Are You a "Highly Sensitive Person" with a Special Affinity for Animals and Nature? (HSP-A/N)

HSP-A/N’s, The Animals & Earth are Calling to You

HSP-A/N’s, The Animals & Earth are Calling to You

Do you feel intensely moved by the beauty of Nature? Do you sometimes feel more connection with animals than people? Does the awareness of our widespread impact on animals and the planet leave you feeling heartbroken, anxious or overwhelmed?

According to research by Elaine Aaron, PhD, about 15-20% of humans and other species are wired a little different than most. (Ever relate to the ditty, “One of these things is not like the others?”) The Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) is exquisitely attuned to their environment and those around them, which provides an evolutionary advantage for species survival. Now that we no longer live in survival mode on the land, our exposure to endless sensory stimulation from crowded urban living, high pressure workplaces and 24 hour access to the Internet, has created a set up for feeling constantly overwhelmed. In order to thrive it is very important to understand the gifts and challenges of being an HSP and develop self-care practices that nurture and protect your sensitive nature.

Why is this so critical? Because within your sensitivity is a gift that is needed by the world now, more than ever. Along with being very aware of everything going on around us through our senses, many of us are highly empathic, that is, we are particularly astute at picking up what others are feeling. For some of us, this extends beyond other people to include animals, and even the Earth. Our deep connection with the more-than-human world can leave us anguishing over the mistreatment of animals and devastation of natural places. We feel the pain of the cows in a transport truck we pass on the highway, or the old growth forest as it is cut down for logging or development. 

It is very easy for HSP's to end up in a state of overwhelm, which impacts us physically, emotionally, cognitively, and spiritually. When overwhelmed we exist in a constricted world of fight (anger), flight (anxiety), or freeze (depression, despair or numbness). I believe some HSP’s have been called by either the animals (sometimes a specific species) or the Earth to bring their gifts to the world on behalf of that cause that most tugs at their heart. The animals and the Earth want to work with and through us to bring change. For those who are struggling, I would like to help you answer that call by sharing ideas and guidance with you that have helped me along this journey. 

In my next post I will share 3 essential practices to help HSP-A/N's move out of overwhelm and back into the flow of life.

Always Remain Curious About the Story


What do you see when you look at this image? What is the story that comes up in your mind?

I first spotted the female Canada goose on her nest about 3 weeks ago. I was excitedly waiting for the goslings to hatch. I was careful to avoid going anywhere near the nest. Then one day I noticed she wasn't there anymore. I decided to go have a look and found remnants of egg shells everywhere with one shell several feet away on the trail. I felt so sad thinking that a coyote, fox or other predator had ravaged the nest and eaten the eggs. I took this photo two days later, believing that I was watching a pair of Canada geese inspecting their nest site and mourning the loss of their eggs. I felt a sense of grief for them and wondered how ducks and geese ever manage to raise any babies with so many threats surrounding them on the land and in the sky. The idea of building a predator-free nesting spot for them crossed my mind, but I realized that I had to honour Nature's wisdom and cycles of life.

Yesterday evening when I arrived at the pond I noticed the couple move from the marshy end of the pond onto the water. Much to my surprise and delight I spotted five fluffy goslings paddling close behind their Mama. They headed straight to the nest site in the photo above. When I got home I zoomed in on the photo above and spotted a gosling in the grass! It would appear that, rather than mass carnage, the pieces of shell everywhere were the remnants left behind after the goslings pecked their way out of their eggs. Their Mama had actually fended off the ravens, owls, pine martins, coyotes and fox to hatch five gorgeous babies!

This was a powerful reminder for me to always remain curious and avoid jumping to conclusions. Sometimes the story we write in our heads is not what is actually going on at all. 

Mama Goose on her nest earlier this month

Zooming in on the first photo, you can see a gosling on the left

There is a pile of fuzzy goslings on the left in the grass

In Remembrance of "Red Dove"


November 2008:
I don’t know the name you were given back when you were a carefree colt with your whole life ahead of you. I’m not sure of the path you have traveled to arrive in this place or when you were betrayed by those entrusted with your care. Despite being thrown out like garbage because of a leg injury you likely incurred desperately trying to please the humans you served, you still approach me with kindness, simply wanting to connect with someone who sees you and cares. Your neck has fresh wounds from being roped. Why did they feel the need to treat your gentle soul with such disdain and cruelty? Why is no one else willing or able to sense your fear, your pain or your call for help? Why are they afraid to look into your eyes? 

It was my first auction and I was only able to rescue a couple of horses. Surrounded by countless pens of “loose” horses whose fate was a one way trip to Fort McLeod if no one bid against the meat buyer, I was overwhelmed by a profound grief and helplessness I had never felt before. I could only bring home two horses, and I had to consider how “adoptable” they were in making my choice. In the end I was able to give a second chance to two weanlings, a Percheron (Luna) and a Belgian (Cosmo). 

December 2017:
I sobbed for two days straight thinking about you and the others I had to leave behind. I am so sorry that I was not able to rescue you and give you the life you deserved, and that you were alone and afraid when you left this world. I still think of you and feel a deep wave of grief pass through me. Although I was unable to bring you home to FSS, I can see now that taking a moment to gently and compassionately look into your eyes and see you, while holding the space for you in a time of need, did make a difference, even as it shattered my heart. I want you to know you mattered to me. Your life mattered. You are loved and I will remember you always. May your spirit run free, my beautiful friend! 

* * *

This is my tribute to a horse who was at the first auction I ever attended. I find remembering and honouring the animals I have lost or couldn't help through ceremony, writing, drawing or in other creative ways helps me heal my broken heart  (And, as you can see, you do not need to be a professional "artist", just let your heart speak through your crayons, paint or whatever medium you choose.)

And now I will go hug all the horses I was able to bring home. 

Are you a Highly Sensitive “Animal” Person?

Do you tend to perceive and experience things more intensely than most? Are your senses exquisitely tuned to see, hear, smell, taste or feel stimuli in your environment that go unnoticed by those around you? Do you seem to know what others are feeling, sometimes even taking on those feelings without realizing it? Do you feel wonder and awe in the presence of Nature’s beauty, while feeling despair in response to the suffering of animals, other sentient beings or the environment? Are you strongly drawn to animals and Nature, often feeling more deeply connected with animals than other humans? If so, you are likely among a segment of highly sensitive individuals who are especially attuned to Nature and our animal kin.

Many people enjoy or even “love” animals, finding wonderful companionship in the family cat or dog. On the far end of this spectrum are those whose lives are so deeply interconnected with animals that they literally feel the pain of animals who are suffering. There is often a compelling sense of calling to help the animals, coupled with feelings of overwhelm at the magnitude of the suffering worldwide. This can feel like both a gift and a curse, which has the potential to cause considerable anxiety, grief, depression and despair in these highly sensitive souls.

In his book, “Living in the Borderland”, Jungian analyst Jerome Bernstein describes such individuals as having a “Borderland Personality”. He started exploring this concept while working with a client who claimed to feel the pain of the cows when in the presence of a cattle liner headed to the slaughterhouse. Her frustration at his attempts to view this as a projection of her own inner pain from childhood wounds, lead him open up to the idea that she actually felt the pain of these animals. 

“ Borderland people personally experience, and must live out, the split from nature on which the western ego, as we know it, has been built. They feel (not feel about) the extinction of species; they feel (not feel about) the plight of animals that are no longer permitted to live by their own instincts, and which survive only in domesticated states to be used as pets or food. Such people are highly intuitive…They are deeply feeling, sometimes to such a degree that they find themselves in profound feeling states that seem irrational to them. Virtually all of them are highly sensitive on a bodily level.”1

I was first introduced to Bernstein’s work several years ago while doing my Epona apprenticeship in Equine-Facilitated Therapy with Linda Kohanov in Arizona. I felt a window had finally opened in my understanding of the depths of connection I have always felt with animals. I particularly resonated with his observation that most “Borderlanders” seem to experience a “pervasive mournfulness”. My jaw literally dropped when he described this as a “Great Grief”. I had already been trying to explain to people that I carry a Great Grief within my heart for the animals and the Earth, that I actually feel as a physical pain in my chest.

I now believe that this “Great Grief” is central to my calling in this lifetime. I have often lamented the degree to which my basic character strongly leans toward introversion, believing I could make a bigger difference for the animals if I were more extroverted and thereby able to bring together a large community of supporters directly involved with Free Spirit Sanctuary. I have had visions of expanding FSS over time with more land, resources and volunteers enabling us to help even more animals. My ideas just never seemed to come to fruition over the years, leading to feelings of frustration and failure. As I have focused on connecting and aligning with my unique combination of gifts, values and passion, I started to realize that my calling involves creating the sacred space for reflective solitude and deepening connection with Nature and the animals I am blessed to have in my life, and helping empower those who are also called to heal the rift between humanity, our animal kin and Mother Earth. With this awareness I have been able to embrace my introverted nature as one of the essential gifts to walking my unique path in this lifetime.

1Bernstein, Jerome. Living in the Borderland: The Evolution of Consciousness and the Challenge of Healing Trauma. New York: Routledge, 2005, p 9.