Photo by: Anais
It all added up. Sensitivity to loud sounds, harsh light, emotional climates and over-stimulating situations? I'd just discovered something I could use to quell the coarse incivilities about my nature. I'm a highly sensitive person.
"Quit being so hypersensitive. You have really thin skin you know!"
"You see, ignoramuses like you fail to understand that I'm a highly sensitive person. I was born that way!"
In fact, the highly sensitive person IS born that way, with 15-20% of our population being genetically predisposed to higher levels of mental, emotional and physical sensitivity. So are you a highly sensitive person? Find out below.
What the Highly Sensitive Person Is
Mother of the discovery, Elaine Aron, has been researching the highly sensitive person for over 20 years now. As such, she has a finely tuned list of traits and behavioral quirks that define the highly sensitive person. See how many describe you in my updated list below.
- I'm aware of subtleties and nuances in different environments. e.g. a tap dripping too loudly, a light bulb burning too brightly, etc.
- I'm easily overwhelmed by the senses. Loud noises, strong smells, tastes and light affect me negatively. e.g. the pounding music of nightclubs, loud busy freeways and strong perfumes.
- I need to withdraw from busy days and take a break, or a nap, by myself.
- I'm overly sensitive to pain. e.g. needles, sports injuries, insect stings, etc.
- I become spooked and startled easily.
- I like to take my time, and not overload myself with too many activities as it drains and overwhelms me.
- I prefer to avoid violent TV shows and movies.
- I find it hard to adapt to changes in my life.
- I tend to ruminate and process information deeply.
- I'm empathic. I'm aware of the way people feel around me, and when any slight change occurs in them.
- Emotional environments tend to affect me deeply.
- I'm often perceived as being introverted or shy.
- I'm profoundly moved by nature, the arts or music.
- I tend to be more philosophically and spiritually orientated.
- I feel unusually strong emotions.
- I avoid and deeply dislike confrontation of any kind.
- I prefer to not be observed when fulfilling tasks. It unsettles me.
- I tend to avoid situations that are too intense or chaotic.
- I seem to process the world at a very deep level.
What the Highly Sensitive Person Isn't
The three most common things the highly sensitive person is mistaken for can be found below.
Misconception #1: HSPs are introverts.
We both like to reflect deeply, and both have vibrant internal worlds, but not all introverted people are necessarily highly sensitive. In fact, as Aron points out, 30% of the total number of highly sensitive people are actually extroverted. It's a small minority, but it still shows that introversion does not equate to being highly sensitive.
Misconception #2: Being a HSP is just another word for being shy.
Just like introversion, the highly sensitive person is often mislabeled as being shy. Although the two share things in common - such as sensitivity to overwhelming social situations, they are essentially not the same thing. While shyness is learned, being a highly sensitive person is not.
Misconception #3: "HSP" is a mental disorder.
From the description, all the way to the shortened label (HSP), it's easy to mistake the highly sensitive person as a sufferer of some strange mental condition. Although there's a small percentage of HSPs, the numbers are not small enough to be classified as a disorder, or large enough to be given much attention either. Besides, what mental disorder allows the sufferer to be endowed with such genuine joy as being more empathic, spiritually orientated, and appreciating the details of life more fully?
How to live life with ease as a HSP
As highly sensitive author Kate Stefans points out in her post Underlying Dissatisfaction, highly sensitive people are prone to idealism and perfectionism. This often spurs from deriving our self worth from the opinion of others, and not valuing ourselves enough. Being a highly sensitive person can also hit you hard if you're a male. Being a thick skinned machismo-logician is favored as the masculine ideal in the Western world, rather than the sensitive, emotional poet. But whatever difficulties we face as highly sensitive people can be overcome with the ability to reframe the negative into the positive, and actively work to better our environments. Here are some tips:
1. Learn to value yourself.
I learnt this the hard way. When we place too much importance in what people say and think about us, we create immense psychological tension and anxiety. We are living to satisfy the thousands of different perspectives of who we "should" be, rather than embracing what we are. In essence, we are creating the exact thing we try to avoid that is detrimental to us: too much internal pressure and chaos. Be nice to yourself. Learn to value your qualities and gifts. Realize that you're the one and only master over yourself, and no one can have power over you unless you let them.
2. Don't take things personally.
This tip, mentioned by Don Miguel Ruiz in his well known book The Four Agreements, is essential for mental and emotional happiness. The highly sensitive person, prone to getting hurt easily by other people and their words, frequently finds himself on edge in social situations, trying to finely tune his behavior to avoid conflict. When we take insults and the moods of other people personally, we blame ourselves. To overcome this dilemma, I've personally found that it's best to think about the person, and why they said or behaved the way they did. Are they going through a divorce? Did they sleep well? Did someone do something that outraged them today? As Ruiz says "nothing other people do is because of you".
3. Embrace solitude.
Solitude is not loneliness, instead it is a chosen form of being alone, rather than an imposed one. When we choose solitude and take mini retreats from our stimulating days, we give ourselves the gift of re-cooperation. As highly sensitive people, we need to be in tune with our minds and bodies and the warning signs of burn-out, such as irritability and physical exhaustion. Take a bit of time to renew yourself.
4. Investigate, identify & act upon your sensitivity triggers.
Wouldn't life be a whole lot easier if we managed to resourcefully alter or intelligently negotiate our way around the stresses and stimulation's that come our way? Of course, we can't plan everything, but for the stresses currently existing in our lives, we can work to plan ahead and alleviate the incoming tension. As a HSP, I struggled with this, stoically putting up with the extreme anxiety I felt at work, until I realized that it was weakening my health. No, I didn't do something drastic like quit my job, but I did decide to plan ahead and practice self-hypnosis every time I had to go to work, to prepare myself for the day. I still do. As a HSP, you may be suffering from the same problem I did: a self-sacrificial acceptance of your less than healthy response to a situation in life. If you find yourself daily frazzled, try identifying what makes you so stressed out and think about what you can do to actively make your life easier to live. Life wasn't meant to be bared with gritted teeth.
Are you a highly sensitive person? Do you have anything to add to this article? If so, please do below. Also, you may like to take my Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) Test.