The Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)
Hang on to your hats - this is a lengthy one!
You will hear me referencing being a "Highly Sensitive Person", or HSP as I will call it the majority of the time. Now it's time to let you in on what that means exactly - or what it means for me.
As with all things, I am not a doctor or a psychologist, but I am reporting what I myself have studied and experienced first hand as an HSP - and I continue to learn about myself in that respect every day.
There are wonderful books and blogs with extensive research and much better written material than you'll find here. If you want to delve more in to that world, I recommend starting with the book by Dr. Elaine Aron, "The Highly Sensitive Person". She also has a blog page, hsperson.com that is worth a look. She has lots of insight and books that have really helped me, including topics on:
BEING an HSP
HSPs in RELATIONSHIPS
Being a HSP as a PARENT
Being the parent OF an HSP.
It is important to me that you understand I am also new to all of this HSP stuff. This is a year-long journey at best, but it has made SO much of my life make sense!
So let's dive in.
WHAT THE HELL IS AN HSP ANYWAY?
Here is my best attempt at a synopsis instead of a research novel. Wish me luck - brevity with my words is not a strong suit of mine!
An HSP is a term for those who are thought to have an increased or deeper central nervous system sensitivity to physical, emotional, or social stimuli.
Some refer to this as having sensory processing sensitivity, or SPS for short.
A few points taken directly from Dr. Aron's blog/website, hsperson.com. I didn't see where I could improve her words, so this is verbatim:
Your trait is normal. It is found in 15 to 20% of the population–too many to be a disorder, but not enough to be well understood by the majority of those around you.
It is innate. In fact, biologists have found it in over 100 species (and probably there are many more) from fruit flies, birds, and fish to dogs, cats, horses, and primates. This trait reflects a certain type of survival strategy, being observant before acting. The brains of HSPs actually work a little differently than others’.
You are more aware than others of subtleties. This is mainly because your brain processes information and reflects on it more deeply. So even if you wear glasses, for example, you see more than others by noticing more.
You are also more easily overwhelmed. If you notice everything, you are naturally going to be overstimulated when things are too intense, complex, chaotic, or novel for a long time.
This trait is not a new discovery, but it has been misunderstood. Because HSPs prefer to look before entering new situations, they are often called “shy.” But shyness is learned, not innate. In fact, 30% of HSPs are extroverts, although the trait is often mislabeled as introversion. It has also been called inhibitedness, fearfulness, or neuroticism. Some HSPs behave in these ways, but it is not innate to do so and not the basic trait.
Sensitivity is valued differently in different cultures. In cultures where it is not valued, HSPs tend to have low self-esteem. They are told “don’t be so sensitive” so that they feel abnormal. HSPs and their traits are coveted in cultures such as Japan and it is quite the opposite in cultures like the United States.
Avoiding violent movies or TV shows because they feel too intense and leave you feeling unsettled.
Being deeply moved by beauty, either expressed in art, nature, or the human spirit, or sometimes even a good commercial. I swear I can FEEL music.
Being overwhelmed by sensory stimuli like noisy crowds, bright lights, or uncomfortable clothing.
Feeling a need for downtime (not just a preference), especially when you have hectic days; needing to retreat to a dark, quiet room.
Having a rich and complex inner life, complete with deep thoughts and strong feelings that go with it.
Being an HSP might impact life in the following ways:
You might avoid situations that leave you feeling overwhelmed. HSPs may be more affected by certain situations such as tension, violence, and conflict, which may lead them to avoid things that make them feel uncomfortable.
You might be highly touched by beauty or emotionality. HSPs tend to feel deeply moved by the beauty they see around them. They may cry while watching particularly heartwarming videos and can really empathize with the feelings of others, both negative and positive.
You may have close relationships with others. They care deeply about their friends and tend to form deep bonds with the right people.
You may be grateful for the life you have. HSPs appreciate a fine wine, a good meal, or a beautiful song on a level that most people can't access. They may feel more existential angst, but they also may feel more gratitude for what they have in life, knowing that it is possibly fleeting and nothing is certain.
Things an HSP might not do well with - the hazardous side:
Hectic Schedules. Some people thrive on the excitement of a busy life. HPSs, on the other hand, feel overwhelmed and rattled when they have a lot to do in a short amount of time - even if they technically have enough time to get everything done if they rush. Juggling the uncertainty of maybe not being able to make it all work and the pressure of such situations feels overwhelmingly stressful.
Expectations of others. HSPs tend to pick up on the needs and feelings of others. They hate letting people down. Learning to say no is a challenge and a necessity for HSPs because they can feel crushed by the demands of others, particularly because they can feel their friends’ disappointment if HSPs need to say no.
Conflicts. HSPs may be more prone to being stressed by conflict. They may be more aware of trouble brewing in a relationship, including when things just feel a little “off” with someone who may not be communicating that there is a problem. This can also lead to misinterpreting unrelated signals as signs of conflict or anger.
Social Comparison. They may feel the negative feelings of the other person as well as their own feelings, and they may experience them more strongly and deeply than others. They may also be more upset when they realize that a relationship is over, feeling that things could have been resolved, whereas someone else may feel there is nothing that could be done and walks away.
Tolerations. As in “things we tolerate” that create stress and aren’t strictly necessary. Distractions may feel more frustrating for the HSP who is trying to concentrate, for example, or foul smells in one’s house may be felt more strongly and make relaxation more elusive for an HSP in a messy home.
HSPs are more easily startled by surprises. They get “hangry” when hungry—they don’t tolerate it well. In this way, life’s daily stressors often add up to more frustration for the highly sensitive.
Personal Failures. Because HSPs are their own worst critics, they are more prone to rumination and self-doubt. They may remember for quite a while if they make an embarrassing mistake, and feel more embarrassed about it than the average person would.
They don’t like being watched and evaluated when they are attempting something challenging, and can even mess up because of the stress of being watched. They are more often perfectionists.
TIPS & TRICKS (just to start!)
Above all, know what triggers stress in you, and learn to avoid these things. Some thoughts:
Add positivity by creating positive experiences in your schedule to insulate you from additional stress you may encounter. I do things like yoga, outings, and also take one night a week to myself for some solo me-time where I do whatever I please and it always changes. But it always involves food!
Avoid stressors like slasher movies and people who sap your positive energy, make heavy demands on you, or make you feel bad about yourself. No takers - the ones who always want something, are always complaining, or are always playing the victim. These people will suck you dry of your mental and physical energy if you allow them to.
Learn to say no to overwhelming demands and feel OK with it, and create a perimeter in your life. No is a complete sentence and the hardest one for me to say - but I get better every day! Boundaries.
Set up a safe space. Let your home be a soothing environment. That makes a huge difference for me - having a clean, decluttered, safe, and comfy home. And reading every day in my favorite spot with a cup of coffee.
I have found setting boundaries and respecting them is paramount for me. It is hard for me to say no and many times even harder to not let others cause me to doubt my own thoughts - which is a bit silly considering I'm a pretty sharp cookie. Just comes with the territory.
That is as brief as I feel is respectably appropriate for this trait I have such a confused fondness for.
In a future posts we will talk more, including relationships, parenting, and the PLOT TWIST - High Sensation Seeking (HSS) HSPs! Spoiler alert - I am one!
Whew! Well, if you made it to the end of that with me, thanks for listening and taking a moment to try and find some understanding for a group of folks you already know but maybe have a bit of a challenge understanding.
'Til next time,