Updated: Sep 6
Are you highly sensitive? What do I mean by highly sensitive? You typically take longer than others to think about something, or decide, and can easily make connections. You get overstimulated by emotions (your own or others) and environmental stimuli like noise, smells and light. You feel deeply and react strongly to emotions or things like music or art, and you are sensitive to subtleties, noticing things that others generally miss. All these characteristics can be encapsulated by the acronym D.O.E.S:
D: Depth of Processing
E: Emotional Reactivity and Empathy
S: Sensing the Subtle
According to Dr. Elaine Aron, the author of The Highly Sensitive Person and the above criteria, 15-20% of the population are Highly Sensitive People (HSP). Apparently, high sensitivity can be found in numerous species as well. So, if you are highly sensitive and feel different, you're not alone.
I'm highly sensitive. I cannot watch horror or excessively violent films. I get overwhelmed with listening to tv or radio commercials, I find most of them obnoxious. I'm also sensitive to certain smells like heavy cleaners, bright lights and loud or constant noise. When I taught in a classroom, I recall continuously shutting the door because any added noise from the hallways or other classrooms would be an assault to my senses. Somehow, I was able to mainly deal with the noise in my classroom. Although I love the taste of coffees and lattes, I cannot drink caffeine. I get too anxious and jittery. I could go on, however, suffice to say I'm sensitive to environmental and emotional stimuli. I tend to perceive everyone's emotions around me, positive or negative, said or unsaid.
Does this sound like you? You may not have the same characteristics or experiences as me, but you do identify with the criteria above. If this is you, how can knowing you are an HSP help?
Understanding that your sensitivities have a biological basis (sensory processing sensitivity), and are not trivial, can be very empowering. This understanding can help navigate relationships and work better. If others you love, or work with, learn about your needs, or triggers perhaps they could be more considerate and accommodating. If we ever watch something with commercials, which is not often, my husband knows to mute the commercials or skip the ads.
In Sensitive: The Untold Story (2015), I learned that a lot of HSPs are entrepreneurs. This makes sense given that we are sensitive to Person-Environment Fit (the compatibility of individual characteristics and work environments) and have more control of our environments when working for ourselves.
One might confuse Highly Sensitive People with introverts, however, 30% of HSPs are extroverted. I've worked with both introverted and extroverted HSPs. One client is highly introverted and sensitive, minimizing social and environmental friction as much as possible and another, who I worked with in the past, enjoyed being social but had a hard time with the bright lights at work and other ill-suited office elements.
Most HSPs I know are creative in some way, whether that be in art, design, or another category. When talking about Highly Sensitive People with one client, she shared that she used to work with headphones at work all the time to block out other noises and to feel enclosed in some way. She now works for herself as an Interior Designer. I'm not sure if creativity is a coincidence or a correlation.
If you would like to learn more about HSPs, you can read or listen to Dr. Aron's books on it, or other HSP books written by others. You can watch Sensitive and take the Highly Sensitive Person quiz from Dr. Aron's website hsperson.com. If you’re an HSP and would like to find others like you, search for in-person (some maybe local) or online groups or meetups. I know there are several Facebook support groups for Highly Sensitive People/Persons and Souls you can join.
If you read this blog post and don’t identify as an HSP, you now have an understanding of those of us who you might suspect are highly sensitive.
A better understanding either way is helpful. High sensitivities can be great strengths and fostering those strengths in nurturing relationships and environments can produce meaningful rapport and results.
Ps. If you're having difficulty navigating your high sensitivity, apply here for a Get Acquainted Call to see if I can help.