Are You A Highly Sensitive Person?

Highly Sensitive People

Have you ever been told that you’re too sensitive? Did it feel like a criticism? You are not alone. While we’re in the minority, there are many of us highly sensitive people. Growing up, I was often told that I was too sensitive and it was never said in a complimentary way. It would happen when I felt sad for other people, or when my feelings were easily hurt. I got picked on quite a bit, partly because I reacted so strongly. I’d have trouble getting up in the morning and if the room was too brightly lit or there was noise, that would make it even harder for me. I’d feel the painful emotions of others in the room and take them on in my body. I had stomach aches a lot. I seemed to mind shots and needles more than others. I startled easily. I could go on and on. Basically, it seemed that I felt very strongly about just about everything. And I didn’t know how to turn off those strong feelings and reactions. Those attributes were not celebrated for sure. Instead, messages of being “too sensitive” were given. I internalized them as a weakness and something to be improved upon.

Somehow I had enough inner strength to survive this. I knew that I was a good and kind person at my core and while there was some self-blame, I think more than that, I was sad and disappointed in others…that they didn’t cherish these qualities of mine and that they didn’t treat me as well as I would’ve liked. I was teased a lot. Oh, how I disliked that! Having two older brothers is maybe a guarantee for being teased but when I would react so strongly, it made it more fun for them, I think. I did have friends and my basic needs of food and shelter were met so I don’t want to paint too grim of a picture. But to say my parents weren’t emotionally savvy, is a huge understatement. Another positive worthy of pointing out is that while the negative emotions were felt deeply, so were the positive. It didn’t take much for me to enjoy things…to laugh and have a good time. I knew how to have fun and it took very little for me to delight in things. So it wasn’t all bad but it was exhausting.

The Highly Sensitive Person Book

I’m not sure when it happened but one day someone (most likely my therapist in Boston) suggested I might be a highly sensitive person (HSP). There was research done and a book written by Elaine Aron about HSPs. In it, she talked about being highly sensitive and explained how with a highly sensitive person, the central nervous system is more finely tuned or tightly-wired and therefore there is more sensitivity to: lights, sounds, smells, one’s environment, stimulation and getting easily flooded. The list goes on. Aron also talked about how most HSPs didn’t get positive feedback growing up for being sensitive but instead negative messages of being “too sensitive” implying that it was a weakness. She explained that there were many positive attributes of being an HSP such as being intuitive, more creative, more comfortable with our inner worlds and subsequently much wisdom. She said we needed to understand these traits and honor our sensitivity. Examples of self-care are making sure we are getting the quiet time we need, not cramming our schedules with too much activity, discerning which activities we want to participate in, sharing HSP information with loved ones and those around us so that they can better understand and help us create the environments that are best for us.

I don’t know many people who live nearby who identify as HSP (that I can think of), but I had a few friends in Seattle who did and it was always nice to talk to them because they could empathize. One of the challenges is the ongoing need to balance activity with alone time. To have alone time but not to isolate. To have enough stimulation but not too much. I suspect it will always take some energy to find the right balance but I am definitely getting better and quicker to make necessary adjustments.

A Good Highly Sensitive Person Article

The other day I looked up HSPs wondering if there was any new research or data and I came upon this wonderful article that was written last summer: It presents a good summary of what I just wrote a little about. It names and talks to a few well-known people who identify as HSP. And, there’s a quiz to take if you’re wondering about yourself.

Are You A Highly Sensitive Person?

If so, I would love to hear about any of your experiences as a HSP and how you best handle and honor these traits.

2 responses to “Are You A Highly Sensitive Person?”

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