Hi, my name is Yuko. I’m a Highly Sensitive Person.
Did you know that it’s a thing? I mean Highly Sensitive Person with capital letters was a thing??
I only learned about HSPs recently when my good friend sent me a link to The Highly Sensitive Person Podcast several months ago. I didn’t have to listen to any of the episodes to know it was for me – with titles like, Decision-Free Living, Scary Movies? NOPE, and Anticipatory Grief, I knew it was talking about me.
According to Dr. Elaine Aron, some of us (about 15-20% of the population) have a brain that’s wired a little differently: HSPs are more aware of subtle changes in our environments and reflect on the information a little more deeply than others.
It’s an innate trait for many people and goes beyond the stereotypical definition of “being sensitive” e.g. crying at the Super Bowl’s puppy commercial or being hurt easily etc.
Kelly O’Laughlin, the host of the podcast I mentioned earlier, pretty much sums up my experience on her website:
“We think about things deeply. We analyze information and don’t like making wrong decisions—in fact, we can have a hard time making decisions. We become overwhelmed easily by all the stimulation and information around us. We are incessantly bothered when our physical environment is uncomfortable. We are empathetic to the feelings of others. We are startled by noises easily. We are strongly affected by violence, horror, and abuse, in movies, TV, and in the news and this causes us to sometimes avoid it. We are often affected strongly by caffeine. We can be moved deeply by music, art, and nature.”
(I’m definitely not an expert on HSPs, so if you want to learn more, you can check out the research here. You can also take a self-test here if you suspect you might be an HSP.)
I appreciate many aspects of being a Highly Sensitive Person.
First of all, I’m easily inspired and deeply moved by small things in life. I believe this helps with my creativity.
Every time I catch a whiff of peonies on my kitchen counter, my heart sings. When I see a big smile on my block printing students’ faces after they printed their very first design on a fabric, it makes me want to cry. When I hug my cat and bury my nose in the fur on top of his head and smell the sunshine, I’m filled with happiness and joy (I know you totally smell your kitty, too!!)
I suspect many artists and makers are somewhat on the spectrum of being highly sensitive. After all, first step of creating a great work is to open up your heart and feel the feelings, you know?
It also makes being an artist more challenging.
Probably my #1 obstacle is my anxiety around being criticized.
I know all artists struggle with this somewhat whether you’re highly sensitive or not. When you pour your heart and soul into what you make, putting yourself out there and not being fully appreciated can feel extremely vulnerable.
My fear of being criticized has made me shy away from taking on more commissioned art/illustration work. It’s not that I don’t appreciate objective constructive feedback to improve my work – it’s the anticipation of getting criticized and receiving more subjective, unhelpful feedback that I get worked up about.
In order to mitigate this, I try to have a thorough conversation with my potential clients about my creative process and what type of inputs are helpful (objective vs. subjective) for me to do the best work before I taken them on as a client… And only when we agree on the process, we move forward with the project.
But still, when I hit “send” to deliver my work to the client, I get pretty stressed out.
Even though I know I did a good job, I hear a little voice telling me maybe it wasn’t good enough or I wasn’t quite diligent enough to hit 100% mark for the project. And so when the client tries to push my boundaries and get me to be more “flexible” with my creative process, I become pretty overwhelmed.
When this happens, I take a deep breath.
I don’t always open emails from clients right away when I sense there might be some bad news… I need to mentally prepare myself for that 😀 I might skim the email first just so I’m not missing any urgent issues, or maybe they’re totally happy with it (gasp!). And then if they are asking me to change something (“We love this! But… “) I walk away and think about it for a little bit before responding.
I take some time to feel whatever feelings that come up and be a non-judgemental observer of the reactions I’m having.
And then once I do a self-therapy/meditation to soothe my anxiety, I read the email again and analyze the list of things my client has sent me.
Once I have the mental cushion, I can be more objective and handle the criticism more calmly and less emotionally.
I re-read the proposal and contract to see if I missed anything or if I misinterpreted the goals for the project. If their feedback is not clear or sounds subjective, I’ll ask more clarifying questions. I include my creative process document with the final deliverables usually but might offer some extra explanations to clarify my decision making process if needed.
I realize 99% of the problems occur because of unclear communications.
If I overlooked something we agreed on or either didn’t do a good job of understanding the scope of the project throughly or didn’t help the client understand the process clearly in the beginning, I take full responsibilities for that. And I do my best to fix the problems.
But if that’s not the case, and I’m fully confident that what I produced would meet their objectives, I let them know I’m not able to respond to their requests.
Saying no to a client is difficult, but I’m grateful that most of my clients are really awesome and respectful so they understand. If I chose to accommodate every little subjective/arbitrary request they have, my passion would definitely die and I’d be super burnt out in no time!!
I’ve had to grow a thicker skin in order to pursue my passion publicly and professionally, and it’s definitely a work in progress!
Understanding my high sensitivity allows me to be more compassionate towards myself. And knowing what triggers my emotional response helps me to identify and develop new skills so I can grow as a person and be a happy creative professional long-term.
If you’re a highly sensitive artist and have challenges because of that, know you’re not alone in the struggles ❤
4 thoughts on “How to deal with criticism when you’re a Highly Sensitive Person”
Ohh Yuko!! Thank you so much for this post! I appreciate it, and i dont feel alone now. And before i took the HSP test, i know i am a Highly Sensitive Person. Somehow while reading your post, i feel so touched, and i remember i was cried so hard over a video about a bear that lost its fur due to a desease and the bear was being kicked from the forest by the humans who filmed it. And i love the feelings when i kiss my cats, sleeping beside them, it’s kinda theraphy for me. Well, you know so much things i read here make me said to myself “yes this is me!! This is me!” Hahaha. I thought being an HSP was bad in the first place, since my friends always say that i am exaggerating over anything. I am a drama queen, while the fact is just i feel a lot of things deeply. I am analyzing things so deeply that sometimes i get dizzy with myself too. I choose to be so careful to make desicions, i dont want things go wrong. Well now that i choose to become an artist myself, i know that it is not that bad that i am an HSP!! I thought, i couldnt make my illustrations so far if im not sensitive to things around me 🙂 🙂 . Thank you so much Yuko! Much love from Indonesia. X. Emillia
Emillia! Thank you so much for your comment:) gosh I was tearing up just reading about the bear… It’s totally not a bad thing to be highly sensitive. I almost feel like it’s my super power 🙂 it’s hard when your friends and family don’t quite understand it… They don’t mean ill but it’s just very difficult for those who don’t operate the same way. I’m glad you enjoyed my post! You’re not alone!!! Keep up the good work 🙂 Yuko