Five Stages of Cultural Awareness & Acceptance

Five Stages of Cultural Awareness and Acceptance
by Jacquelyn Strickland, retired psychotherapist & LPC


Many of you may know that my background in social work, women’s studies, cultural diversity, and a graduate degree in counseling have informed my work with Sensory Processing Sensitivity for over 25 years. over 25 years.  My Five Stages of Cultural Awareness and Acceptance was first published in Dr. Elaine Aron’s (hard copy) newsletter, The Comfort Zone many years ago.

Just like other ‘marginalized’ groups in society, I think it is imperative that we each own our unique identities and begin a process of healing from what is sometimes a case of “internalized oppression.” This falls under the category of the many “ISMs” that permeate society and I believe that HSPism has been real for many of us. This ‘ism’ needs to be challenged and as HSPs, we need to step up into owning our power. This type of power is not the typical “power over” paradigm, but simply a belief in the “power to instigate change for the betterment of ourselves or others.

What Does it Mean to Acknowledge, Affirm & Promote our Sensitivities?
Jacquelyn Strickland, LPC

 The following definitions are from Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the .English Language, 1996.  The examples following the definitions may help us to rethink what we have been taught, what we have internalized and what we can do differently when it comes to being a Highly Sensitive Person.

1.  Disparage: To belittle, demean, ridicule, discredit
Believing:  “HSPs’ are weak, irritable, inferior, fearful, too emotional, too nervous, too intense.”
Beliefs often associated with this stage:
~There is something wrong with me
~I am a disappointment
~I am powerless

Feelings often associated with this stage:
Dejected, Hopeless, Depressed, Ashamed, Overwhelmed, Fragile, Vulnerable

2.  Deny:   To refuse to recognize or acknowledge
Believing: “You’re too sensitive, you need to toughen up, bite the bullet, suck it up.”
Beliefs often associated with this stage:
~My needs are not important
~I cannot trust my judgment
~I am weak – I am a failure
~I have to be perfect

Feelings often associated with this stage:
Stressed out, irritable, angry, resentful, guilty, heavy-hearted

3.  Acknowledge:    To admit to be real or true; to recognize the existence of
Believing:  “Yes…your needs and mine are different … help me to understand you, so I can help you to understand me.”

Beliefs often associated with this stage: 
~I can be myself
~I can get what I want and need
~I have choices

Feelings often associated with this stage:  Relief, intrigued, inspired, absorbed

4.  Affirm:  To state or assert positively
Believing:  “HSPs have a unique way of being in the world, we have a more finely tuned nervous system, and we process things deeply and purposefully.”

Beliefs often associated with this stage:
~I can trust myself
~I can be myself and make mistakes
~I can learn to take care of my sensitive self

Feelings often associated with this stage: Proud, Relaxed, passionate, hopeful, optimistic

5.  Promote:  To further, advance, or exalt; put in a higher position
Believing:  “HSPs are not “better” than non-HSPs, nor are we superior…yet, knowing that HSPs have unique gifts,  talents, and skills and much to contribute to the world around us, our families, our workplaces, relationships, etc.”

Beliefs often associated with this stage:
~I deserve love and respect
~I am fine just as I am
~I can trust my judgment
~I can choose whom to trust

Feelings often associated with this stage:  Appreciative, Grateful, Inspired, Empowered, Excited

From:  Edited from Dr. Evonne Hedgepeth, Ph.D.,   “What Does It Really Mean to “Affirm” Versus “Promote”     A handout used in cultural diversity training & modified for HSPs by Jacquelyn Strickland, LPC. Use only with permission.

Questions for Reflection

  Which feelings and beliefs do you most identify with?

  1. What keeps you from moving forward to the next stage?
  2. What is your biggest need/fear as an HSP?   Who can help you address this need?
  3. Which statements might you utilize as positive affirmations to build and maintain your confidence as an HSP?
  4. What kind of support do you need to move forward?

Jacquelyn Strickland, LPC     (970) 484-0840 –
Use only with permission


Picture of Jacquelyn Strickland

Jacquelyn Strickland

Jacquelyn became a Licensed Professional Counselor in 1993, and began working exclusively with highly sensitive people in 2001, shortly after the first HSP Gathering Retreat in May of 2001. Her private psychotherapy practice has now transitioned to mentoring and coaching, which is not therapy, yet definitely therapeutic for most clients. She also offers consultations and accepts speaking engagements about the trait of Sensory Processing Sensitivity. She is a member of ICHS – International Consultants High Sensitivity, a professional, national, and international group of HSPs who were trained by Elaine Aron in March of 2018. She makes a cameo appearance in the 2015 documentary film: Sensitive: The Untold Story, available at

Although not always able to accept new clients, please do inquire here about how and if we might best work together.

Depth of Processing

Depth of processing is the most basic aspect of our SPS trait, and results in the deep, rich inner life most HSPs experience. Research has shown more brain activation in the prefrontal cortex and in a part of the brain called the insula which has sometimes been referred to as the ‘seat of consciousness.’ This creates the tendency to reflect more than others about the “way the world is going or “the meaning of life.” By integrating information and experiences, from both past and present, the HSP’s unique depth of processing can enable a sense and understanding of longer term consequences and may be able to influence future decisions with more creative and expansive thought.