5 Stages of HSP Empowerment
Let’s explore the five stages of empowerment for highly sensitive people that are discussed In my new book, The Empowered Highly Sensitive Person.
Stage One: Survival Mode
In this stage, we are often just trying to get through the stressful day to day and often experiencing extremely high stress. We may even be experiencing anxiety or depression. We may have chronic pain, digestive issues, headaches, and extra irritability. We may potentially be abusing alcohol, drugs, or food to cope. We may simply feel depleted. This stage is just about getting through the day.
There is a lot of suffering in this stage. We are not balanced and often fear emotional meltdowns. Our sensitivity level is higher in this stage. Our nervous system motor is usually close to ten out of ten and can be similar to what it would be like to floor the gas pedal on your car all day. Burnout and depletion is so high that any small stressor can set us off. It is in this stage that we do not know our needs because everyone else’s needs are above our own. We often have a resentment tank that can be pretty full and feel like the world is out to get us.
Many HSPs are often in this stage simply because they don’t have the manual on how their supercomputer brain works, but once they do, they start to shoot up the stages very quickly. I think there is so much power in awareness and education of this trait! To finally understand why you are the way you are or why you react the way you do to the world creates a shift from self-blame (“there is something wrong with me”) to the first stages of validation and a reframing of our narrative.
There is a difference in the experiences of what I call an untrained HSP versus a trained HSP. An untrained HSP tends to suffer a lot, especially if they did not feel loved and supported in childhood. In this stage, we feel buried in overwhelm and are often incredibly hard on ourselves with a harsh inner-critic voice. We blame ourselves when things go wrong or someone is disappointed or not happy. We have such a high expectation of ourselves (and others too) that we use a perfectionist measurement scale. We always fail because perfection doesn’t exist.
We feel different, like there is something wrong with us, and we are maxing out our energy resources to try to fit into the lifestyle of the 80 percent. This just increases our already highly stressed nervous system. Fortunately, as we start to learn about the trait and develop a growing awareness of our experience in the world, things start to shift, and we recognize there are ways in which we can take care of our unique needs and access our incredible gifts and positive strengths.
If you know you are in this stage and cannot even imagine a way out, then taking my online course, Brain Training for the Highly Sensitive Person: Techniques to Reduce Anxiety and Overwhelming Emotions—An 8-Week Program would be a very helpful part of your growth journey. The eight-week program helps grow new neural sprouts by implementing particular brain techniques that are extremely effective for reducing anxiety and stress levels, so you can then step into a more empowered place as an HSP.
Stage Two: The Spark
Something is shifting in you. There is often a spark at this stage that makes us take some sort of action, as if we are opening up a door or a window toward a new path. It’s like we know we can live better or maybe we have had one too many meltdowns or maybe we need to do this for our children or our relationship or work. You may still have many of the challenges of stage one, but you’re starting to become aware of the need for change in your life and start searching for solutions.
There’s something inside of you that knows, maybe only a bit, but it knows that it could get better. Maybe you feel as if you’re sinking and you don’t want to drown? Or maybe something inside of you knows there is a better way. Maybe you are just done feeling so bad and want to feel better. Maybe you have connected to that light inside of you and know it is meant for something. Whatever the case, this is the stage of change and beginning to take the steps needed to feel better. It is at this stage where something inside of us decides to start to search for answers and help. Maybe we call a therapist at this stage or start looking up books or self-help articles. Praise yourself for deciding to take this step! It is a very good decision and one that can transform your life.
Stage Three: Commitment
In this stage, you learn caring for yourself is not indulgent—it is an act of wellness and balance. You consciously start to spend more time with people who light up your path and less with those who darken it.
This is the stage where you start to feel inspired and dedicated to your self-care. You are using tools and starting to notice how much better you feel. Your energy increases, and you start to feel like you have space opening for yourself and the things that are important to you in life. You start to take what you have been learning and commit to practicing daily self-care tailored to your needs and using tools through books, journaling, or a commitment to work in therapy. You start consciously setting boundaries that align with what honors you.
Interestingly enough, HSPs seem to benefit the most from interventions like self-help books, journaling, and therapy. I believe it is our increased activation of certain parts of our brain that make us more aware, more conscious, and more in-tune. I know that I witness this in clients and students I work with.
There are only three things needed at this stage to propel you: 1) the desire, 2) the right types of guidance (like this book, for example), and 3) dedication. Once an HSP puts these three things into play, movement is very quick. It takes about three weeks to start to grow a new neural sprout, for example, that can transform how we experience everything. This sprout gives us the ability to pause and reflect instead of react. It’s amazing to witness how this changes people.
I love having HSPs tell me about how they knew they used that sprout. It might look like a situation where their nervous system normally gets activated, sending them into a spiral, but using this new tool, they recognize they were able to pause and reflect on what they needed. They used skills such as self- compassion to comfort themselves through something difficult rather than harsh criticism that used to knock them down farther.
In this stage, we begin the steps toward lifting ourselves higher in the world, starting from within. Taking care of yourself in the HSP way, instead of the other-80-percent way will transform your life in every moment. You may even start to shed toxic relationships in this stage and build conscious positive connections in friendships and in relationships. You start to value your precious energy and time in this stage, and instead of freely giving it out to everyone that asks, you learn to preserve what you need so you can be your best.
Stage Four: Becoming Whole
In this stage you focus and consciously put your time into the people who make you feel good about yourself, who give you energy, or who you admire, instead of into the people that might feel toxic or take your energy.
When you are in this stage you have been using tools and practicing the right amount of self-care consistently and are starting to feel more whole and more balanced. You’ll see your sleep and health improving, stress levels decreasing, and you’ll be more positive and focused. Your state of mind is stronger, and you feel more in control of your emotions. You are stronger in mind, body, and spirit. You start aligning with your center and honoring what you need. You’ve created boundaries and put them in place, and you are feeling more connected to the people you have consciously chosen to give your energy to. You are closer to being that person you knew you could always be. Your gifts are accessible in this stage. You have so much to offer the world, and in this stage, you are starting to feel like that balanced, whole person you may have always admired.
At this stage, you know your self-care is a priority and cannot be skipped. It is your medicine and your path to wellness. If you skip your self-care, you notice a big difference.
At this stage, because we have developed the right way to take care of ourselves and have a guide for caring for our supercomputer brain, we are more grounded and will notice less challenge with our sensitivities and emotionality. We accept ourselves without judgment and thrive being around people who love and accept us too. We know we need to practice self-compassion and self-love and believe we are worthy before we can truly feel the love and acceptance from others.
There is no perfection in this stage either. Instead, our awareness is used to monitor our needs. If we get knocked off our center, we know how to get back and we actively use tools and techniques that get us balanced again. I’ve noticed that there are three main things that knock us off our center as HSPs: 1) illness, 2) lack of sleep and/or not enough downtime, and 3) a bunch of large stressors occurring all at once. In this stage, we can notice that we might need even more self-care if one or more of these is present. We have been paying attention, so we know when to dial up the downtime, rest, restoration, and self-care as needed by us individually. The way we take care of ourselves is by listening to what our bodies need, not what others around us do or say we should or shouldn’t do. It’s a roadmap developed especially for us and our unique needs.
Stage Five: Empowered
This is the stage to which I hope to get the majority of HSPs who have been using my methods. In this stage, our strong selves are finally accessing those incredible HSP gifts we have been given. We are making a true difference in the world in the work we are called to do, whether that is as an educator, doing holistic medicine research for the sensitive system, improving people’s lives in some way, designing efficient systems, creating better healthcare, advocating for change in laws and the system, creating better work-life balance for the sensitive by changing company policies, creating better work environments that bring out the unique gifts of the sensitive, or bringing more beauty into the world through art, creation, design, innovation, research, and advancements.
If we have more HSPs that are fully empowered, we will be able to effect change in a dramatic way. We will see advancements in education to help empower the sensitive, and companies will use consultants like me to create environments that help HSPs be their best. We will have work-from-home options, hours changed at work to avoid commutes, and office environments that support us to do our best. Our bosses and companies will know our HSP gifts and seek them out because they are valuable. Ultimately, I envision companies even intentionally hiring HSPs because they know about our supercomputer brains and specialized gifts.
In general, when empowered, you are staying centered in a way that removes your barriers and accesses your gifts to help others in the world. The possibilities are endless, but you know you are reducing stress in the world and increasing connection. It’s time that we rise up as empowered HSPs and freely give our gifts to the world. Your mission in this stage is to build strength in others and make the world a better place. You know that you’re special as an HSP with incredible kindness, compassion, gifts, and depth. You have made sensitive a positive word in your world and are part of the mission to make it a positive word in the world.
It’s still important to note there’s no such thing as perfection even in this stage. In this stage, we are continually aware of our growth and our commitment to our centered, aligned, balanced self that honors our needs so that we can be the best version of ourselves in the world. We know how to balance our energy and preserve what we need before giving it away. We are conscious of where our precious energy resources go. We can help others in a more powerful way because we ourselves are stronger. We know how to pick up our bag of tools when we need it. We know how to reach for support when we need it. We know our needs, and we know how to advocate for our needs.
What stage are you in? What are your goals? Whatever state you’re in I hope you find the goal that you’re looking for and the commitment to your wellness you need as an HSP.
I hope the techniques in my book help illuminate your path whether you want more empowerment in your personal life or your professional life, in your relationships, as a parent, or in all areas.
I believe we need more HSPs out thriving in the world. I believe we have an incredibly important group of special and outstanding skills as well as a heightened level of compassion and empathy. I fully believe that helping an HSP thrive and reach their highest potential sets off a positive domino effect in the world. It’s become my mission and passion to show you all the gifts you have with this trait and how to reduce the challenges so you can reach those gifts and soar out into the world. My mission is to help you reach your highest potential in life.
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Julie Bjelland is a psychotherapist, global HSP consultant, and leader in the field of high sensitivity and has helped thousands of highly sensitive people around the world. As an HSP herself, Julie understands what it is like to live with high sensitivity and strong emotions. Julie teaches an online course for HSPs and is the author of several books.
Want to turn your sensitivity into strength as an HSP? Become an empowered highly sensitive person and transform your life. The Empowered Highly Sensitive Person. Get your copy now
Do you struggle with high stress, overwhelming emotions or anxiety? Learn step by step tools and tips that work specifically for the HSP brain, Brain Training for the Highly Sensitive Person. Get your copy now