I want to introduce you to HSP — the Highly Sensitive Person. This is the first of a series of blogs I will write about the subject. This term may be unfamiliar to you, so it may conjure up a weak and timid mouse-like person who would shrink at the slightest murmur….
Well, you are wrong in thinking that way! There are many HSPs who try to fit in to our fast-paced and pressurised world. We may go unnoticed by trying to blend in— for fear we will stand out. We may not even recognise that we have a Highly Sensitive Person trait— we often live with a suspicion that there is something ‘odd’ about us, and that we do not resonate with the majority of people around us. But, beneath a quieter exterior, there is a rich texture of interesting treasures to find. Unfortunately HSPs weaknesses (part of the package of who we are), tend to fuel negative labelling, as we are misunderstood within our pressurised culture.
If an HSP had a particularly difficult childhood and adulthood (not all do), they may feel so mentally broken that they seek out psychotherapy to make sense of it all and fix them… They may be labelled unwell with a type of anxiety or depression. This is a often a good place for them to be, as long as the therapist is aware of their sensitivity. Psychotherapy will help them heal and get to a place of acceptance to start moving forward in their lives. Thank goodness for therapists!
In a more supportive and nurturing environment, HSPs flourish and thrive into confident and well-adjusted human beings… They may not even notice they are different to 80% of the population, as they see themselves as a unique individual— just like everybody else.
However, there are many of us who are in-between—not completely broken and not yet flourishing. It takes years of soul searching and looking in different places for answers… We can gradually adapt and accept our differences to grow and find ways to feel secure in the world. We either do not understand what is ‘wrong’ with us, or we understand who we are but cope sub-optimally—a complicated map to navigate. Perhaps we need a GPS navigation system to lesson the journey and take out some of the long and painful forks in the road? We may have lost out on career opportunities, for example, or settled for drudgery type employment—just simply bumbling along wondering why we appear to be affected more by things around us.
The in-betweeners are where I want to step in and help— to coach and optimise your strengths, so that you may thrive and flourish in todays world. To help you understand your unique authentic self and be more assertive and confident to remain true to you.
Sensitivity, high sensitivity, and sensory processing sensitivity identify a single innate temperament trait expressed as an awareness of subtleties in stimuli as well as a potential to be overwhelmed by too much stimuli. The brain of HSPs processes information especially deeply. This normal trait is found in 15-20% of the population (equal numbers of each gender and 70% are introverted). Men hide the trait more than women and usually have more difficulties with it. 80% of the population are more bold and impulsive in contrast to a ‘pause to think’ type HSP who carefully observes the subtleties in a situation before acting. This greater awareness of subtleties and consequences leads to high levels of conscientiousness and creativity. The flip side is that the trait has a greater potential for being overstimulated and troubled by stressful life events (the whole package).
Most HSPs (Elaine Aron calls them the ‘priestly advisors’ who put the brakes on and point out long-term effects) will have a broad range of the following characteristics (Taken from Psychotherapy and the Highly Sensitive Person by Elain Aron):
- Prefer to observe and reflect and be on the sidelines in a situation before entering it.
- Extremely aware of subtleties or small changes.
- Wanting to consider every detail and possible outcome before acting — may be slow to make decisions but often more accurate. “Do it once and do it right”.
- Are more aware of the thoughts and emotions of others using nonverbal cues and intuition.
- Are harmed more by bad environments (especially childhood), but gain more than non-HSPs with unusually supportive and nurturing environments.
- More conscientious due to being heavily attuned to causes and consequences and thinking things through.
- Have unusual concern about social justice and the environment and express an unusual degree of compassion.
- Being easily overstimulated (easily overaroused) leading to a poorer performance. All traits suffer if we are extremely underaroused (bored) or overaroused and prefer to be at optimal arousal (between the two opposites). An HSP finds it harder to keep within the optimal arousal due to the fast-tracked warrior-type pace of our culture. This leads to us struggling with being observed, public speaking, timed tests and crowded places.
- We are more likely to be gifted, artistic or passionate about the arts.
- Have a strong spiritual interest.
- Express greater emotional reactions. We can be hurt deeply by criticism and try to reflect what we have done wrong.
- Can become easily distressed with change.
- Vivid dreams.
- Being called ‘sensitive’ or ‘quiet’ as a child and displaying many of the characteristics above.
- Complaining about overstimulating or unaesthetic environments. Don’t tend to like violent action or horror movies.
- Having physical sensitivities— a faster startle response, more sensitive to pain and stimulants and a more reactive immune system.
- Speaking in a considerate, and sometimes indirect way.
- Nature has an unusually healing, calming or moving effect. Fond of all plants, animals and being near water.
Most non-HSPs (Elaine Aron’s ‘warrior kings’ who want to conquer things) will have a broad range of the following:
- Not usually bothered as much by noise, or visual clutter.
- Usually okay with sudden changes.
- Generally find the acceptable level of stimulation in work environments and pleasurable levels in recreational environments are okay.
- Enjoy rapidly shifting visual stimulation of computer games, tv ads and action movies, street fairs, major sporting events and shopping malls.
- Many enjoy dangerous sports, and watching drama involving shocking violence.
- Do not necessarily ponder the future so much as HSPs until the consequences of some action are pointed out or become more costly.
- Take more risks with less preparation and happy to try again if failed.
- Enjoy gambling more. They are less affected by actual or imagined financial or other loss or by making a mistake.
- Generally less emotionally reactive…
- More direct in manner…so are happy to express, say anger, in specific situations if needed.
- Nature tends to be for comfort and a place to pursue activities and less concern about the suffering of animals other than their own pets or specific animal varieties.
- They may practice a religion but question it less. Relatively fewer are preoccupied by spiritual matters, philosophy, or “the meaning of life”.
We need both the warrior kings and the priestly advisors to maintain balance in the world! Unfortunately, the HSPs have been pushed out from careers by the more aggressive warrior kings. The world needs us HSPs back in our central, influential positions in society. To do that we need to value ourselves, which will help others value us as well. To be continued …