If you belong to that significant minority of people, who has a more finely-tuned nervous system, it’s important to learn what aspects of your sensitivity can change and what is here to stay. You can start thriving, when you focus on creating a life-style that fits you well and stop going against the grain of you by trying to change essential and integral aspects of you. If you are new to the idea of high sensitivity, you can find some useful information on this page about this partially genetically inherited trait that affects about 20-30% of people.
Even if you think that you are not highly sensitive yourself, finding out more about this trait can potentially improve your relationships with your partner, your children, your colleagues and any other loved ones – including your pets – if they are highly sensitive. (You maybe interested to know that researches have identified this trait in at least 100 other species of animals too!) If you already know about high sensitivity and are aware why it is a hugely significant diversity issue, you can also find services, books and links relevant for HSPs here.
How can I tell if I am a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)?
Based on the research findings of Dr. Elaine Aron, there are four general categories of symptoms indicating that you have a highly sensitive nervous system, also known as, Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS). Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) have greater depth of processing; i.e. you feel and think more deeply than average, which means that you tend to reflect more before acting or speaking and find decision making difficult, but generally tend to make good ones. You also have a greater tendency for overarousal, which may mean that you show unusual nervousness or chronic stress, have difficulty with transitions and prefer to avoid highly stimulating situations. HSPs also tend to have greater emotional intensity and emphatic response, which means that both your positive or negative feelings can be stronger than average in all situations where emotions are appropriate and you are generally able to empathize more with others. Although, how much of this you actually express can vary greatly. You also show signs of sensory sensitivity, which can mean that you are able to distinguish more subtleties with your senses and/or have lower threshold for noticing and/or low tolerance of high levels of sensory input. This means that you may be more sensitive to loud sounds, rough textures, strong smells or cold drafts than the average person. All this means that you have more responsiveness to your environment. You notice more from both your inner and outer environment and also are impacted more by them. It is hugely important to know that positive environments have more positive impact on you than most and you are impacted more negatively by negative environments too. So, it is key for you to learn what is the right environment for you and create more of that in your life!
If you have some of these symptoms, you can take an online Self-Test that can help you to determine, if you are a Highly Sensitive Person. I also encourage you to check out the HSP Links on this website for more information or by the book: The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Survive and Thrive When the World Overwhelms You
What difference does it make if I am a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)?
“There are three things which if one does not know, one cannot live long in the world: what is too much for one, what is too little for one, and what is just right for one.” – Swahili proverb
Highly sensitive people were born with a more finely tuned central nervous system, which can process more subtle information and also tend to think and feel more deeply than the average person. About 20-30% of people have this characteristic, and just like other personality traits, this seems to be fairly constant throughout your life. In spite of the many benefits of being an HSP, like being more observant, responsive, thoughtful, creative and emphatic, you may not like some of the other symptoms, like needing more downtime or feeling easily overwhelmed when too much is going on. But high sensitivity is a package deal and part of who you are, so it can save a lot of heartache to know what is best to accept about yourself and not waste your life trying to fight it. Your sensitivity is a real gift, if you learn to use its advantages and cope well with its challenges. Knowing whether you are highly sensitive or not, also can make a real difference in your therapy, as we can focus on healing your hurts and creating a life that suits your temperament, instead of getting stuck with trying to change things about you that are innate parts of you. The difference can really mean knowing how to stop just surviving and start thriving!
Testimonials about the impact of learning about being highly sensitive:
“I have always felt like an alien beamed down to a foreign planet. It wasn’t until I identified with being an HSP (aged 40) that it all started to make sense. The benefits of being an HSP are the immense enjoyment I take from being immersed in a nourishing forest or by the calming sea, listening to music and practicing grounded spirituality.
My life challenge has been to recognise and heal the toxic belief of deep unworthiness. This has been created by being raised in a society / school system / small town mentality / peer group that continuously undermines sensitivity and regards it as an affront to masculinity.
More recently, I have enjoyed visiting Asian countries where kindness and sensitivity are in glorious abundance. To witness such an opposing cultural landscape from the West has been incredibly heart warming.”
“Learning about high sensitivity helped me become more accepting of myself, it’s helped guide me to become better equipped to look after myself and give myself what I need and have more compassion in general. Life is better all around because of it.”
“I first learnt of the trait of high sensitivity when I read Elaine Aaron’s book when I was 22 years old. I completely identified with it at the time, but it wasn’t until about 10 years later that I fully paid attention to the importance of being an HSP in my life and what that meant. Over the past 10 years, the difference that understanding the trait and making adjustments in my life accordingly has made has been enormous. On a fundamental level, just understanding why I find certain things the way I do has made a big difference to my confidence. I have gradually learned to first accept the trait, and then to embrace it. To redefine the narrative from my youth of being ‘over-sensitive’ to a confidence now in the fact that I am ‘highly sensitive’ and that this in many ways is a gift, has enabled me to be much more grounded and centred about how I approach things, with more understanding. Discovering the support network of other fellow HSPs has been incredibly important in this journey; to be able to share experience with mutual understanding with other highly sensitive people is such an important thing. “
“One of the biggest impacts learning I was an HSP has been was ending an eight year relationship I had with a Narcissist. I tried to speak to him about what I had learned to help him ‘get me’ a bit more but he wasn’t interested because of course everything was about him, always was and always would be. After having read that the HSP/Narcissist relationship is not uncommon but how toxic it is and I need to get out of it before it destroys me, I found the courage to do so but I suffered with depression and anxiety for a while afterwards a kind of post narcissist disorder. Well on the mend now, thankfully… To sum up, I wish I had discovered that I had the trait a lot earlier in life, it would have explained so many things that I grappled with and to a certain extent still do, I guess I haven’t come to terms with all of it. ”
What kind of counselling suit best HSPs?
If you are highly sensitive, it can be very beneficial to look for a counsellor who had some training in working with HSPs or at least read books about this trait. Awareness about the highly sensitive trait is a lot more important than whether your counsellor is highly sensitive, or the therapeutic approach used. Of course, there are plenty of advantages of working with a highly sensitive therapist, as you will probably feel more comfortable about talking about your issues and will feel well understood. Your highly sensitive counsellor will also have personal experience of coping with intense emotions, overarousal or other challenges associated with being an HSP. If you are looking for counselling at the moment, you can get in touch with me, as I am a highly sensitive counsellor and also have extensive training and experience in working with high sensitivity. I work via video over the internet (using Skype or Zoom), which may suit you, if you struggle to find an HSP aware therapist in your area. If you are already in therapy, you can also ask your therapist to read one of Dr. Elaine Aron’s books or at least read the information on her website, which can make a real difference for your progress and how much you feel understood by your therapist. You can also find there an excellent article about how to discuss your sensitivity with your therapist.
Sometimes the world feels inhospitable.
You feel all the ways that you and it don’t fit.
You see what’s missing, how it all could be different.
You feel as if you weren’t meant for the world, or the world wasn’t meant for you,
as if the world is “the way it is” and your discomfort with it a problem.
So you get timid. You get quiet about what you see.
But what if this?
What if you are meant
to feel the world is inhospitable, unfriendly, off-track
in just the particular ways that you do?
The world has a you-shaped hole in it.
It is missing what you see.
It lacks what you know
and so you were called into being.
To see the gap, to feel the pain of it, and to fill it.
Filling it is speaking what is missing.
Filling it is stepping into the center of the crowd, into a clearing,
and saying, here, my friends, is the future.
You don’t have to do it all, but you do have to speak it.
You have to tell your slice of the truth.
You do have to walk toward it with your choices, with your own being.
Then allies and energies will come to you like fireflies swirling around a light.
The roughness of the world, the off-track-ness, the folly that you see,
these are the most precious gifts you will receive in this lifetime.
They are not here to distance you from the world,
but to guide you to your contribution to it.
The world was made with a you-shaped hole in it.
In that way you are important.
In that way you are here to make the world.
In that way you are called.