Have you heard terms like hyper sensitive, overly sensitive and highly sensitive used interchangeably?
While it could be considered little more than a semantic issue, I think there is something that needs addressing here. It would appear there is still a big gap in the way we collectively understand the true nature of high processing sensitivity (high sensitivity as Elaine Aron coined it).
The main confusion seems to revolve around the use of the term hyper-sensitive. In this episode I talk about why this is problematic and how we can continue to encourage people to think beyond ’emotional fragility’ when it comes to understanding sensitivity.
Shawn Smith wrote a fantastic article about the differences between high sensitivity and hyper sensitivity for Psychology Today.
He explains the misunderstandings that still exist between two things:
- “a biological trait that leaves some people more sensitive to environmental stimuli” (highly sensitive)
- “a reflection of one’s emotional skill set” (hyper sensitive)
He reminds us that “HSPs are no less capable than anyone else of developing emotional resilience and reliable coping skills”. For those of us who have been researching the trait for a long time this comes as no great surprise.
But I’ve noticed that there is still a lot of ignorance when it comes to discussing high sensitivity, which is a conversation that is gaining ever more exposure.
My concern is that if we aren’t quick and persistent in defining the terms, they will get ever more muddied by this confusion with hyper sensitivity.
In this episode of the podcast I examine a comment which demonstrates the confusion between high sensitivity and hyper sensitivity. It was left after a video I made in 2014. The video explains the basic characteristics of High Sensitivity.
“That’s nice and all, but you can become less sensitive by training yourself to do so over a period of time. I used to be a huge whiny little bitch, who became overwhelmed over the most minute of things, but over the years I had enough, and developed a thicker skin through means of expanding my perspectives and using logic and rational thought to my advantage. Neuroplasticity is a thing, and most everybody has a brain capable of breaking habits that tend to cause highly sensitive people to feel the way they do (Namely high levels of anxiety). Your thoughts and behavior have a large impact on your physiology, and re-writing those habits can make all of the difference.
While some may argue “It’s OK to be overly sensitive”, which I suppose it is, I don’t think it’s a very freeing or fun way to live your life. You can be too sensitive to the point of self-detriment, just as you can be so cold to the point of self-detriment. I think if you’re somebody who really takes a lot of things to heart, and becomes offended really easily, you need to take a look back and realize that the world is not really all that out to get you, and that you’re making a choice to be offended, it is in your control. If you’re somebody who is so cold that you’re pushing people away, perhaps you need to realize that it’s OK to be emotional, and try to express what you’re feeling more often, and letting people into that can be beneficial.”
A Different Subject
Interestingly the comment reflects the confusion that still exists around the term ‘highly sensitive’ because it appears to react to something else.
I’ve wondered before if ‘sensitive’ is really the best word to use, but it’s what we have until something more appropriate takes its place.
So all we can do is relentlessly define our terms and remind people of the differences between high sensitivity and hyper sensitivity (however obvious it may seem to us).
High Sensitivity vs Hyper Sensitivity
Areas of confusion that I explore in this episode:
- Training Yourself to Be Less Sensitive
- Sensitivity as a Habit
- “It’s OK to be Overly Sensitive”
- Taking Things to Heart and Becoming Easily Offended
Over to You
Question: What positive aspect of being a highly sensitive person do you really appreciate? Let’s finish this with some encouragement. I’d love to know why you enjoy being highly sensitive. What aspects of the trait do you appreciate? Please leave your comment below.
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