Is marketing your biggest challenge as a highly sensitive entrepreneur?

I am very pleased to host Sana Choudary in this new guest post covering a topic of great interest to many of us who are highly sensitive entrepreneurs: marketing.  Sana has great energy and expertise in the field so I trust her viewpoints and know you’ll find useful nuggets to help you with your marketing challenges.

By Sana Choudary, founder of Own Your Sensitive Genius

Are you a highly sensitive entrepreneur (HSE)?

Do you ever notice yourself feeling intensely uncomfortable about marketing?

May be your heart starts pounding so uncontrollably you just want to run away?

Or your breathing gets so fast and erratic that your chest hurts?

Or your thoughts speed by so quickly you find it hard to concentrate on any single one? And when you do–all you can think of is your worst marketing nightmare?

Do you then find yourself doing almost anything except marketing?

Do you ever wonder why you feel this way?

Do you ever wonder why you feel this way?

Logically you know that you shouldn’t.

After all you’ve taken the time to create a business you are deeply passionate about. And you’ve confirmed, by getting paying clients, that what you are offering is not only something people need but are willing to pay for.

Take heart that you are not alone:

HSEs say marketing is the #1 challenge that holds them back from creating the money and positive impact they most desire from their business.

In this blog post I will help you understand what makes marketing so hard for you and what you can do about it.

Why is marketing hard?

Here is what other HSEs said:

“I find that I struggle in doing the marketing non-HSEs do…I just can’t get myself to market in the way it takes to succeed.”

“As an HSE I’m just not the right type of person for marketing.”

I asked them to explain each of these further.

Question. What is the right way to market?

exhaustedAnswer: Omnipresence aka–

  • being a prolific writer, Twitterer, Facebooker, networker, and public speaker
  • appealing to everyone–especially those who may not need what you offer
  • focusing almost all available time and energy to marketing, with as little as possible to actually delivering

In a nutshell you need to be marketing everywhere, to everyone, and all the time.

Not only does this way of marketing directly go against the HSE need for meaningful work, it is also exhausting.

Just writing about it is making me exhausted…

Question. Who is the right type of person for marketing?

Answer: Someone who is–


  • Exciting
  • Charismatic
  • Confident
  • Positive
  • Extroverted
  • Always on

To the 70% of us HSEs who are introverts, this seems impossible. Even for the remaining 30% who are extroverts, being an HSE means we cannot show up this way all the time. Our bodies simply require downtime.

Fortunately neither of these ideas are true

These ideas were true in the past. There were only a limited number of channels to reach your customers. All these channels were controlled by gatekeepers. And these gatekeepers only permitted the type of marketers I described earlier to advertise.

But this isn’t the case anymore. Your customers are no longer limited to channels controlled by gatekeepers. They now seek out their own information, from individual voices they trust. As a result there is no longer one right way to market or one right type of person for marketing.

I mean think about the people whose marketing you respect.

Do they all market the exact same way?

Are they all the same type of person? Probably not.

Most excitingly to me this allows you to be free to explore the most important question for HSEs:

“what is the type of marketing that I am intrinsically interested in? Passionate about? How can I make this work for my business?”

But you aren’t availing this freedom. The result is you are missing out on the money, impact, freedom your business dreams are made of.

And it isn’t your fault.

The real culprit is cultural programming

Here is how Conrad Phillip Kottak, author of Window on Humanity, defines cultural programming (also called enculturation):

the process where the culture that is currently established teaches an individual the accepted norms and values of the culture or society where the individual lives…It teaches the individual their role within society as well as what is accepted behavior within that society and lifestyle.”

All the ideas you have about the right way to market and the right type of person to market come from business cultural programming.

Here is how Dr. Cooper explained cultural programming in one of our recent exchanges:

“culture is like the water a fish swims in. The fish isn’t even aware it is in water. Similarly we aren’t even aware that our culture has imprinted on us certain notions about how marketing should be and how we ‘should’ be in order to find success. It’s not surprising considering that HSPs are probably only 1/5 or less of the species, thus the dominant group determines what is taught in general.”

Thankfully you know this now. So the next time these ideas come up, dismiss them as cultural programming. Then boldly move forward in creating the type of marketing that interests you and works for your business.

Wrap up & Next Steps

Here is what you learned:

  1. You know your struggles with marketing come from ideas that there is a right way to market and a right type of person to market
  2. You know these ideas are just no longer true in today’s world but persist because of cultural programming
  3. You are more likely to challenge these ideas next time they come up

Now that you know precisely how cultural programming is hurting you, you need to unlearn your cultural programming around marketing. Download the free 15 minute mini-workshop where Dr. Cooper and I show you exactly how to do this.


Right Where You Belong (response)

Do you have a sense of place?  Do you feel as if the place you are in is the place you want to be?  Are you rooted in your place?  We often don’t pay enough attention to how we feel about the place we are living in, but there are some dramatic findings in the article below from Melody Warnick suggesting substantial health benefits from being rooted to a place.

This April I drove to Florida with my wife to visit my older brother whom I had not seen in many years.  As much as the visit was about reconnecting (a real consideration given that I’m nearing 50 and he is nearing 60) it was about indulging my sensation seeking side that wanted/needed to see new places.  As we traversed Northern Arkansas headed East we passed through many small towns each with a sense of place.  Not a sense of place that I could personally connect with, but which exists no doubt for those who choose to be in these fairly rural areas.  Further along in the trip we would pass through Memphis, TN, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia before finally hitting the tropics of Florida.

One of the interesting things about road trips is the level of homogenization that exists in America.  In just about every town or city one sees the same Cracker Barrel, McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and other major chain restaurants.  Sometimes it feels as if you haven’t actually crossed hundreds of miles, but the fatigue factor and the odometer beg to differ.  In each of these towns there is always one interesting thing that catches the eye passing through whether it be an interesting house, signs for something intriguing, or an oddity (like the way Georgia has installed high fences next to its interstate roadways, I assume to minimize car/animal accidents, by the way thanks Georgia!).  In some places (especially the larger cities) I am always struck by the notion that asks “why would anyone want to intentionally put up with this insane traffic?”  Yet, they do or at least this is where they have found themselves to be and perhaps accepted as home.  Being a strongly empathetic HSP I am forever receptive to how a place feels.

There are very few times in my life when I have felt a sense of home, place, or rootedness.  One I recall is when I was growing up in my hometown when my neighbor friends would all gather at one house and enjoy just hanging out on a Friday or Saturday evening.  There were varying ages in the group from early 20s to preteens, but there was a sense of place, of community, that eluded me for many years and for which I have sought to retrieve.  Later, during my time in the military occasionally I felt a sense of community, but that was, for the most part more about being on the same journey as others around me than truly finding and enjoying community.  I did, however have a best friend who stayed with me from basic training all the way to Germany and back to Fort Bliss over three years.  Our sense of connection was in a shared out of place feeling we both felt about military life.

Returning to my home town I thought I would be returning to that sense of community I had felt when I was younger, but I found that the feeling was instead coldly different and I felt distant from the prevailing attitude of the town.  Perhaps as a result of having traveled to vastly different foreign lands I now found that my home town held no appeal.  I think that’s fairly common.  Much later, after a marriage, four children, a second wife, and a PhD we moved two hours South of my home town to a bigger area ostensibly with more to do, better schools, and proximity to greater cultural and entertainment offerings.

Saint Augustine Beach, Florida

  Interestingly, though I can say I have enjoyed certain aspects of this new area I still miss feeling a sense of place (what the article calls place attachment).  The feeling of “yes, this place feels like a place where I can be!” is missing.  Returning to our Florida trip, on the way home, we decided to stay overnight at Saint Augustine (30 minutes south of Jacksonville in the Northeastern part of the state on the coast) and, while touring the small, historic town on foot at sunset I felt an incredible sense of “Yes, I could totally live here!”

I think it was the combination of gorgeous, old historic architecture, the art galleries, and

“This is a place I could live in…”

odd curiosities found throughout the town.  More than that though I noted people smiling and enjoying themselves as they walked about.  I admit the charm of the little town captivated me and won over my aesthetics.  I definitely think I could spend time there every year, though the issue of being able to feel rooted there would remain to be seen.

Flagler College, Saint Augustine, Florida

Interestingly my older brother mentioned that when he and his wife first toured the small town where they live they “just knew” that was the place they wanted to spend the rest of their lives.  Now, after they have been there for five years they have indeed rooted in place and have an abundance of friends and acquaintances.  There are some reasons why that I think appeal to HSPs:

  • the town is small in population and has carefully managed its growth.  While much of Florida suffers from visual pollution in the form of high rise buildings on the beach this little town has consciously chosen to not allow buildings over four stories, thus preserving the more natural look.
  • the traffic is lighter and less aggressive than in many places.  This less stressful environment is innately good for sensitive people who would do better in less tense conditions.
  • the connection to nature is abundant.  One only needs to go to the beach and enjoy complete connection to relatively uncrowded beaches.  One is free to feel free.
  • the small population means there is the potential to develop strong connections with many people through community involvement of the type that suits you best. The more involved you are in the life of your community the more you will feel a sense of belonging.
  • the heat (and it is oppressively hot in Florida a number of months each year) encourages a slower pace of life.

As with any observation about HSPs one should not homogenize.  It is true that HSPs can do equally as well in a city with hustle and bustle if they choose that.  The key word is choose.  If one is there out of necessity it may be less pleasant or sustainable.

For those of us who are sensation seekers as well as sensitives the issue of place attachment may be a bit more complex as we continually seek out novel and new sensations.  Even the best place will be boring after one has thoroughly explored it.  I think for place attachment and sensitive sensation seekers the issue is more about place attachment to many places.  As a sensitive sensation seeker I can attest to the reality of a geographic fear of missing out on the next cool place.  Travel awakens us to the broader realities that exist in other places during which time we catch a glimpse of the true scope of amazing human beings that exist all around us.

What have been your experiences with finding a place where you can feel rooted?

Tracy Cooper

We are a nation of frequent movers, and yet a growing body of research shows that the more rooted we are in our communities, the better we feel and the more successful we’ll be, especially in times of crisis.

By Melody Warnick, published on July 5, 2016 – last reviewed on July 10, 2016

Illustration by Harry Campbell

The Excel spreadsheet that 40-year-old Ben Bristoll made as he was deciding where to move after living in upstate New York for 18 years was exhaustive. It catalogued 38 communities, cross-checked against the qualities Bristoll considered most vital: Low cost of living. Proximity of family. Number of vegan restaurants. Prevalence of Lyme disease.

For a while, Harrisonburg, Virginia, looked particularly promising. So did Burlington, Vermont. Then one January day, Bristoll found himself riding his bike on the greenways of Roanoke, Virginia, in weather warm enough for a T-shirt. Okay, you got me, Ben thought. He moved to town in 2012 and has had no regrets.

The idea that picking up and starting over somewhere fresh could lead to living happily ever after is a narrative many of us trust. Every year, around 12 percent of the nation’s population moves, largely for sensible, bank-account-enhancing reasons like a new job or a lower cost of living. As restless in employment as we are in geography, we switch workplaces about every four and a half years, chasing new gigs around the country. And recent college graduates are more likely than previous generations to pick the place they want to live and find a job once they get there.

There’s a growing sense, supported by new research, that geography influences all the basic facts of our lives, from income to relationships to physical health. Each of the five times I’ve moved cross-country, from Utah to Maryland to Utah to Iowa to Texas, and most recently to Blacksburg, Virginia, I’d had solid motives like jobs and schooling. Yet I’d also allowed myself to indulge the wild hope that somehow the new place would complete me. When it didn’t, at least not in the expected ways, I’d be crippled by geographic Fear of Missing Out, a vague dread that someplace better existed in the world and I didn’t live there. Clicking through listings was my mid-thirties suburbanite version of crystal meth—a filthy habit I couldn’t quit. “This is the last time,” I’d tell myself, and then I’d creep online again to ogle Victorians in Corvallis, Oregon or cut-rate bungalows in Lawrence, Kansas.

In imagining myself living anywhere but here, I was ignoring the fact that humans are instinctively driven to form connection with places. “To be rooted,” philosopher Simone Weil once wrote, “is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul.”

In 1947, the poet W. H. Auden coined the term topophilia—from the Greek topos, or “place”—to describe the sense of being connected to one’s environment.

Biologists, anthropologists, sociologists, and urban planners who study how and why we put down roots call this phenomenon place identity, geopiety, person-place bonding, environmental embeddedness, or at-homeness. I prefer the phrase place attachment, which suggests the affectionate, almost familial relationship that can form between a person and where he or she lives. It means feeling at home in a place.

Place attachment is emotionally satisfying because humans long for a sense of belonging. But it can also make life better. When we’re happy where we live and fond of the people who live around us, we’re less anxious, less likely to suffer heart attacks or strokes, and less likely to complain about ailments.

In a study conducted in Tokyo, elderly Japanese women who felt attached to their neighborhood were more likely to be alive five years later than were women who didn’t care one way or another about their communities. For women who liked where they lived and also interacted with neighbors, their chance of survival compared to more ambivalent residents increased by 6 percent.

Other research has linked place attachment to a general sense of well-being. Studies show that when you compare Stayers—long-term residents of a place—with chronic Movers, the Stayers are generally far more social. They’re more likely to volunteer or, say, help the environment by buying a habitat preservation license plate. A study by biologists and anthropologists at Harvard, Princeton, and Binghamton University found, unsurprisingly, that teens who didn’t move around a lot had more friends.

Loving the place we live benefits us, but being loved by residents is also vital for cities and towns. In a multiyear study, Gallup and the Knight Foundation, a nonprofit group that promotes community engagement, surveyed 26,000 residents of 26 American communities from Boulder, Colorado, to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, about how much they loved where they lived. The results revealed that even during the height of the Great Recession, the happier residents were with their town, the more the town prospered economically.

Researchers who measure place attachment don’t try to gauge the objective magnificence of a city—the majesty of its skyscrapers and public art or the leafy depths of its parks. That would be like measuring a couple’s love for each other by posting their photos on Instead, scientists study residents’ emotions by asking whether or not their town feels like home.

Gertie Moore, for instance, has lived all of her 72 years in unincorporated Lorado, West Virginia, shifting every few years a couple of houses closer to the highway where the coal trucks rumble past.

“You’ve lived on the same street your whole life?” I asked her.

“Yep. They named the road after me, because everybody knows Gertie.”

Moore is among the 37 percent of Americans who still live in their hometown, and as odd as that instinct seems to me, there is something noble in the way she presides over Lorado, surrounded by people to whom she’s made herself useful. She knows everyone in a 10-mile radius—the now-grown children who once rode her school bus, the neighbor she took to Walmart to buy fabric for quilting. And most of her extended family live nearby.

Illustration by Harry Campbell

In his book Who’s Your City? demographer Richard Florida divides people into three categories—the mobile, the stuck, and the rooted. “We tend to focus on the first two: the mobile, who can pick up and move to opportunity, and the stuck, who lack the resources to leave where they are,” Florida says. “But we cannot forget about the rooted—those who have the means and opportunity to move, but choose to stay.”

Forty years ago, when Moore was a young mother whose husband worked in the coal mines, a coal slurry dam collapsed a few miles up the hollow, unleashing a wall of viscous black water into the company towns below. The Buffalo Creek flood killed 113 people in the valley and washed away countless homes. And yet Moore never considered moving away. Her roots were too deep.

Staying is a hallmark of people who are place attached. When you’re truly rooted in your town, you’re not busy plotting the next move. You likely believe that where you live is the best possible spot for you. Local catastrophes, then, sometimes have the counterintuitive effect of cementing place loyalty into something fiercer and more protective.

I was living in Iowa on April 16, 2007, when a student named Seung-Hui Cho shot and killed 32 Virginia Tech University students and faculty members on a sunny spring morning in Blacksburg, Virginia. Before the incident, which was the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, I had never heard of the town. Afterward everyone had heard of Blacksburg; the tragedy defined the community outside its borders. Years later, when we told people that my husband was taking a job at Virginia Tech, the incident was the first thing they mentioned. Some feared for our saftey.

And yet, I’d been told by people who had lived in Blacksburg then that the violence of April 16 had fostered a sense of collectiveness and connection. Residents were more tender with each other. “You could be at the grocery store and somebody would burst into tears, and everyone understood why, and somebody would give them a hug,” one friend has told me.

Many towns have endured tragedies, but the devastation is often mitigated by the effects of place attachment. After a nuclear reactor exploded in Chernobyl, Ukraine, in April 1986, emitting 400 times the radiation released by the Hiroshima atomic bomb, area residents were ordered to evacuate—forever. More than 130,000 left and never returned, as their 12th-century village decayed into a ghost town of weeds and lingering toxicity.

And yet a few hundred residents—mostly elderly women, or babushkas in Russian—defied official orders and returned to live as subsistence farmers. Ostensibly, everything in the 19-mile exclusion zone around Chernobyl was poison. Officials warned against eating the carrots and radishes the women planted in their own backyards or drinking the milk that came from their goats and cows. The babushkas did so anyway, having decided they’d rather live five happy years near the graves of their ancestors than 10 miserable ones in a sterile Kiev high-rise.

Illustration by Harry Campbell

Holly Morris, director of the documentary The Babushkas of Chernobyl, heard the women explain their philosophy this way: “If you leave, you die. All those who left died.” And in fact, anecdotal evidence accumulated about Chernobyl residents who had agreed to relocate only to pass away within a few years, much sooner than those who had returned. There’s been no official count, and exposure to radiation would be a key variable for both groups, but the people who moved back to the exclusion zone believe they are outliving their uprooted former neighbors by some 10 years. The babushkas explained to Morris that the transplants were “dying of sadness.”

Up against the powerful emotions of place attachment, logic and probability hold little sway. In one study of 700 low-income women who moved to new cities after Hurricane Katrina, Penn State sociologist Corina Graif found that the neighborhoods they had relocated to boasted higher median family income, more employed people, and lower poverty than the ones they left. And yet one field study of Ninth Ward residents who evacuated to Houston after Katrina found that more than half preferred to return to New Orleans afterward, despite the larger city’s demonstrably better quality of life;  69 percent of this group agreed with the statement, “New Orleans is home.”

The connections that make a city home can save lives during disasters. While studying the tsunami that killed more than 18,000 people in Japan in March 2011, Daniel Aldrich, a professor of political science, public policy, and urban affairs at Northeastern University and the author of Building Resilience, found that in most parts of the country, some 40 minutes elapsed between the undersea earthquake and the arrival of 30-foot waves. Yet death rates in the 133 affected coastal cities, towns, and villages varied from zero to almost 10 percent.

To explain the disparity, Aldrich and Yasuyuki Sawada, a University of Tokyo economics professor, looked at factors like the average age of residents, the presence of seawalls, and the height of the tsunami when it hit land. Ultimately, though, those physical elements couldn’t account for the varying survival rates. What did? Each town’s level of social capital.

Forty minutes was enough time for the able-bodied to travel the two or three kilometers from the lowest houses near the ocean to the highest point in town. But it was not always enough time for the sick, elderly, infirm, disabled, or wheelchair-bound to do so. Individuals from these groups who survived told Aldrich’s team that a friend, neighbor, caregiver, or family member aided them. That implied two things: First, someone knew that a disabled person lived in a certain house and needed help. “If you don’t know someone is there, you’re not going to bother knocking,” Aldrich says.

Second, the helper was willing to endanger his or her own life to save someone else’s. No one knew how soon the tsunami would crash into the shore. Ferrying an elderly or disabled person uphill requires time. Most people wouldn’t bother unless they had an existing social connection strong enough to merit that kind of consideration. “You can’t build that during the disaster,” Aldrich says. “You have to do this before the disaster strikes.”

Aldrich calls this the Mr. Rogers approach to disaster preparedness and recovery—“Won’t you be my neighbor?” The effects have been visible in other places. The communities that recovered fastest after Superstorm Sandy walloped the East Coast in 2012 had the strongest social resources before the storm—measured as a combination of place-attachment factors like social cohesion, helping behaviors, and trust.

Illustration by Harry Campbell

Any infrastructure that promotes social connection can enhance this kind of community resilience, Aldrich says—wide front porches that invite extended communal rocking, shared gathering spaces like parks, and greenbelts where neighbors can cross paths. So can simple social behaviors like attending community festivals, joining a neighborhood knitting club, or worshiping at the same synagogue every week. Such solutions are relatively easy and inexpensive, and Aldrich argues that they’re as essential as building seawalls.

To foster attachment, your town doesn’t need to be the platonic ideal of a city, just as you don’t have to be particularly gorgeous, clever, or wealthy to love and be loved by others. You can adore a town that everyone else hates and still accrue the physical, emotional, and social benefits of place attachment. Your town just has to make you happy. When it does, you want to stay.

According to anthropologist Setha Low and psychologist Irwin Altman, both pioneering place-attachment researchers, place attachment is emotion and belief combined with action or behavior. It’s the way we imbue places with meaning and memory. And it’s a process. Learning this after I moved to Blacksburg suggested to me that loving my town, and feeling more rooted, here and now, was something I could do. Simple things like walking more, getting to know my neighbors, volunteering, and exploring nature could increase how at home I felt.

Loving where you live may not be as paramount in the grand scheme of happiness measures as, say, a terrific marriage, a job you adore, or a positive relationship with your teenager. Yet marriages and jobs and child rearing all happen somewhere. They belong to a particular place. For good or ill, places form the landscape of our daily lives, and it makes sense that becoming more satisfied with the where of your life could have positive trickle-down effects for the who, what, and how.

My childhood friend Jen, who as an Army wife knows a thing or two about moving, told me, “It is an incredibly conscious decision to love where you live. I have seen so many families become miserable because they hate where they are when they move to a new place. You have to choose to love it.”

I chose yes.

How To Love The Place You Live

BEFRIEND YOUR NEIGHBORS. One study found that people who felt connected to their neighbors reported more positive emotions, fewer physical ailments, and fewer daily stressors.

EAT LOCAL FOOD. Of residents who join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), shop at a farmers’ market, or buy produce from a locally owned store, 77 percent rate their community as “excellent” or “good.” Only 64 percent of conventional shoppers agree.

WALK MORE. Walking is the most effective way to develop your sense of local geography—and former car commuters who start walking to work experience as great a happiness boost as if they’d gotten a raise or fallen in love.

VOLUNTEER. Among similar communities, those with more nonprofit groups maintained lower unemployment rates during the recession. volunteerism and philanthropy may increase place attachment, making people more likely to invest, spend, and hire locally.

Adapted from THIS IS WHERE YOU BELONG: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live by Melody Warnick, published by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2016 by Melody Warnick.

Submit your response to this story to (link sends e-mail). If you would like us to consider your letter for publication, please include your name, city, and state. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.

For more stories like this one, subscribe to Psychology Today, where this piece originally appeared.

Facebook image: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock


Tracy Cooper, Ph.D. is the author of Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career and the forthcoming book Thrill: The High Sensation Seeking Highly Sensitive Person.

How Teachers Can Help ‘Quiet Kids’ Tap Their Superpowers (response)

IMG_0004I don’t know about you, but I was the “quiet” kid all through school.  Though I rarely sp0ke up (even though I usually knew the answer) I was present, alert, and more engaged than most of the other students.  That is if I were interested in the class.  If I wasn’t into the material I busied myself with drawing doodles in the margins or staring out the window (if there was one).  When I was in high school I began to care less about showing up on time or doing the work they wanted me to do.  I simply wasn’t interested, was very bored, and considered it busywork to simply occupy my time and not challenge my intellectual or creative capacities.  I always felt out of place in school, though I have always loved learning and exploring new topics.
The office staff and vice principal came to know me on a first name basis as I sauntered in with an armload of library books (from the local library ) and picked up my detention slip.  After school I served these detentions (usually an hour of complete quiet time designed as punishment) and spent a wonderful block of time just reading and enjoying the fact that the others around me weren’t allowed to exhibit the types of behaviors that had landed them in detention in the first place.
After awhile the vice principal tired of seeing me so often and thought I should be put in a place called “educational adjustment,” which consisted of a small rented trailer building behind the school gym.  The “bad” kids were sent there to be dutifully overseen by the coach, who busied himself with ordering donuts for himself, talking on the phone, and floating in and out.  Our work was sent over from our regular classes.
I had an art teacher who I have always postulated took pity on me and sent over some interesting things for me to draw.  One was a lighthouse scene with extensive variety in the types of drawing marks one had to practice to build the drawing.  I focused on this for wonderful hours and the other work as well.  Free from distractions and owing to the fact that there were just 3-4 students at a time in educational adjustment (EA), I flourished in the quiet, uninterrupted (except for lunch, gym class, and end of the school day) time to think and work.
Eventually school administration decided it was time for me to go back to regular classes and informed me so.  I didn’t feel like I had been adjusted educationally (whatever that means), but I did feel like quiet time was over and it was back to the circus.  I even had my mother call the vice principal and ask (on my behalf as they don’t seem to consider the requests of kids to be valid, well thought out, or worthy of consideration) if I could just remain in “EA” the remainder of the school year.  The reply was an emphatic “no!” as you might suspect, and I soon found myself back in the regular classrooms doodling and staring out the windows.
I left high school at the age of 17 (mostly out of sheer boredom, but also to escape the small town fishbowl I had grown up in) and joined the US Army.  During basic training I tested for and received my general education diploma.  Later, I attended a local community college as I tried to find my way in life and studied (for varying periods) business management, computer programming, and later, fine art.  The art stuck with me, but it wouldn’t be until my 30s that I seriously worked on developing my skills as a painter and potter.  I later returned to school at the age of 43 to complete a bachelors degree (ostensibly), but found that I had lit the fires of curiosity (though they had always been quite active) and I was quite good at school.  I completed the bachelors and entered a masters program directly thereafter followed by my entry into a Ph.D. program.  At the age of 47 I graduated with my Ph.D. and thought back to those days spent in that little trailer in EA (and in detention) and reflected on the fact that I’m not really so different even today from the dorky guy who read a lot, was a really good artist, and for whom the margins of society seem to be a better fit than the vast middle.
Now as I research the lives of highly sensitive people (myself included) I intuitively know that our education system falls flat when it comes to “quiet” kids.  It simply does not have a place for them, nor does it understand or appreciate that people are not all alike, nor it is desirable for us to be so.  Highly sensitive people think and feel more deeply than those without the trait.  HSPs (as we generally like to shorten it down to) are simply out of place in an education system set up for the dominant cultural group: extraverts.
In this brief article I present a piece that caught my eye from NPR.  Elissa Nadworny presents new information about a rethinking of “quiet” students and how we can come to reform our schools to be more inclusive of those who are shy, highly sensitive people, or introverted (all are different though there can be overlap).  I especially like that they are beginning to ask the question “why is this student quiet?”  In my case it was because I would do anything to not attract attention to myself (shyness), but also because being stuck in a group of 25 other students made me feel very pent up and too close for comfort.  Occasionally I would speak up and astonish everyone with the right answer!  Being a high sensation seeking highly sensitive person I enjoyed the shock value of a moment of disinhibition and planting the seeds of mystery in the minds of those around me (devious master that I was).
Now, as a teacher myself, I know the experience of being in a classroom we may not wish to be in and seek very actively to change perceptions around what true education is (namely more toward student led).  I call upon the quiet ones often and solicit their opinions and views knowing that they not only have a viewpoint, but that I may have just made their day by valuing them enough to call on them.  There’s an old saying that “you have to watch out for the quiet ones!”  I think that’s true and it’s true because we’re the ones who are actively thinking beyond a superficial level and may have deep insights.
As one of the quiet ones myself I think it is encouraging that awareness of sensitivity is increasing.  Hopefully, that awareness will lead educators to begin thinking of better ways to engage students in the course material and craft a new paradigm where the quiet students are respected for their depth and included in ways that begin to address the disparity in overemphasizing gregarious, extreme extraverted behavior at the expense of critical thinking, reflection, and creativity.
If I had any advice to provide about how education should happen for highly sensitive children in a public school setting I would be hard pressed to offer ideas that would not require quite a shift in the current paradigm, which seems to be obsessed with near constant evaluation and assessment.  It’s almost as if we have such a fear that our kids aren’t somehow learning “enough” that we feel a need to allow constant evaluations to take precedence over the learning that should be taking place.
In that sense less regimentation, more time in the out of doors exploring and learning about nature, and less time spent indoors in buildings that often resemble factories (or prisons) learning how to stand in line, waiting for the teacher to deal with the disruptive kids, and otherwise being molded and shaped into compliant, non-thinking (or only thinking in “approved ways”), non-creative, easily controlled pawns for society to categorize, stigmatize, and separate based on socioeconomic status.
What’s an appropriate school experience for a highly sensitive child?  How should we support and encourage natural tendencies toward deep thinking, reflection, and creativity?  Do we even truly value those qualities in individuals anymore?
Sometimes I am quite torn between thinking that we HSPs have to live within the society thus we should learn to assimilate as best as possible versus reforming a system that’s completely at odds with valuing most of the qualities we embody.  Many HSPs are involved in the education field, including a good number of teachers.  HSPs may make excellent teachers (I know, I am one) and within that role it may be possible for teachers to implement some of the strategies outlined below that may change individual classrooms one at a time.
For parents lucky enough to be able to afford private school I would highly recommend that option.  Of course, do your research and carefully investigate the school’s approach and stance on education.  The best education for a highly sensitive child would be one where a good deal of autonomy is provided as well as access to a wealth of reading materials and options complemented by exceptional teachers who can support and encourage your child’s development at a natural pace.  There are some public schools where your child will still do well.  Make no mistake: there are lots of great public school teachers working very hard to do the best they can with what they have.  Other schools though do less well and are not good places for highly sensitive children to develop in.
The other option is, of course, homeschooling, which can take the form of a structured or non-structured approach.  With a structured approach you would utilize a curriculum supplied by your choice of providers (based on your philosophy of education).  There are even online schools available now.  With an unstructured approach (sometimes called unschooling) the child explores on his own and is facilitated in those explorations and fascinations trusting that much is simply absorbed through osmosis and individual pursuits of passion.
With either approach much will depend on the motivation of the child.  Sometimes parents are more committed to homeschooling (or unschooling) than the children and may face an uncomfortable battle if the child is not well suited to learning in a home environment.  Certainly there are community schools where one can seek more social support (homeschool support groups and shared arrangements) and all children are different (even within families).  My advice would be to tailor your educational strategy to your child’s unique needs.  One child may do exceptionally well at homeschooling or unschooling, while another may need more structure and excel in a school setting.  What is obvious to me (and that always impresses me) is the youthful energy and optimism that young people embody.  How we choose to be good stewards of that potential will have much to do with our children’s ultimate success as lifelong learners.  Let’s take that responsibility seriously.


Dave Van Patten for NPR

When Lily Shum was little, she dreaded speaking up in class. It wasn’t because she didn’t have anything interesting to say, or because she wasn’t paying attention or didn’t know the answer. She was just quiet.

“Every single report card that I ever had says, ‘Lily needs to talk more. She is too quiet,’ ” recalls Shum, now an assistant director at Trevor Day School in Manhattan.

She doesn’t want her students to feel the pressure to speak up that she felt.

That’s why she joined more than 60 educators in New York City recently at the Quiet Summer Institute. The professional development workshop was based on Susan Cain’s best-seller Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

The book has been a national phenomenon, and it’s the inspiration behind a curriculum developed by Heidi Kasevich for teachers.

“It was a lens through which I could view my entire life, and really feel the license to be myself,” says Kasevich, a teacher for more than 20 years who now works for the company Cain co-founded to promote the book’s message about introverts.

This training workshop uses this book — and Cain’s latest book written for middle-schoolers — to help teachers notice, and serve, those quiet kids.

“There are expectations on our kids to … be a charismatic extrovert,” says Kasevich. Even if it’s unconsciously, she says, teachers tend to give more attention to the louder students.

Kasevich admits she did it too: calling on the kids who raised their hands first.

The two-day course started with reimagining class participation, which in some schools can count for a big portion of students’ grades. Kasevich would prefer it be called classroom engagement.

“Being present and connecting doesn’t have to take place through lots of speech,” she says. Why not try drawing, writing or working in pairs?

Or, Kasevich suggests, have students walk around the room, writing ideas on tacked-up pieces of paper. They can respond to each other’s ideas — like a sort of silent dialogue.

Educators at the summit heard from Cain herself and also Amy Cuddy and Priscilla Gilman — writers who’ve touched on the subject of introverts.

Principals and administrators mixed with school psychologists, guidance counselors and teachers. They met in small groups to discuss ideas and tips.

At one session, Erica Corbin, the director of community life and diversity at a private girls’ school in Manhattan, told her team that focusing on introverts also means reining in the extroverts.

She offered up this tip for handling students who dominate the discussion: W-A-I-T. Sure, it means wait. But, Corbin explains, it also stands for: “Why Am I Talking?”

Below The Surface

With shy kids, says Corbin, it’s not just about paying attention to them. Teachers need to think about why they’re quiet.

“Personality might be some of it,” she explains, “and we also might have kids who are quiet because they have been shut down. We might have kids that are quiet because they anticipate being shut down whether they have been or not.”

Shutting down for all kinds of reasons, she adds. Stereotypes. Biases. Trouble at home: “When we’re thinking about students who are quiet, how does that also connect with their race … their gender … their sexuality?”

By understanding how to reach introverts, she said, teachers can get at those other issues. Because if they don’t start to look past the students with their hands up, “we’re all gonna miss out on a lot of brilliant ideas.”


Tracy Cooper, Ph.D. is the author of Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career.  His web site may be found at where he offers one on one career consulting