Highly Sensitive People
Are you a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)?
Are you sensitive to sights, sounds, smells, moods? Are you more aware of subtleties? Are you creative, perceptive and intuitive? Do you have a keen imagination and vivid dreams? Do you pick up on things others might not? Does time out each make a huge difference for you? Do you feel stressed or overwhelmed by too much noise or too much happening at once? Do you dislike scary films? Have you been told you are "too sensitive" or "too shy" by others?
If you answer yes to some or most of these questions you may be a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP). You can take a self test here to see if you are a HSP. HSP is also known scientifically as Sensory-Processing Sensitivity (SPS).
We live in a culture dominated by the non-HSP - this dominant culture has a preference for a faster paced, more aggressive, overworking, busy lifestyle. Due to this many HSP's can end up feeling like there is something "wrong" with them. HSP's are only 15-20% of the population, a distinct minority. So it's common for HSP's to feel like they don't measure up. Which is a real tragedy as HSP's have so many unique skills and talents to offer the world! This is where HSP Coaching can be so very helpful!
Together we can take a look at HSP traits, the impact of sensitivity on your personal history, career, relationships and inner life. Understanding this alone can make a huge difference! We will also explore the many advantages of being a HSP that you may not know about. There are many!
Because HSP's take in so much more than non HSP's it is very helpful to design a lifestyle that really understands and honours the importance of this and allows time for rest and replenishment.
You will benefit hugely from learning about and understanding more about what it means to be a HSP. This will help make a big difference in helping you to choose a life that favours your special gifts. Many of my HSP Coaching clients have said that working together has been life changing for them.
The Understanding of High Sensitivity is Relatively New
Ideally, your parents and teachers would have known about, understood and been skilled at supporting and raising HSP's. But the research on sensory-processing sensitivity wasn't available until the 1990's. Unfortunately, our predominant culture may have influenced and biased teachers and parents against the trait, even if they were HSP's themselves.
If you are fortunate to be flourishing in your work and feel fully valued by friends and family, that's the ideal situation for HSP's. But most HSP's have been influenced by the cultural norm and so minimize their own value. However what HSP's have to offer is often what is most needed to create balance in our culture and society.
More About HSP
The terms HSP and SPS were coined in the mid-1990s by psychologist and researcher Dr Elaine Aron. Elaine Aron has written many books about HSP's and done a lot of research and important work that has helped many HSP's.
Sometimes it is thought that being a HSP is about being introverted but HSP's can be introverted or extroverted and they can be a HSP and be a sensation seeker.
The HSP trait reflects a certain type of survival strategy of being observant before acting. This is an important trait for survival of species. If we all acted before looking then that would be a big problem! HSP traits have also been found in over a 100 different species including cats, horses, primates, even fish and fruit flies. Research has shown that the brains of highly sensitive persons work a little differently to others, the "wiring" is different. A HSP is more aware than others of subtleties. This is mainly because the brain processes information and reflects on it more deeply. Compared to the 80% without the trait, HSP process everything around them much more—reflect on it, elaborate on it, and make associations.
What Does It Mean To Be High In Sensory-processing Sensitivity?
Aron identifies 20% of all people, men and women equally, as highly sensitive and another 22 - 27% as moderately sensitive.
The non HSP may also be perceptive, intelligent, alert, insightful, kindly and considerate. The difference is in the nervous system and the way it processes information from the environment.
Dr. Aron uses the acronym DOES to describe key qualities of the HSP.
D stands for depth of processing
Neuro-imaging studies show the HSP observes more detail from an image. Then they process the input over larger areas in the brain, and will think longer about that experience. The HSP tends to reflect first and then act. They usually observe before jumping in. They are often at their best in a situation where considering multiple options and weighing possible outcomes is important. Once they are familiar with a situation, they may act quickly because they have thought through what needs to be done. So they are prepared to implement it.
O is for over-stimulation
The natural outcome of a nervous system that works harder. HSP need to rest and regroup a bit sooner than the non-HSP, especially in a trying situation.
E is, first, for emotions
HSP's feel emotions deeply. In a negative situation, they feel more negative emotion than the non-HSP. In a positive one, they feel more positive emotion.
E is also for empathy
HSP's can easily put themselves in an other's shoes.
S is for sensitivity to subtleties
This can show up in a variety of ways as HSP's remember more of a past event or are more alert to the nuances of relationships. They may be quicker to see a problem others have overlooked and to develop a strategy to remedy it.
Four important thing the HSP needs to know!
These are very important and key to you understanding and to your ability to validate your sensitivity:
Sensory-processing sensitivity is not a genetic mistake. You are not a genetic mistake. 20% of human beings and of all the higher animals are more sensitive to their surroundings, spend more time observing rather than acting immediately, and process input longer and more deeply. Being lower in SPS is also normal; 80% of the population is less sensitive. Nature doesn’t select against SPS; it selects for both in an 80-20 proportion in 100+ species.
You’re part of a minority
But many millions and millions of other people in the world are also high in sensory-processing sensitivity. Another lot are moderately high. Being in the minority doesn’t make you wrong! In that one regard, it does make you different. That difference is not a flaw.
You’re probably under-informed
Research about the benefits of your trait, pioneered by social psychologist Dr. Elaine Aron, only began to appear in the 1990's but has since grown considerably. Having good information about sensitivity can help you avoid many difficulties.
HSP's benefit from good environments
HSP's seem to benefit even more than non-HSP's from a good environment and from improvements in it. Like orchids, they flourish in an environment friendly to them.
Sensitivity is absolutely not a flaw!
Sensory-processing sensitivity is not shyness, neurosis, inhibitedness, histrionics, or being touchy and self-absorbed - those are behaviors; they happen because of certain environments - you could say they are a learned or adaptive behaviour.
If you are shy, sometimes it is because someone influenced you as a child, by maybe making you feel unwelcome. Perhaps no one allowed you to be yourself, to take your time to adapt to new situations without penalty. You may have needed time to observe before you approached and joined in.
Probably only a quarter or even less of our population has heard about the science of sensory processing sensitivity. It’s often mistakenly spoken of as if it were the same as being overly sensitive, thin-skinned, temperamental, immature or demanding. It is none of these!
The actual differences are physiological, not psychological, according to both the research in social psychology and in brain imaging studies.
Taking in more and processing it more deeply means HSP's are also more affected by other people’s moods and critical words as well as noisy, rushed environments and stressful settings.
HSP's will need to choose their surroundings with more care than others. HSP's benefit hugely when they are aware of how to design the right environment, one where they can be themselves, be valued, and flourish.
At the same time, it's important not to take the HSP-as-orchid comparison too far. The implication could be that orchids need extra special care to blossom. However orchids do well enough in their natural environment. Genetic sequencing shows the species has endured for 80 to 100 million years. A very long time!
Highly Sensitive People have so much to offer the world and it is often what is most needed to create balance in our culture and society.