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How Can DBT Help Highly Sensitive People?

DBT for Highly Sensitive People

If you get upset easily or often over-analyze situations, people might hurl “You’re so sensitive!” at you as an insult. It probably stings when they do. But emotional sensitivity isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Like any aspect of personality, there are pros and cons to being sensitive. Many of our highly sensitive clients are incredibly artistic, creative, and caring, and use their connection to emotionality to accomplish incredible things. 

But if you’re reading this article, you may be asking yourself whether your sensitivity is affecting your life negatively, and ultimately wondering how can DBT help highly sensitive people?


What defines a Highly Sensitive Person?

High sensitivity is a term used to describe those who are high in “sensory-processing sensitivity.” This means a person’s personality traits leave them more sensitive to emotions and to physical sensations.

A highly sensitive person might feel more disturbed by tense situations, violence, or overwhelming sensations. They may also tend to be more creative and have rich inner lives. This makes them more open to forming deep bonds with others and take pleasure in human connection.

The term isn’t a psychological disorder—rather, it’s a useful descriptor for someone’s personality. Some highly sensitive people are diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), and may also struggle with adapting to new situations, coping with stress, and regulating their emotions appropriately.

Both of these labels are ultimately helpful terms that can inform the therapists who work with them about the DBT skills to include in their wellness plan. 

How DBT can help Highly Sensitive People


Radical acceptance

In DBT, radical acceptance is exactly what it sounds like: when you surrender to your circumstances without fighting reality. You stop responding destructively when your situation isn’t going the way you want it to. You let go of the anger and bitterness that keeps you trapped and suffering. You accept your diagnosis and embrace the way your brain is wired.

Even when life gets uncomfortable, radical acceptance allows you to live in the moment and free yourself from the negative emotions that keep you from enjoying the world. For highly sensitive people, radical acceptance is a way of letting go of criticisms, perceived slights, shame, guilt, and other overwhelming feelings.

Emotional regulation

When you work on your emotional regulation with your DBT therapist, you’ll be able to better identify why you often get overwhelmed. DBT teaches you to take a step back and rationally look at your emotions before letting them take over.

You’ll learn to observe how you emotionally respond to situations. If you tend to respond dysfunctionally as a highly sensitive person, DBT gives you the skills for reevaluating your response and doing the opposite of what your impulse might have led you to do.


Mindfulness is the practice of being emotionally and physically present, particularly in a distressing moment. It’s a skill that takes a lot of practice to master. DBT teaches you how to appreciate both logic and emotion in a time of stress.

It also shows you how to become grounded in your physical body, paying attention to sensations and thoughts as they arise. Mindfulness helps Highly Sensitive People be less reactive, taking pleasure in the present moment without worry.

Should you seek therapy?

Even if you haven’t been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, but still identify as a highly sensitive person, you will likely still benefit from DBT’s therapeutic strategies. A therapist can help you learn to cope with emotionally distressing situations, unlearn negative coping skills, and reframe how you approach the world. DBT has actually been proven to help reduce clients’ baseline reactivity as they learn to use the skills that make their lives more manageable. 

If you find yourself struggling with emotional regulation and radical acceptance or your family has a super sensor child, and would like to learn more about how DBT might help, please reach out to us.

dbt therapist checking her notes for her next client, a child with autism.

Suffolk DBT proudly provides quality dialectical behavior therapy, a form of cognitive behavioral therapy, at their offices in Manhattan and Long Island, New York and online. Their experienced therapists specialize in serving teens, children, adults, and college students struggling with depression, borderline personality disorder, eating disorders, and self-harm. Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) skills and treatment can help you or your kids to manage emotions and work through life’s challenges.


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