This article is an exploration of the trait of High Sensitivity; including some of the difficulties or struggles that people might face in navigating and understanding this trait. Fifteen to twenty percent of the population are Highly Sensitive, which causes them to process information more deeply, to notice subtle things in their environment, to have heightened emotional reactivity, and to be very sensitive to overstimulation.
According to Elaine Aron Ph.D., the author of “The Highly Sensitive Person”, “many species—we now know it’s over 100, so far, including fruit flies and some fish species—have a minority of individuals that are Highly Sensitive.” They have inherited a survival strategy of “pausing to check, observe, and reflect on or process what has been noticed before choosing an action.”
More Depth on the Characteristics of Being an HSP :
The mind (and nervous system) of Highly Sensitive People (HSP’s) work differently than most. Aron calls the most basic quality of the Highly Sensitive Person the tendency to process information more deeply (semantic memory). They “think about their own thinking” and “have a rich complex inner life.”
They have greater awareness and sensitive processing of subtle stimuli. They notice things more deeply, such as the “awareness of others nonverbal clues or about their mood or trustworthiness. In paying more attention to details than others do, this knowledge can be used to make better predictions in the future”, says Aron. This has an evolutionary purpose which serves the majority. It can be frustrating and disheartening when the majority is not listening, caring or understanding!
The greater awareness of the subtle tends to make people more intuitive, “which simply means picking up and working through information in a semiconscious or unconscious way (Aron).” They are able to learn without being aware they have learned. Heightened emotional reactivity has also been observed in brain scans, marked by increased activation in the insula part of the brain and in the mirror neuron system.
Other characteristics of Highly Sensitive People include, a low threshold for stimulation– they become overstimulated and stressed by overstimulation very easily. They have an aversion to large groups, too much going on, loud music, noise, bright lights, and strong smells can also be difficult. HSP’s are deeply affected by other people’s moods and emotions. They do best without distractions, don’t like chaos, being rushed, and being under pressure.
There is an essential need for quiet, calm, and alone time. Being in nature soothes, calms and assists in maintaining balance. Judith Orloff notes that it takes Highly Sensitive People longer to wind down after a busy day because their system’s ability to transition from high stimulation to quiet and calm is slower. They will likely avoid violent shows and movies.
There is a wide range in sensitivity. Aron says, in the average social situation, there are about 20 percent who are HSPs, and another 30 percent who feel moderately sensitive. It is estimated that about 70% of HSP’s are introverts and 30% extroverts.
The Challenges that Some HSP’s Might Face:
Elaine Aron calls this largely inherited trait very real and very normal. It certainly does not always feel that way for those who possess this trait. Further, “our inner dialogue will mimic what our early caregivers thought of this trait” and what society thinks of it. In our culture possessing this trait is not considered ideal, for many. It may be viewed or seen as a weakness. In places like China, it is considered to be positive and acceptable.
As we know, the world moves at a very rapid, intense, pace. Many HSP’s are trying so desperately to keep up with this pace that was/is set by the majority. This can lead to exhaustion, anxiety, burn out, lack of interest, etc. As incredibly difficult as it is, we NEED to find, listen to, and honour our own pace!
Due to the fact that many HSP’s felt misunderstood because their temperament was often not understood by those around them, this might cause them to feel (deep down) that there is something wrong with them and that they are different, weird, flawed, unacceptable, inconvenient, etc. This can result in feeling shameful, embarrassment, guilt, and as a result, we might choose/or have “chosen to hide it, and adapted, acting like the non-sensitive majority.” The fear of being judged, criticized, shamed, and ridiculed by other people is very real.
Depressed and anxious HSPs, according to Aron almost all had troubled childhoods. “In order to survive, an infant will do whatever he or she must to adapt to the caretakers, with temperament going underground to resurface in some other way later. If someone caring for you became angry or dangerous, the conscious mind buried that information as too awful to acknowledge, even while your unconscious developed a deeply mis-trustful attitude.”
On a happier note, Aron mentions rhesus monkeys with this trait that “if they were raised by skilled mothers, were more likely to show “developmental precocity” resilience to stress and be leaders of their social groups.” She continues, “parents of a highly sensitive child often develop an especially intimate bond with their child. The communication is more subtle, and the triumphs in the world are more significant.” They tend to have a deep love and appreciation of music and the arts and to feel things like joy, love, and appreciation more deeply. These are some of the gifts of being highly sensitive.
Do you Struggle with your High Sensitivity?
I am very interested in the feelings and attitudes that Highly Sensitive People hold about their trait. If it was not viewed in a positive light for a multitude of reasons; here are some of the belief systems that someone might hold:
How others made/make me feel about being Highly Sensitive:
- This trait is a burden to others.
- I feel like an inconvenience to others.
- It is unacceptable to others.
- I feel disapproved of by others.
- I feel rejected by others.
- I feel misunderstood by others.
- I feel annoying to others
- I feel high maintenance in the eyes of others.
- I feel unaccepted for who I am
- I feel that there is something wrong with me.
- I feel broken.
- I feel flawed.
- I feel weak.
- I feel needy.
- I was told by others that I am “too sensitive” and “to stop being so sensitive!”
How I feel deep within myself:
- I feel that there is something deeply wrong with me.
- I feel deeply flawed.
- I am not ok just as I am.
As a result of how I feel deep inside myself:
- I feel like I can’t be myself.
- I reject myself.
- I do not accept myself.
- I am unacceptable to others.
- I try to hide who I am.
- I beat myself up.
- I feel broken.
- I feel very different.
- I do not belong or fit in.
- I feel shameful and embarrassed (about being different) and possessing this trait.
- I feel alone.
- I feel isolated.
- I feel sad.
- I feel misunderstood.
- I feel that this trait is a disability.
- I hate my sensitivity.
- I try to hide my sensitivity from others, try to be “normal” and “adapt” to fit in.
How I might feel about the world around me as a Highly Sensitive Person?:
- Being around others drains me.
- Being around others overwhelms me.
- I feel overstimulated being around others.
- I do not like being in crowds.
- I cannot handle loud noises and too much going on.
- I cannot handle being rushed and under pressure.
- Life is often overwhelming and difficult.
- I need to isolate myself and to be alone, which helps me to soothe feeling overstimulated and maintain balance.
- I feel ashamed (and frustrated) about being different and not being able to tolerate and do what most people can.
- Sometimes it would be nice to be like everyone else.
This certainly is not an exhaustive list. Each person could likely write a different list of their experiences and how they feel inside. I feel that it is SO important to have an open and honest conversation about it, so that no one is hiding in shame due to a trait that is inherently who they are, who they were born to be, with no choice or say in the matter.
“Taking good care of a highly sensitive body is like taking care of an infant”, says Aron. Most people do not need to do that or even think about that, to maintain balance and good health. To me, this quote sums everything up so beautifully! It does not make you weak, it makes you truly unique!!
Our beliefs and attitudes about our sensitivity impact our lives in a very deep and profound way. To make peace with high sensitivity and see it as a unique gift, we need to explore these beliefs and attitudes that we hold, and heal the deeper wounds.
If you are an Highly Sensitive Person that has or has had difficulty and a challenge possessing, navigating, and accepting this trait- there is certainly something that can be done about it, which is the great news!! My goal and passion is to assist others in taking the steps to fully embrace and accept all of ourselves, including this trait. Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT, or “Tapping”) can be done on any of the above beliefs (or any additional ones that you might have). This helps us to clean out any of the “cob webs” that keep us stuck, hidden, small, and from our TRUE authentic selves!! Pranic Healing can deeply assist in balancing and regulating our sensitive nervous system(s).
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If you are a parent of a highly sensitive child and you are learning more about their trait, I hope that you find this information helpful.
Aron Ph.D., Elaine N.. The Highly Sensitive Person . Citadel Press. Kindle Edition.
Orloff, Judith. The Empath’s Survival Guide (pp. 5-6). Sounds True. Kindle Edition