I first read Elaine N. Aron’s book The Highly Sensitive Person 10 years ago. I remember it struck a cord at the time- a big one. But then I forgot about it until a good friend reminded me about it recently. So, I dusted it off & dipped in.
Oh my gosh, I realised how relevant it is to my life, to many of my friend’s lives, to practically all of my client’s lives. It makes sense of the wonder, the struggle-the mystery and the magic of my existence and quite probably yours.
There’s no definitive test but it’s likely that if you answer YES to most of these 10 questions you’re in the gang!
Do you feel overwhelmed by strong or too much sensory input? e.g crowds, long days in a busy office or very violent/horror movies?
Do you notice & often appreciate the subtleties in life such as sounds, tastes or beauty? Do you love the arts, creativity & nature as a result?
Do you notice an atmosphere in a room & do other people’s moods (or how you feel they might be judging you) affect you?
Have you have been described as perspective or intuitive?
Do you need some time out/time alone to re-balance if things get busy? Your nervous system can feel frazzled if you don’t take this.
Do you have a rich, complex inner life (maybe a connection with nature &/or spirituality)? You might enjoy having thoughtful, meaningful conversations.
Do you find that being hungry creates a strong reaction? Also, that you are sensitive to the effects of caffeine, alcohol or drugs as well as temperatures too?
Do you get put off being observed whilst doing a task? You also don’t like having to do too many things at once.
Have you sometimes been seen as sensitive, shy & conscientious?
Do you sometimes find it difficult to switch off and sleep at night or wake up early with thoughts, worries and ideas?
5 Things To Know About YOU..
1) You Inherited being a HSP.
According to Aron, approximately 20% of us (equally split between males & females) are genetically highly sensitive. This has been found in both the human and animal kingdom.
You were born with a more finely tuned nervous system & neural differences (validated by lots of scientific study) so you see & feel more subtlety in your environment & are more attuned to other people. You process more deeply & therefore feel stimulus from the world & from your emotions (you may even feel pain more intensely).
Carol, a talented medical practitioner recently told me that it was like her mother and aunt had had their daughters swopped at birth. As a child, she was thoughtful, cautious & embarrassed by her mother’s theatrical public displays, whilst her cousin joined in. At home, she felt like the black sheep of the family. Fortunately for Carol (unlike many sensitive children) she found an ally in her aunt.
And like Carol, here’s the rub…
2) You might feel different.
Elaine N Aron says,
“In our culture…possessing this trait is not considered ideal and that fact probably has had a major impact on you. Well-meaning parents and teachers probably tried to help you ‘overcome’ it, as if it were a defect.”
If you were born into a family or your experience of school made you feel like you were different, the ‘black sheep’ or labelled the ‘overly sensitive’ one that inwardly struggled, thought more deeply & felt more anxiety, this can have a knock on effect on your self esteem. If no one helped you to understand & work with your trait, you can feel flawed.
Aron says we HSPs can suffer from low self worth because of this. But there’s NOTHING wrong with you, in fact…
3) YOU are gifted.
HSPs are very needed in the world– you often see things that others do not. You may have vision, create profound art, make people laugh, know what’s needed in difficult situations or use your sensitivity to heal others or the world. We are the conscientious citizens that care for the underdog or spend years inventing a new cure.
The world needs you but as an HSP it doesn’t always feel easy to get your gifts seen or be ‘out there’ in the world because and you don’t enjoy selling your self and you have a nervous system that’s more easily overwhelmed.
4) You have optimal levels of arousal.
That’s right, I said optimal levels of arousal! I’m talking about your nervous system-too much ‘out there’ and you feel wiped out but too much staying in & you don’t feel stimulated/engaged enough.
No two of us are exactly alike. We have different sensitivities & different needs. It can take a little figuring out.
I’m married to a lovely HSP fellow. He gets a stinking headache if he spends too much time under strip lighting & around a thumping baseline (fortunately there aren’t too many rave nights in office blocks). As an HSP myself, I can cope with quite a lot of the above & even spend time in crowds but put on too much talk radio or TV especially whilst I’m trying to concentrate something else & I might have a mini melt down!
HSPs therefore often find certain things more tricky-like living in cities, working in busy offices, going to parties or doing that dreaded public speaking.
But it doesn’t mean we CAN’T do those things and we can even grow to love some of them. It’s all about balance & knowing yourself.
5) Know Yourself (& get some strategies)
It’s important to give yourself permission to give that thing a miss (that thing that everyone else seems to thrive on but you hate) like the all night party, feeling like you ‘should’ work full time or internet dating.
Or have strategies to deal with overwhelming situations like leaving early, nipping out for fresh air or taking along a HSP friend. If you’re a city dweller you could take regular nature based trips.
It’s also important to know your limits & learn what works but equally, us HSPs can do what Elaine calls ‘habituate.’
Have you noticed how that background traffic noise seemed so loud when you first moved to your new house but now you don’t notice it so much? Or how you used to feel terrified of driving but now you do it on auto pilot?
It’s so important that where it counts, we find ways & don’t let ourselves get boxed into tiny lives that don’t fulfil us or prevent us from getting our talents out there.
Because we have so much to give to the world! With a little care, consideration & encouragement we are capable of incredible things (some of us might just need a little more time to get there).