Dr. Elayne Daniels

Cue the slow-mo commercial of kids and puppies frolicking in a meadow, without a care in the world. Or a woman petting her cat while they watch the world from a window. The human-animal bond that draws us in. And for good reason. It’s familiar. Natural. Uncomplicated. And, for some people, it’s especially beneficial. For all the good they do for humans, pets help Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) in some pretty special ways.

What is it like to live with high sensitivity?

If you are highly sensitive, you know there is a whole dimension to life that the majority of people don’t experience. They may not even recognize it, let alone understand it.

But you live it. Every moment draws you into the sensory and emotional nuances of your environment and your experience of it.

Your brain is always on — so much so that it may even hurt. All that thinking, processing, daydreaming, feeling.

Being so aware — of stimuli, emotions, your environment — comes at a price. 

Sometimes it’s overstimulation. At times, exhaustion. Sometimes loneliness. Or depression. 

Sometimes all of the above.

The point is, living with high sensitivity is a lot. And that’s not a value statement of good or bad. It just is.

And yet, it might not seem so weighty and exhausting if the rest of the world weren’t there admonishing your sensitivity. “You’re SO sensitive!” is rarely meant as a superlative.

And what a shame that is. 

On the one hand, we live in a world desperately in need of greater kindness and deeper connection.

On the other hand, that same world often looks its gift horse in the mouth by rejecting the highly sensitive.

Speaking of horses…

This is one of the reasons animals, and specifically pets, help Highly Sensitive People in such profound ways. When the world drops the ball, they’re all too happy to pick it up and bring it back to you.

(Well, at least the dog is.)

Sensitivity in animals

If you’re like most animal lovers, you know in your heart that animals are loaded with enviable superpowers. 

They are, for example, resilient to a humbling degree, despite the cruelty they often experience at the hands of humans.

They also instinctively know the good guys from the villains and provide built-in radar for choosing a romantic partner.

And, of course, we all know our canine friends can smell breakfast cooking in a house the next county over.

Animals also perform some pretty amazing jobs for humans, other species, and the environment. 

And last but not least, there is that mysterious constant in the animal kingdom that goes beyond even instinct: they “just know” things.

So, when we talk about ways animals, and specifically pets, help Highly Sensitive People, we’re also talking about sensitivity in animals.

But even within a given species, some animals are more neurologically sensitive than others. And interestingly, the rate of high sensitivity in those species studied mirrors that of humans: about 15-20%.

How are pets beneficial to HSPs?

For the HSP, life in the fast-paced, increasingly dehumanized world can feel like a daily immersion in defeat. “I don’t fit in.” “No one understands me.” “It’s all too much.” “I just want to be alone.”

But the truth is, the HSP doesn’t really want to be alone. She just wants to fit in and feel valued, understood, and respected. 

She wants to have a space and purpose carved out just for her, tailor-made for her unique attributes and gifts.

Unfortunately, the HSP usually struggles more than most to find even a smidge of those accommodations – at least among fellow humans.

Pets, ironically, often provide the one fully safe, stable, unconditionally loving relationship an HSP has. They say, without speaking, what we HSPs most long to hear: “I get you.”

Here are 7 specific ways that pets help Highly Sensitive People:

  1. Animals won’t judge you.

    HSPs spend a good part of their lives feeling judged, scrutinized, and misunderstood. After all, their minds go to depths that most others can’t fathom, let alone reach.

    But you will never hear your dog, cat, parrot, or ferret complain that you are “too sensitive.” They also won’t point out imperfections in how you keep house. They couldn’t care less what you look like.

    Just think about how amazing that is.
  2. Pets are just happy to be with you.

    If you ever need confirmation of your value, pull out your cell phone and video your return home to your pet(s).

    You could have taken out the trash and come right back. Doesn’t matter. To the pet who loves you, it’s as if you have come home from war. Wiggle-butts, wags, purrs, squeals of joy — all because it’s you that has walked through the door.

    And all they want is to be with you. You don’t have to talk or think or perform. Just be.

    And, when you consider the HSP’s innate need for regular decompression and alone time, that’s a remarkable gift.
  3. Having a pet helps fight the loneliness often felt by HSPs.

    The need for downtime away from other people can inadvertently lead to isolation and loneliness.

    You don’t want to be a recluse, but sometimes the world is just way too much. You have friends who thrive on the energy of the hustle, but you do not.

    One of the best ways that pets help Highly Sensitive People flourish is through their unconditional love and companionship. Pets are family; and sometimes (usually?) they are better company than people.
  4. Pets can help with emotional processing and grieving.

    Dogs in particular are known for their natural empathy and ability to give comfort simply by “being there.” To an HSP, that’s the equivalent of having another HSP right at your side (or in your lap).

    This ability to read and intuitively respond to a human’s emotions can then translate to the human’s emotional processing.

    And at no time is this connection more impactful than during times of grief.
  5. Animals feed HSPs’ natural yearning to connect with nature.

    Animals like dogs and horses require exercise and time in nature. And that connection to nature is deep-seated in HSPs. They are intuitively drawn to it, and pets can be the best incentive to forge that connection on a daily basis.

    Perhaps not surprisingly, experiencing nature with your companion animal deepens your relationship with one another. You are now experiencing nature on their level, enjoying their reveling in it and melding your sensitive frequencies.

    It’s a beautiful synergy that is often impossible for the HSP to share with other humans.
  6. Pets provide free entertainment and inspire play.

    HSPs need to play. And often they need a reason, if not a nudge, to recreate a sense of childhood they may have missed.

    Babies and animals know how to play without having to think about it. Play is innate to their pure spirits.

    When you initiate or respond to the invitation to play, you enter into a zone of magical timelessness and pleasure. Stress goes down; engagement, creativity, and mental acuity go up.

    And there’s nothing like watching the antics of an elated dog or cat to tickle your funny bone. Rarely are humans that entertaining or fun.
  7. Having a pet has health benefits, too.  

    It’s no surprise that, if having a pet can work all these wonders, it also has tons of health benefits. Research consistently shows that people with pets have better cardiovascular markers (blood pressure, heart rate) and mental health than those who don’t.

Animal behaviorist Temple Grandin, who has autism, has many of the same sensory sensitivities as HSPs do: lights, sound, touch. They can all be too much.

But she also sees the world uniquely. She experiences the world visually (vs. through language). 

And it is this visual experience and processing that, according to her, connect her to the frequency of animals.

She sees the world as they see it. She feels the world the way they feel it.

And, if there were ever one sentence that best speaks to how animals/pets help Highly Sensitive People lead happier, healthier lives, it’s this:

Animals make us human.

Dr. Elayne Daniels is a psychologist, consultant, and international coach in the Boston area whose passion is to help people celebrate their High Sensitivity…and shine their light.

To read more about High Sensitivity, check out some blogs here.

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