Why Friendships Are So Tough for Highly Sensitive People - Introvert Spring (2023)

by Melissa Renzi | 18 comments

For highly sensitive people, friendships can feel tough. It’s not that we’re anti-social or awkward, it’s simply that we have unique needs in relationships that not everyone gets.

Some highly sensitive people may find it difficult to connect with new people. Others may be able to connect with ease at first, but maintaining the friendship may be the tough part.

I heard from one client who said he struggled with feeling like an outsider because the people he’d meet seemed to lack the depth he was seeking. Another client of mine reported feeling a strong connection to her friend, but felt her friend didn’t seem to put in as much effort. This left her feeling like the relationship was one-sided.

I happen to be a sensitive person who can connect with most people fairly easily. But the deep, fulfilling relationships in which I can really be myself are rare.

In the two years between college and graduate school, anyone I would have called a friend moved away. I found it extraordinarily difficult to meet new people in a way that could lead to true friendship.

The close friendships I do have are largely due to certain experiences and environments that lent themselves to meeting genuine friends. I’ll share more about what I mean by that in a moment.

Let’s first take a look at why friendships are so tough for highly sensitive people in the first place.

1) We’re easily overwhelmed by activities others enjoy.

Social gatherings and activities in loud, crowded, visually-stimulating places overwhelm us. If you’re like me, you may find it takes all your energy to listen to someone in a loud bar or even in a smaller gathering where several conversations are happening at once.

And while I enjoy live music and may even have fun at an occasional party (with people I know and like), my energy is zapped for weeks. Our non-sensitive peers may have difficulty grasping just how tough stimulating environments can be for sensitive people.

2) We crave deep, authentic connection.

Small talk just doesn’t do it for highly sensitive people. Many typical social interactions may feel boring or shallow to us. We desire connection with kindred spirits with whom we can talk about life’s wonders, personal growth, and just be our vulnerable selves.

This can be tough to find if you don’t know where to look. I’m connected to a lot of good people, but the people I feel really close to are few because of my need for great depth.

3) We may be too empathic.

Most highly sensitive people are excellent listeners and have a natural sense of empathy. While these are wonderful skills to possess, we may too easily fall into a pattern of listening to the problems of people who may not be able to reciprocate. When we do this, we can become emotional sponges absorbing the problems of our friends.

Further, we tend to give people the benefit of the doubt. Despite our keen awareness of some subtleties, we can be far too patient and take a while to realize that some friendships are not equal. When we do come to said realization, it can be disheartening and cause us to refrain from opening up to others.

4) We can’t keep up appearances.

Most highly sensitive people don’t do well with societal norms. We sense the subtleties of people around us behaving inauthentically in order to be part of the broader society. We notice the hidden emotions behind such posturing.

So when people are unwilling to remove their masks, we feel disconnected. We’re incapable of pretending to be someone we’re not. This can be challenging if you find yourself in a friendship with someone who seems to be pretending.

5) We may tend to isolate.

About 70 percent of highly sensitive people are also introverts. Introverts and highly sensitive people need adequate alone time to recharge. I frequently feel overwhelmed by social obligations and overstimulated by everyday environments.

This means that when I have the chance to find alone time, I take it. The downside to taking too much alone time is that we might end up isolating ourselves rather than nurturing a friendship that actually does lift us up.

As for meeting friends as a highly sensitive person…

The few people I’ve been able to truly connect with in my sensitive way are those who have come into my life either from a young age, graduate school (social work), yoga teacher training, and my travels.

Aside from my friends from high school, you may notice a common theme running through those last friendship avenues. People who gravitate toward interests such as social work, yoga, and traveling likely have a natural sensitive side and care about deeper human experiences.

But you don’t have to enroll in an educational program to meet like-minded friends. I often encourage clients to consider joining a Meetup group as one way to meet friends. Several years ago, a Meetup group for “outdoorsy entrepreneurs” led me to meet a special friend, who is now my partner, as well as three other friends with whom I feel a special connection.

Once we meet those kindred spirits, we have a lovely opportunity to intentionally feed these friendships.

What about romantic relationships?

It’s not just friendships that can be challenging for highly sensitive people. HSP relationships come with their own set of obstacles. But it is possible to build fulfilling relationships,even if you’re sensitive and easily overwhelmed.

I share concrete tools toovercome communication problems, build intimacy, and get close, in my Highly Sensitive Person’s Relationship Guide.Get the Guide (It’s Free).

About Melissa
Melissa Renzi is a Licensed Social Worker and Certified Trauma-Informed Yoga Teacher. She helps sensitive souls transform anxiety and cultivate lasting self-love. She leads global retreats designed for introverts and highly sensitive people.Access her Highly Sensitive Person’s Relationship Guide.

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  1. Why Friendships Are So Tough for Highly Sensitive People - Introvert Spring (9)

    Adamon March 10, 2018 at 11:12 am

    Great post! Much of this is the story of my life put into a one page summary. My dad told me when I was really young how sensitive I was, and told me that in a good way, not a demeaning one. He always tried to get me to admit it, not for his own confirmation, but so I could understand it for myself. Well, I buried it deep. I became the guy with huge muscles and a shaved head. I loved working out, before the excess exertion turned into chronic fatigue, as it was very therapeutic; but it was also character armoring, a way to hide myself from myself, and subconsciously, other people as well. Once the armor came off, I began to rediscover myself in layers. As each layer has peeled away, I now understand my sensitivity more and more, and am really finding out not only how much I like it, but also, how tough it is to be in any way inauthentic anymore, or to be surrounded by inauthenticity that I can see, or intuit, while in the company of others. I enjoy some lighter conversation, but it has to be mixed in with conversation that holds depth and meaning. As I’ve realized my need for this type of conversational/relational dynamic, I find it fairly difficult to find lasting friendships, despite often liking people and thinking they are fun or nice. I can do light and surface level friendly here and there, such as when out walking my dog and bumping into people, but I can’t keep that up in the form of an ongoing friendship or romantic relationship. Thanks for an awesome guest post, Melissa! I appreciate what you had to say.


    • Why Friendships Are So Tough for Highly Sensitive People - Introvert Spring (10)

      Melissa Renzion March 10, 2018 at 1:02 pm

      Adam, thank you for sharing your story. It’s a great reminder of the different ways sensitivity can show up and how we can go to great lengths to conceal it. I certainly went through my own process of coping and showing the side of myself I thought others wanted to see. For me, it was drinking and experimenting with drugs when I was about 13 or 14 years old (and onto into my 20s) in order to endure surface interaction and show my fun-loving side more easily with people I didn’t know. I’m glad to hear you’re now facing your sensitivity and embracing it. It’s really so empowering once we know how to ourselves and use our sensitivity as the gift it is.


    • Why Friendships Are So Tough for Highly Sensitive People - Introvert Spring (11)

      Ernieon March 13, 2018 at 1:39 pm

      I like your reply Adam. My dad also observed that I was very sensitive when I was quite young. I kind of did the same thing as you except not the body building. I have always been too lazy for that! But I did bury this observation deep and chose to ignore it because I thought of my dad as a man’s man and wanted to be like him and not weak and sensitive. But this set up in me a conflict that has lasted until mid-life when I finally just admitted who I really am. I am INFJ and also/because highly sensitive. But this sensitivity has brought me great joy in life and the highs have been particularly high. But of course, the corresponding lows have been crushing at times. But I would not give this trait up now for anything and I applaud you for your admitting it to yourself as well.


  2. Why Friendships Are So Tough for Highly Sensitive People - Introvert Spring (12)

    Renon March 10, 2018 at 12:30 pm

    As a HSP and introvert, I have found it hardest to be friends with other people who are like this because of #5, ie the isolating. To me, HS introverts come off as not being interested in real friendship because they barely want to communicate or spend time together. This is more true for older HS introverts than younger ones. #2 fits me most–I need a lot of depth and intellectual stimulation, and when I find people who can provide that I don’t want to just interact with them once every few months or some other inconsistent amount of time.


    • Why Friendships Are So Tough for Highly Sensitive People - Introvert Spring (13)

      Melissa Renzion March 11, 2018 at 1:43 pm

      Hi Ren, you bring up an important point to consider. Not only might we have our own challenges as HS introverts, but other HS introvert we may connect with may reflect the same challenges or have their own. Hah! That can make friendships even more tricky!


      (Video) Do you 'FEEL' TOO MUCH? You might be a 'Highly Sensitive Person' '#shorts
  3. Why Friendships Are So Tough for Highly Sensitive People - Introvert Spring (14)

    Lesley Grahamon March 10, 2018 at 7:09 pm

    I was brought up in a family who didn’t do emotions, which was disastrous for me, as I’m a sensitive introvert. I was adopted into this family, when the whole thing went through I realised what a mistake they’d made. I never fitted due to my sensitive & highly intuitive nature, the brutality that existed within the family, just meant I had to create a layer to protect myself from it… This is often the problem for people like us that don’t necessarily fit. I feel that as an older person though all my experience around this has helped me become not only a more empathic, aware individual. I listen & can pick up where people are coming from well before it’s apparent to them or others. I think that the level of dysfunction within my family has brought about an awareness around how others may struggle with their own experiences of dysfunction & how to work out ways of coping & operating around & within these dysfunctional relationships…


    • Why Friendships Are So Tough for Highly Sensitive People - Introvert Spring (15)

      Melissa Renzion March 11, 2018 at 1:49 pm

      Hi Lesley, thank you for sharing your experience. So many of us can feel this sense of not fitting in our families whether adopted or blood-related. But I love how you emphasize the strength your challenging path has brought you. I can relate as someone who is from a family of non-sensitive extroverts for the most part. Some days I feel like my whole life’s path of dealing with grief, trauma, and family boundaries has led me to a keen ability to empathize and hold space for others as well. All the best to you!


  4. Why Friendships Are So Tough for Highly Sensitive People - Introvert Spring (16)

    Bhekisisa Zwaneon March 14, 2018 at 6:21 am

    I’m a highly sensitive INTJ and I can relate much to this. What makes it worse or exciting is that I also have Low Latent Inhibition.


  5. Why Friendships Are So Tough for Highly Sensitive People - Introvert Spring (17)

    Chelseyon March 14, 2018 at 3:29 pm

    “We’re incapable of pretending to be someone we’re not.”

    This is very true. When I DO try to pretend, I feel like it’s really obvious how fake I’m being. Unfortunately, it’s often necessary, especially in the professional world. I’ve found my sensitivity has previously made it very difficult to find work and flourish in the typical sort of work environment. The world feels like it was built by and for extroverts.


  6. Why Friendships Are So Tough for Highly Sensitive People - Introvert Spring (18)

    Monicaon June 8, 2018 at 6:53 am

    (Video) 10 Strengths of a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)

    I take instant dislike to Bpd borderline personality sorts, and in grp of friends one girl acts like a whiny baby. Even if they are ‘not normal and cant help it, its best to steer clear of them esp if we are HS. Partly i was forced to cope on my own, with my own problems without any close friends. Some have implied my reaction to not console pitiful ones as callous, but if i dun protect myself who will? Esp if we alr cant choose toxic family, all the more stay away from toxic outsiders. I used to be affected by what ppl said, and ruminate too much. But trust ur gut


  7. Why Friendships Are So Tough for Highly Sensitive People - Introvert Spring (19)

    Mariaon November 8, 2018 at 1:48 am

    I am struggling with maintaining a friendship because of my sensitive I feel the unauthentic action as well as statements from my friends. It is accused as awkward or weird one when I become “cold” in the daily relationship at school or student housing. They said something getting hurt or untrue about that, it makes me more hurt and silent not like I am. I myself can be hard to find my own way to harmony with a social relation. What should I do?

    The issue gets worse as I started scared with new relations in the first job because I often overthink what people say and feel, then my face naturally is red and to show up my embarrassment. I feel quite stuck in this situation.


  8. Why Friendships Are So Tough for Highly Sensitive People - Introvert Spring (20)

    Mandyon February 21, 2019 at 8:00 am

    This sums me up completely. I’m an INFJ, HSP and introvert. I’ve tried multiple times explaining “why I am the way I am” to family and friends with the lack of their understanding. This really sums it up perfectly. Glad to see I’m not alone.


    • Why Friendships Are So Tough for Highly Sensitive People - Introvert Spring (21)

      Debbieon June 6, 2019 at 12:17 pm

      Same here Mandy, glad I’m not alone too


    • Why Friendships Are So Tough for Highly Sensitive People - Introvert Spring (22)

      Janet A DeCourtneyon February 12, 2021 at 12:59 pm

      Oh my, I simply had to distance from my family. They don’t understand anything about me so it’s better that they don’t know anything, either.


  9. Why Friendships Are So Tough for Highly Sensitive People - Introvert Spring (23)

    Rikkoon June 6, 2019 at 12:26 pm

    (Video) 13 Problems Only Highly Sensitive People Will Understand

    The problem lies with those in your face Extroverts who try to make Introverts feel like we are crazy for not being a debt slave, for not being a work slave, for not doing our own thing(as long as no one is harmed…), for taking the road less traveled…..

    So many Extroverts also think that everyone wants to drink a beer after work in their yard and share with the neighbors how they “stuck it to the man today.”

    What about if you work for yourself and you are the “man?”


  10. Why Friendships Are So Tough for Highly Sensitive People - Introvert Spring (24)

    Michael Lochlannon November 1, 2019 at 7:09 am

    Friendships are tough for me because I keep getting hurt or frustrated by things I think less sensitive people would let slide. Such as a friend who tells me they are going to call me or hang out with me and then cancelling the day before. I can get upset over that for weeks. Though I won’t necessarily blame the person, I will feel bad about it and it almost makes the friendship not worth it. People tend to disappoint, and when you are very sensitive, disappointment, especially repeated disappointment, can easily spiral into depression or heartbreak.

    Another thing I deal with is holding people to high standards. Since I’m sensitive, I’m very in tune with how people make me feel and how I WANT to feel, and when the two don’t line up, I let them know about it or drop them. I’m also very aware of when people are boring me, or aggravating me, and find it harder to tolerate than most others seem to. This means the pool of people I WANT to be friends with gets smaller and smaller.

    If you stay alone, then it feels like nothing you do really matters, and you have no one to share your thoughts and feelings with. However, sometimes it’s better to spend time with yourself than with people who don’t really understand you or commit to your well-being anyway.


  11. Why Friendships Are So Tough for Highly Sensitive People - Introvert Spring (25)

    Agata Kramarzon February 23, 2020 at 5:20 pm

    Dear Melissa,

    Thank you for your correspondence that was sent to me via mail. I find your article very interesting and I can easily find myself among people you write about. Would you be so kind and send me dates of the introvert expeditions this year. Are you guiding the group or somebody else. I live close to Chicago and I wonder if there are any participants from Chicagoland, Illinois.
    I wonder what state are you in. Thank you very much, Agata.


  12. Why Friendships Are So Tough for Highly Sensitive People - Introvert Spring (26)

    Lawrenceon July 5, 2021 at 3:07 pm

    2) We crave deep, authentic connection.
    Small talk just doesn’t do it for highly sensitive people. Many typical social interactions may feel boring or shallow to us. We desire connection with kindred spirits with whom we can talk about life’s wonders, personal growth, and just be our vulnerable selves.

    Arrogant much? Ever consider that maybe you’re just not that interesting to every person you meet? That someone may simply dislike you? They don’t TRUST you because your arrogance enters the room five minutes before you do.

    Here’s a helpful tip – you do NOT know what someone is feeling or why.

    Also, you (pl) also need to stop turning someone else’s problem into a competition. My cancer diagnosis is NOT the time to tell me how difficult it is for you to handle because you are HSP. I didn’t ask anything of you and yet you later turned around and were upset that I didn’t share issues with you because you had demonstrated you couldn’t handle it. You don’t get to have it both ways.

    Nor do you get to complain without clap-back when you dump your issues on others, ask them to help/solve and criticize the results. Non-HSPs aren’t your punching bags.


    (Video) The gentle power of highly sensitive people | Elena Herdieckerhoff | TEDxIHEParis



  1. Why Highly Sensitive People Overthink So Much - Introvert Spring - […] HSPs have a fear of letting others down. We may waver about attending a party. On one hand, we…

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Why Friendships Are So Tough for Highly Sensitive People - Introvert Spring? ›

Like all relationships, friendships require a certain amount of initiative for maintenance. Because many HSPs are introverted (about 70 percent), it can be easy for us to prefer our own company as opposed to social gatherings (which can be very draining, not to mention overstimulating).

Do highly sensitive people have a hard time making friends? ›

Highly sensitive people (HSPs) are introspective, can become overstimulated if their surroundings are too busy, and feel drained by small talk. In other words, parties are your worst nightmare. Because of this, making new friends as a highly sensitive person can be exhausting, anxiety-inducing, and unappealing.

Why is it so hard for introverts to make friends? ›

One of the main reasons that introverts have a hard time making friends is that they are often seen as shy. People may not approach them because they seem uninterested or aloof. Introverts themselves may feel uncomfortable approaching a random stranger.

Are highly sensitive people introverts? ›

Differences Between Introverts and Highly Sensitive People. 1. Sensitive people can be introverted or extroverted. It's estimated that about 70 percent of sensitive people are introverts, while 30 percent are extraverts.

Why is it hard for Empaths to make friends? ›

Heightened sensitivity to the world and everything around you; emotional extremes that can be intimidating for some; introverted tendencies; difficulty making new friends because of all of the above.

Are HSP socially awkward? ›

Social awkwardness is a familiar feeling to many HSPs

You are just being yourself, but somehow that self is too much for the other person. You end up feeling like the dog in the photo above—somewhere between crestfallen and crushed.

What personality types are most likely to be HSP? ›

Two of the traits that align with high sensitivity – Intuitive and Feeling – are indicative of the Diplomat Role. Of the four Diplomat personality types, Introverted Advocates (INFJs) and Mediators (INFPs) may be among the most likely to have HSP qualities.


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