What does it mean to be a Highly Sensitive Person?
Research has shown that the nervous system of a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) is a lot more evolved than the average person; meaning we are hard wired to pick up on the subtleties in our environment and process them to a far greater depth.
Empaths and HSPs make up 15-20% of the population so it is not surprising that many of us feel like we are different from the rest of society and fail to recognise this unique trait as a special gift.
A more evolved nervous system means processing stimuli to a far greater depth than that of a non HSP, which means that both external and internal stimuli will take longer to process. Examples of this type of stimuli include bright lights, loud crowded places, changes in temperature, slight change in someone’s mood, emotions (other people’s + our own) thoughts and pains (including hunger).
Our internal worlds are complex and HSPs are more tuned-in to the emotions of ourselves and others around them. The emotional centres of our brains (limbic system) are shown to be more overactive than non-HSPs and with more active mirror neurons, we can really pick up on the emotions of others quicker than non-HSPs can.
In fact, if you’re on the super high end of the empathic spectrum and consider yourself an empath like myself, you will absorb the emotions of others around you – a bit like an emotional sponge, whether you want to or not.
As a result of this, we have different needs. When this trait is not recognised or nurtured as it should be, our needs become neglected and we internalise the message that other peoples’ needs are more important than our own. So, it is no surprise that HSPs commonly experience low self-confidence and low self-esteem as we do not trust that it is safe to fully embrace who we are at our core.
When this trait goes unrecognised and our needs go unmet, subconscious patterns are created that can impact on our relationships, careers, social life, health, wellbeing etc. This causes us to become stuck in a cycle of destructive behaviour, people pleasing, being afraid to say no and feeling unworthy of love.
While everyone feels sensitive at times, a highly sensitive person will experience a much greater response to stimuli and this is why we can become quickly overwhelmed (click here to read my blog post all about overwhelm and what you can do to manage it). It is important for HSPs to retreat or spend some time alone to ground themselves and wind down away from too much stimuli.
Highly sensitive people will have received a lot of comments growing up to make them acutely aware that they experience things differently to their peers. Hearing comments like “you’re too sensitive”, “Why do you care so much” “You noticed that?!” “Hmm, It doesn’t seem too loud in here, or too bright/too hot/too cold” – are a good indication too.
Since I’ve started working with HSPs I’ve had quite a lot of people question this trait within themselves, and if I hear the remark “That’s nothing special. Everyone feels that way sometimes!” …then it is unlikely they are a highly sensitive person.
HSPs know from experience (and often difficult times) that they feel things far more strongly than others do. They have seen firsthand how they’re different.
Look below to take the self-test to help you understand better if you’re HSP.
Dr Elaine Aron’s Self-Test
Make a note of how many you say YES to:
- I am easily overwhelmed by strong sensory input
- I seem to be aware of subtleties in my environment
- Other people’s moods affect me
- I tend to be very sensitive to pain
- I find myself needing to withdraw during busy days, into bed or into a darkened room or any place where I can have some privacy and relief from stimulation
- I am particularly sensitive to the effects of caffeine
- I am easily overwhelmed by things like bright lights, strong smells, coarse fabrics, or sirens close by
- I have a rich, complex inner life
- I am made uncomfortable by loud noises
- I am deeply moved by the arts or music
- My nervous system sometimes feels so frazzled that I just have to go off by myself
- I am conscientious
- I startle easily
- I get rattled when I have a lot to do in a short amount of time
- When people are uncomfortable in a physical environment I tend to know what needs to be done to make it more comfortable (like changing the lighting or the seating)
- I am annoyed when people try to get me to do too many things at once
- I try hard to avoid making mistakes or forgetting things
- I make a point to avoid violent movies and TV shows
- I become unpleasantly aroused when a lot is going on around me
- Being very hungry creates a strong reaction in me, disrupting my concentration or mood
- Changes in my life shake me up
- I notice and enjoy delicate or fine scents, tastes, sounds, works of art
- I find it unpleasant to have a lot going on at once
- I make it a high priority to arrange my life to avoid upsetting or overwhelming situations
- I am bothered by intense stimuli, like loud noises or chaotic scenes
- When I must compete or be observed while performing a task, I become so nervous or shaky that I do much worse than I would otherwise
- When I was a child, my parents or teachers seemed to see me as sensitive or shy
If you answered more than fourteen of the questions as true of yourself, you are probably highly sensitive. But no psychological test is so accurate that an individual should base his or her life on it. If fewer questions are true of you, but extremely true, that might also justify you calling you highly sensitive.
Being Sensitive is a beautiful gift
I see the word “sensitive” being thrown around all too often as if it’s a bad thing, but I’m here to reassure you that your sensitivity is actually a really special, amazing gift. Once we learn about the trait, we can begin to accept ourselves as we are, and this can be a huge shift alone! We can then learn the tools and techniques we need to thrive in this world and work on implementing them until they become engrained in who we are. Overtime, with the right interventions you can become attuned to working with your own energy and especially if you’re an empath you can learn how to do this in a way that serves others too.
The truth is, you aren’t “too much” of anything!
You simply have a very unique and powerful personality trait that comes with both pros and cons 🙂