Are you a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)?
If you are, you are not alone! 15-20% of the population are considered to be HSP. They’re born that way. It's found in children from birth and even animals. HSP is linked to genes that affect the availability of Serotonin and Dopamine in the brain. It just means that a HSP’s brain is more sensitive to outside stimuli and their nervous system can become overloaded more easily than others.
I can relate to this - I am a HSP. It took me a long time to learn that this even existed. I just thought I was different than most people. I stumbled upon a book by Dr. Elaine Aron, Ph.D. “The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You” early on in my career. It was a huge relief to know there was a name to explain how I always felt and she viewed HSP as a strength! Really? That’s not what I was led to believe. That’s not how society and people in general perceive sensitivity – not in the Western world anyway. Side note: Being a HSP is more highly valued in Eastern cultures.
If you’re like me, you heard things like:
you’re too sensitive
you’re too quiet
you take things too personally
… and I perceived how I naturally felt to be a negative thing because that’s how it was projected onto me. It was more acceptable to be bold, loud, outgoing, a leader, part of a group, etc. But if we HSP try to be like non-HSP, we just end up feeling worn out and overwhelmed.
The same situation can have a different effect on a HSP and a non-HSP. A non-HSP thrives and feels energized at a loud concert or night club with lots of people and can stay for hours and enjoy it fully.
While a HSP may enjoy this for a certain period of time, but needs to withdraw and have some quiet time to feel balanced again. For HSP, it’s finding that fine balance between being not too bored and not too aroused. Even a typical day at work can cause a HSP to need quiet time at home in the evening to feel refreshed.
What Exactly is a HSP?
It’s not the same as being shy, introverted, depressed or anxious. Although, the majority of HSP are introverted.
HSP pay more attention to and are aware of the details and subtleties - internal and external – others mood, body language, how trustworthy someone is, pain, emotions. They are often the first ones to see what needs to be done and speak up. However, at the extreme, HSP can also be perfectionists or people-pleasers.
HSP process information more deeply – think over options carefully – tune into their intuition.
HSP react more to things – both negative and especially positive experiences. They’re curious, anticipate success, and enjoy a good outcome and figure out how to make things happen. Again, at the extreme end, HSP tend to take things too personally or focus too much on negative past experiences and anticipate that similar future experiences will also be negative.
Think of people who are HSP: Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Princess Diana, Mother Theresa, Albert Einstein, Scarlett Johansson, and Alanis Morissette.
We need more HSP in the world to speak up in their sensitive way!
So if you are a HSP, be proud. You have a special gift of sensitivity. You contribute a lot to others – you likely reflect deeply, attend to details, are conscientious, and have a vision for the future.
How can HSP take care of themselves?
It’s so important for HSP to focus on self-care so they can feel balanced. If you’re worn out, feeling overstimulated or frazzled by the world, you’re not going to be able to tap into your strengths. You’re just going to be focused on your need to be alone and needing a break from it all.
HSP need lots of rest – 9 hours of sleep is best (I know that’s a tall order, but it really helps), good nutrition, downtime doing whatever makes you feel renewed - exercise, play, deep breathing, meditation, and yoga are all restorative.
So being a HSP is not a flaw – it’s a strength! HSP are part of a group of people who are creative, insightful, and passionate.
Let’s reframe what it means to be a HSP:
I am too sensitive.
Reframe: I have the capacity to feel deeply. I choose to accept it and honor it.
I am easily hurt and upset.
Reframe: I am sensitive to my own feelings and acknowledge and honor my feelings for letting me know when I am leaving my centre.
I don’t like conflict.
Reframe: I have a deep appreciation for harmony.
I wish things didn’t bother me so much.
Reframe: I'm glad I am so aware. I use my awareness to make a difference in the world.
My sensitivity is a weakness.
Reframe: I choose to appreciate and honor this powerful, world-changing quality that I have. The world needs what I have to offer.
If you would like to take the self-test developed by Dr. Aron to see if you too are a HSP, you can go to: http://hsperson.com/test/highly-sensitive-test/
If you know anyone who would benefit from what you've read here, please forward this blog to them or send them over to my website - thepsychologysite.org.
Hi! I'm Beth Matthews. I'm a Registered Psychologist who is driven to helping people feel better about themselves. I help people who are struggling in their lives gain an awareness of how they can cope with anything that comes their way. With my easy-to-use strategies, you can feel better and be your best you!