Written by Amy Beecham
Are you a high achiever yet still highly attuned to your emotions, the world and the behaviour of those around you? You might be a “sensitive striver”.
Allow me to confess something: I love a personality diagnosis. While I admit I have zero professional capacity to do so, over the years I’ve labelled myself everything from a chronic perfectionist to an ENTJ-T.
Spurred on by scrolling TikTok’s endless psychology content, I found myself parroting lines about having “gifted child syndrome”, aka the feeling that you peaked too early and are struggling to live up to the high standards you once reached as a child, which will be a hard relate for many people.
But no term I’ve ever come across has ever captured my attention like “sensitive striver”. Reading the definition – a high-achiever who is also more sensitive to their emotions, the world, and the behaviour of those around them – felt like an “ahhhhh” moment.
Coined by leadership coach Melody Wilding, the term explains individuals who are driven to succeed and give their 100% to everything they do – all with an inner world on overdrive.
Sensitive strivers are likely to be very creative and right-brained in their thinking, with sharp focus and concentration. They’re often fast learners and good teachers.
“On the one hand, people appreciate your warmth, depth of personality, and overall conscientiousness. On the other hand, situations others find relatively easy, such as making decisions and recovering from setbacks, can send you into a downward spiral,” Wilding explains.
While I feel deeply, I’ve always thought myself too extroverted to be a truly highly sensitive person. Instead, I combine confidence and ambition with a scarcity mindset, craving for external validation and a tendency to overanalyse. How’s that for being honest?
And while understanding these sensitive striver tendencies is a comfort, it has forced me to confront the reality of living with such an all-or-nothing mindset.
There’s a lot of push and pull that comes with balancing sensitivity and achievement and burnout is common among sensitive strivers, who remain so loyal to the path to success society has laid out for them that they rarely stop to define what makes them happy.
“Sensitive strivers are much more attuned to the feelings of others, and while this is without doubt a valuable quality, it can also be distressing and overwhelming,” Gail Marra, a clinical hypnotherapist and author of Health Wealth And Hypnosis tells Stylist.
“We can all appreciate the dedication and hard work of a high achiever, but on the other hand, it can present as a source of extreme stress and anxiety for someone of that mindset. Striving for perfection, never feeling good enough, self-doubt, overthinking and low self-esteem can be exhausting.”
While Marra explains that heightened sensitivity can be a genetic trait, she says that it can also develop as a consequence of past experience. “Why so many of us experience it is unclear, but to my mind, there is little doubt that the pressures of society and social media today exacerbates and fuels the all-or-nothing mindset,” she shares.
It’s something I find to be true. On many occasions, I’ve felt like a victim of my own expectations – that I’ll never be able to live up to the character I’ve created in my mind of who I want to be.
When I ask Marra how I can begin to manage feeling overwhelmed or demoralised by the minutiae of everyday life, she suggests self-hypnosis.
“Hypnosis helps you reframe the way you think and feel about the sensory input you receive,” she explains. “It helps you work through, better understand and manage your thoughts, feelings and emotions.”
Meditation, practising mindfulness and journaling through my thoughts, feelings and emotions are also activities she suggests might help.
However, Marra stresses the importance of not placing ourselves in a box or trying to “fix” the quirks in our individuality.
“Sensitive strivers are often pigeon-holed along with perfectionists, over-achievers and introverts. This is not necessarily the case,” she explains. “You can be a perfectionist but not an overachiever. You can be super sensitive but still a social butterfly. There are so many facets to our sensitivities, how they are experienced and expressed will be different for everyone.
“The most important thing we can do for ourselves, regardless of personality type, is to love, value and appreciate ourselves and all that we are.”
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