Are you a Highly Sensitive Person?
Have you often felt misunderstood? Are your inner thoughts and feelings deep and intense? Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed by the world around you? Me too. And I’m frankly relieved to know that this is absolutely normal for about 20 percent of the population. We are Highly Sensitive Persons, or HSPs.
No, we are not suffering from a mental illness. HSP is neither a diagnosis nor a deficit. Rather, it is a genetic trait (akin to left handedness).
HSP, also known by its scientific term Sensory Processing Sensitivity, has been thoroughly researched and documented for over 25 years, thanks largely to the efforts of Dr. Elaine Aron, an HSP herself. Prior to her work, the trait was frequently mistaken for shyness or even introversion, but today we understand that up to one-third of HSPs are extroverts, and that this trait is evenly distributed among the genders.
Dr. Aron describes four major attributes of an HSP, represented by the acronym DOES. These are present in varying degrees in those possessing the trait:
D – Depth of Processing: The HSP thinks deeply about the meaning of life, quickly grasps insights, and often has an active spiritual life. He or she is intuitive and creative, and engages in extensive questioning of self.
O- Easily Overstimulated: HSPs can be stressed by noises, crowds, and deadlines. The HSP prefers not to be observed while working, reacts intensely to changes in routine, and requires downtime to recharge.
E- Strong Emotional Reactions: An HSP feels things deeply. He or she understands the perspective of others and generally responds empathetically. The HSP is usually sensitive to criticism, no matter how well intentioned.
S- Aware of Subtle Stimuli: The HSP notices details and enjoys the beauty found in nature and the arts. Some HSPs startle easily and are sensitive to pain, while others react strongly to caffeine and medications.
HSP in America
Ideally, each person operates in the areas of his or her gifting. While sensitivity is valued in some cultures, modern America can be a challenging environment for the HSP, and low self-esteem can result. To move beyond these feelings of self doubt, it is important that the HSP and his or her family, teachers, and friends develop an understanding of the trait. Without this knowledge, inappropriate expectations, criticism, and even unkindness can result. But, with this knowledge, key people can become allies by showing genuine interest and engaging the HSP in creating an environment of acceptance.
Many HSPs grow up asking, “What’s wrong with me?” The answer, of course, is “nothing!” Different is not flawed. I am personally encouraged to learn of the truly exceptional attributes of HSPs. We are innovative problem solvers, valuable to a broad array of employers, though we often choose entrepreneurial endeavors. We demonstrate genuine care for others (and for our adopted causes) with intensity. We create beautiful art and music that touch the souls of our fellow travelers in this life. Once an HSP has both self-understanding and the support of loved ones, he or she is able to flourish.
Does this sound like you or someone you care about? If so, it is important to study the evidence and embrace the HSP trait as reality; then begin to design a lifestyle that nurtures, rather than condemns, sensitivities. It is frequently necessary for the HSP to look back at past life events (to include traumas) through the lens of newfound self-awareness.
Want to learn more? Check out hsperson.com, where you can take a self-assessment (or one for your child), learn more about the research, and even find an HSP-informed therapist. If you’re on the front range, reach out so we can join together to explore the richness that is you – a Highly Sensitive Person.
By Jan Rosko MA, NCC, LPC, to learn more about Jan visit https://mayfieldcounseling.com/about/