The way I navigate life as a highly sensitive Latina differs from the expectations often associated with the HSP trait. However, my personal journey sheds light on the shared challenges faced by all HSPs, regardless of their racial background. What I want to emphasize here is that this is based on my personal journey. Mine. No one else’s. Not even of my family’s experience of my journey. In sharing this today, I am hoping to provide some insight into how these experiences of my HSP lifestyle have been influenced by my Latina culture. (note: this article was originally written for Sensitive Refuge and has been modified/updated for my personal website)
Mi Familia, My World
In my culture, la familia (the family) holds immense importance. The expectation is to spend all your time together—working in the family business, sharing meals and socializing, taking trips as a unit, and more. Desperate to please my family, I would comply with these expectations, despite silently enduring the distress caused by overstimulation, often resulting in migraines. It would take me days to recover and feel like myself again once I returned home. I would vow to express my needs, but it seemed like I had no other choice.
As an introverted and highly sensitive Latina, I craved alone time to recharge, but this desire contradicted the expectations of my family. Leaving an event early, even if it was crucial for my sensitive nervous system, was considered rude.
After leaving a family gathering early due to the overwhelming sensory experience caused by loud music, my mother would text me, asking, “Are you mad at us?”
My tia (aunt) would plead, “Why aren’t you proud of who you are? Of us?”
It became clear that pleasing my family and upholding cultural expectations came at the expense of my HSP mental and physical well-being.
Whenever I attempted to establish boundaries within my family to honor my sensitivity, I faced a constant stream of questions and judgments. “You don’t need a break from family,” my extroverted and boisterous father would assert, a man who could spend endless hours in the company of others without tiring.
I fervently wished I didn’t have to choose between embracing my Latina identity and being a highly sensitive person (HSP). Eventually, I realized that I didn’t have to make that choice. However, it took time…
Navigating HSP Among Non-Believers in a Puerto Rican Family
Around 30% of the population consists of sensitive individuals, and I am one of them. However, if you observed my lively Puerto Rican family, you would hardly recognize the existence of HSPs.
Growing up as a sensitive and introverted girl in a large, loud Puerto Rican family left me feeling confused about my identity and where I fit into my culture. The pressure to conform to social expectations, attend loud gatherings, and adapt to the fast-paced lifestyle overwhelmed me.
Even before discovering my identity as a highly sensitive person, I already felt at odds with my culture, questioning whether I was “Latina enough.” But before delving further, let’s delve into what it truly means to be “sensitive.”
What Does Sensitivity Entail?
Sensitivity is a personality trait. According to Andre Sólo and Jenn Granneman, coauthors of Sensitive and founders of Sensitive Refuge, high sensitivity involves absorbing more information from the environment, processing it more deeply, and engaging with it more intensely. Sólo explains that the sensitive brain is naturally wired to process information more profoundly, leading to increased time and mental resources dedicated to this process.
As a result of this deep processing, sensitive individuals tend to exhibit specific characteristics. Many possess a creative and introspective mindset, noticing subtle details and connections that others often miss. They also tend to have heightened empathy since they process emotional cues on a deeper level. Additionally, many are acutely attuned to their physical surroundings, perceiving even the slightest changes. While these traits offer advantages, the sensitive brain can also become overwhelmed, particularly in loud, chaotic, or emotionally intense environments—enter my family.
Can I Be Both Highly Sensitive and Latina?
As I began recognizing the signs of being a highly sensitive person and embracing that my brain functions differently from those who are less sensitive, I felt torn about whether I could truly identify as Latina. My parents implied that being highly sensitive was “a white thing,” suggesting that possessing this trait made me less Puerto Rican. I struggled to find resources about highly sensitive Latinx individuals that resonated with my own experiences—or the absence of them—without confining me to a predefined category.
Compounding my struggles, I realized that the foundational research on the HSP trait primarily emerged from English-speaking contexts and predominantly featured non-Latinx researchers. Certain concepts do not easily translate between languages or cultures. I rarely encountered highly sensitive Latinx public figures or trusted family members, leaving me uncertain about where I belonged.
Expanding the Definition of Sensitivity to Embrace the Entire Latinx Diaspora
As a highly sensitive Puerto Rican woman, my experiences differ from those of a Spanish woman, a non-binary individual from Guatemala, or even a Puerto Rican man. Therefore, as we explore high sensitivity within the Latinx community, it is vital to acknowledge and respect the vast and extensive range of experiences encompassed within our diaspora.
Fortunately, over the past year, progress has been made in HSP research, and concepts like cross-cultural validation have started to include non-English speakers and individuals from beyond the United States. This expanded perspective allows us to perceive the diverse manifestations of high sensitivity across languages, cultures, and identities.
How I Honor My Sensitivity and Embrace My Latina Identity, Even When They Seem at Odds
As I delved deeper into understanding my high sensitivity, a realization struck me. The more I concealed my sensitivity and attempted to conform, the more miserable I became. What was the point of my family only witnessing my worst moments? Why should I suffer in silence when I was an independent adult?
Finally, I discovered that I had a choice. I didn’t have to conform to societal expectations based on my gender, my highly sensitive nature, or my Latina heritage. I recognized that I could create my unique narrative of what it meant to be a highly sensitive Latina.
When I finally decided to discard the narratives I had been fed, I started immersing myself in podcasts and books that offered diverse perspectives. I nurtured my pre-existing passion for travel and explored new countries, engaging with people from various cultures to realize that my family’s expectations weren’t the only way to exist.
Through research, I learned that alternative ways of life existed beyond what I knew or had been told. I didn’t have to adhere to my family’s expectations; instead, I could embrace what worked best for my sensitive soul. While I cherish my family and the rich tapestry of my heritage, I chose to forge my path and redefine what it meant to be a highly sensitive Latina.
Boundaries: My Most Trusted HSP Allies (And Comfy Sweatpants)
Over time, I discovered that genuine happiness as a highly sensitive individual entailed living alone, embracing a slower pace of travel, honoring my needs, allowing ample rest, and participating in social events in moderation. Often, these needs clash with the fast-paced lifestyle embraced by my Puerto Rican family.
Nevertheless, it’s okay. I still love my family, and I now exercise the power to determine how I spend time with them. I establish boundaries, enabling them to experience the best version of me while ensuring I remain true to myself.
My parents may still struggle to understand my needs as a highly sensitive, introverted person. However, the validity of my needs is not contingent upon their comprehension. What matters to me is feeling connected to my family and my heritage. I can proudly embrace my Latina identity without succumbing to the pressure of fulfilling every expectation. Being highly sensitive does not diminish my Latinidad.
Denying Your Sensitivity Can Impede Your Mental Wellbeing — But You Can Transform That Narrative
Even as awareness of highly sensitive introverts grows, you might encounter similar challenges to those I faced. Your family may refuse to acknowledge your HSP nature. Overall, your culture might discourage sensitivity. In fact, your community might label you as “too sensitive.” I want to assure you that your HSP needs are entirely valid.
About the Author, Enid De Jesus: Sensitive Introvert Coach for Women
As a licensed therapist specializing in highly sensitive individuals, I witness how the pursuit of perfection and assimilation leaves my HSP clients feeling unhappy and drained. They often approach me burdened with loneliness, misery, illness, and burnout. The good news is that as they delve into the understanding of the HSP trait and adopt a different perspective on their mental well-being, they begin to experience more happiness, improved health, and increased joy. I firmly believe that this transformation is possible for you too.