I have been a sensitive person, an HSP as we are called now, my whole life. As a child, born in the 60’s, it was experienced as shyness, and also in my case as “pricklyness”. As a young adult I coped through being in jobs or places with other sensitive people so was sheltered to a degree. When out of this environment I felt shy, inadequate, incompetent.
Yet in other areas of my life I learned to “tough it out”, this was usually with physical stuff, I refused to be controlled by food sensitivities, I did a lot of stuff on my own, I went into what others, not sensitive, regarded as potentially dangerous or scary situations. Every so often I’ve challenged myself in work situations -then wanted to spend a month or two under a duvet!
To a certain extent that attitude has served me as I’ve never been willing to completely retreat or give in to the sensitivity. For instance, if someone insults or offends me I’ve usually found it funny! If I’ve found something very difficult or too much I’ve usually done some inner work on it. Mostly however I never gave being sensitive or empathic any thought, I usually just reacted in the moment. It wasn’t until I was in my forties that I examined these traits a little more and it’s only in recent years that I came across the concept of being an HSP.
The more you find about being a highly sensitive person and what that entails the more you can accept and appreciate being one. It’s a relatively new area of study and it’s really only in the past few years that it’s reached the mainstream, even then so few people know about it. Which is a shame as it comes as a relief to know that there is nothing inherently wrong with us, we are simply that fifth of the population who have different attributes, a different skill set.
Psychologists Elaine and Arthur Aron coined the term HSP in the mid-1990s, they also developed the Highly Sensitive Person Scale (HSPS) questionaire. I will cover what the general traits are in the next post and from these it’s fairly easy to tell whether or not you are an HSP. The main tendency however is being overwhelmed by too much stimuli.
Knowing your traits as an HSP is key to self acceptance as there will be less of a tendency to internalize your reactions, as in “what’s wrong with me”. The answer to that is “nothing”! The problem is that HSP’s tend to be ridiculed in the largely insensitive world. Toughness, endless stamina, violence even, tends to be glorified and an aversion to this may be met with impatience and labels of neuroticism. Despite the fact that it is a much needed trait in the world.
However, what is happening in the world now is that more sensitive people are being born and humanity is slowly becoming more sensitive as we shift into a new paradigm. I just want to make it clear at this point that I’m not referring to the “woke” movement – I along with many other fellow sensitives find this movement brutal, almost violent in it’s divisiveness, outpourings of vitriol and the fact that they have the clout to annihilate people who simply have a different viewpoint. It’s my belief that the people behind this movement have zero sensitivity and rely on people who are very vocal or attention seeking (not usually HSP traits!) or on young people who are sensitive to go along with the rhetoric. A well balanced HSP is usually conscientious and feels deeply if they do offend anther person. Which we obviously will do from time to time, it’s part of life, though we tend to feel really bad about it!
Sensitivity does not go away; you can’t “therapise” or heal it to oblivion, instead we learn how to navigate and manage it or remove ourselves from excessive stimuli. Therapy and inner work seeks to remove the pain we may feel about the past and through this we become less and less floored by events or stimuli. In fact the more present and congruent we can be the more we can observe what is going on and be there anyway. As self worth increases, our confidence in being able to assert ourself will grow. I regard myself as a self empowered woman but that’s on my terms – unlikely to be recognized by say the corporate world or the political arena – you’re unlikely to find many HSP’s there!
As sensitives we need to recognize empowerment and self mastery on our own unique terms and stop judging the self through the eyes of a Western world that values toughness and going big. I don’t enjoy social media, I don’t like making posts, sharing personal stuff, I don’t like “bothering” people with newsletters and anything remotely connected with PR. As a self employed person I have to regularly battle with this in a world that to me seems to shout POST! SELL! BE SEEN! I’m sure I share this aversion with many other HSP’s who don’t share their brilliance with the world and that’s a shame as we want to see what you have to offer. I’ve realized that the more I get comfortable with this way of being the more I can just do it anyway, and keep doing it until I feel neutral about the marketing side of things. After all everything I do share, create or offer is who I am, it’s what I do, it’s my passion, my life, the talk that I walk so to speak.
I have to remind myself of the fact that I’m not greedy, not in it for the money and definitely not seeking fame. In the light of this I decided to write a far more personal post about being sensitive as I’ve realized – very late in life – that maybe I should have started focusing on this a long time ago. The way I work is largely geared towards this trait anyway, I used to feel inadequate about being a therapist because I wasn’t pushy or confrontational with people – without realizing that while that may be needed with many people it would be horrifying to those who prefer a gentle approach. Although there is now plenty of literature and specialists in sensitivity, so many people have still even to hear of the term HSP, or more importantly actually value their traits. We do make up one fifth of the population after all.
I still often cringe at my lack of sensitivity to other’s sensitive traits, in my case fueled usually by impatience and being over stimulated by the fact that I feel what the other is feeling! When overwhelmed we will have our individual reactions or ways of coping, for some it’s fear, for others it’s tearfulness and for others, such as me, it’s usually irritation or blanking out. And an overwhelming need for freedom and space. I hope I’m more patient and appreciative of others now, I do know I place an extremely high value on the gifts other sensitives have brought into my world. It really is time for me to share my own!