Have you ever heard that comment? Quit being so sensitive, toughen up, be a man about it. In a world where society as a whole can waffle back and forth between whether it prefers you to be insensitive or sensitive, it can be hard to find your footing. This is especially true if you are a Highly Sensitive Person or HSP. We process things differently than most people and react to stimuli differently. I know it sounds a lot like introversion, but it’s something quite different.
So, what is a Highly Sensitive Person? How are they different from being shy, or loners, or introverts? These are what I hope to bring to light today and show the subtle differences between them. Should you like to find out if you are a highly sensitive person then you can take the test here.
First of all, I want to talk about Sensory Processing Sensitivity or SPS for short. SPS is the scientific terminology of a personality trait that has a high level of sensitivity to external stimuli. This means everything from sights and sounds to light and even other peoples’ emotions. It is considered a survival strategy that processes stimuli more thoroughly than others.
An HSP is someone who has SPS, and they are born with it. This is not something that can be learned. Children, especially in western countries, are often called shy, reserved, or even inhibited by the adults in their lives. So, how is this different from introversion?
Introverts are people who enjoy calm environments that are minimally stimulating. They feel drained after being social and require alone time to recharge their batteries.
Antisocials are people who do not like being around other people.
Being shy means being nervous or anxious in social settings, especially in large groups of unknown people.
HSPs are highly sensitive which makes them have a heightened response to everything that goes on around them, including the intake of caffeine and being in pain. Loud noises and crowds bother them, but it is so much more than that.
Sensory Processing Disorder, or SPD, is not the same as SPS. SPD is a disorder that affects neurological pathways. In short, data to the brain gets mixed up causing inappropriate behavior. This can lead to extreme distress and over-stimulation
The History of SPS and HSP
These two terms were coined in the mid-1990s by psychologist Dr. Elaine Aron and her husband Arthur Aron. According to them those with SPS make up 15-20% of the population. Out of all of those with SPS, 70% of them were found to be introverts, while the other 30% were extroverts.
It’s not mainstream enough to be truly understood, but there are too many people with it to classify it as a disorder, which is why it’s considered a personality trait. Elain Aron published a book in 1996 called The Highly Sensitive Person. I will definitely be checking it out to find out more information as soon as I get through Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. It’s slow going, but I’m learning lots and I love the stories in it.
SPS is called what it is due to the fact that it’s something that happens when sensory data is processed in the brain, which is why it occurs at birth and not learned.
HSP scales tend to have 27 items that have quite a wide range but are all interlocked together in some way. An HSP:
- readily notices sensory changes (damn that running toilet!)
- is moved very deeply by both the arts and music (cue the need for a tissue at the theatre)
- is quite easily overwhelmed (what do I focus on right now?)
- gets startled easily (will you quit doing that?) (you scared me half to death!)
- has a complex and rich inner life (oh, don’t mind me, I was just casting spells in my head)
- has problems doing and completing tasks when being observed (why are they all staring at me?)
- is sensitive to hunger, pain, and caffeine (I have such a headache)
- is attuned to inner bodily sensations (why am I crying? It wasn’t that hurtful . . . I’m PMSing, isn’t that lovely?)
Pros and Cons of an HSP
- You pay attention to the details.
- You prefer to get it right the first time and streamline your process straight from the get-go. This boosts your efficiency while cutting down on the need to revise and go over things quite as much.
- This also means that people like having you on their side since they know that you’ll work until it’s just right.
- Communication comes easily to you.
- You’re sensitive to vocal nuances as well as shifts in body language. Most of the time, you can tell how someone is really feeling a mile away.
- You tend to be well-mannered and even friendly.
- This comes down to not wanting to upset people. You can get overwhelmed and snap, but you prefer not to ruffle anyone’s feathers.
- You care.
- It’s easy to empathize with others and are genuinely concerned with how others feel. Should they be feeling upset you want to make them feel better.
- You savor every moment.
- Whether it’s a trip to the beach, or just sitting in a quiet room breathing it in is a moment that must be cherished before it disappears.
- You tend to live in the present where the action, or inaction, is happening because you want to truly be a part of it.
- You have the ability to experience the world on such a deep level.
- You sacrifice your own emotional balance to please others
- You can people please until you are completely emotionally deprived since, to you, it requires self-sacrifice.
- Being over-emotional is a way of life
- Yes, there is too much of a good thing, and this is it. Whether it is crying with happiness because someone called you dear, or having to close your eyes and cover your ears because the movie is so violent that it causes you distress, or being spitting mad at what someone else would perceive as a minor slight.
- It’s also the absolute worst in the workplace. When you can’t leave because you’re working, but you need a quiet corner to be by yourself and lick your wounds.
- You can become quickly overwhelmed by everything
- This decreases your productivity as you can’t decide which thing you should do first, especially if you’re given tasks to do simultaneously.
- Sight, sounds, and smells can be your downfall and compound the problem even further.
- You are extremely sensitive.
- This is more emotional than physical, but it can correlate to that as well.
- You take criticisms to heart and can be easily hurt or angered.
- This can make personal relationships more difficult to maintain as it can put a strain on the relationship
Coping with Being a Highly Sensitive Person
1. Make sure to get plenty of rest
It’s well-known that a lack of sleep can lead to irritation, moodiness, and even physical symptoms such as headaches for people without SPS. Think of what that would do with someone who does? Plenty of sleep will help balance everything out while giving your body adequate rest can help everything on the inside run more smoothly.
2. Have your own space
In order to minimize your overstimulated senses at the end of the day have a quiet space that’s soothing for you to retreat to. This could be anywhere in your place of residence, but for me, it’s my room. It’s soothing, relaxing, and not too bright.
3. Identify, plan, and/or avoid your emotional triggers
Understand that you are in control of your behavior which means you get to take responsibility for it. Keep a journal about how certain subjects make you feel. After you have identified these triggers, then come up with different ways you can respond to them; whenever possible avoid setting off these emotional triggers.
4. Wear noise reducing headphones
If noise is something that bothers you then minimize it by either wearing noise-canceling headphones or bring along some soothing music you can listen to as it helps drown out external stimuli, or you could do a combination of the two.
5. Do, or plan tasks and outings during off times
Don’t go out to a movie on opening night, or to dinner at peak hours on a weekend. Try to get your public errands/outings done when there aren’t a lot of people around.
6. Understand that this is normal
Not everyone will be able to understand, but as long as you know that this is completely normal to feel this way then that’s all that matters.
Being an HSP
I’ve learned something else about myself. I can now say that I am a socially anxious, antisocial, highly sensitive introvert. I scored a 26 out of 27 on the test that Elaine Aron and her husband came up with. You can find that test here. As I continue to grow and learn I find new and interesting things about myself every day. I hope this has helped you in some way shape or form.
Did you find this post helpful? Can you relate? If you can, then please post a comment below. I’d love to hear from you.