Highly Sensitive Introvert: How To Overcome Emotional Overwhelm

highly sensitive hsp introvert

Every highly sensitive introvert has experienced this.

You’re sailing through daily life, ticking all the boxes for health and wellbeing. You’re exercising, sleeping plenty and eating lots of green stuff.

Then, without warning, you have what I like to call an “unruly squid moment”.

I came up with the term just now, but it was inspired by an unforgettable experience I had a few years ago involving a giant jar of seafood antipasto.

My Italian friend got me hooked on the oily appetizer, which consisted of baby squid, shrimp, peppers, and oil. It looked gross, but it tasted delicious. One day, a nearly full jar slipped out of my hands and shattered onto my dark hardwood floors.

A mess of unruly shrimp and squid jiggled atop a massive puddle of oily brine. The tentacles. The oil. The overwhelming scent of seafood —

It was all too much.

I managed to clean up the mess, but the floors stayed slick with oil residue for weeks. The fishy stench lingered for nearly as long.

I never ate seafood antipasto again, but I had plenty of “unruly squid moments” nonetheless. There have been many times when I felt shattered by my own emotions, and frustrated by their unruly ways.

Feelings that ‘should’ have been washed away by the passing of time resurfaced uninvited and lingered long after I told them to get lost. This kind of emotional residue is the reason many highly sensitive (HSP) introverts unknowingly leak energy every single day.

Emotional Overwhelm

The frustrating part about being a highly sensitive introvert is that no matter how much we plan our life, and structure it to suit our needs, we cannot avoid our own emotions. Of course, we still try.

We hide, we numb, we deny – all in an effort to side-step the discomfort of feeling our emotions. After all, highly sensitive introverts feel things deeply. A surface scratch is easier to deal with than a sharp knife to the centre of your soul. Just sayin’.

Author Elaine Aron explains:

“We feel so intensely. It is part of why we process everything very deeply—we are more motivated to think about things by our stronger feelings of curiosity, fear, joy, anger, or whatever. But this intensity can be overwhelming, especially when we have negative feelings.”

As painful as it might be to truly feel our emotions. The alternative is worse. Unacknowledged emotions cannot be released.

Just like the oily residue my antipasto fiasco left behind, our unfelt emotions stick with us and find other ways of getting our attention. They can raise quite a stink.

Bestselling author and spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle put it this way:

“If you cannot feel your emotions, if you are cut off from them, you will eventually experience them on a purely physical level as a physical problem or symptom.”

Sadness leads to sickness. Stress attacks our heart. For better or worse, our emotions impact our physiology. The good news is that we can use this knowledge to our advantage.

4 Steps To Release Emotional Residue

1. Notice your emotions. Many HSP introverts spend years trying to control and numb our emotions. We get so good at suppressing our feelings that we stop noticing them. We become totally disconnected from our emotions and have trouble both identifying and expressing them.

The first step for releasing emotional residue is to start paying attention to what you feel on a daily basis. Check in throughout the day and practice labelling your feelings at a given moment.

2. Sit with your emotions. One unique advantage of being an HSP introvert is that it is harder for us to escape our emotions. Many distractions are simply too overwhelming. We need our alone time to survive.

If we use this time alone to truly be present with our emotions, they will naturally pass through us and be released.

3. Circulate your emotions. Humans are meant to move. Outer movement changes our mental and emotional state. There is no denying that.

Often we overlook the fact that our internal systems are constantly in flux as well. Nothing within us is designed to stay stagnant. Including our emotions. To keep emotions moving, we must remove the blockages we’ve built up in their way.

4. Release your emotions. Just like skin cells, emotions come to the surface to be gently sloughed away. We don’t cling to our dead skin cells, desperately trying to stick them back on. Why should we do so with our emotions?

 

What about you?

Are you a highly sensitive introvert who struggles with emotional overwhelm? How do you cope?

Please do share your experiences in the comments below. 🙂

Love,

Michaela-Signature

36 Comments

  1. I am definitely a highly sensitive introvert and I really think life would be so much better if I weren’t. For example, before a job interview I’m stressed out and after the interview I am so sick to my stomach. My nerve’s are in the worst state ever and I get so stressed that if I can, I have to lay down and take a nap just to take the edge off. I know this sounds ridiculous, but this is how my brain is wired. There has got to be a way that I can reprogram my brain and loosen up. It affect’s my life a lot.

    Reply
    • Hi Rachael. I know what you mean. It’s hard to feel things in the body. There are ways to work though this, which I’ll be sharing in upcoming posts plus the free Intro To Energy Healing class Alexa and I are putting on next week. 🙂

      Reply
    • Im going through Emotional Processing or overwhelm. How I deal with it is haphazard.so far so any ideas very welcome. so far I talk about it with people i know. I ponder all aspects of the so called source, knowing all the while i could be wrong. I usually ring up a help line. Eventually I get an aha moment. sometimes in the middle of the night. and the problem is often nothing like i ws thinking or another aspect of it entirely. but it takes weeks or months and is very stressful. Often it could be the situation not the actual person but I have thought at first it was the Person. but then I know I feel uncomfortable in a situation that is ambigous.or where people cannot talk except for smalltalk endlessly for months and months or even years. So I know the group needs some kind of healing or re think of how they operate. This is especially so if there are other HSP people in the Group. It actually gives me pains in the gut. and i want to avoid it but being me I kind of intuit that it is more than what meets the eye so force myself to persevere. then I get the aha moment but then doubt if it is true enough. so then will edit and sleep on it and then run it past someone else, hoping not to make a fool of myself and also looking for clarity in my thinking. Other people often dont perceive what I perceive and Im wary of a rebuff or being thought strange for my conclusions.

      Reply
    • Thanks for sharing Jim. I have dabbled with EFT and plan to do more. 🙂

      Reply
    • Hi Michaela,

      I’m so glad your are connecting to the HSP factor that often goes with introversion. I am often caught up in overwhelm. If I’m in a crowded room I get by using my acting skills, meanwhile internally information is coming at me from everywhere. I seem to have less filters than other people, and I am often trying to beat it to the next exit as soon as I’ve fulfilled any social obligations. One on one is fine, or even two or three. It’s just the crowds that throw me off balance. I have just started to learn to feel my emotions instead of suppress them. I am also trying to stay more open and not shut down as I once did. Have you ever heard that the more open you are, (especially if your are sensitive,) the stronger your capability for having psychic experiences. Highly sensitive people often jam their mechanism by shutting down, when actually if they remained more open their psychic abilities would develop.

      Reply
  2. This great text depicts situation I had this morning. A group job interview. A group activity plus a job interview. Hell on earth. 🙂 It lasted more than 3 hours… I was so overwhelmed (since I’m an extreme HSP), that at one moment I wanted to jump off the window into the fountain outside. 😀 I cope with these kind of situations by having and giving myself alone time. That’s the key, for me at least. Having alone time after this kind of over-stimulated activities refreshes me and restores my energy. Group job interview with strangers, believe me, I am still shaking on the thought of it… 😀
    Thank You Michaela for 4 steps on how to release emotional residue, they are really going to help a lot. 🙂

    Reply
    • You’re welcome Marko. Oh, a group interview does sound torturous! Glad to hear you give yourself the alone time needed to recover from such energy assaults. xo

      Reply
      • You get a lot of respect from me for writing these helpful arcielts.

        Reply
  3. I am living this right now. I was forced to leave a job because my insanely keen auditory sensitivity. It was a bad situation where the employer got away with breaking ADA laws. I had thought I was done with anger. I thought that by writing about it ad nauseam I had purged myself. Then came the denial of unemployment benefits. This was in mid July, and I have been seriously depressed since. I’m not sure what I could have done differently, but it is now clear to me that writing alone will not exorcize my demons. I should know better, as an HSP I have an arsenal of coping tools–but I seem to have lost my toolbox.

    Reply
    • Hi Renee, don’t be so hard on yourself, lovely. We all have “unruly squid moments” and struggle to pick up the pieces. I hope the resources I share this week will be helpful to you. xo

      Reply
    • I am in a very similar situation and am thinking of quitting but I’m concerned about being denied UI. Did you have any documentation from a therapist supporting that the job environment was causing you health issues?

      Reply
  4. Oh wow, can I sure relate to this.
    For years, well as far back as I can remember, hearing the statements “Quit your crying”, “you’re to emotional”, “you’re to sensitive” caused me to push them down and build up what I thought was a wall of emotional strength. Fast forward years later, I have been diagnosed with Fibromyalgia and the list of other ailments that seem to come with it. Denying myself the respect of being who I am to try and please those around me because no one seemed to understand, let alone neither did I.
    I am so thankful now at my age to finally connect with others who share this gift of “feeling” everything. I’m still struggling to embrace this and understand how to best use my highly sensitive self in service to others without the suffering.
    Thank you so much for sharing your gift with us Michaela. I love reading your newsletters 💖

    Reply
    • Yes Paula, I agree. It is about surrounding ourselves with the right people.

      Reply
  5. As an HSP and INFJ, I have spent years controlling and masking my emotions. However, there are still times when I am emotionally overwhelmed and the flood bursts the gates, so to speak, and I end up in tears in situations where I seriously do NOT want to show my feelings to others. Either I don’t know them well or it is not an appropriate place to cry (such as a meeting). Once the tears start they can be almost impossible to stop and often I have to excuse my self to the bathroom to let them out. Then I am upset with myself for being so emotional AGAIN and this prolongs the whole embarrassing situation. Often the feelings will continue for hours and sometimes even days. I am such a master at hiding my feelings that most people won’t even realize what has happened even when I have tears rolling down my face! I don’t understand how people can be so unobservant but I am glad in these situations that they are. What is worse is when someone does notice and I have to try to explain what is going on. I do not want to expose my vulnerabilities to people who don’t really know me and I feel like I end up just making it all worse.

    The way I cope after this happens is retreating and spending as much time as possible by myself to let the emotions release. I have good insight into why I am triggered so rather than spending a lot of time dwelling on it I try to do positive healthy things for myself. Of course sometimes I just end up wallowing in a distraction like TV but that’s not so bad in small doses either. 🙂

    Reply
    • Yes Lily this happened to me again very recently and I totally understand what you have experienced. It is so important that we take really good care of ourselves after this happens.

      Reply
  6. Michaela, this couldn’t have come at a better time. Lately, I come home from any outing, regardless of scale or enjoyment, utterly emotionally overwhelmed. I remember only too well how soulless I felt as a teenager when I had repressed all emotions – stopped using contractions in my speach, started wearing “trousers” instead of jeans, stopped leaving my house…
    I know I can’t go back to a world devoid of feeling.
    But to let my emotions rise to the surface, to gently release them?
    It’s got to be worth a try.
    Thank you.

    Reply
  7. As a HSP, INFJ, “Gifted Adult” (intensity/complexity/drive) I struggle with emotion overwhelm dispite my best efforts due to my environment/picking up on others emotions/sensory overload like you mentioned – and I often make it worse cuz I crave mental stimulation; I have a lot of interests; love problem solving. This all makes for a daily struggle between what I want to do & what I can handle – so I do the things you mentioned (great post BTW) and I would add humor, music and prayer.

    Reply
    • Oh you describe my life. Love my job but it’s so overwhelming, noisy and busy. What to be part of the banter but it sucks my energy like a Dementor and the alternative is total quietness, have no in between.

      Reply
    • THIS. This is me exactly. You are not alone Mary, and it is so good to know that I’m not alone either as an HSP/INFJ combo. We are specially gifted but with this comes a burden.

      Reply
  8. As a child I was lonely because I had a hard time making friend. I never felt I was good enough. At nine my Grandfather would tickle me until I cried and then one day I turned it off and was no longer ticklish. Today 40 plus years later, I wish I was ticklish. I don’t laugh, I am not amused, I don’t find enjoyment in very much. I think it is too easy to turn off feelings. I crave alone time so much that I tell my family they can stay home and help me with something menial that they don’t want to do – or they can leave for they day. They leave. The only place I feel I am good enough is when I am at work, because the participants allow me to be myself…. but I feel very separate from the other staff. I don’t feel part of the team. At one point I felt the staff were my friends but then I had a party where they all said they would come – not one did. I used to feel I was part of the team, now I feel that I am a casual worker, no one important. I used to want a wedding reception with my friends from work, but now I know, they are just acquaintances, who will not develop into true friends. So, why bother with a reception, I won’t have anyone to come to it. I have a song going through my head, it says “I’m not sick, but I’m not well”.
    That’s how I feel. I share my feelings with the people in my house. I don’t ask them for anymore or any less. I just need them to know that I’m really not perfect.

    Reply
  9. I’m an highly sensitive introvert too. Whenever I have to spend the whole day outside it’s a torture to me and when I get home I feel so drained, I often have a headache and I physically need to be alone.
    I love being alone. Sometimes I can spend days in a row alone at home watching movies, reading, or simply doing nothing.
    I feel so different from the world around me. I feel like nobody understands, and when I try to explain I’m either laughed at or being told to get a grip on myself and stop acting like an old lady (I’m 26). Or worse, people make me feel like I’m just lazy… It’s wearying.
    I’m starting a new job next Tuesday and I’m awfully stressed and scared I’ll end up dead tired at the end of the day. Not to mention the fact I’m already exhausted of putting on a mask to fit in…

    Thank you Michaela for your articles, they’re a great help. Cheers from France 🙂 (and sorry for any language mistake)

    Reply
    • You’re welcome Elodie! Cheers from Canada. 😉 xo

      Reply
    • Hi Elodi I can totally relate. When I was younger I hated being in a crowd and it totally frazzled my nervous system I never understood why I felt that way, I never felt like I truly belonged in this world and that something was wrong with me. But ever since I discovered I was H.S.P I can now make sense of my brain and I understand that I process more sensory input than the average person. I feel normal now that I know that there are many people out there who are just like me and after all there really is nothing wrong with me except that I need to do things differently and respect my emotions by honouring my true self and never try to be someone I’m not.

      Reply
  10. Hi…..i am sensitive.
    I always suppress my feelings and don’t know how to express it.I would like to express myself but it isn’t coming out.
    Can anyone help ?

    Reply
  11. Thank you Michaela for these tips I’m so glad I found this post. 🙂

    Reply
    • You’re welcome, Anele! Glad you found it. 🙂 xo

      Reply
  12. Definitely highly sensitive. How many times have you heard the words” just get over it”? Again the answer for me is spirituality. And I have to write about it. That seems to be working. Still coming to terms with some old hurt recently. Thank you for contributing to this site. I knew I was introverted but my mind blowing moment was when I learned that I NEED the alone time that I have always sought out for myself. And I DID think something was wrong with me. I check off every box on the introvert characteristics list! BTW, I must disagree with you on one thing tho…. introverts ARE superior beings…

    Reply
  13. Great information but lacks the answer to one simple question… How?

    Notice and sit with your emotions I can get. Circulate and release? Especially release… I Don’t know how to do that.

    Reply
  14. I’ve always been exceedingly sensitive and my feelings are easily hurt. Several months ago, on two separate occasions, someone I barely knew hurt me emotionally at a time when I was already in a dark place. This person is a close friend of someone I greatly admire which has made these events even more painfuI. I pretend that nothing has affected me but I’m very sad. I’m a strong person and I will get over it, but I’ll never forget how this person made me feel. I’m being good to myself healthwise and distancing myself from contact – and I accept that this is all I can do. I also accept that not everyone has to like me, but I wish this person hadn’t been so unpleasant to me. One day the hurt will fade, but right now I just have to accept the painful feelings and work through them.

    Reply
  15. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I thought I was crazy, I didn’t realize other people like me existed.

    Reply
  16. Funny thing with me is that I love emotions that linger, that way I get to experience it and understand it. But other times I try to control them ir order to deal with a difficult situation and get exhausted. But to be honest I’m still trying to figure out if this is me, or whether I am an introvert or extrovert.

    Reply
  17. Oh I am clearly an Introverted HSP! Life can become both overwhelming and exhausting having so many feelings most of the time. Also, dealing with so many of these feelings inwardly can make life at times feel lonely.
    For me I walk. I walk almost everyday. Miles upon miles outside on sidewalks and paved roads. Many that know me comment on how often they see me out on these roads. Most comment of my dedication to keeping on track in a world that deals in terms of fitness. And indeed walking is wonderful for physical fitness. But, it is walking that is my saving grace for so much of my emotional well being. It is so very therapeutic! I am grateful for each and every day I have that my physical body is capable of pounding the pavements, so that my mind may have time to both plug in as well as unload! Many of my friends and acquaintances comment on how they’d love to join me. But, it is in that time, when I walk alone, that I find much clarity! Or at least establish a road towards some release and a path towards lightness! If every Introverted HSP could tap into whatever it is that works for them so they may find their breath and bring some lightness back! This is a wish I share with each reader!

    Reply
  18. It is so wonderful to know I am not alone! For a while I didn’t understand why I felt things so deeply, and why I couldn’t deal with my emotions. I am so good at avoiding emotions I can go months before I finally let the emotions have there way with me. I have recently started on a path to become emotionally healthy and I realized I have to let myself feel in order to heal, and therefore grow. I am horrible at processing negative emotions and I have a hard time coupling with, rejection. I take it way to personally. Anyway I am trying to grow as a person and live a more healthy life, thanks for sharing Michaela

    Reply
  19. I read this article, and it frustrated me. I’m not saying the article was bad. I think its intention is good…but it provides no real strategy to accomplish what it’s suggesting.

    For example, how does one “release” emotions? How does one “Circulate” emotions? It’s all so cryptic.

    Of course “Now” at age 51, I actually know what that all means, but I actually suffered a GREAT deal before I came to the “how” of these instructions. Back in the day, when I was…well…and inexperienced raw nerved super highly sensitive human, I would by books and more books…that would say things like…”sit with your feelings….observe your feelings…let your feelings pass,” and no one could also say, show, express…what that looks like…”for me.”

    That was the issue, really. The writers and lecturers were “themselves.” They were not “Me.” I had to learn to translate all that stuff into “Ian speak…” which, admittedly has lots of pictures…very few words. LOL.

    Let me simply say what actually worked best for me: Finding really caring people to share my feelings with (trusted friends who keep your stuff sacred). People who share their true feelings with me (in a sacred and safe way) so that there is some comparisons and contrasts.

    A therapist also REALLY helped….but not commiserating types full of sympathy and dig out all your traumas just to inforce what a victim you are (and if they do and never move past that phase…skidaddle quick as you can to a more reliable therapist).

    I never felt change or more power over my feelings and overwhelm unless I could actually reality check against a high integrity and empathic person. Having a close trusted mentor…was the only way I was able to understand what this article is talking about. And it took years and years of suffering to finally get to a place to realize…I really needed help with the process.

    And I’m an INFJ! Great at helping…not so great at receiving help from just anyone. We are very discriminating about who we let in. Me? High integrity people only! And brave people comfortable with true compassion (which actually has some sharp edges…not all soft and fluffy like we imagine, really) and your best interest, literally, in their heart. Or….and…a REALLY good, professional…objective (yet empathic) therapist ALSO helped.

    Reading quick “do this” without instruction, context and…experience shared? Was more frustrating for me then you can imagine…I felt I’d spent years as a failure because I had no clue “why” letting go of emotions was…not happening…why “sitting with me emotions” kept putting me into a dark night of the soul….

    Sorry for ranting. But this…is important for me to share. Please…don’t anyone take it personally. I just want to point out…that as a young man…I truly suffered with stuff like this…because it made no sense…because, as stated…I could not find the…ability on my own…it was NOT Inate for me. I needed help.

    Peace.

    Reply
  20. These past few days, I have been feeling very strange with myself. I don’t understand my behavior at all. I used to ignore this strange behavior of mine but later then I felt the need to analyze my emotions and actions. I am a Highly Sensitive Person too. I easily get affected with other’s people words or actions (even though sometimes it’s not really directed to me). A one single word could ruin my happy day and it’s really frustating. I easily get emotional but doesn’t want to share my tears to the world. I want to feel belonged but wants to be alone most of the time. I only select the person or group of person that I would talk to and not comfortable being in the large crowd. Yet, I’d like to look appealing especially to others on first impression.

    I need to understand more of my behavior but thank you for your help, Michaela, from the Philippines. I am now starting to understand the portion of me.

    Reply

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The Ultimate Introvert’s Dilemma In Relationships - Introvert Spring - […] introverts who are prone to energy drain, relationships can feel like swimming in a tsunami. The tidal wave of…

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Get my FREE 50-page guide to connect with anyone, even if you're introverted and shy

 

Please check your inbox for a confirmation email.

Get my FREE Introvert Charisma Blueprint and become an irresistible introvert in 30 days.

Develop true confidence, self-love & connection in your own innie way. Signup below.

Please check your inbox for a confirmation email.