Do you seem to think about things more than everyone else? Do you long to get away from loud noises, bright lights, and overwhelming situations? Do you spend a lot of time worrying about how other people are feeling?
Yes? You may well be highly sensitive.
This time last year I had no idea what a Highly Sensitive Person was. I had heard the term a few times but never given it any attention. In all honesty it wasn’t a label that positively appealed to me. I didn’t like the idea of being called ‘sensitive’.
But towards the end of 2013 I read another blog post about it. After a brief ‘aha’ moment I delved deeper by reading The Highly Sensitive Person, in which Elaine Aron introduces the concept of ‘high sensory processing sensitivity‘, and debunks a lot of the stigma surrounding it.
The more I read the more I realised quite how much the traits that she described applied to me.
Me? Sensitive? Surely not.
The word ‘sensitive’ is loaded with negative connotations, which is one of the reasons it took me so long to pay attention to the HSP concept.
I think we have a tendency in Western cultures to equate sensitivity with weakness and the inability to function socially in an ‘appropriate’ or clear-minded way. It is seen through a lens of emotion, which should be treated, rather than the innate and natural way in which a person interacts with and processes the world.
HSPs have often been called “shy,” “timid,” “inhibited,” or “introverted,” but Dr. Elaine Aron contends that these labels completely miss the nature of the trait. She argues that sensitivity is anything but a flaw and that HSPs are often unusually creative and productive workers, attentive and thoughtful partners, and intellectually gifted individuals.
In the way that Susan Cain has stimulated a movement towards better understanding and accommodation for introverts in various extrovert-centric arenas of the world, Dr. Aron argues that HSPs could contribute much more to society if they received the right kind of attention.
20% of Us are HSP
Around 20% of humans have what Carl Jung described as ‘Innate Sensitiveness’, which means they ‘may process sensory data much more deeply and thoroughly due to a biological difference in their nervous systems‘. It boils down to the way we process the sensory input from the world and the fact that we get overwhelmed more easily than other people by the things around us that travel through our sensory processing system.
Another important statistic to note is that 30% of HSPs are extraverted. Sensitivity is not about how sociable you are. It is about your capacity and ability to process the world.
Sensitivity is holistic. It is the biological, physiological, and cognitive. It is not something we can change because it is the foundation of the way we experience and interact with the world, but being aware of your high sensitivity will help immensely.
Knowing why you experience overwhelm, frustration, and those moments of transmarginal inhibition (when you just seem to shut down because it all feels too much), helps you to care for yourself, keep a sense of internal balance, and put yourself in more effective/less destructive situations.
The following are common traits of Highly Sensitive People, based around Elaine Aron’s self-test:
- You are aware of subtleties and nuances in different environments. Perhaps you get distracted by the sound of a tap dripping too loudly or a light bulb burning too brightly.
- You become easily overwhelmed by the senses. Loud noises, strong smells, tastes and light have a negative affect on your senses.
- You need to withdraw from busy days and take a break, or a nap, alone.
- You are overly sensitive to pain (and the anticipation of pain). e.g. needles, sports injuries, insect stings, etc.
- You become spooked and startled easily.
- You like to take your time. You don’t like to overload yourself with too many activities as it drains and overwhelms you.
- You don’t like to watch violent TV shows and movies.
- You find it difficult to adapt to changes in your life.
- You tend to think and process information deeply.
- You are empathic. You are aware of the way people are feeling around you, and can sense slight changes when they occur in them.
- Emotional environments tend to affect you deeply.
- You are often perceived as being introverted or quiet. When you were a child your parents and teachers called you sensitive or shy.
- You are profoundly moved by nature, the arts or music.
- You get annoyed when people try to get you to do too many things at once.
- You tend to be quite philosophically and spiritually orientated.
- You can feel unusually strong emotions.
- You avoid and deeply dislike confrontation of any kind.
- You prefer to not be observed when fulfilling tasks as you find it unsettling.
- You tend to avoid situations that are too intense or chaotic.
- You seem to process the world at a very deep level.