I contracted Lyme disease when I was 12 years old. I didn't know what was wrong with me, my parents knew nothing of Lyme, therefore it was never treated.
I fell into depression some four years later, due to fatigue and physical pain. The depression lasted about a year. During this time, my parents took me to a psychologist. He told all three of us during one appointment, that I was a normal sixteen-year-old girl, except for one thing.
I was highly sensitive.
Great. Just great. Why can't I be tougher?
If you've ever been criticized because of this, you know how it goes. You're told that you are too sensitive, that you need to "Toughen up". Your sensitivity is seen as a curse by others. If that's you, then read on, this blog is for you.
Not really knowing what my Highly Sensitive "Condition" was all about, my parents asked questions. As it turns out, there is actually research on this innate trait, high sensitivity. The scientific term is “sensory-processing sensitivity" (SPS). People who are highly sensitive are born that way; it is not something they learned.
As children they might be described by teachers as shy or inhibited, especially in Western countries. As adults, they might be described as introverts. It is important to note that not all sensitive people are shy or introverts. In fact, 30% of HSP are thought to be extroverts.
I fall into that 30% category. However, although I am an extrovert, I possess many qualities of an introvert.
A HSP (Highly Sensitive Person) :
Has a rich and complex inner life
Is deeply moved by the arts and music
Gets easily overwhelmed
Has difficulty performing a task when being observed
Is sensitive to pain, caffeine, and hunger
Is attuned to inner bodily sensations
Readily notices sensory change
Is highly intuitive, especially with parental intuition which is often termed psychic
Has sensitive skin
Is highly sensitive to chemicals
Is empathic- that is they can literally, physically, feel the pain of others.
May have premonitions in dreams and visions that come to pass days later. (Yes, this happens to me, often.)
When an HSP first enters a room, they are the first to notice odors, subtle sounds, and "feels" if there has been a recent argument in that room, and they startle easily.
When an HSP watches a movie or TV series, they immerse themselves in each of the characters. It takes them days to recalibrate their sense of self after watching a horror or scary movie. For these reasons, they usually refuse to watch these types of shows.
They are easily affected by others’ moods and stories.
Here's the thing: The brain of a HSP is different! They cannot help how they were born!
There are biological reasons for all the components of this trait. A HSP’s brain is wired differently and the nervous system is highly sensitive with a lower threshold for action. This hyper-excitability contributes to increased emotional reactivity, a lower threshold for sensory information (e.g. bothered by noise, or too much light), and increased awareness of subtleties (e.g. quick to notice odors).
There are also changes at the macro brain level. The areas associated with this trait greatly overlap with the brain areas that support empathy! Also, they have a hyperactive insula, which explains their heightened awareness of their inner emotional states and bodily sensations. This hyperactivity explains their sensitivity to pain, hunger and caffeine.
There is also some recent evidence that this trait is related to the infamous 5-HTLPR gene (serotonin gene).
Loyal and dedicated
Independent, need little supervision
Able to deeply process and think about problems
Sensitive to the needs and emotions of people around them
Observant to nuances, like the body language and tone of clients (therefore, intuitive)
Among other careers, HSP's are often found in the following fields:
Child care provider
May I repeat; Highly Sensitive People DO NOT need to "toughen up". In fact, they cannot "harden" because they cannot rewire their brains.
These types of people are just as worthy of love and respect as those who are not HSP. They can learn from you, and you can learn from them. They often make excellent leaders, due to their compassion towards others and attention to detail. They are not weak, flaky, or wishy-washy.
They will often be open and share their troubles as openly as their victories for the purpose of helping others. They are often misunderstood as being weak for these reasons.
If you are an HSP, be encouraged! YOU are a treasure and this world needs more people like you! After all, you make up only 20-30% of this world's population. You are NOT a mess, you're a Highly Sensitive Person. There's POWER in that, such as the rest of the 70-80% of the population does not have.
Refuse to be offended when people call you "Too sensitive". Feeling things deeply is your Super Power!
You're an empathetic superhero!
Aron, E.N., Aron, A., Jagiellowicz, J., 2012. Sensory processing sensitivity: a review in the light of the evolution of biological responsivity. Pers. Soc. Psychol. Rev.16 (3), 262–282.
Pluess, M., Boniwell, I., 2015. Sensory-processing sensitivity predicts treatment response to a school-Based depression prevention program evidence of vantage sensitivity. Pers. Ind. Differ. 82, 40–45.
Homberg, J.R., Schubert, D. Asan, E. & Aron, E.N. (2016). Sensory porcessing sensitivity and serotonin gene variance: Insights into mechanisms shaping environmental sensitivity. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews. 71, 472-483