You may be part of a group of individuals that have a Highly Sensitive People (HSP) ‘label’ attached to them and not even realize it. So, how do you know if you are a Highly Sensitive Person and what does it mean?
Have you ever been told…
“Don’t be so sensitive!”
“You need to develop a thicker skin!”
“Don’t be a cry baby!”
Have you heard people say such things to you over the years and thought that you were abnormal or simply didn’t fit in? Are you often overwhelmed by crowds, noise, or smells? Are you easily startled? If so, you may be a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), or someone you love may well be and there’s absolutely nothing abnormal about it. In fact, there are incredible benefits that highly sensitive people have to offer the world.
Inside the World of Highly Sensitive People (HSP)
I had the chance this year to hear a talk by Dr. Elaine Aron, the research psychologist who coined the HSP term after finding out there were many others like her who were highly sensitive.
High sensitivity is not a new trait, but can be difficult to observe by only watching how people behave. To find out if you or someone you love is highly sensitive, take the test here.
If you scored 14 or more as true, you or your loved one is probably highly sensitive.
HSPs are estimated to be only 15- 20% of the population, so it is easy to think “something must be wrong with me.” However, having a sensitive nervous system is normal, according to Dr. Aron’s book The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You.
More than a hundred species of animals, including birds, fish, dogs, and monkeys share this trait. In our culture the trait is not always considered normal, and is often regarded as a defect which must be overcome. Children can be mean to each other about it. Boys and men are not always expected to be sensitive, and women are, but sensitivity is equally found in men and women.
Dr. Aron’s book has helpful sections on reframing your childhood, and how to parent yourself; career insights on following your bliss and letting your light shine through; the challenge of sensitive love in close relationships; and an important chapter on responding to sensitivity: Shall I Listen to Prozac, or Talk Temperament With My Doctor?
The book outlines the following characteristics to help understand sensitives better, using the letters D, O, E, and S.
D: Depth of Processing
Highly sensitive people process things more deeply. They simply process everything more, comparing things to past experiences and other similar things. They often process better than they can store or remember information.
HSPs wear out quickly when situations are noisy, intense, or go on for too long. For example, it may be too much to sight see all day and go to a nightclub in the evening. HSPs are easily stressed by overstimulation. Since there are some similarities between high sensitivity and autism-related disorders, some distinctions are drawn between the two in her book.
E: Emotional Reactivity or Empathy
As expected, emotional reactivity in sensitives is heightened. HSPs react more to both positive and negative emotional experiences. This can be a good thing where positive emotions are concerned. Sometimes HSPs are not only aware of how others feel, but also feel that way, too, to some extent.
There is a common misunderstanding that emotions make us think illogically. But recent scientific thinking places emotion at the center of wisdom. When emotion is felt after an event, it helps us remember and learn from it. Highly sensitive people may have stronger emotional reactions to motivate them. There is a definite upside in that HSPs feel positive emotions more strongly–satisfaction, joy, and contentedness.
S is for sensing the subtle, the little things that get noticed that others may miss. This is useful in sensing the moods, emotions, or trustworthiness of others. However, when they are worn out, sensitives may be less aware of anything subtle, except the need for a break!
Although HSPs may fit these general guidelines, no two are alike, and each person may react differently at different times.
Due to their sensitivity, HSPs may well be among those who consider themselves clairsentient or clairvoyant, or otherwise attuned spiritually. Although Dr. Aron has long practiced meditation herself, and has considered the spritual aspects of being so sensitive, due to her scientific background, she has not drawn the spiritual aspects significantly into her research. She does invite the reader to journal their spiritual experiences to bear witness to visions, angels, spirit guides, and their intimate personal relationship with God.
Finally, she ends with tips for employers of highly sensitive people, and teachers and health care professionals working with HSPs.
Due to the popularity of her first book on highly sensitive people and their relationships, Dr. Aron has written additional books of interest, depending on your relationship to the highly sensitive person: Understanding The Highly Sensitive Child, The Highly Sensitive Person in Love, Making Work Work for the Highly Sensitive Person, and The Highly Sensitive Person’s Survival Guide.
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