Up to 20% of the population are considered to be ‘highly sensitive.’ High sensitivity isn’t a psychological weakness, but is an innate trait…the brains of highly sensitive people are actually wired differently to others
Psychologist, Elaine N Aron, coined the phrase the Highly Sensitive Person and has been researching sensitivity since 1991. She is a pioneer in the study of sensitivity and has written widely about it.
People across the globe are relating to her identification of this innate trait of sensitivity and her work has opened up hope for those who felt they didn’t fit into the world today, to feel valuable, unique and to accept themselves and their sensitivity. Elaine N Aron’s work is revolutionary and visionary. It has created widespread acceptance and understanding of the positive and life-affirming traits of the Highly Sensitive Person, who feels things more deeply than others and are more sensitive to the environment.
So what is a Highly Sensitive Person?
Highly Sensitive People have nervous systems that are more sensitive than others and they process things more deeply. As a result, they pick up on more information from the environment than the majority of the population.
Highly sensitive people:
- Notice and are affected by smells, noises and bright lights (highly sensitive people often don’t like the TV on in the background, or being around people with strong perfume)
- Pick up easily on the emotions of others
- Feel overwhelmed by busy days and long to do lists
- Prefer a meaningful one-on-one talk to speaking with large groups or making small talk
- Are strongly affected by caffeine, alcohol, drugs, medication and herbs
- Enjoy their own company, in fact they need down time by themselves to recover from the busy-ness of the world
- Tend to burn out and develop chronic conditions like chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia
- Have a rich and deep inner life
- Were often described as ‘sensitive’ as a child
- Appreciate creativity, art and music
- Get overwhelmed and overstimulated in shopping centres and supermarkets
- Are intuitive and empathetic
High Sensitivity is not a Weakness
It’s important to know that high sensitivity isn’t a diagnosis or an illness. It’s a trait, meaning that we’re born with it. It’s simply a way of describing the workings of the nervous system.
I personally identify as a Highly Sensitive Person and have discovered chatting to many of my colleagues, that many other therapists do too.
You see, high sensitivity is not a weakness, it’s a strength that makes us intuitive and empathic, and therefore it’s not surprising that it would be common in therapists. Highly sensitive people are in the minority, enough so that we’re often misunderstood and dismissed as overly sensitive, but we’re a large minority, and we have a lot to offer the world.
Highly sensitive people process the world more deeply and are more aware of subtleties. And as a result, we’re also more easily overwhelmed, as we get overstimulated when there’s a lot going on. Our nervous systems are easily overloaded. We need time to ourselves to unwind and unravel from all this stimulation.
The challenge that comes with this is that we can get exhausted, overwhelmed and burnt out more quickly than ‘normal’. So fatigue related illness, anxiety, depression and low self-esteem and are not uncommon.
The up-side of being a HSP is that we are often deeply creative, spiritual, empathic and insightful. We make links between things in the world that other people may miss, and hence we are often thought-leaders and creative folk.
People who embrace and nourish their sensitivity are likely to be happy, healthy and doing wonderful things in the world. People who see their sensitivity as a burden and ignore it, are more likely to end up depressed and wondering why they can’t keep up with rest of the world.
How to work with the gifts and challenges of being an HSP
Dr Elaine N Aron says it’s important to recognise if we’re highly sensitive, so we can make full use of its advantages and compensate for its other effects. Elaine suggests:
- reviewing our past, and taking note of times when we felt we failed, and reinterpreting the failure in light of being a highly sensitive person in a world that does not cater well for this trait (perhaps we were overstimulated at the time)
- stop living like a non-sensitive person – you may need more down time and more meaningful work
- work on your self-esteem (our culture largely does not always value high sensitivity, so our self-esteem can take a battering at times)
- help the important people in your life understand your needs as a highly sensitive person – such as your need for downtime and for gentler communication (and that these needs are just who you are, they’re beyond your control)
In addition, I believe that it’s also important to have ways to calm the nervous system when it’s over-stimulated. Getting out in nature, curling up in bed with a good book and doing yoga practices like iRest Yoga Nidra and mindful breathing can be a great help.
Yes highly, never new how to manage my emotions , in recovery from alcohol addiction and I used my sensitivity to justify my drinking
Your article explains my whole life! Wish I had know about all of this sooner, but better late than never!
I get your point even though I am almost opposite in my responses to others. I effectively process what others say and what I think they are thinking. I am rarely depressed. I am usually sad from grief more than lingering depression. What I have learned from life is I can’t get wet from the WORD ‘water’. Pain and uncomfortable emotions dissipate for me. Some have lingered for years but it is like a broken bone that heals. The debilitating pain lasts for a short time and it heals. Memory and the physical damage can cause you to feel a twinge of pain now and then for a long time.
It sounds as though your mom and sister are triggers to your getting ‘wet’ from their words.
My advice… read The Untethered Soul (The Journey Beyond) by Michael A. Singer. You may discover letting go and allowing this energy to flow through you instead of binding up.
This article gives a pretty clear distinction between HSPs and Empaths. Crucial to know the differences especially for HSPs. “Love yourself as powerfully as you can”!!
This article was great! Spot on for myself and 2 of my 5 children. It has felt like a handicap most of my life as most of my family didn’t understand me and my need for alone time. I have always needed calm around me. I came from a very over stimulating environment, a lot of anger, and abusers growing up. I am hypersensitive, I hear all things around me. I can be conversing with someone and hear a conversation behind me, music playing, a child crying ect. As I write this I am listening to radio, and also tuned into birds churping outside. Just an example of what I feel and hear. I shared this article with my children and hope they see benefit in it as I did. Thanks so much for acknowledging this as a legitimate subject. I hope there will be more information and understanding for Highly Sensitive People.
I’m a highly sensitive person and have battled with depression all my life. What pushes me towards feelings of depression because of my sensitivity is my family. Mother and sister…theyre the complete opposite of me and often say things about me being too sensitive which makes me feel inadaquate. I have low self esteem and have wished my whole that i wasnt born this way. I’ve constantly tried to explain to them that I feel things differently than they do and any negative remarks hurt me deeply….I remember them for years.. But they don’t understand. To them my sensitivity is a fault I need to seek counseling for so I can toughen up and not take things so seriously. My sister has even said I think “weird”. I don’t know what to do. I’m always so unhappy. Is there anyone out there who can give me advice on how to convince my family that I’m not flawed?….that I’m perfectly normal and don’t need to toughen up? I’m getting tired of all the negative remarks. I deserve to be happy and live my life the way I need to to find this happiness. Please…any advice???
you got me!
I would like to see a discussion begin here with innate sensitivity as shown in the illustration of the child holding his ears in relation to sound vs. sensitivity stemming from the mind (thoughts) “wrapping” around something without much awareness (lots of repetition) and thus getting identified with the sensitivity, thinking of oneself as a “sensitive person”, etc.
I bring this up because I would say I am a sensitive person as the article describes who over decades have separated out what my less conscious mind used to do in becoming attached and proliferating out the sensitivity what ever it might be in the moment, to now having awareness and objectivity to this pattern of doing this. In developing awareness of call it “the proliferating mind” and how this infuses my feelings (limbic system), I am able to easily, naturally let go, “move on” and even have humor with how my perfectionistic tendencies work in this way. I don’t get so overwhelmed as I see what my mind is doing (with added aversion) and quite simply “let it go” by knowing my tendencies to do this, ie., get attached, see repetitive thoughts and associations at play, etc.
In reading this it may appear “heady” yet in having and developing meditative awareness in this way, its not. Anyway, I’d like to hear from others who are sensitive that are interested in chiming in here.
i can’t help to feel that highly sensitive people are more prone to depression :’/
I’m a sensitive and I function best helping others, but the job has to be really helpful not some daft money spinner. Luckily I managed to find a job that made this possible and for my working life it made all the difference. We need to keep a list of real jobs, jobs that help us all to connect, be truthful and be happy. We do not need a negative list of jobs we do not want.
I am on the autistic spectrum and received a very late diagnosis of ASD in 2014 at the age of 52 from the Aspergers Service in Basildon in Essex in the UK. Many people on the autism spectrum are highly sensitive and have the above symptoms and conditions above. I have just been diagnosed with fibromyalgia and was told by the specialist that there is a connection between autism and fibromyalgia.
Wonderful article. Sensitivity has been condemned and now is the time to rehabilitate it. The world is changing and the female energy coming from The Divine Source -whether in woman or men – is taking back its original place. Thank You.
This is so much like me I had to share it on my wall.
Thanks a ton..!!! made ma morale highhhhhh, got many answers
I love this article. It is the tale of my life. Sign me up❤️