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Shape Shifting and the Highly Sensitive Person’s Distorted Mirrors

March 5, 2023


I recently held a discovery session with a potential client during which I quickly recognized that what I was seeing in her was quite different from the way she was seeing herself. This brought up the memory of some work I had done with a mentor a few years earlier. This mentor pointed out, whenever necessary, that my “mirrors were very distorted,” meaning I was not seeing myself in the same way that she and others saw me.


It now occurs to me to wonder whether or not people with Sensory Processing Sensitivity, also known as Highly Sensitive People (HSP) whose trait was not accepted at the start of their lives are especially prone to distorted self-perceptions.


As a child, my sensitivity was not accepted and, in fact, it was often rejected and ridiculed. Over time, I learned to hide it away. I did what I now refer to as shape shifting and turned myself into a different person—one who did not show emotions and who, in my mind, was worthy of being accepted.


I did so well at pretending not to have emotions that I did eventually lose touch with them. I’m not sure I shed a single tear all through junior and senior high—certainly not in front of another person. Much later, I dated a man I had known for more than a decade. For the first several years of our relationship, he referred to me as Mr. Spock, acknowledging my penchant for logic, without emotion. We HSPs can be masterful pretenders, even going so far as to effectively fool ourselves.


Fast forward to working with my mentor, who helped me tune back into my emotions, and the subject of “distorted mirrors” plays on repeat. Finally, I got curious enough to ask some trusted friends for input on what qualities they saw in me.


First, I wrote down a few of the words and phrases I would have used to describe myself:

    • Fearful
    • Shy
    • Timid
    • Cautious
    • Not good at talking
    • Not a risk taker
    • Best behind the scenes

Friends and family members I’d trusted to ask for input had the following to say:

    • Articulate (2)
    • Fantastic conversationalist
    • Well Spoken
    • Always trying new things (2)
    • Persistent / Determined
    • Step outside comfort zones and challenge others to do the same
    • Don’t limit yourself to what you “should” be doing
    • Don’t settle – listen to heart calling & continue the adventure
    • Acts on what she knows she needs
    • Extremely Courageous
    • Incredibly Strong

This was eye opening.


In the case of the discovery client, I was able to recognize her “distorted mirrors” because the words she used to describe herself were completely out of alignment with the things she told me she did, through sharing stories and events of her life. From those stories, I could perceive her actions, and it was clear to me that the words she used to describe her character and personality were not reflective of those actions.


I wonder how many more of us are walking around with “distorted mirrors.” What would it be like if we didn’t wait for our friends to ask, but we openly shared how we see them, when such positive sentiments come to mind?