Originally published in Comfort Zone Newsletter: May 2013
Summer is a time when we frequently have house guests or travel with friends, and some of these will not be HSPs. Here are a few thoughts for dealing with the sticky spots (which can happen with other HSPs as well, of course).
When Friends Visit You
Less is more. Keep the visit short. Maybe two nights and one full day, plus time on the flanking days. If those days are short or involve long travel, add another day. As much as you want to see each other, it’s better to part while still friends. Don’t be afraid to set ever so politely other boundaries, such as saying to someone inclined to visit often, “I look forward to our yearly visits” (making clear that more are not in your plans).
Discuss needs beforehand, as early in the planning as possible. Even if you are an extravert, you will need plenty of down time, alone. Given your sensitivity, being with a friend often means having deep conversations, especially if you are both HSPs, so that you may need even more time to process and unwind. Speak up at the time you invite someone to visit about the times when you will be working, resting, meditating, taking a walk alone, exercising, etcetera.
That is, have a talk in which you find out about each other’s special needs. Does your friend have a special diet, things she wants to be sure to do in your area, a desire for a certain type of exercise such as a gym? Does she have trouble sleeping? Like to get up very early or very late? Then you can state your needs and preferences too–your customary hour of quiet before dinner or before bed, for example. Then you can plan for each other’s desires. For example, if she’s a shopper, you can meditate at home while she shops.
Don’t be afraid to ask your non-HSP guests to help out, even if when you visit them they do everything for you. By now they probably know you need more down time and would rather see more of you than have you running around on errands or straightening up.
Watch your emotions. You tend to have strong emotional reactions, both positive and negative. It may feel so good at first to be together that you may practically think you’d like this person to move in with you or travel with you. With some people you can say, “I feel so good with you today that it makes me think I would like…” But others hear even less than that as a promise, so wait to voice future hopes and plans until after the visit.
Notice when you are getting irritated. This means you need to take some time to yourself. Most likely, you will get some perspective. If the feeling doesn’t go away and is about something specific, consider talking it over. If that seems out of the question, since you hopefully have planned a short visit, you can get through it. But remember what happened before you invite this person again.
When You Travel with Friends
For an HSP there are many advantages to traveling with a friend. Two or more people create a kind of emotional buffer. You pay much less attention to what the waiter, the conductor, the locals, or anyone else thinks of you. You are more likely to laugh, feel comforted, and have all the other good social emotions.
If you are with a non-HSP, he or she may enjoy doing the travel “chores” that are hardest for you, like making decisions. Even though you make better decisions, on average it’s harder for you because you can see all sides and you don’t like the uncertainty, and travel includes a great deal of that. Will you like that town, hotel, or whatever? Not knowing because it’s all new is part of why you are going. So narrow it down to three that seem okay and let the non-HSP decide. (Then, if you are like me, you suddenly do know what you would choose!)
Much of the same advice for having guests at your house applies here.
Don’t make it a long trip together. Of course you want a full vacation, so perhaps plan to take a few days alone at the end for unwinding so that you can look forward to that when you are feeling over stimulated. Or rent a vacation rental for part of the time, so that there’s a home base from which people can go out or stay in according to their needs and interests rather than everyone doing the same thing.
Even if you are an extravert, consider carefully before you travel with more than one friend. It’s very over stimulating trying to just keep everyone together or meet up at the same time. Leadership and power issues are likely to emerge, even if subtly. When you take down time, the others may spend time together and bond, making you feel a little left out even if you chose to stay behind. Being upset by social stuff like resentment about who’s making choices or a sense of being rejected can ruin an entire trip.
Discuss needs well beforehand, keeping up a friendly, excited feeling rather than a tone expecting trouble. Get in your needs early on, so that later on you do not stay quiet because you can see that what you need conflicts with what others have already said they want. Just because they want to see the leaning tower of Pisa and you want to be sure you get enough sleep does not make your desire less important. Here are some simple statements–notice you do not need to explain why:
- “I want to spend the extra money to have my own room.”
- “I go to bed at 9:30.” (That is, you go to your room then, even if you don’t plan to shut off the lights until later.)
- “I like to meditate (nap, rest) before dinner for an hour, if we can possibly fit that into the schedule. I can even do it in the car sometimes while you walk around seeing the sights.”
- “I plan to take a brisk walk after breakfast–I’ll be leaving at eight and back at eight forty. Then we can leave at nine. Want to join me?”
- “I prefer to eat a smaller dinner. Can we sometimes make lunch our big meal?”
Of course you will compromise and be reasonable, but also do speak up for what you want.
Invite an HSP along. Then your needs won’t seem so unusual.
If you fall silent during conversations and then feel nervous about what others may think about your being quiet, explain yourself. People can project all kinds of things onto a silent person. Mention that you are not feeling shy or disinterested, not pouting about not getting your way or brooding over some slight (if you are not). Maybe you are just enjoying being quiet. Or maybe you find it hard to talk and also enjoy the scenery, but you enjoy listening. Or maybe sometimes you are like me and find that conversations move too fast, so that you are thinking about what they were talking about while they are onto another topic.
If you get bored by non-HSP chitchat, think ahead of time about what YOU would like to discuss and bring up these topics. It is harder to think of these once you are with others. The Undervalued Self has quite a bit on deepening conversations.
That book also deals with what to do when a friend gets into a complex, and even more important, what to do when you are then triggered and things get tense. Suddenly, you are definitely not friends at all. It’s easy to have happen at some point on a trip, and in my experience, an intimate, joyous, long-term, traveling-together relationship absolutely requires solid psychological skills.