Are You a Highly Sensitive Person?Sep 25, 2021
Highly sensitive people (HSP) are those who feel everything deeply and have a very deep inner life.
· Can’t watch violent films or shows and they avoid reading or staying informed about the violence
· Get tired when they spend a lot of time in noisy and high-stimulation environments
· Can’t live without self-care. If deprived of it, they can have a break-down or engage in unhealthy behaviors
· Enjoy art and often are very creative themselves
· Get overwhelmed by stress and, in fact, try to avoid stressful situations
· Feel deeply and tend to be more spiritual, philosophical, and empathetic, caring about the world
There are many upsides for the HSP. In many ways, they are gifted — and can be spiritual, creative, smart, and charismatic people because they can sense the situation without any words.
Imagine that someone knows what you want without you even telling them. They care about the world, feel its pain, and want to improve it. They often go into caring, teaching, and serving professions. The world is a better place because of them.
There is about 20% of HSP in the general population, and they are equally likely to be men and women. Although, for men, it might take longer to discover that, since there is still a very high stigma of sensitivity and emotional depth. The macho culture is dying very slowly.
There are physiological and neurocognitive differences between HSP and non-HSP — information is processed differently, the stress response is activated at a different rate, and emotions are accessed in a different way. If you are interested in learning more about HSP, you can read this book by Dr. Elaine Aron “The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You.” There are more reading recommendations in references, at the end of this blog post.
I want to discuss, however, four topics relevant to HSP:
Self-Esteem & Self-Acceptance
For HSP to develop high self-esteem and self-acceptance, parenting has to be uniquely tailored to their needs to “be heard and be seen.” This is unlikely in many situations. Given that emotional intelligence has been only on the rise in the last decade in the USA, and most of the world is still lagging behind, the likelihood that HS children were acknowledged and not judged for their emotions is very low.
In fact, they might have been shamed for feeling in a specific way and not given an opportunity to express themselves if their experience deviated from the “expected” or the “norm.”
In such conditions, HSP might grow up with feelings of ‘SOMETHING IS DEEPLY WRONG WITH ME,” trying to fit in into the normal way of being and not fully finding comfort there either.
· Understand that you are not alone. 20% of the population is a substantial number. You are not a minority. Normalizing the fact that HSP exists is part of the solution.
· Self-parenting would be a big component of your healing journey. You will need to learn how to self-parent yourself while being an adult. This means: recognizing your needs for extra time off, quiet time, self-care, and anything else that your nervous system needs to feel safe and, more than that, — flourish!
· Educate yourself to recognize needs, desires, and mostly strengths because you have lots of unique strengths that other people don’t have
· Express your needs in relationships but don’t expect that people will remember them forever — you will need to keep reminding yourself and others about your needs
· Forgive — your parents, bosses, and others who might have not recognized you as an HSP and created unbearable circumstances in your life. This will bring your peace and sanity. Emotional intelligence is still on the rise, and mental and spiritual health awareness is still in its infant stage of development. The general population will need time and education to catch up.
It is fascinating that HSP might fluctuate between really enjoying social interactions because they bring them joy, depth of experiences, and an opportunity to contribute to this world. On the other hand, the same social interactions might bring stress, overwhelm, and overstimulation.
What other people consider “fun” — going to bars, drinking, participating in highly stimulating activities, HSP might find enjoyable to a degree or not enjoyable at all, depending on how sensitive their nervous system is. The “dose” of stimulation might vary from mild to extreme.
HSP are a gift to be in a relationship with — they understand and perceive the world deeply and have a lot to contribute to a relationship — from knowledge to intuition to care to creativity to the unbeatable skill of knowing before something actually occurs, as if by magic — seeing the future.
Yet, their needs might be perceived as weird or unacceptable, even judged by other people.
· Know yourself really well — because other people won’t know you and it’s not really their job to know you. Knowing yourself is a process — it’s not a one-time thing, it will unfold and deepen with time.
· Express yourself and your needs. If someone doesn’t want to listen or respect who you are, these are probably not the right people to socialize with. It’s not their fault and it’s not a reason for you to get angry with them. But understand that you don’t need to sacrifice yourself to be in a relationship — be it romantic or friendship or collegial.
· Know your boundaries, set them, express them, and know that you don’t need to feel guilty about boundaries. Imagine someone with diabetes saying, “I can’t have sugar.” That is normal and, in most cases, won’t be judged. The same thing for HSP — there are boundaries on your emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being — you can’t do certain things and you have to do certain things to stay healthy, well, and flourish.
· Be aware that there are people who have a tendency to take advantage of others in some way. It is not OK for you. Say “NO” to such people. They might not do it intentionally, but it is still your responsibility to say “NO.”
· Joyful and Fulfilling relationships are possible. So, no need to settle for something mediocre and self-defeating.
HSP has much to offer to this world — they come with unique gifts and talents. They are not concentrated only in one domain of expression: for example, only psychology or only arts. They can be everywhere and anywhere — in business, agriculture, management, therapy, and so on. HSP can also be very skilled high-level managers: they care about people, pre-emp problems with solutions, and have a capacity to take on a high-bird perspective on business and situations.
There are also some challenges that HSP need to be aware of that brings us to
· Need for rest and self-care — they simply can’t work 10 or even 8 hours a day. They must rest to avoid a break-down
· Need to process their feelings and emotions and find meaning in them. Part of the gift of being an HSP is to feel deeply about the world. Just being a manager or a teacher or an artist is not enough. HSP need to find and derive meaning from things. And this is a HUGE need for HSP. Time needs to be left in a day or a week to journal, communicate with a close friend or engage in anything else that facilitates meaning creation (e.g., art, movement, prayer, etc.)
· Need for a safe work environment. Recognize that your workspace needs to be created in a way that is helping you to work rather than you struggling to work. Inter-personal conflicts, messy desks, common working spaces might not be for you. Bring beauty and peace to your work.
· Remember that you don’t need to take care of everyone in your work environment — everyone’s problem is NOT yours. It is great to be compassionate and caring, but you can’t carry the world on your shoulders
· Be aware of people taking advantage of your kindness and energetic compassion and giving. In the end, it’s always a personal journey. Let others be somewhat independent. In the same way that you need to learn to parent yourself, encourage others to do the same. Yes, you can ask and demand that from others.
· If you are in a position to hire people, you can absolutely set criteria for other self-care. In the same way that you wouldn’t want to have a drunk in your beautiful home, you wouldn’t want to have a drunk in your office or workspace. And you can reject people who don’t understand that taking care of themselves impacts everyone around — that is OK.
· Working for yourself is also a solution, where you are able to set your timetable, conditions, and collaborations.
HSP might find themselves attracted to spirituality because they are interested in questions such as “Who am I?” “Why the world is the way it is?” “How can I be happy in life?” “What is my life purpose?” “What is the nature of God?” etc. Their intuitive understanding of things might bring them very special experiences in the realm of spirituality, such as oneness, direct communication with spiritual beings, extreme intuitive knowing of things, and a deep understanding of spiritual concepts.
There are also challenges that come with it. For instance, getting a bit lost in spirituality and thinking that the spiritual world is more important than the human world — simply because the human world doesn’t seem to be able to take care of their needs. They may devote too much time to spirituality for that very reason, seeking healing, transformation, and wholeness.
· Remembering that healing is a journey, it’s a process. Choosing a gentle path of healing is important so that traumas from the past are not triggered many times. Coming from the place of self-love and self-acceptance.
· Being gentle with yourself, paying attention to your needs.
· Knowing that healing is possible and that you don’t need to choose “being spiritual” or “being human” — you can have both worlds coexisting and helping each other flourish, create and enjoy life.
· Trusting ease and joy, making an effort to make changes in your life that align with your physical, mental, and spiritual well-being
· Allocating time for meditation, prayer, and any other spiritual practice
· Sharing the depth of your experiences with others — by blogging, creating art, having conversations, etc.
· Accepting the challenging sides of being an HSP and accepting yourself as a whole, the unconditional love so to speak — not rejecting the parts of you that are sensitive and need extra love and care
· Learning how to let go of pain — is very important. You don’t need to suffer all your life just because there is so much pain in the world. You don’t need to save the world. You don’t need to be Mother Theresa for everyone coming your way.
· Create healthy boundaries even within yourself — indulging in heavy emotions is draining for your psyche: feel and learn to let go.
· Learn practices that uplift you. You might have a tendency to allow yourself to feel everything. Which is wonderful, but learning how to raise your energy and uplift your vibration, so to speak, is extremely important for leading a fulfilling life.
I hope this article was helpful for you or someone you know who exhibits the qualities of an HSP. It was inspired by my personal life journey and sensitivities to feel deeply. It’s been a great challenge and a marvelous blessing that I am learning to embrace. As I grow to understand my needs better and express them to others, I see my life transform and improve in myriads of ways. And I wish you all the blessings and joy you can experience in a lifetime that is so complex, beautiful and inspiring to growth.
1. Elaine Aaron, PhD (2020). The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You.
2. Elaine Aaron, PhD (2001). The Highly Sensitive Perso in Love: Understanding and Managing Relationships When the World Overwhelms You.
3. Sensitive: The Untold Story (film)