Hello. I'm a so called "Highly Sensitive Person". HSP.
This concept has been widely popular for some time now, because of Dr. Elaine Aron's research and her book The Highly Sensitive Person and all the books that came out after that. I, like many other highly sensitive people, read that book some years ago, and felt like a large part of me was really, deeply understood for the first time in my life. I cried many times while I was reading that book. It just made so much sense, and there were so many things in it I hadn't been able to put into words, especially when I was a child, and now this book was doing it for me.
I'm also really pissed sometimes.
Not at anything that has anything to do with the book(s). I love everything I've gained from reading Dr. Aron's work.
However, now that the topic has been really popular, and almost everyone has heard about it (Which is great in itself of course!) I really don't like how it gets treated. I often hear people commenting something (irl and online) either about being HSP or how they perceive people who are like that, and most of the time their opinions are Highly Misinformed.
Some of the things I've heard people say go somewhere along the lines:
"I hate being a HSP! My moods change all the time, and I can't stand it!"
"I'm, like, really HSP, I cry all the time."
"I just don't get along with people because I'm a HSP."
"I don't have energy because I'm a HSP."
"This HSP shit is bs. It's not my responsibility to avoid people's triggers."
"HSP. The new word for people with Special Snowflake Syndrome."
"Now there's a word for being weak and over-emotional."
So... after hearing so much of this, I feel like sharing my two cents about what being highly sensitive is, what it isn't, and how I personally experience it.
1. Sensitive ≠ emotional
Some people seem to think that everyone who has a hard time dealing with their emotions, cries a lot, feels strongly about things, feels intense emotions, likes drama in their life, or is somehow emotionally unstable, is highly sensitive.
I'm highly sensitive, and I'm not "emotional". On the contrary. One of the things about me, that many people are impressed about is how stable and calm I am. I've also been called rational and, a "problem solver".
No, I will not blow up at you at the slightest critique. You don't have to choose your words any more carefully with me, than you would with anyone you treat with normal amount of respect.
I will, however, understand your feelings very well. I can imagine them vividly even if I haven't been in a similar situation myself.
Also, intense emotions will overwhelm me. I will not be watching a World War II movie with multiple torture scenes with you.
2. It's about Sensory-Processing Sensitivity.
It means you process everything deeply. Not just emotions. It essentially means you see, hear, taste, feel, and overall experience more subtleties and take in more information from your environment than average.
This is why HSPs get overwhelmed and tired in intense environments faster than others. But no, it doesn't mean that we'll fall apart and cry in a corner until someone picks us up. Something like that is definitely not normal, and if anyone acts like that, they need help. We will most likely just seem a little tired, absent-minded, or mentally out of reach.
Of course it's possible that we're quicker to cry when we're really overwhelmed. But that's true of anyone!
Still remember that WWII movie? The reason I'm not watching it with you is not that I'm weaker. It's because I feel it stronger than you. If you felt like you were being tortured yourself while watching it, and the memory would come back to haunt you for weeks after the movie, you wouldn't watch it either.
3. It's biological.
This isn't made up. It's not new. Highly sensitive individual's nervous system works differently. Scientists have found this trait in a lot more species than just humans, and judge it to serve a purpose for the survival of the species.
Because highly sensitive individuals are more aware of subtleties, notice small changes and take longer to make decisions, they have their own role in protecting their group by preventing danger.
Visit Dr. Elaine Aron's site for more information.
4. I love being a HSP!
I don't believe it's really something you can hate in itself. If you "hate being HSP" because you have mood swings or something, then it's not really being HSP that you hate, and you might not even be highly sensitive. You could be of course, but not because you have mood swings. Those don't have anything to do with being highly sensitive. Any sentence that starts with "I hate being HSP..." is likely followed by something else that is wrong in the person's life.
If you're highly sensitive, and generally satisfied with life, then there are likely many things that you appreciate about being the way you are.
First of all, I love my inner life. My imagination. My ability to create paracosms and imagine up life-like characters, places and scenarios. I'm never, ever bored, because I always have some place to go, even if for the moment I'm physically forced to stay somewhere I don't want to be.
I love how my appreciation for the things around me never runs out. Simple sunlight on grass, a person with a gentle voice or a shirt made of soft fabric is going to make me very happy. In general, I feel like I need things to be much lower "volume" to enjoy them, than most people around me. (Whether it's about music or something else.) Sure, it's a little lonely sometimes. Sure, it means I also can't stand as high "volume" as others. But generally I love my ability to see more in less.
Also, we're not that rare. I have highly sensitive friends who understand, and it's great to share the experiences we enjoy and the details in life other people look past.
5. Sensitivity isn't measured in tears.
There are many reason why someone cries more than someone else. Some are physiological. Crying easily doesn't necessarily mean you're highly sensitive.
Being highly sensitive just means you're moved by more subtle things that the average person.
6. You shouldn't be tired all the time.
Being a HSP is not a lack of energy. We have just as much energy as anyone else. We just get tired faster by certain kind of activities and environments. But it doesn't mean we have any less energy if we can direct it to things we're comfortable with.
If I was tired all the time, I wouldn't think it's because I'm highly sensitive. I'd think it's because I need a life style change. It would be because I hadn't taken the time to take care of my needs (as a highly sensitive person, too), not essentially because I'm highly sensitive. That kind of thinking implies we don't have any control over our lives.
7. Not special
We are not special, and don't suffer from Special Snowflake Syndrome. We're not trying to make you see us as "different" for attention. It's just a fact that we differ from about 80% of people in a significant area. Most people probably are the minority in something.
So, being empowered by things that are easier for us because of the way we are, or sometimes feeling lonely or misunderstood because of the things that aren't as easy for us as they are to the majority, isn't attention seeking. It's understandable.
Sure, someone might use the label for attention. But that's not our fault, as a group.
8. "Why does this matter it's not about me!"
That's essentially what people are saying when they claim that being highly sensitive is not really a thing. Sure, if you're a jerk I guess you can't be expected to care about anything that has anything to do with someone other than you.
But really, learning about sensitivity doesn't mean that you have to give some special treatment to highly sensitive people. That's not what we're asking for. In fact, we're not asking for anything.
We're just happy that there are concepts and language to explain our experience! So that we can better communicate with people who are cool enough to care about things that don't necessarily have anything to do with them, and want to understand other people to make relationships smoother.
So, if you are a jerk, and don't want to change, and are happy the way you are, I don't have a message for you.
But if you are someone who cares about other people and your personal relationships with them, then I do recommend learning about sensitivity. Because it's likely that you have highly sensitive people in your circles, and understanding where they're coming from might do miracles for your communication.
Okay, one more thing!!
I'm not saying any of this because I want to promote some kind of HSP elitism.
The reason I'm saying that being emotional, tired or moody isn't the same as being a HSP isn't because I have some kind of ego issue, like I don't want to be associated with being emotional or something like that! This is not the purpose of this post.
I'm saying all this because if you think you're a HSP for the wrong reasons, IT'S NOT REALLY GOING TO HELP YOU.
This isn't some neat title. It's research that is supposed to be helpful in people's lives. Even if you ARE a HSP, and you blame all your problems on being that way, it's not going to help you! Especially if the problem in someone's life is something big that needs treatment, like a mental disorder, but they're only looking for help from the concept of high sensitivity, it's not going to help them. Because being a HSP is not essentially a PROBLEM. It's a personality trait and it isn't good or bad in itself, but it has both negative and positive aspects, depending on the situation. Using it as an explanation for all the problems in your life isn't helpful. And I've seen thinking like this around so much.
I really wish that people who need help, would get it. So if you have someone in your life who talks about being highly sensitive, and after reading this, you feel like you've been misinformed about what being highly sensitive is, because this person acts moody, or reckless, or doesn't seem that happy in life... maybe consider informing them about the difference too, and encourage them to look for help in the things that are actually bothering them.
Thank you for reading this far. I hope you got some food for thought.
Photos © Josefina S