How to Collaborate with People You Don’t Like

Difficult co-worker? That never happens, right? We highly sensitive people are often deeply affected by a negative co-worker or a negative (at least what we perceive as negative) experience. We have all made the mistake of protecting ourselves by walling the other person off entirely. At work, that can be disastrous as we need our co-workers to accomplish goals, outcomes, and initiatives. The following article has some good tips on using empathy to relate to the “difficult” co-worker by engagement and an open assessing of each other’s strengths.

No, you do not have to be friends with every person you work with but you do need most of them and a few are critical to your long-term success and happiness. Learn to collaborate with those you do not like; sometimes we simply do not have a full context to situate the other person’s behaviors. Learn that context and how they operate and you will find points for collaboration and perhaps even an appreciation for ways they complement your own quiet strength.

Have you ever worked through a situation with a difficult co-worker? If so, how did you break through your initial impressions? Has it worked out long-term?

Please share!

Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career
Thrill: The High Sensation Seeking Highly Sensitive Person


A few months ago, a former client — let’s call her Kacie— called me to check in. I had supported her through her transition when she had joined a prestigious global financial services firm several months prior. Given how deliberately and thoughtfully she’d gone through the process, I expected that our conversation would be about her early wins.

Instead, Kacie confessed that she had a simple but serious problem: she wasn’t getting along well with a peer-level executive — let’s call her Marta. The two had gotten off on the wrong foot, and as time passed things weren’t getting any better. Kacie told me that it was becoming painfully clear that her inability to get along with Marta was going to impede her success, and possibly derail her career at the company.

As Kacie and I explored the situation, she told me that Marta was seen as a highly talented, accomplished, and well-liked executive — she wasn’t toxic or difficult. But Kacie admitted that she didn’t really like Marta. They had different styles, and Marta rubbed her the wrong way.

Over a series of conversations, Kacie and I worked through the situation. She revisited the stakeholder map she had created in her first few weeks in the role, which clearly showed that Marta’s collaboration and partnership were essential for getting the business results Kacie wanted. In assessing the relationship more honestly, Kacie came to realize that she had been failing to reach out to Marta. She had not made her new colleague feel like her input and perspectives were valuable, had been leaving her and her team off communications, and had more or less been trying to avoid her.

Kacie developed a handful of useful strategies for working better with Marta. While none were particularly easy or comfortable, these are ideas and insights that almost anyone can use when they have to work with someone they just don’t like.

Reflect on the cause of tension and how you are responding to it. The first step is both acceptance and reflection. Remind yourself: You won’t get along with everyone but there is potential value in every interaction with others. You can and should learn from almost everyone you meet, and the responsibility for making that happen lies with you even if the relationship is not an easy one. Take an honest look at what is causing the tension and what role you play in creating it. It may be that your reaction to the situation is at the core of the problem (and you can’t control anything other than your reaction). Kacie had to recognize that Marta’s “unlikability” may really have been about Kacie herself.

Work harder to understand the other person’s perspective. Few people get out of bed in the morning with the goal of making your life miserable. Make time to think deliberately about the other person’s point of view, especially if that person is essential to your success. Ask yourself: Why is this person acting this way? What might be motivating them? How do they see me? What might they want and need from me? Kacie began to think differently about Marta as she came to appreciate that her colleague had goals and motivations as valid as her own and that their goals were not inherently in conflict.

Become a problem solver rather than a critic or competitor. To work better together, it’s important to shift from a competitive stance to a collaborative one. One tactic is to “give” the other person the problem. Rather than trying to work through or around the other person, engage them directly. Kacie invited Marta out to lunch and was open with her: “I don’t feel like we are working together as effectively as we could. What do you think? Do you have any ideas for how we can work better together?” If you ask people to show you their cards, and demonstrate vulnerability in the process, they will often reveal a few of their own.

You and Your Team Series

Office Politics

Ask more questions. In tense situations, many of us try to “tell” our way through it. We might become overly assertive, which usually makes the situation worse. Instead, try asking questions — ideally open-ended ones intended to create conversation. Put aside your own agenda, ask good questions, and have the patience to truly listen to the other person’s answers.

Enhance your awareness of your interpersonal style. It’s easy to chalk up conflicts to poor “chemistry” with another person but everyone has different styles and often being aware of those differences can help. Over lunch, Marta and Kacie discovered that they had both completed the Myers-Briggs earlier in their careers, so they shared their profiles. Kacie is both a clear introvert and a very strong sensing type: she prefers to have time to work through issues alone and quietly, and to draw conclusions from a broad base of data. Marta, on the other hand, is an extrovert and a strong intuitive type, comfortable reacting immediately, focusing on the big picture, and solving problems by talking them through with others. Given these differences in style and preference, Kacie and Marta were bound to find interacting with each other uncomfortable. But once they identified their differences, they realized that their styles could be quite complementary if they adapted and accommodated their approaches.

Ask for help. Asking for help can reboot a difficult relationship because it shows that you value the other person’s intelligence and experience. Over their lunch, Kacie grew confident enough to say to Marta, “You’ve been around here longer than I have. I feel like I’m starting to figure things out, but I’d love your help.” Then she asked questions like: “What should I be doing more or less of? Am I missing anything or failing to connect with anyone I really should? What do you wish someone had told you when you first started working here?”

Kacie and Marta’s relationship significantly improved. During my last call with Kacie, she told me that she and Marta communicate frequently in-person and via text and Slack, and they regularly take part in each other’s team meetings. Each quarter they bring their whole teams together to assess progress and seek opportunities to learn and improve their processes. While Marta and Kacie aren’t necessarily friends and don’t spend a lot of time together outside the office, they’re much better colleagues, and they like each other more than they initially suspected.

Kacie’s success in turning around her relationship with Marta was in part because she acted while “the cement was still wet.” Her negative dynamic with Marta hadn’t yet hardened so Kacie was able to increase her self-awareness, adapt her style, and reach out. It is possible to collaborate effectively with people you don’t like, but you have to take the lead.

Mark Nevins is the president of Nevins Consulting and advises and consults senior executives and their teams on leadership, change, and organization effectiveness. He and John Hillen are co-authors of What Happens Now: Reinvent Yourself as a Leader Before Your Business Outruns You (Select Books, 2018)

New Edition of Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career?

Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career has been out since 2015 and I have been considering how to revise it for a new edition in 2019. Cover ThriveThrive was conceived as a broad overview of the many issues we highly sensitive people encounter in the workplace along with telling the stories of HSPs that I interviewed for the study.

I thought it might be useful to you if I presented a different angle on career. For example, it seems that the contact worker/gig economy is becoming a new normal with most people in the workforce having to become entrepreneurial, whether they wish to or not. Though I discussed self-employment and entrepreneurship in Thrive, I could dig much deeper into that aspect of career for a new version of the book. I could also present other views of career, such as more on trade work, acknowledging what is becoming a keen shortage of workers in the trades (many of which would probably work well for many HSPs).

I am open to input from you and want to ask you what you would like for me to write about in a NEW edition of Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career?

Please share far and wide so we get good input!
Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career
Thrill: The High Sensation Seeking Highly Sensitive Person

New Research on Sensory Processing Sensitivity

Check out the latest research on Sensory Processing Sensitivity written in an easy to understand way by Dr. Elaine Aron (originator of the trait). What do you think of the Orchid, Tulip, Dandelion analogy? How about the new percentage of highly sensitive people at 30%? It’s a scale, of course, with people at varying levels of highly sensitive but each new bit of research adds to what we already know and does so in a careful, scientific way using rational thought processes. It is important in these crazy times that we be able to trust what is presented as factual information. This is factual information…

Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career
Thrill: The High Sensation Seeking Highly Sensitive Person

Basics of Highly Sensitive People

From an interview earlier this year with Planet Mindful:

What is a Highly Sensitive Person?

People who identify as highly sensitive have the naturally occurring personality trait Sensory Processing Sensitivity.  Sensory Processing Sensitivity is present in at least 100 other species, is evenly distributed between males and females, and present in about 15-20% of the overall population.  SPS was first identified as a distinct personality trait by clinical psychologist Elaine Aron in 1996, further researched in the intervening 22 years by Aron and other researchers around the world and is the subject of the 2015 documentary film Sensitive-The Untold Story.

Sensory Processing Sensitivity may best be encapsulated as the following four key aspects:

Depth of processing of all stimulation.  Highly sensitive people (or HSPs) process everything they see, hear, smell, feel in a more elaborate way in their brains.  All personality traits serve the purposes of survival and reproduction in the ancestral time in which they evolved and SPS likely allowed those who thought more deeply about events, sensory stimulation, and people a slight advantage that likely translated to better survivability for their respective groups.  HSPs may be very deep-minded individuals who spend a good deal of time in self-reflection and considering the what-ifs of a given situation.  This propensity makes HSPs potentially very good planners, leaders, and counselors.

Overstimulation in certain highly individualized circumstances.  HSPs may feel overwhelmed by certain smells, lighting conditions, fluctuations of temperature, scratchy fabrics, certain types of noises, and strong interpersonal energetic interactions.  SPS works by the triggering of strong emotions leading to the depth of processing previously noted.  HSPs experience these emotions as particularly intense and may find it difficult to remain in overstimulating circumstances.  They often prefer to “get away” and recharge in quiet.  It is vitally important to note that HSPs are not a homogenous group.  Indeed, what bothers one HSP might not even register with another.  The sources of overstimulation for HSPs vary tremendously from person to person with males sometimes experiencing little to no overstimulation from sensory sources, but possibly from emotional sources.

Emotional responsiveness and High empathy.  Highly sensitive people have a broader possible range of emotional expression than in those without the trait.  A person without the trait may feel happy at, say, a child’s graduation, while an HSP may feel happy, sad, anxious, scared, confident, and ecstatic all at the same time.  This is not to say that HSPs are fragile, weak, hysterical, or emotionally unstable but they do have a broader possible range of emotional reactions.  Intertwined with this emotional responsivity is generally higher empathy.  HSPs may be good at identifying with the reality of other people more readily than in those without the trait.  Being able to step into another person’s shoes and see the world (or a given situation) from their viewpoint, without judgement, means HSPs may be very good at “reading” people.

Sensitivity to subtle stimuli.  Highly sensitive people notice visual information more acutely, pick up on subtle smells or sounds more readily than those without the trait, and generally are more sensitive to a range of subtleties than in others.  This keen sensitivity may make them very good at planning, developing alternatives, or noting details.

There is another personality trait about 30% of HSPs have; it’s known as Sensation Seeking.  Sensation seekers may identify with any of the four aspects below:

Thrill and Adventure Seeking – seeking physical thrills (roller coasters, rock climbing, fast cars, etc).

Novelty and Experience Seeking – seeking new experiences that provide a similar rush of dopamine in the pleasure pathway of the brain.  This may be going to new museums, new countries (or places one does not know) and doing new things for the sake of doing them.

Disinhibition – indulging in hedonistic experiences for the fun of it: parties, differing sexual partners, experimenting with drugs, going outside normal behavioral parameters for the thrill of doing it.

Boredom Susceptibility – propensity to become disinterested, lethargic or unmotivated at repetitious or uninteresting activities.

Being both highly sensitive and a high sensation seeker is quite a push-pull dynamic between the more cautious approach of the sensitive and the bolder approach of the sensation seeker.  Often, the sensation seeking side wins out and overwhelms the sensitive side resulting in exhaustion.  It is extremely important for sensitive sensation seekers to know themselves well and strike a balance between the two traits.  Sensation seeking is a naturally occurring personality trait (just like SPS) with several identified genes controlling its expression in the brain.  Being a sensitive sensation seeker, if one can strike an appropriate balance, may be the best of both worlds.

Are the brains of HS people different to other people’s?

There has been research conducted utilizing fMRI brain scans administered to highly sensitive people while they attended to various tasks.  The same scans were made of the brains of people without the trait and the results show that there is greater activation for HSPs in certain areas of the brain related to visual processing (specifically there is more activation in making fine visual distinctions in a scene), emotions, emotion processing and emotional memories.  There is evidence of sensory processing in the secondary visual system and the inputs to the autonomic nervous system/emotional responses being moderated by SPS.  HSPs exhibit greater neural response to happy and sad states of others especially in the insula and mirror neuron areas and show greater neural response to positive and negative images.  One study conducted to determine whether culture moderates brain response to basic sensory information showed that HSPs tend to ignore cultural biases in processing information.  The brains of HSPs work in a slightly different way with regards to the way they process stimulation of all kinds in a more elaborate way.

If someone if HS, what can they do to ensure they are not overwhelmed by their environment? (For example, noise, bright lights).

First, they will undoubtedly encounter overwhelming environmental stimulation from time to time and it is important to take steps to minimize the effects of overstimulation where possible.  It is important for HSPs to speak up and ask for less light, adjustments to temperature, or for distracting noises to stop.  In some cases, an HSP simply needs to take matters into their own hands and get up and move; if in a noisy restaurant or other public place where this is possible.  Where it is not possible, it’s important for the person to know they may need additional downtime to recharge after a particularly overstimulating event.  Developing and maintaining a rigorous self-care practice is key to managing overwhelm in our modern world.

There are many small ways we can manage overstimulation (or unwanted or unpleasant stimulation), such as using earphones or a headset to listen to something more pleasing, or simply to block out the noise to a comfortable degree.  One may also intentionally search out quiet spots to sit or bring along aromatherapy oils like lavender or eucalyptus for a quick sniff of comfort.  Similarly, it is important for HSPs to spend time in nature and recharge in the best ways that work for them.  As for all people, it is advisable to eat a healthy diet (though there is no one best way to eat or diet that is specific to HSPs), hydrate with enough liquids, and self-monitor and self-correct our thinking and emotions.

There are some big misconceptions about HSPs that we should bear in mind:

  • That HSPs are somehow weak or fragile in overstimulating conditions. Overwhelm may be a momentary reaction but most HSPs become quite skilled at avoiding overstimulation when possible and mitigating its effects otherwise.  Many very successful people through history and in today’s world are, in fact, highly sensitive people.  HSPs will not break if they are overstimulated; they may become irritated or frustrated, even tearful or angry but they will likely recover quickly and come back better prepared.  It’s when HSPs encounter unplanned for overstimulation that it becomes a problem.  HSPs may enjoy concerts, fireworks shows, or any of a host of other stimulating events just like anyone else, if they expect the stimulation.
  • All HSPs are alike. This is absolutely not true, and we should resist the all too human tendency to homogenize a group of over one billion people thereby negating their infinite and beautiful variation of individual expression.  HSPs, just like anyone in the human species, may be a joy to know or a misery.  It all depends on the things that have happened to a given person and the individual choices she has made.  Much also depends on the early environment of the HSP with abusive, traumatic, or neglectful environments being especially bad and positive, supporting, and nurturing environments being especially good.  Aron has stated that it all depends on the psychological complexes we may have formed as a result of early environments and the lingering hold those may play in our subsequent behaviors.
  • Being an HSP does not mean being easily offended. SPS works by the activation of strong, quick emotions triggering more elaborate processing in the brains of HSPs.  While HSPs may intuitively feel whether something or someone is positive or negative, taking offense is optional.  Many HSPs are wonderful people you probably already share time with in your family, at your workplace, and in your social groups (most probably do not know they are HSPs).

Are there any challenges associated with being HS? (Are they at risk of being anxious or depressed – and if so, why?

There are many challenges associated with being a person that is highly complex, deeply intuitive, innately creative, and intensely emotional but the most prominent factor that affects how HSPs experience life is the culture they are born into.  Many cultures around the globe have become increasingly western in attitude and orientation with norms and expectations of behavior shifting toward extreme extraversion, constant stimulation, and superficial thought and actions.  To be a sensitive person in such cultures is to be out of place, to some extent, but also to be faced with having to work harder at maintaining balance within ourselves (a calm core) where we can retreat to when necessary and find stillness and calm.  Calm may not exist in the world, but it can exist inside of us if we care enough to work on developing the aspects of ourselves that will lead us to a still center.

Highly sensitive people, due to their nature as deep-thinking, intensely emotional, and intuitive individuals may be predisposed to spend more time than may be warranted focusing and reflecting on negative events that happen as they replay interpersonal interactions on an endless loop in their minds searching for clarity.  Often the focus is unnecessary and counterproductive and may lead to needless anxiety, worry, and depression, in some cases.  Simply being a highly sensitive person does not make one a depressed person; spending too much time focusing on minute details of every interaction, however, might.

Many people experience challenges in finding the “right” career but HSPs may face exceptional difficulties in finding work that is meaningful, allows for autonomy, and provides interpersonal and environmental conditions that are tolerable.  According to one large survey I conducted in 2014 many HSPs opt for careers in what may be described as the “helping professions,” i.e. education, healthcare, human services.  Many more are in the creative arts, business management, information technology, marketing and sales, and STEM fields.  Some of these might seem incongruous but it is a manifestation of the wonderful variety inherent in highly sensitive people.

Highly sensitive people may experience challenges with relationship issues like finding a long-term partner who is kind and understanding of greater need for downtime or alone time; need to plan things carefully to alleviate anxieties; and need to feel secure.  There isn’t a specific partner type we can point to as being most appropriate for HSPs because people vary so much at different times of life and may make poor choices no matter how great they seem in the short-term.  The best partner for an HSP is one who is open, kind, calm, and loving but finding the right partner may take a lifetime or happen right away.  Friendships are a similarly tricky issue for many HSPs as close relationships go through life cycles; it is vitally important, however, to have at least one close friend in whom HSPs can trust and relate to.  Socially, it is very helpful for HSPs to be around other HSPs, so they can 1) know they are not alone, and 2) find kinship with others who are similarly deep-thinking, deep feeling, intensely emotional and creative people.  Highly sensitive people can experience fulfilling and rewarding relationships with others just like anyone else.

The beauty in being highly sensitive is being able to inhabit both ends of any spectrum.  An HSP might be logical and creative, focused and unfocused, dedicated yet value autonomy quite fiercely.  An HSP might also be one dimensional and quite unlike a highly sensitive person at all, especially men, who are conditioned from a young age to hide sensitivity or feel shame for their intense feelings, thoughts and emotions.  One study found that HSPs do not subscribe to cultural notions of acceptable and unacceptable behaviors, thoughts, and values but culture is all around us all of the time and undoubtedly is a source of annoyance when it is not inclusive of other personality types except the dominant paradigm.   HSPs represent a slightly different survival strategy for humans but, in the end, are not so very different.  It is important for HSPs to learn about Sensory Processing Sensitivity, make adjustments to their lives, and meet other HSPs but then move on with the ever-present business of living their lives as best as they can.

Tracy Cooper, Ph.D. is a researcher exploring and investigating Sensory Processing Sensitivity and Sensation Seeking.  He has written two books on highly sensitive people: Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career and Thrill: The High Sensation Seeking Highly Sensitive Person.  Dr. Cooper is a Program Chairman for a Master of Liberal Arts degree at Baker University.  He provides consulting services on a one on one basis on the topics of HSPs and career, the high sensation seeking highly sensitive person, and self-care though his website at

Highly Sensitive People and Emotional Reactivity

Do highly sensitive people who come from supportive childhoods respond differently to positive stimuli than those from unsupportive backgrounds? A research study published in 2016 in the journal Social Behavior and Personality seems to indicate the answer is yes. HSPs who experienced supportive childhoods do respond more quickly and to a more profound degree than do those from unsupportive backgrounds. How is this news?

What’s interesting about this study is that even HSPs who were rated low in Sensory Processing Sensitivity (the underlying personality trait or temperament highly sensitive people have) also responded more quickly and to a greater degree of arousal than those from unsupportive backgrounds. Whether you are at the high end or the low end of high sensitivity your parenting and early experiences color how quickly and how deeply you respond to positive stimuli. Reflecting on this finding, it seems to make sense that HSPs from unsupportive backgrounds, where people become conditioned to “expect the worst,” are indeed looking for the worst and even if the best did happen right in front of their eyes they might not even notice! Now, what’s the difference between emotional reactivity, which is what this article measured, and emotional responsiveness, which is a key aspect of Sensory Processing Sensitivity?

Emotional reactivity is exactly that: reactivity to stimuli, while emotional responsiveness represents the range of possible emotions we might experience in a given circumstance. Highly sensitive people, according to Dr. Elaine Aron, really do need to identify as being emotionally responsive in order to be considered highly sensitive. Emotional responsiveness does not necessarily mean we freak out every time something happens, mostly because things happen all the time in life and there isn’t patience for emotional instability (or what people might of external expressions as instability) in daily life. We learn to not express our often strong emotions in an external way; especially men.

Men who are highly sensitive (and there are supposedly as many men who are highly sensitive as women) learn quickly in hegemonic cultures, where masculinity is toxic, to be stoic, unemotional, to be “in charge” of emotions and never express them in an external way, unless it’s anger then that’s approved (ironically). Men, however, suffer as a result of experiencing the same range of emotions (responsiveness) but face negative social sanctions in general for expressing them. Not surprisingly, men also die sooner than do females; stress plays a huge role.

If we are to learn anything from research, and I do believe it is crucial that we base all of our thinking on well-done, peer-reviewed research in order to preserve accuracy, clarity, and rigor, we must extend the findings of studies such as the one I will link to below. Knowing that we come from a supportive or unsupportive background is key to understanding how we are wired to function in the world. For HSPs from supportive backgrounds, for instance, it might be wise to understand that they will respond more quickly to positive stimuli and to a greater degree, but what about negative stimuli? Will they overlook it and if so how might that be a problem?

Similarly for HSPs from unsupportive backgrounds where they experienced trauma, conflict in the home, abuse, neglect, derision; how will not responding to positive stimuli as quickly be a potential problem? Again, would we even notice when things are going well when we are geared to note the negative? Can we train ourselves to pay more attention to positive stimuli and to feel more arousal by it? My feeling is yes, we can train ourselves to move beyond our unsupportive backgrounds to ones where we too respond to positive stimuli and I feel it is essential to do so because to continually engage in catastrophizing is stressful and unhealthy, though it may have served the purpose of alerting us to potential dangers and having action plans in place.

This all being said, it is important to note that human behavior is plastic and changeable. No two HSPs are alike and no one can predict human behavior reliably because any of us are capable of anything at any given time. The task for HSPs, whether you experienced a supportive or unsupportive background, is to broaden our emotional responsiveness to encompass both positive AND negative stimuli. Do you find yourself always noting just the positive? Work on better relating to the negative implications because there is much to be learned in knowing both. Find yourself noting only the negative? Work on identifying the positive aspects (there are almost always ways to find positivity) and shifting your perceptions.

What have been your experiences with noting the positives and negatives in relation to the background you experienced?
Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career
Thrill: The High Sensation Seeking Highly Sensitive Person

Relationship Between the Temperament Trait of Sensory Processing Sensitivity and Emotional Reactivity
Authors: Jagiellowicz, Jadzia; Aron, Arthur; Aron, Elaine N.
Journal: Scientific Journal Publishers

It’s Time We Talked About Your Diet!

Can diet help with anxiety and depression? Absolutely!
You know by now that I am a big advocate for self-care for highly sensitive people but you may not know that I have been moving (personally) toward a different way of eating for years now. This year my yearly checkup showed bloodwork indicating my cholesterol levels were fine but my triglycerides were way elevated (this has been the norm for years) but since I was able to see a difference in my overall cholesterol decreasing I thought that I must be doing some things right (I made some changes last year; namely, reduced intake of grains and sugars). This year (essentially the last two months) I have switched to the Ketogenic way of eating. Before you say “fad!” and tune me out please understand that I don’t do fads nor do I do things lightly.

Since starting a Keto way of eating, which is basically high fat, very low carbs, moderate protein, and no sugars or grains, I have:

-lost 14 pounds (no changes otherwise in lifestyle otherwise)

-experienced better cardiovascular functioning

-much-improved sleep

-less inflammation in my body overall

As we know, getting quality sleep is essential to good mental health. I now sleep much deeper and for a longer period each night before waking to roll over. Before, I was tossing and turning often and never entering really deep sleep; sleeping more deeply and entering such states more easily is a major benefit and HUGE for anyone with depression and/or anxiety.

The other huge change has been in reduced inflammation throughout my body as I ceased consuming sugars and grains. I NEVER would have thought there would be such a pronounced change by just altering the way I eat! I feel as if I have been moving toward a Keto way of eating for years without particularly being aware of it as I cut down on sugars, limited bread consumption, and was more careful about foods but now, by being very explicit about what I’m doing and having seen immediate benefits from it, I am convinced and plan to continue long-term.

Ironically, there is not much that’s special that you need to do to embrace a Keto way of eating. Just change what you eat to some degree (depending on your current diet) and start watching the ingredients in everything you buy. That part is harder but worth the effort to avoid the many hidden sugars and junk added to our food (it’s disheartening how many susbtances that act just like sugar in the body are snuck in on us).

I have nothing to sell you my fellow HSPs, but I do desire that you be well and live as well as you can. The video below by Dr. Berry is a great introduction to the Ketogenic diet (or way of eating). His short videos are great because he bases his comments largely on his empirical experiences and on research (especially metastudies, which, as we know, are studies of studies). Be mindful of other speakers out there espousing views that diverge from the research or that ask you to buy something they happen to produce and sell. Dr. Berry is a medical doctor in family practice in Tennessee seeing patients on a daily basis.

For those of us who experience depression and anxiety, I feel that addressing our diet in a serious way is essential to calming the body and mind.  Isn’t it time as grown adults that we put away the childish food choices that are slowly killing us and exacerbating our depression and anxiety?  To be an adult implies that we make adult choices; no choice could be more important than our health because it is so initmately intertwined with our functioning in the world.

If you need to make changes in your diet I heartily recommend the Ketogenic diet (or way of eating because it is simply the way humans are suited to eat).  Plant based diets may also be workable for those who are opposed to the consumption of meat or dairy.  Whatever you do, consider giving up the highly processed foods, the sugars, the grains, and the carbohydrates and see if it makes a difference in how you feel and experience this life.

Please feel free to share in your social media circles.

(link to basics of Ketogenic Diet presented by Dr. Ken Berry)


Dr. Tracy Cooper is the author of Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career and Thrill: The High Sensation Seeking Highly Sensitive Person.  Dr. Cooper provides one on one consulting to HSPs in career crisis or transition through his website at

Follow Your Passion?

I have always felt that saying to people “find your passion” was a bit off in the sense that it seemed to disallow and devalue the exploration process, which I consider essential to real personal growth and development. For we highly sensitive people (and especially those of us who are high sensation seeking highly sensitive people) we tend to move from “fascination” to “fascination.” By fascination I mean we find a topic that really catches our eye then we spend days, weeks, or months utterly absorbed in learning every little detail we possibly can about that topic; then we move on. It’s a bit maddening at times but by learning across a wide variety of domains we acquire intimate knowledge that makes us more well-rounded than the average bear!

What do we do when our passion is not singular; as in what if our passion IS curiosity itself? That might seem wildly impractical because we live in a society that prizes productivity and abhors real creativity (or at least they fear it because it contains uncertainties) but curiosity is the root of creativity, innovation, and the progress of humankind. Without those of us who have found curiosity to be our passion, our world would be much less rich in art, music, inventions, ideas, and concepts. Without curious people who are unafraid to dwell in the liminal spaces “between and betwixt” things new research could not occur, nor could we progress as a species.

This is not to say that there aren’t those seemingly born knowing what they want to do with their lives but far more are likely to find their way over time and through activities like intellectual and creative risk-taking, openness to new experiences, and a willingness to transform and be transformed by our experiences.

I suggest we stop saying to people “find your passion” instead we should say “be passionate in your curiosity and learn many things!”

Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career
Thrill: The High Sensation Seeking Highly Sensitive Person

Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career is a book I wrote in 2015 to provide all highly sensitive people with a broad look at the all critical Cover Thriveissue of career.  We already know what it means to be a highly sensitive person if we look at the four key aspects, as identified by clinical psychologist and researcher, Dr. Elaine AronDr. Elaine Aron:

Depth of processing of all experience and stimulation – we process everything that happens in a more elaborate way in our minds.

Overstimulation to certain, highly individualized types of stimulation – some HSPs feel overstimulated/irritated by certain noises, smells, types of fabrics, social situations.  It is crucial here to note that we must refrain from homogenizing all HSPs as one group.  What bothers one may not register with another as an issue.  Some HSPs have largely learned to ignore overstimulation in fact.

Emotional responsiveness and High empathy – highly sensitive people have a broader possible range of emotional expression than in those without the trait.  This more expansive range is akin to looking at a rainbow after a storm where we typically see red, blue, green, yellow, maybe some violet; with HSPs the colors of our emotional range include every variation in between: red-violet, blue-violet, yellow, orange, red-orange, etc. Because of this greater possible range of emotions, we typically spend much more time processing those emotions, which are often intense emotions meaning we also spend a goo deal of time in self-care and boundary setting/monitoring to avoid overstimulation.  Highly sensitive people are also typically high in empathy, meaning we may readily enter the experiences of other people and see the world from their viewpoints.  Again, it is essential to not lump all HSPs together as a supremely empathetic group of saints and healers; there are HSPs who may be quite dysfunctional, angry, violent, and manipulative.  By acknowledging that we HSPs comprise a cross-section of vastly differing types of people we allow for that diversity to exist and resist the all too human urge/need to group what we perceive as like things together, when, in fact, they are only somewhat alike.

Sensitivity to subtleties – highly sensitive people tend to pick up on subtle details others overlook or miss entirely.  One study found that those with Sensory Processing Sensitivity spent more time studying visual scenes when asked to examine photos.  We are also, obviously, more sensitive to smells, sounds, and energetic forces around us.  However, this does not mean HSPs have “super” anything; we simply process the stimulation of a subtle smell more elaborately and with greater emotional activation.  Historically, this may have had great benefit; simply imagine being able to pick up on a slight foul odor from food a group was about to eat, or a slight rustle in the leaves could have indicated a predator about (four and two legged).  Sensory Processing Sensitivity is a personality trait (like all traits) that developed as a result of a need for such a trait in survival circumstances.

A trait need not have provided a vast advantage to remain in the genome; simply a slight advantage in terms of survival and reproduction would have worked well enough to cause it to pass down in the population.  On average, if SPS provided a survival advantage it simply continued.  The process of natural selection, in its sieving process, would have retained SPS as a useful trait.  SPS is till around today (in fact, Sensory Processing Sensitivity has been with us for perhaps a million years or more) because we still face dangers of all types and SPS still provides that advantage, though now its utility to groups is less evident since our society is so highly individualized and dominated by a preference for extreme extraversion.  Those who are capable of thinking more deeply; who are creative (capable of generating alternatives, options, and divergent possibilities and directions); and who are meticulous in planning and execution are, ironically, less valued, in many circumstances than they perhaps should be.  This situation is no more evident than in the workplace, where we spend such a great deal of our time, energy, and life force.

The titanic task of evaluating and explicating the modern workplace and how highly sensitive people experience it was the focus of the study underpinning Thrive.  Through following strict research protocols and semi-structured interviews, I was able to glean the experiences of a sample of our population.  When conducting interviews there is a point that arises where the people being interviewed begin to repeat themselves.  Once the point happens (and this line is different in every study) where they are basically saying similar things the researcher knows he has reached a saturation point.  That number was 35 in this particular study.  Some people less familiar with the way scientific research is conducted might say,” why not interview 500 people?”  That’s not how research is done; at some point we have our representative sample, and typically a wealth of information to work with, and must move on to analysis and interpretation.  Thrive, however, goes farther than one study; it also contains the results of a large survey given to HSPs numbering over 1,500 people.  In that survey, people were asked questions derived from the interviews to better understand if what I had been told in the interviews applied across a wider range of random HSPs.  I also took the opportunity to have HSPs take a sensation seeking questionnaire to determine how many high sensation seekers were in the group of survey-takers.  This was of special interest (and could have skewed the results) if a disproportionate number of high sensation seekers were also the survey-takers.  As it turns out, the number was about roughly the same as was previously surmised (about one third).

Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and CareerThrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career examines the issue of work and career from many angles (as you might expect being written by an HSP).  Perhaps that is what separates Thrive from other books and articles written on the topic of career; it is a book written for HSPs by an HSP.  My experiences with career and the workplace have been varied and always deeply impacted by my sensitivity.  My journey to find greater meaning in a career, greater autonomy, working conditions that are conducive to allowing me to function at my best, and work that meshed with my need to be a servant-leader all propelled the writing of Thrive.

You might expect such a book to be filled with ultimate answers to your dilemma regarding career but, in truth, the best any researcher or author can hope for is to shine the light of illumination on the subject, thereby enabling you to forge ahead on your unique path.  I do not know what the best answer is for your career issues because each of us is quite different.  If I were to talk with you for an hour and learn about your life, goals, and passions, I would have a good idea about specific recommendations but not knowing that information authors must write in certain general terms and trust that deep-thinking HSPs will reflect on the information presented in service to their current situations.  I do provide one on one consulting to HSPs regarding career, and regarding the high sensation seeking highly sensitive person ( but Thrive is a very good broad-based survey of the topic of HSPs and career that anyone seriously interested in understanding the myriad of issues HSPs face with regards to career will find useful and informative.

Thrive is something else too: it is flexible and will be updated about every five years to address the changing economy and workforce.  Thrive is a commitment by me to continue learning, studying, and researching so I can bring you the best possible advice for that time period.  Unlike traditional books by traditional publishers where books are written for sensational value (to get you to buy a lot of copies in a short time) Thrive is fully integrated with a number of print on demand platforms where copies are only produced as customers buy them.  In this way, I am not out to sell a million copies all at once; I can patiently allow Thrive to make its way throughout the HSP communities on social media and otherwise through word of mouth.

One buys a book of this nature, and with the long-term vision of its author, because it will be a valuable asset to an overall library of material related to Sensory Processing Sensitivity.  As lifelong learners (and I very much believe that is what we HSPs best embody), we will have many books on our bookshelves.  Few are the type of sensationalism, poor science, or outright “fluff” that fill too many books aimed at HSPs.  Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career is one book you will read and reread over the years as you reflect on the narratives presented, the scientific data, and the opportunities for greater self-awareness and action in the world contained in its covers.

Tracy Cooper, Ph.D., is an author, researcher, and higher education professional.  His website may be found at where you may purchase Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career, a second book: Thrill: The High Sensation Seeking Highly Sensitive Person, view his ever-changing blog, or book time for a one on one consulting session for personalized guidance on your unique path in life.  Dr. Cooper also appeared in the documentary for HSPs: Sensitive-The Untold Story

Are you an Existentialist?

Existentialism has always been the underlying epistemological, ontological, and teleological underpinning for my life. Not fitting in with the herd has never been easy but it has been quite necessary in my case, how about you?

Dodson presents the following list of ways to live more existentially which I feel are very much in line with how we HSPs experience life:

10) question what you’ve been told
9) start relating to the big picture
8) honor life’s difficult experiences
7) lay claim to your power in life
6) see how free you can be
5) learn to live with passion
4) inhabit the present moment
3) recover the ability to play
2) build responsible community
1) remember that you’re born to a bold, brilliant, terrifying universe

You might also wish to check out the full video on Existentialism below (it’s fascinating I promise) as a way of being that embraces complexity, compassion, humility, and a ludic viewpoint as a counterpoint to the oh-so-serious world and its concerns. Many more fascinating short videos by Dodson on the same site.