I have a few questions for you:
- Are you highly attuned to what others are thinking and feeling?
- Do you get caught up in others’ problems, regardless of whether you play a role or not—because you want to help?
- Do you find yourself overstimulated or distracted by bright lights, large groups, loud noises, and certain smells?
- Do you have a problem “fitting in”?
If so, you might be a fellow Very Reactive Individual (VRI). A common pattern among women in particular, the hallmarks of the VRI personality type look something like this:
As a child, you might have been labeled “too sensitive” or “shy.” Those around you didn’t understand your sense of overwhelm or support your need for alone time. Now, as an adult, you may still feel you’re different or separate from other people you meet.
Unfortunately, you may also be so involved in your perceptions of the needs of others that your boundaries have weakened and allow others and their issues to seep into your consciousness to your own detriment. Because of your empathy for others, you’ve taken on others’ problems and concerns, leaving you regularly entangled, exhausted, and worried about them. You might even wish you could turn off your radar, but it’s not an easy skill to learn.
Knowing you’re a VRI is a wonderful puzzle piece to become aware of on your journey. Instead of seeing your sensitive nature as a liability, understand that VRIs have very special antennae that constantly receive data. Being a VRI is a gift, but one that must be handled with care. You just may be more easily stressed than others as you’re bombarded by the emotional information coming from outside your personal boundaries daily.
Do you think you might be a VRI? You can work with that! Becoming comfortable as a VRI means finding a balance between your own needs and emotions and those signals you pick up from other people.
In your work
Perhaps you work for someone else, but maybe, like many VRIs, you are self-employed. This allows you to be creative and be your own boss, thus controlling the work environment and work flow. You experience an intensity in just about everything you do, and although your work is carefully orchestrated, you constantly worry about how your results will be received (by everyone including yourself). And while your gift is your creativity, insight, and resourcefulness, you might have difficulty concentrating on tasks at hand and being distracted by “bright, shiny objects” that get your attention.
Vital VRI tip: Even if you work alone, the fact is you can’t control everything. Learn techniques to effectively handle stress and criticism without taking every comment personally. You’ll find that the challenge of making decisions with certainty becomes easier as you become more aware of and trust your own gifts.
As a VRI, you are keenly aware of others’ energy fields and moods. You notice subtle nuances and “get” people quickly. Since you can be hypersensitive where opinions are concerned, you might fear receiving criticism or hurting someone else’s feelings if you speak up. Some VRIs are overly tempted to try to “fix” or help other people. That can backfire when in an effort to display compassion, you end up taking on another person’s problems, pain, and distress. Or maybe you go the opposite way, putting up a wall to keep from being bombarded by others’ concerns—which, unfortunately, is sometimes misinterpreted as being shy, introverted, or even cold.
Vital VRI tip: In large, loud groups, you might feel more easily depleted than usual. Give yourself some alone time to rest and regroup when you need to. For some of you VRIs, learning to find your voice and take a stand instead of going along with the crowd may be an empowering step.
And that urge to “fix”? It may be admirable, but know that there’s a better way. Often, what a person really needs is not a problem-solver but a good listener. Chances are, all your loved one wants is to be heard, to voice the issue and be assured that another human understands. You as a VRI are in a unique position to do just that because you empathize—you DO understand. If you simply listen, without judgment and without interfering with your loved one’s right to work out his or her own solution, you will be providing exactly the kind ear that person needs. And being a listener—not a fixer—is good for you, too. It allows you to support your friend without obligating you to shoulder the weight of another person’s burden.
I know that just taking a backseat isn’t the easiest response for people who are accustomed to solving other people’s problems, but take comfort in the knowledge that this is truly the more effective path—both for you, and for the person you want to support.
In your environment
Your sensitivity extends to almost all aspects of your environment. It’s easy to be distracted or startled by forces beyond your control, like bright lights and loud sounds.
As soon as you enter a space, you can feel quickly overwhelmed, overstimulated, and sensitive to lights, smells, and the energy of others around you. Whether listening to discordant sounds like babies crying and phones ringing, smelling perfumes, being in a dusty space, or having fluorescent lighting overhead, a VRI is more susceptible to the stresses of that environment.
Vital VRI tip: Living in an environment that supports you and feels safe will be the best way to counteract the vulnerability you feel in other spaces. Make your own comfortable home your refuge.
I’ve worked with VRIs who’ve benefited first from knowing that they’re not alone, and then from learning how to embrace heightened intuition and sensitivity as the gifts they are. Being extra-aware and tuned in to your world is a double-edged sword—it provides a deeper insight into your surroundings, but it can easily invite disturbing overwhelm. See a problem? Take a step back and be discerning. Is this truly your issue to solve? If not, back away when necessary to preserve your energy and personal space. The ability to disconnect is an invaluable tool in the fight against stress—especially for someone who is a VRI.
If you’re intrigued by this VRI personality, I strongly recommend you read Elaine Aron’s wonderful series of books, starting with The Highly Sensitive Person, which speaks to those having similar characteristics. And I’m here to guide you in turning that wisdom into practices you can use in your own life, too. Here’s to channeling these traits—your unique gifts!—in ways that affirm and complement YOU!