Written by Jasmine
I have finally understood being highly sensitive by nature does not make me flawed.
I become indignant when someone tells me “You are being too sensitive.” Sensitivity guides me and protects me. It is who and what I am. I could not change that, even if I tried really hard. Well, honestly, I have tried!
I have been curious about why I am this way for a long time. Why must I find meaning in every single thing I do? Why can’t I start an activity and go on? Why, when asked a question that most people would simply respond yes or no to…I am unable to respond for the multiple options running through my head to answer one or the other? Why am I so sensitive? I discovered in my research that there is a medically/scientifically based answer to my level of sensitivity that has been united with my own life experiences and what I understand about the way my mind works.
Highly Sensitive People (HSP) are more sensitive than others emotionally, socially and physically. Dr. Elaine Aron, who is a worldwide multi-published psychologist, led new scientific literature on this subject, creating the term. According to her studies, 15% to 20% of the population experience HSP. Her books have become well used by other doctors for their own patients, all around the world.
The medical community refers to it as Sensory Processing Sensitivity or SPS. Although some doctors might misdiagnose the condition as a disorder; it is a trait derived from a different neurological system. SPS or HSP is not considered a mental health disorder. Like all normal and healthy personality traits…it comes with its own drawbacks and advantages.
There are so many characteristics of HSP. I will focus on some of them.
- Finding meaning and depth in everything
On running errand days…my route, distance from home, parking places, are carefully planned for efficiency. I have spent a good amount of time the night before planning it all out. My last stop is the grocery store with my carefully written out list. I easily spend an hour overall with thought spent to every item I put in the cart. Making sure it is the best choice, in comparison to what is available. Everybody runs errands, I know! However, HSP’s feel the ideal decision is based on lots of data.
HSP’s tend to be slower in their deep processing of how to handle situations. They are using all of their senses in the environment and this can be overwhelming. This could be a negative in certain employment as well as circumstances that require a fast decision. However, they can also unconsciously come up with viable solutions to complex problems, from their jobs to overcoming relationship issues. HSP’s do best working at their own pace to feel calm and productive.
Watching negative news stories, emotional or violent/cruel scenes in tv or movies can trigger very real and lasting emotions in the sensitive. Typically, most people don’t like violence however, HSP’s are likely to be more distressed or deeply disturbed by it. In the moment it can almost be painful. I remember going somewhere, around 12 years old, with the family across the street I grew up with…and a very sad country song came on the radio. It brought tears to my eyes and they teased me, good naturedly. I think I like romantic movies, in part, because it triggers me to actually feel the emotions they bring out.
- Strong self-awareness
HSP’s are very self-aware. I am very introspective of discovering ways to improve myself, relationships, as well as life in general. It is not just a desire…I need to. It is my #1 hobby. We are very devoted to those we care about.
The idea of change is very difficult for me. Not because of the change itself rather the processing the data required to actually making the move to something different can be overwhelming. Even making travel plans for a vacation via airplane and then following through is huge. An airport is filled with people and details with tight schedules to follow and so much to sort out. As happy as I might be about going…I find the mechanics of it pretty stressful.
Being sensitive means there is much more information to process than the average person. A bigger processor is required. In other words…a higher level of general intelligence to do so. They can be deeply empathic, intuitive and good at reading others being highly observant, thoughtful and concentrated on one purpose. They are sensitive to all the senses…which are amplified.
I feel many times I am coming off as slow or dazed when talking to someone new to me. On the inside I am very focused trying to read them and looking for what they see in me and what it is so I can show them that. I have self labeled myself as shy. I have learned HSP’s can be labeled as such because we tend to stay closer to the edges where people gather while processing what is being seen and felt. I truly like engaging with people…once I feel my feet are firmly planted!
HSP’s might find themselves on the path to spirituality and philosophy which allows for better self-understanding and improving their intuition. It is what I did. The insights I discover lead me to learn more about myself as well as how to deal with situations, people and problems. I also find a better sense of meaning as to how to best follow my life path.
Life situations show us the triggers for these intense feelings that are truly valid and should not be dismissed. The difficult part of this is…when interacting with others…with what has triggered me. They might be totally oblivious to the intensity of feelings I am experiencing. At that point, I have become overwhelmed…to my core. I am unable to open up and communicate in words. I want to…however I am powerless to allow the data in my brain to come coherently out of my mouth and I am unable to communicate this until I have sorted through it. Many times I try anyway and what comes out is fragments of what I know I want to share. To the one I am speaking to…I know it does not make sense and probably sounds like I am clueless.
I worked with one of my best friends and she was in charge. I made a mistake one day and she caught it. After confronting me with it…I immediately began to retrace the steps in my mind that brought me to the discovery. I needed answers for myself as to what happened. My response sounded to her that I was making excuses and she blurted out that she thought I thought I could never be wrong. I was crushed because I truly accepted responsibility for the mistake I made and told her that. Then I told her I work so hard to do the details of my job and when I screw up I get deeply angry at myself and need to find out why it happened. She looked at me sort of deeply and nodded…yes, that she could understand that.
The tricky part of this self-awareness is first being able to recognize it while it is happening. The second part is to feel safe enough with who I am with to communicate that this is happening, that I am overwhelmed, and I need time to process what I cannot explain in the moment.
- Amplified empathy
Empathetic people are very intuitively sensitive to others’ emotions. We mirror emotions, high and low, of others which puts us emotionally in their shoes. It just happens and I have no say over the matter! We connect with the world using our emotions. It is during these situations where I feel I need to sort out what is mine and what is theirs. At times, adapting to social situations can be a struggle and inappropriate emotional responses might arise…like laughing in the wrong places, not speaking when I should or speaking when I should not. What I do know how to do is soothe those that need it or sharing heartfelt in their victories.
This structure encourages HSP’s to seek out in others what they desire or need. They can become a personal cheerleader to support and inspire others with what they need from us. Sometimes we can see situations on a deeper level which can allow us to contribute original ideas and solutions.
HSP’s are generally very committed to the people in their life they care for. Because of the deep emotional investment, they tend to keep their circle small. Social values that are embraced are a focus in the knowing it can make a better place for us to live in. We worry and care about what is going on in the world.
- Intuitive nurturing nature
We know that others do not feel as deeply as we do just because it is what we deal with all the time. Honestly, it’s not that I want them too. What I do desire is that I might (no, have to) bring happiness to those I care about and help them avoid any pain. By listening and supporting them in trying to understand what they need that I might bring some relief with my love and concern in that moment.
- Masters of self-care
As sensitive souls, our environment affects us greatly. Too many people, confrontation, tension or situations where we feel we are being unfairly judged can find our insides in turmoil, which leave us in our silence scrambling to sort it all out, to make sense as to how to react. It drains me of positive energy and leaves me wanting to retreat to safe, isolated silence. If I feel misunderstood, (which happens alot!), I get frustrated. If I am being treated unjustly, it is not because I am arrogant…it is because I have a strong sense of what is morally right and fair. This is where I feel anger quickly rise in my gut. I am continually learning how to take care of myself in those moments.
I believe in this realm; I am an idealist in that I seek harmony and peace above all else. I don’t understand why everyone else can’t just get along, be good and fair to others.
With regards to my environment and bodily comfort…I am very sensitive to my position standing or sitting in a room, sleep time, heat, cold, hunger, changes, my body etc. Even in bed, where the covers are not just right cause me to adjust until it is just right! Environment changes like lighting, smells, sounds can feel very abrasive to HSP’s.
- Appreciating the small stuff
I have traveled so many decades away from my childhood; however, my inner child is always with me. So many times, I have found myself walking past a sprinkler running on a green grass on a hot summer day and always feel the inner urge to run in under it…to feel the cold-water cascade down my hot skin. Delight comes to mind in the thought. O.K., once or twice as an adult I have actually done it!
The first snowfall of the year will have me waking in the night, probably again, to peek out the window to see its progress hopefully accumulating to create a winter wonderland in my yard. I feel her young glee when it does!
I truly hope my sensitive inner child never leaves me without the moments of being perfectly awe-struck, without the need for words, in the most unexpected places. For its those moments I experience true delight!
- Finding beauty in sadness and joy
I have learned strong feelings of melancholy is a part of being sensitive. The scope of human emotions is wide. I find extreme emotions such as sadness and joy, mostly, overwhelming. If I am very happy…I know it won’t last and there will be a falling thud. Being very sad or hurt inside, for example, is intensely painful.
I live in the Pacific Northwest where winters are known for long gloomy rainy days. It used to bother me. I came to terms with it, I think, by pairing my environment with my inner melancholy days. I have come to find it oddly nourishing and comforting in allowing me to center myself in the warmth of the dimness.
- Gift of growing relationships
For highly sensitive people, bonding is something we know how to do. However, it has to be meaningful. There needs to be a feeling that we belong and our energies…that we are sensitive to…can mesh with that person. Feeling emotionally safe is paramount and that is where trust is built on. Once that happens, then we might feel comfortable enough to show them our true versions of who we are. I have been blessed with people in my life that accept me and see me as a whole person. They have been patient with my process, whether they understand or not. It’s with them I am able to be my best and a loyal friend or family member. Although…after my diving into learning about this HSP…I have remembered times with them all and the blank faces and ensuing silence with me trying to explain what I understand so well on the inside. Today…I understand why!
- Childhood/domestic abuse
In my research, I learned childhood and domestic abuse are processed differently from other people without HSP. They may be more likely to develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) because of it. Emotional needs do not get met so they learn to toughen up and numb themselves. Life experiences might intensify the level of HSP they have genetically.
They become expert at hiding from criticism and misunderstanding. HSP’s are hard wired for intensity. Being adept at reading between the lines and responding internally in-kind to what is in front of them. When in a toxic relationship, this paves the way to be easily triggered emotionally and mirror what is going on with the other person. The sensitive person will work hard to define what is needed from them and as is the way of HPS’s…they won’t give up because of their devotion. Regardless of how painful it is for them to endure. I have also learned why I stayed in a toxic relationship for so long…regardless of the emotional or physical pain I experienced. My learned defense was to eventually get to the numb part emotionally where it would not hurt…until it did once again.
Regulating emotions is difficult and results in painful invalidation of their inner self. One day they might be fine, and the next will experience a strong reaction to the same thing. Sometimes it is difficult to tell if it is a trauma reaction or repression of emotions.
For HSP’s living in an environment that is not ideal…they may withdraw emotionally or need more alone time to cope. Or even turn to behavior that could damage themselves and hurt others in the process. It can also amplify their sensitivity. They learn to distrust themselves, their intuitions and doubt their own perspective…even when they sense/know something is wrong. This can lead to feeling they have failed and are worthless.
- What I have learned
Most of my life I have felt like an unfinished puzzle with many blank and disjointed sections of clarity as to who I really am. Wondering if there is something wrong with me. Usually feeling outside looking in. Baffled as to how I can find the words to express how I truly feel and if it is even valid to anyone else. Today, I have come to know I understand more about what is “me” on the inside. One challenge is really finding the words and the confidence to express it.
Discovering that I am a Highly Sensitive Person…that there is a name for it backed by medical and scientific fields around the world…has lifted me up. This research has brought tears to my eyes, at times, in feeling recognized and validated. It confirms things I already have learned about myself. I am not too sensitive, broken, obsessed, selfish or emotional. My experiences, desires, feelings, thoughts, etc.…do matter! As well as the way I do it.
My mental puzzle of myself has finally filled in where it was blank. Today I think the blank parts was me repelling them as unacceptable and wrong. My whole self was always there…now I can see it! I have recognized other peoples natural gifts and always felt I was sorely lacking. I feel being a HSP is my gift or “Super Power”. : ) I have come to understand by learning to improve my intuition, by trusting it, regulating my emotions and embrace who I truly am will allow me to find more joy in my life. Most of all…I know that I am in the company of the other 15-20% and I am not alone anymore!
If you would like to read more about this subject…here are a few to get you started.
Highly Sensitive Refuge
Egg Shell Therapy
The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When The World Overwhelms You
By Elaine N, Aron Ph.D
You will find this book along with her other publications on amazon.com
National Library of Medicine
Sensory Processing Sensitivity