According to Elaine Aron PhD, the author of “The Highly Sensitive Person“, Fifteen to twenty percent of the population are Highly Sensitive and says another 30 percent of the population feel moderately sensitive in the average social situation. It is a largely inherited trait and it is estimated that about 70% of HSPs are introverts and 30% extroverts.
This trait is also seen in a minority of many species (over 100, so far), including fruit flies and some fish which have inherited a survival strategy of “pausing to check, observe, and reflect on or process what has been noticed before choosing an action.”
The Main Characteristics of Being an HSP :
The mind and nervous system of Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) work differently than most. Aron calls the most basic quality of the Highly Sensitive Person the tendency to process information more deeply (semantic memory). They “think about their own thinking” and “have a rich, complex inner life.”
HSPs have greater awareness and sensitive processing of subtle stimuli. They notice things more deeply, such as the “awareness of other’s nonverbal clues or about their mood or trustworthiness. In paying more attention to details than others do, this knowledge can be used to make better predictions in the future, says Aron. This has an evolutionary purpose which serves the majority.
Greater awareness of the subtle tends to make people more intuitive, “which simply means picking up and working through information in a semiconscious or unconscious way (Aron).” They can learn without being aware they have learned. Heightened emotional reactivity has also been observed in brain scans, marked by increased activation in the brain’s insula and the mirror neuron system.
How Being an HSP Inpacts Us:
HSPs have a low threshold for stimulation– they become overstimulated and stressed by overstimulation very easily. There is an essential need for quiet, calm, and alone time. Being in nature, soothes, calms and assists in maintaining balance.
They often have an aversion to large groups; too much going on, loud music, noise, bright lights, and strong smells can also be difficult. They will likely avoid violent shows and movies. HSPs are deeply affected by other people’s moods and emotions. They do best without distractions and don’t like chaos, being rushed, and being under pressure.
They tend to have a deep love and appreciation of music and the arts and feel joy, love, and appreciation more deeply!
Judith Orloff notes that it takes Highly Sensitive People longer to wind down after a busy day because their system’s ability to transition from high stimulation to quiet and calm is slower.
The Challenges that Highly Sensitive People Might Face:
It can certainly be challenging being part of a minority group trying to ‘fit in’ and adapt to the majority! As we know, the world moves at a very rapid, intense pace. Many HSPs are trying so desperately to keep up with this pace that was/is set by the majority. This can lead to exhaustion, anxiety, burnout, lack of interest, etc. As incredibly difficult as it is, we NEED to find, listen to, and honour our own pace!
Understanding The Trait, Understanding Ourselves
Due to the fact that many HSPs felt misunderstood because their temperament was often not understood by those around them, this might cause them to feel (deep down) that there is something wrong with them and that they are different, weird, flawed, unacceptable, inconvenient, etc., and can result in feeling shameful, embarrassment, guilt. As a result, we might choose/or have “chosen to hide it, and adapted, acting like the non-sensitive majority.” The fear of being judged, criticized, shamed, and ridiculed by other people is very real.
Not Viewed Positively
Aron says “our inner dialogue will mimic what our early caregivers thought of this trait” and what society thinks of it. In our culture, possessing this trait is not considered ideal for many and may be viewed or seen as a weakness. In contrast, in places like China, it is considered to be positive and acceptable.
Depressed and anxious HSPs, according to Aron, almost all had troubled childhoods.
“In order to survive, an infant will do whatever he or she must to adapt to the caretakers, with temperament going underground to resurface in some other way later. If someone caring for you became angry or dangerous, the conscious mind buried that information as too awful to acknowledge, even while your unconscious developed a deeply mistrustful attitude.”Elaine N Aron Ph.D. The Highly Sensitive Person
On a happier note, Aron noted that rhesus monkeys with this trait were raised by skilled mothers, they were more likely to show “developmental precocity”, resilience to stress and be leaders of their social group and their triumphs in the world are more significant. The parents of a highly sensitive child often develop an especially intimate bond with their child.
Do you Struggle with Your High Sensitivity?
I am very interested in the feelings and attitudes that Highly Sensitive People hold toward this trait/themselves. I struggled with it myself for SO many years and because of it, I felt like a burden and a weakness in me. It was not viewed in a positive light when I was a child or in some of my relationships. Here are some of the belief systems that someone might hold:
How others made/make me feel about being Highly Sensitive:
- This trait is a burden, inconvenience, annoying and unacceptable to others.
- Others told me that I am “too sensitive” and “to stop being so sensitive!”
As a result, I feel:
- there is something deeply wrong with me.
- deeply flawed, different, broken, weak, needy, high maintenance, not ok and acceptable as I am.
- disapproved of. I don’t ‘fit’ or belong, rejected by and misunderstood by others so I reject myself and beat myself up. I feel like I cant be myself.
- the need to try to hide who I am and hide this trait, trying to be “normal” and “adapt” to fit in.
- guilty and shameful for who I am.
- alone, sad, isolated, frustrated.
- that this trait is a disability and I hate it.
Personal Challenges as a Result of Being and HSP
As a result of our unique mind and nervous system and being in a fast-paced, loud world, we likely have developed some difficult feelings, limiting beliefs and frustrations. We have likely developed coping strategies as a result of feeling:
- drained, overstimulates and overwhelmed by others and needing to isolate and be alone.
- not being able to handle crowds, loud noises and too much going on.
- not able to handle being rushed and under pressure.
- overwhelmed by life.
- needing to isolate myself and be alone to try to find internal balance/regulation.
- ashamed (and frustrated) about being different and not being able to tolerate and do what most people can.
- that sometimes it would be nice to be like everyone else.
Physical, Mental and Emotional Self Care
I feel it is SO important to have an open and honest dialogue with ourselves as a result of our challenges, internalized messages and difficulties. This is how we were created and is who we are. Hiding in shame and isolation is to me, tragic and unnecessary!
“Taking good care of a highly sensitive body is like taking care of an infant”, says Aron. To maintain balance and good health, most people do not need to do that or even think about that. To me, this quote sums everything up so beautifully! It does not make you weak; it makes you truly unique!!
Our Beliefs and Attitudes Towards our Sensitivity
Our beliefs and attitudes about our sensitivity impact our lives in a very deep and profound way. My goal and passion are to assist others in taking the steps to fully embrace and accept ALL of ourselves, including this trait.
To make peace with high sensitivity, the difficulties and challenges of beginning to see it as a unique gift, we need to explore these beliefs and attitudes that we hold and heal the deeper wounds. How do we do this?
Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT, or “Tapping”) can be done on ANY of the above beliefs (or any additional ones that you might have). This helps us clean out any “cobwebs” that keep us stuck, hidden, small, and from our TRUE authentic selves!! Pranic Healing can deeply assist in balancing and regulating our sensitive nervous system.
Please feel free to reach out and schedule a free 15-minute call today or email email@example.com
Aron Ph.D., Elaine N.. The Highly Sensitive Person. Citadel Press. Kindle Edition.
Orloff, Judith. The Empath’s Survival Guide (pp. 5-6). Sounds True. Kindle Edition