“And those who were seen dancing were thought insane by those who could not hear the music.”
“You are too sensitive.” “Stop taking everything so personally.” “You should really toughen up.”
Sensitive people clearly get a bad rep. And yet, we are all sensitive to different degrees and in different ways. In fact, sensitivity is not good or bad – it is simply our ability to pick up on sensory information with our nervous system. It is neutral, like a microphone that picks up on subtle sounds.
Highly sensitive people are however on the extreme side of that spectrum. In 1997 Elaine and Arthur Aron formally identified sensory processing sensitivity (SPS), the scientific term for highly sensitive or hypersensitivity as the defining trait of highly sensitive persons (HSP).
Discovering I’m a highly sensitive person was a revelation. As much as I don’t like labels, learning about HSP really helped get a better understanding of myself: my triggers, traits and tendencies. I was flooded with feelings of “coming home.”
I could finally put a name to my experience of being constantly overwhelmed by environmental and emotional stimuli, such as:
- Feeling overpowered by social situations and noisy environments.
- Needing massive amounts of time alone.
- Intuiting other people’s moods and in many cases, absorbing them.
- Intense empathy and deep emotions.
- Intensely overactive mind that’s hard to switch off.
- Imagining worst case scenarios or focusing on the negative.
For many years I despised these tendencies, I felt embarrassed and ashamed about what I saw as character flaws that felt out of my control. Repeatedly, I would end up pushing myself too hard to keep up with everyone else, wanting to do what others seem to handle with ease.
However, no matter how hard I tried to change, at some point my reactive brain would take over – again and again. It took me some time until I finally realised that sensitivity is not something that needs fixing.
Quite the contrary, HSPs can use their characteristics to their benefit once they understand that they are – in fact – highly sensitive. This awareness ensures they reap the benefits of their heightened emotional awareness while spotting and defeating their negative inclinations.
Like many things in life, being a highly sensitive person is both a blessing and a curse. It all comes down to what we make of it. When we understand and know ourselves deeply, we find that we can respond to our habitual tendencies with kindness and self-care.
Being a HSP doesn’t mean having a disorder that needs to be fixed. It simply means processing sensory data more deeply. The first step to thriving as a highly sensitive person is to recognise that it’s OK to be sensitive – with the challenges and strengths that come with it.
- I can connect with people on a deep level.
- I am highly intuitive.
- I see beauty everywhere.
- I engage all of my senses in every activity.
- I’m highly compassionate.
- I’m intensely creative.
- I feel very deeply. When I’m feeling good, I’m feeling blissful and totally at peace.
What are the other advantages of high sensitivity? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below, as I learn just as much from you as you do from me.