Has anyone ever chided you for being “too sensitive”? Negatives aside, increased sensitivity has many benefits — like heightened perception. Perhaps the better question to ask yourself is: Am I a Highly Sensitive Person? And yes, it’s really thing! Welcome to the club.
You’re in good company. Navigating life as an HSP makes a lot more sense once you learn how to protect, manage and celebrate the blessing (and burden) of heightened sensitivity.
So let’s dive into this sea of sensory overwhelm together! 🌊💦😊
Life’s richest experiences come laden with sensory details:
- the scent of cedar,
- the warmth of your companion’s hand,
- the distant drum of the woodpecker,
- the flicker of sunlight through golden leaves.
So what’s the problem?
Well, not all life’s moments are pleasant hikes through the forest. Sometimes you just want to shut out the world. And furthermore, if you’re a Highly Sensitive Person, that can be a bit more difficult.
WHAT IS A HIGHLY SENSITIVE PERSON?
Thanks to Dr. Elaine Aron, who began her study of heightened sensitivity in 1991, this subtle characteristic has become more widely understood. So what’s the definition of a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)?
According to Aron’s theory (and referenced from Psychology Today):
HSPs are a subset of the population who are high in a personality trait known as sensory-processing sensitivity, or SPS. Those with high levels of SPS display increased emotional sensitivity, stronger reactivity to both external and internal stimuli—pain, hunger, light, and noise—and a complex inner life.
Elaine’s website is chalk full of easily accessible resources to guide you through this process of discovery. Plus, it’s all free stuff!
IS BEING A HIGHLY SENSITIVE PERSON A DISORDER?
Nope. Not a disorder.
An HSP is a perfectly normal and healthy thing to be. In fact, it’s a trait is found in roughly 15 to 20 percent of the population. Though there are burdens that come with heightened sensory perception, there’s a bounty of blessings too.
Still curious? Here are a few hints that you might be one of these highly intuitive people . . .
AM I A HIGHLY SENSITIVE PERSON?
Testing the Waters
- feel overwhelmed by bright lights or loud noises?
- become rattled when there’s a lot to do in a short amount of time?
- make a point of avoiding violent movies and TV shows?
- need to withdraw during busy days — into bed or a darkened room — seeking privacy and relief from the pressure?
- make it a high priority to avoid upsetting or overwhelming situations?
- enjoy a rich and complex inner life?
- notice delicate flavors, subtle scents, sudden pops of color that take your breath away — things that others might overlook?
Breaking the Surface
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you may be a Highly Sensitive Person. There’s one way to know for sure — take her brief online test by clicking here.
AM I A HIGHLY SENSITIVE PERSON? — THE BLESSINGS
Having a deeper awareness of your surroundings — both physically and emotionally — brings with it great benefits.
1. A richer life experience — inside and out.
When your senses are stronger there’s greater depth in living. Greater awareness.
That said, HSPs must cultivate and nurture this perception, just like the rest of the population. A Highly Sensitive Person is naturally drawn to the practice of mindfulness — focused sensory awareness. Albeit, maintaining that mental focus is often more challenging and requires discipline.
There’s just SO much going on inside your head!
2. Heightened awareness leads to enhanced memory.
You remember the details — the words people said — years later.
- The buoyancy of your body in the balmy Gulf Coast waters. Months ago.
- The smell of Hawaiian plumeria flowers. Years later.
- The sound of Mom’s feet on the staircase — that one squeaky step — after tucking you in goodnight. Decades later.
Life’s “moments that matter” are forever etched in your mind, in your heart, and if you choose to take up pen and paper — in your journal. Processing sensation through writing can have beautiful and healing results.
3. Greater empathy.
Your friends know this. You sense their pain, their discomfort. In times of joy you join in their laughter.
You understand people’s needs, intuitively. Most of the time.
And if you don’t, you learn and grow from the misunderstandings. Or else, you find that dark quiet room and pull the covers over your head.
Which leads me to . . .
AM I A HIGHLY SENSITIVE PERSON? — THE BURDENS
When you feel everything, it’s often overwhelming. Here are some of the burdens you carry, as an HSP:
It could be:
- several tasks to do simultaneously,
- a busy street full of pushy pedestrians, or
- the neighbor’s music late into the night.
As an HSP, unpleasant stimuli bring you down more readily. But even happy ones, when multiplied, may confuse and exhaust you. And this can lead to . . .
2. Being misunderstood.
Highly Sensitive People are often judged as selfish or stingy when it comes to sharing their time and energy. But, feeling and processing your environment on a heightened level gets tiring!
We HSPs need down time in order to restore focus and hit the reset button.
Sadly, not everybody understands this or allows for it.
3. Pain and deep compassion.
These two are inseparable.
As a Highly Sensitive Person, you feel deeply — and this even for fictional characters. Movies involving violence, torture or just plain terror are often more than you can bear.
Have you ever fainted in a movie? I have! I guess avoiding the dark side of entertainment is a good thing. No Halloween movies for me! 😱🎃
SELF-CARE TIPS FOR THE HIGHLY SENSITIVE PERSON
Understanding yourself, and being understood by others, is the start of living happier and healthier as an HSP.
Besides, this world needs people with all sorts of personalities, and you bring a beauty that’s uniquely yours. Don’t waste time wishing you weren’t so sensitive. Instead, learn to protect, manage and celebrate your sensitive nature!
Here’s a little nugget of wisdom that helped me. According to April Snow, a holistic psychotherapist in San Francisco:
Quiet downtime allows your brain to process all the information you take in throughout the day and gives your nervous system time to relax. Since HSPs need their self-care to be quiet, without stimulation, it’s important to think of your self-care and hobbies as separate activities.
Brilliant! For instance, your hobbies might include:
- time spent serving at church,
- going for coffee with friends, or
- teaching a restorative Holy Yoga class.
Incidentally, these are all things I enjoy doing — hobbies, if you will. But there’s still the need for alone time. As an HSP, refreshment often comes in the spaces between social activities.
Personalizing Your Down Time
So what does self-care look like for you?
Give yourself permission for time alone.
- Take that walk in the forest, or
- That date with your journal at the local coffee shop.
- Allow the time for kindness and give yourself some grace.
- Set aside ten minutes for prayerful meditation, or
- Just doodling in your scrapbook — without setting out to accomplish or produce anything.
These little things can set your day off on the right foot. Being in the presence of God, simply, as you are — resets and grounds you.
HIGHLY SENSITIVE LIVING — A FINAL QUOTE:
In conclusion, Christie J. Rosen, a wellness coach and author of Empowering the Sensitive Soul, puts it well:
It’s important to understand that the [HSP] trait is not a personality condition or disorder. Nor is it a matter of choice. For some, it can be a burden, but there are ways it can be nurtured and managed. The idea of finding space and time for relaxation isn’t to lower or remove sensitivity or sensory perception, but to provide respite from the extremes.
I would love to hear from you! Are you a Highly Sensitive Person? Do any of these points resonate with you? Let’s connect and encourage each other. — Blessings, Ali 😊
I used to get so annoyed that I would cry when we were scolded by my parents and my younger sis would just stand there and look coolly defiant– I was rather envious of that trait! and now I know why after an intense day, i absolutely need that downtime. and if I can’t get it at home, I’ll run out to a coffeeshop and work (or say I’m working). I now know why I intuit thoughts from glances, twitches, flickers of a gaze in a way that I find it very hard to explain to people. I also know why I like to stand and stare – sunlight on drain water, the shush of wind in leaves, the silence of stars. And I realise that living in a busy city with renovation works all the *** ** time may be more stressful for me than others, or at least that we realise it more… whereas others may also feel stressed and not know where its coming from. Sounds of nature are calming, sounds of machinery are jarring. I’m not sure if this can be changed, but I’m pretty happy the way I am even if sometimes I wish I reacted less to others’ negative feedback, constructive criticism or emotions. Thanks for this!
Thanks so much for this, Em! I really appreciate your feedback and sharing your experiences. “Stand and stare” is a great way of describing something that I do too! Especially bubbles popping in soda or wine. I like to watch them rise to the surface. And I take forever in the bathroom, because there’s just so much to stimulate the senses. Washing my face, different lotions, brushing teeth — even taking time to smell my hair after a shower. Haha! Now that I recognize these traits, I embrace them!! But I also understand that others often won’t understand, so if I’m ever at a women’s retreat or sharing a bathroom on a trip with someone who isn’t my husband, I do explain these things, and also try to “curb” my sensory wonderland experiences a little bit. I’m grateful I have pretty much always had my own bathroom as a kid, teen and young adult. Being married, my husband is very understanding, and there’s always another bathroom available for emergencies. Your sharing has really blessed me. It’s great to find another soul sister out there. Please share this article with anyone you think would benefit. God bless you. — Ali
I do try to avoid violent movies or TV shows. No, I’m nor overly sensitive, just don’t go for that sort of thing. Thanks for this ‘Mindful Living’ contribution, Ali, it’s very interesting!
Thanks Han! 🙂
Great article! Thanks for sharing and reminding me I’m not alone with this blessing/burden. I do cherish my down time. 💕
So glad this article was a help to you! Thanks for your comment, Kathy! 🙂