Highly Sensitive Person(s)
Throughout my childhood and into adulthood I heard often that I was so (or too) sensitive, that I just needed to not worry about things or just ignore things that bothered me. Sometimes I as told that I was being silly, or over-reacting. I got so tired of hearing, “Just ignore it,” or “It’s not a big deal…let it go,” or “Don’t worry about it,” or “Why are you paying attention to that? It’s nothing.”
As my adult years progressed, instead of being less reactive and more able to ignore what bothered me, I found myself increasingly unable and unwilling to participate in certain activities or events and spending more time alone, because being around some “normal” situations was just too much for me and left me stressed and overwhelmed. Seeing the movie Amistad left me despondent for a week, and after watching Saving Private Ryan I vowed it would be the last war movie I would ever see, and it was. These kinds of movies (or tv programs, or news broadcasts, or stories) left me feeling wounded and wanting to give up on humanity and crawl into a quiet, calm little cabin in the woods, all alone.
I earned a Masters degree in Counseling Psychology, and never in my program were sensitivities addressed and I didn’t know anyone who reacted to things as I did. I felt very different, odd, as if there was something wrong with me. My sensitivities affected my relationships and my health—I often felt like I was in a fight-or-flight mode when others were just carrying on as though life was fine and nothing bothered them. How could they not see/feel/hear the way I did?
One day a friend suggested I check out an online “HSP test” and discovered a 16 question test and a brief explanation of HSP, or Highly Sensitive Person(s). I answered ‘yes’ to 14 out of 16 items! It was the first time I felt understood and validated for my sensitivities. There were others out there with similar experiences (possibly 20% fo the population) and I wasn’t alone. Yes, I was “Highly Sensitive,” but not such a weird outlier. I then discovered Elaine Aron, PhD, whose work focuses largely on HSPs, and I read and learned more about myself and felt further validated. What a relief! It’s all about processing information—all information, much more deeply.
Because HSPs tend to avoid larger social situations, spend more time alone and often pull back to avoid overstimulation, we can move along through life under the radar. Likely only our closest friends or family understand us at all, though unless they’re also Highly Sensitive, they probably love us, but merely tolerate our (over)sensitivities rather than truly understanding. Spending time with other HSPs can be incredibly validating, calming and joyful. It can also help greatly in relationships for the non-HSPs to learn about the HSP traits, needs and strengths so they recognize that their partners aren’t just being difficult and can be supportive and provide nurturing environments that will allow for the relationships to thrive.
Navigating our current culture can be very challenging for HSPs. I’ve learned many techniques and made many decisions and learned to structure my life in such way as to live calmly and joyfully—and fully. I enjoy sharing my successes and helping clients and their supporters to create a lifestyle that softens the demands and overstimulation of life and uses the HSPs’ sensitivities to their advantage. It is definitely possible to develop a plan for self-acceptance and self-care and a lifestyle that will lead toward a peaceful, joyful life.
If you think you or someone you love might be an HSP, please do get in touch. I’d love to help. You can also take a test online and read more here: Highly Sensitive Person Test