress affects all of us. But in my experience, it is present in colossal form in the HSP. Our reactions are magnified and more intense. Our sensitive nature picks up more complex subtleties and nuances that fuel the biochemicals that trigger the response.

Feeling Another’s Emotional and/or Physical State

If I see another person stub their toe or hit their elbow on a corner of the door, it sends a physical sensation into that area of my body. The sensation for me is not pain in the sense that the person experiencing the phenomena is. It is a strange and different feeling from when I experience that same impact on myself. I feel the pain without the physical hurt. I jump or flinch just the same, and the pain sensation travels the same nerve path, but without the pain itself.

This is my own perception and reaction. But other HSPs experience similar states. It is not a state of mind, it is a whole-body sensation.

Sensation from a Rich and Complex Inner Life

Thoughts and internal reflections in an HSP are felt so profoundly that they produce bodily responses: flushes, prickled nerve endings, an involuntary reflex. The reflection so ingrained within the nervous system that there is no outside stimulus at all. It is simply internal. The interaction of the brain and nervous system is wholly responsible for sensation.

Scientific breakthroughs in embodied cognition are beginning to shed light on a highly sensitive person’s differences that are as of yet still unknown to many folks with normal nervous systems. As HSPs we’ve known all along how intimately we think with our bodies in collaboration with our minds. We experience it every moment of the day.

Copyright 2021, Monica Nelson

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The Myth of Flawless Love and the HSP Woman

Approximately 51 million Americans read romance novels. That number increases daily. The allures of the romance novel are many. We, as a society, are in love with love. Often the heroine early in the novel meets a rogue male who initially is wealthy, handsome, fit and virile, but in need of reform in some way. That improvement comes in the transformative love he finds in the heroine. By the end of the novel, the couple is in flawless love. A happily-ever-after state where the hero has developed a lifelong commitment, become the perfect husband and father, and has shed whatever undesirable traits he has developed over a lifetime to that point.

Scientists believe that this premise is so popular because it embodies what women most want in a lifetime partner, developed over centuries of evolution.

The problem is that the flawless love we women seek lies solely within the pages of a paperback book. In the real world, life is never flawless. The perfection state we desire falls far short of its ideal.

The average woman has enough trouble with this realization. We HSP women struggle even more with the challenges this premise presents.

Image by Bingo Naranjo from Pixabay

Awareness

We notice subtleties in behavior and mood more often and sooner than a non-HSP. Every flaw is magnified. They can get under our skin more often and sooner also. Disappointment, sadness and even depression can follow.

Idealism

We tend to be idealists. We look for the beauty in everything. We demand perfection of ourselves and expect it in others. It can be disheartening when the ideal is shattered.

Sensitivity

We are vulnerable to put-downs, verbal barbs, and other attacks that a man who does not fight fair may use during inevitable disagreements. These wound, sometimes to the point of incapacitation. If a partner is not self-reflective or desirous of changing damaging habits, the relationship suffers.

Empathy/Conscientiousness

Our empathy is strong. We come to know the past hurts and difficulties someone else has gone through. We feel them as though they were are own. We do not want to inflict more pain on someone who has been injured like this. Our conscience tells us we can not leave a man who has suffered as much as our partner has. The trouble comes when this loyalty to another’s needs conflicts with fulfilling our own needs.

Flawless love is as elusive as a four-leaf clover. There are relationships that come close and these should be our goal. But the above HSP traits compound the sticky issue of when to “do the work” on a relationship and when to abandon it for a shot at something more tenable.

To help us answer that question, we must:

  • be aware of these differences and face those challenges with courage and knowledge;
  • look for guidance and support from other HSPs;
  • trust our intuition and ourselves;
  • rise above guilt and shame foisted on use by others or ourselves; and
  • gather our wits from solitude and introspection.

Flawless love is a myth, but HSPs can find love. The key is to honor yourself in the process.

Copyright 2021, Monica Nelson

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Mastering the Two Sides of HSP Regret

Most people experience some form of regret. Regret is a powerful emotion that infiltrates our everyday lives in destructive ways – if we allow it to.

HSPs, with our enhanced empathy and depth of processing traits, can struggle even more than the average person with regret. On the other hand, we are in a unique position to use our traits to do good.

Most HSPs I know are truth seekers. Whether we are born that way, or we come to it through our challenges as a sensitive person, we seek out authenticity. In a world becoming more materialistic, narcissistic, and exploitative, regret serves as a wonderful tool for change. If we are to be instruments of that change, we must set an example for others to follow.

To lead by example, we must effectively deal with the two sides of our regret.

The Negative Side

Regret tends to threaten our self-esteem, throw roadblocks in front of our goals, and push us to lose patience with others. Getting past that guilt and shame of an incident that we regret is critical before we can become an example to others.

Image courtesy of Alex @worthyofelegance on Unsplash.

Remember that you tend to be much harder on yourself than the average person is. Back off. Recognize the inner voice when it starts to nag at you. Stop it in its tracks. When your inner critic tells you that you are stupid, fight back. Tell it “I am not stupid. I have many fine qualities.” Develop your awareness to pick up on when this occurs – this will help you catch it so you can stop it before it gets you down.

As a sensitive, your boundaries are naturally thinner. We struggle more with setting clear boundaries than 80% of the population. Being vigilant to set clear boundaries helps us to stop taking on guilt and regret that doesn’t even belong to us.

Guard against the regret of accepting guilt thrown on us by others. Being “too sensitive” is not a negative. It is a gift, and not a cause for regret.

Regret is often the result of shame. Dr. Elaine Aron has a wonderful article on her website on shame. Read it here.

You might also find my article Three Positive Aspects of Regret and How to Attain Them helpful.

The Positive Side

Regret is our barometer for the ways in which people treat each other badly. As a social society we tend to take our opinions from the majority. Doing right by others needs to return to the forefront of our collective values. You can be instrumental in that cause.

Here are some suggestions on how to turn regret into a positive:

  • Talk to people, listen with compassion;
  • Write articles to inform;
  • Stand up for injustice;
  • Volunteer for just causes;
  • If you have a gift for settling arguments; get involved in mediation.

Of course, you must take care of yourself as you give of your gifts. As sensitives, we tend to give unselfishly. The result can be exhaustion or burn out. While this makes a valuable commodity, it also means we must know our limits.

Setting an example works because you can only sway public opinion by leading with courage. Truth seekers and other HSPs, using their empathy and depth of processing are able to lead us into a future of fair and compassionate dealings with each other.

Copyright 2021, Monica Nelson

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Two Reasons for a Fake Smile – HSPs are Drawn to Both

It is a well-known fact that people with strong empathy are more efficient at distinguishing a fake smile from a real one. You don’t have to look at facial muscles, the typical scientific means for distinguishing the difference. You can see it in their eyes. While genuine smiles are lively and engaging, with full attention to their subject, fake smiles are usually accompanied by dull and lifeless eyes.

Authentic smiles carry no harm. They project a genuineness and vulnerability that open the soul to true intimacy. A compelling reason to respond in kind. But a fake smile can also draw in an HSP, especially one that is exceptionally empathic. It is crucial that you, as an HSP or empath, know the difference. Your response depends upon it.

“Smile” by Garon Piceli is marked with CC0 1.0

Reason #1 – To Hide Great Sadness

With the rise of social media, the feeling that we always have to be happy and show the world that everything is right with our world has grown. After all, that is all we see. People putting their best foot forward. Yet there are people who face great sadness and depression every day. Those people can often attempt to hide their sadness.

We as highly empathic people can see right through that. We are also drawn, through that same empathy, toward wanting to help those people. This is part of our gift to others — a sympathetic ear, comfort and support.

As long as we maintain healthy boundaries for ourselves, this gift contributes positively toward healing a hurting world.

Reason #2 – To Manipulate You

On the other hand, a fake smile may represent something far more sinister.

A smile is the true universal communication gesture. We all respond to a smile. Part of the smile’s power is to convey warmth, joy, and openness. But manipulators can use that maxim to draw you in for their own deceitful purposes.

Narcissists and psychopaths are drawn to empathic individuals because that trait opens us up to exploitation. These types of people are very destructive with agendas that are exploitative and tyrannical. Care must be taken to stay away from these people.

An early warning sign that will help you in identifying a manipulator is a fake smile. Narcissists and psychopaths’ ability to feel happiness is nonexistent. In its place is the need for power. A smile is one of their weapons to gain power over you.

As a highly sensitive person, it is vital that you to distinguish between the two types of fake smiles. Both will want to draw you in. Your response should be very different to each one.

Copyright 2021, Monica Nelson

You might also like: Three Empathic Traits to Assist You in Spotting a Fake Smile

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Fulfilling Your Sacred Duty as a Truth Seeker and HSP

I have a plaque in my office that has my name at the top of it followed by different traits that I consider to be true of me. My name, Monica, mean “advisor” in Latin. One of the characteristics listed says “her words produce wisdom and foresight.” I don’t know if this is true, but it is my mission to find truth and to share that truth with others. Since childhood I have been a truth seeker. And I am also a highly sensitive person.

If you too fall into this category, know that you have a solemn responsibility. I will list some of these obligations, so you have a reminder of the hallowed nature of your gift. If you are unsure if you fall under this designation, read on. You may recognize yourself here.

Find the Deeper Wisdom

Wisdom comes from a combination of experience and thoughtful reflection. Experience is a fabulous teacher for everyone, HSP or not. We gain experience in what to do in certain situations, what not to do, what outcomes you can expect in similar situations, etc. This experience can also teach us how others react and what other perspectives look like.

HSPs have the gift of deep reflection and introspection. This trait leads us to deeper understanding of those experiences. We can look behind and around, under and above, and through to great depths of understanding.

Bring your Attention to Subtleties/Sensory Stimuli into Your Contemplations

Subtleties and sensory stimuli are great teachers. They carry keys to the unspoken and the great expanse of implicit knowledge. Your gift of picking up on these phenomena gives you insight that is not so readily available to others. Tap into that insight. Use it to draw newness into old beliefs.

Image: “truth” by geographer700 (George Ian Bowles) is marked with CC PDM 1.0

Apply Your Empathy Superpower to Your Truth Concept

Empathy has a see-through effect on all sides of a situation. It can illuminate all sides of an issue. Spreading understanding through every perspective. You have a powerful gift in your empathy translating into care and compassion for everyone concerned. Your understanding of emotions and their origins helps shed light into needs and desires, and what it takes to strengthen relationships.

Tap into Your Conscientiousness

Conscientiousness keeps your motives pure. Most HSPs are extremely conscientious. Truth seekers require this trait because truth cannot be found in corrupt intent. Taking steps to stay within your most profound conscientious being keeps your progress on the right path. It keeps your wisdom authentic and unadulterated.

Experience plus wisdom plus highly sensitive superpowers equals a focused path toward truth. The world needs truth seekers and truth tellers. Truth leads us on the evolutionary path toward actualization; toward a greater tomorrow.

Copyright 2021, Monica Nelson

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To Tell the Truth – HSPs and Truth Telling

In the late fifties and into the sixties, CBS television network ran a show called “To Tell the Truth.” The show consisted of three contestants. The moderator would read a history of one of the contestants, someone who had an unusual occupation or did something notable. The other two contestants were impostors. The panelists would each be given a certain amount of time to question the contestants. The impostors could tell the truth or lie. The non-impostor had to tell the truth. Then, the panelists would vote on who was the real or actual person described at the beginning of the contest.

As HSPs, we would have great difficulty sitting in the impostor’s chair. We are driven toward the truth. I’m not saying we are perfect. Far from it. But we, galvanized by our internal compass, are compelled toward telling the truth. Even if it causes us trouble.

Image: Arek Socha from Pixabay

In my late teens and early twenties, I began seeing a psychologist. Long before Dr. Elaine Aron enlightened the world of the highly sensitive person’s disparate personality and physiology, I had trouble understanding why I was so different. I sought help in the form of psychotherapy. Louise, my wonderful therapist, started me on my journey to discovering and accepting myself for who I am. In one session I recall telling her about choosing a greeting card to send to someone for an occasion. I described how it took an extraordinarily long time to choose just the right card. And how important finding just the right message was to me. She smiled knowingly and said, “I’m sure you did. It’s who you are.”

At that time, I didn’t understand how she knew that to be who I was. But now I do. Sensitives’ internal depth of processing, conscientiousness, and empathy necessitate us to tell the truth. In every word, action, and contemplation. And when I say truth – I mean truth.

Truth has a far deeper meaning than simply not lying. Truth digs into the heart of the matter. Truth presents itself in the smallest of details, in the motivations, fears and desires, vulnerabilities and impulses, in the lining surrounding an opinion. Truth must be allowed to ooze from the pores of conjecture. To gently float to the top and show itself in unfiltered exposure. Unmasked and pure.

And it must stand on its own regardless of what it is supposed by the masses to be. This is where HSP truth is essential. We, through our gifts, can more easily get at the truth than our more non-sensitive counterparts. Not to say that we are the only ones who can reveal truth. But we are better positioned to pull truth from our senses because of our own perceptivity. Our own accessibility to truth’s rawness.

Every HSP has a duty to make finding truth their mantra. One of the callings we all share is to bring that truth to light. To uncover fallacies that we all struggle with and use our gifts to bring real truth to the world around us.

To tell the truth is not just an old television show, it is the responsibility of us all. May truth be the mantle that carries you forward.

Copyright, 2021, Monica Nelson — All Rights Reserved

When telling the truth, should you be agreeable? Visit to find out.

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Overstimulated Alarm System – Three Steps to Confronting Fear in the Everyday Life of an HSP

Jennifer wants to talk to Brent. He’s been on her romantic radar ever since their first introduction weeks before. Now is her opportunity. She’s practiced her possible openings, bolstered her confidence with positive, reinforcing self-talk, and waited patiently for a chance to talk to him alone. She sees him across the room and forces her feet forward.

She takes five steps toward Brent. He looks up and their eyes meet. To her horror, she stops dead in her tracks. Before a cohesive thought can form in her mind, her body turns and her feet, in their quickest pace, skitter toward the exit.

Outside the door, she stops her progression just as she gets somewhere in the parking lot. Her heart is beating wildly in her chest. Her breathing is quick and she has begun sweating. If she could glimpse herself in a mirror, she would also see that her pupils have dilated and her skin has become either pale or flushed as her blood flow moves toward her muscles used for her escape and away from other body parts.

As her physical symptoms return to normal, embarrassment kicks in. What kind of bizarre behavior has she just committed?

The truth is that Jennifer has just experienced a fight-or-flight (or freeze) reaction to stress. Completely normal given her circumstances.

Image: “Brick-moji: Face screaming in fear” by Ochre Jelly is marked with CC PDM 1.0

Let’s start with the fact that Jennifer is a highly sensitive person.

In Dr. Elaine Aron’s acronym DOES that describes what an HSP is like, we see why Jennifer’s reaction was completely normal:

D – Depth of processing: In the weeks between meeting Brent and her opportunity to talk to him alone, Jennifer mulled her possibilities over in her mind, thinking through every possible scenario.

O – Overstimulation: Awareness and processing of daily stimuli made Jennifer exhausted and in constant survival mode. One major stressor added on top of that base easily sent her into fight-or-flight (or freeze) mode.

E – Emotionally responsive and empathy: Her anxiety at interacting with a man to whom she was romantically attracted to built on the stress she’d created while preparing for her encounter.

S – Sensitive to subtle stimuli: When their eyes met, Jennifer’s empathy and sensitivity to subtle stimuli kicked in. She may have gleaned a responsiveness to her in his eyes, overwhelming her already overloaded emotional barometer.

What can you, as well as Jennifer, do to better handle situations of stress?

Step One: Acknowledge Your Difference

You are not going to act like someone else. You are different. One of those differences is an overactive amygdala, the organ in which the fight-or-flight (or freeze) response originates. It is crucial you accept your differences as normal. Being an HSP is normal. It is your normal.

Step Two: Relax Your Amygdala

Meditation, physical activity, progressive relaxation, deep breathing. Set up a schedule to perform these activities daily. Yoga, tai chi or simple stretching exercises may also be effective in reducing over activity in the amygdala. It is critical to everyday health for an HSP to make time for this practice.

Step Three: Educate Others

Your gift is special. The world is slowly beginning to become aware of and realize that we do exist. And that we are normal people with different reactions to different situations. Spreading the word about our differences will help all of us (and our reactions) find acceptance.

Be courageous as you live your life. Your gifts help the rest of the population in ways they can never fully appreciate. Let your light and your love shine. But take care of yourself in the meantime.

Copyright 2021, Monica Nelson

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The Kindness Factor and HSPs

Long ago, a woman I knew only by casual acquaintance excitedly stopped me in church one day. We were walking past each other in the hall, and I was somewhat surprised to see her there. We had met the week before at a volleyball game, an activity put together by the church’s singles’ group. She and I were one of the first people to arrive. Since I had not seen her at any of our activities before, and I could sense extreme apprehension in her, I introduced myself and asked her if she was new to the group.

She said she attended another church but wanted to get involved in our singles’ group. She said that she was very interested in joining our group but had heard that it was hard to get to know us. I couldn’t disagree with her – it seemed that way to me too when I first joined. I told her not to worry, that I would introduce her to people.

As group members began arriving, I made simple introductions. Nothing out of the ordinary. As the game started, she participated. Laughing, talking, and having fun. The volleyball players seemed to open up to her and treat her like an old friend.

Now, standing in the hallway at church, she thanked me for the introductions with much more gratitude than I felt the small act deserved. She went on to say that she had gone out to socialize with a group of people after the game, and that she had made a couple of friends. She was now here because those friends had persuaded her to join them at our Sunday morning gatherings.

She seemed to bounce away from our encounter with an entirely different demeanor than what I had originally seen in her the prior week. Her revelation floored me. It also sent a warmth into my inner being.

Every action has a ripple effect.
“Roses. Water ripples filter.” by Bernard Spragg is marked under CC0 1.0. To view the terms, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/cc0/1.0/

I learned something that day that taught me a great lesson. Every act has a ripple effect. An act of kindness, no matter how small or insignificant you may perceive it, has a domino effect. Exponentially creating goodness down the line. Not just my small act of kindness, but hers as well. Because she took the time to tell me how what I did affected her, I felt encouraged and bolder about reaching out in kindness to people I don’t know.

One of our greatest gifts as HSPs is empathy. Empathy is a superpower that allows us to step into another person’s shoes. We feel someone’s needs and pain, sometimes so thoroughly that we have trouble distinguishing it from our own.

While this does open us up to exploitation, a subject we will address in another blog post, it is also a great opportunity to show another person kindness. Perpetuate good in a world that is lacking.

Unkindness, like kindness, has the same property of perpetuation and domino-effect progression. One small act of kindness goes a long way to fizzle-out so much unkindness that seems to dominate our world.

You have been endowed with a superpower. Cultivating a practice of kindness through your super empathy has the power to transform the world we all live in.

Copyright 2021, Monica Nelson

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