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Have you ever been told by others that you’re too quiet, anxious, or introverted? Do you pick up on details that others seem to miss? Does noise or stress seem to affect you more than your peers and colleagues? If you relate to this description, you might be considered a “Highly Sensitive Person.”
Sensitivity: A Survival Strategy
Though HSPs do not make up the majority of the population, up to 1 in 5 adults appear to have this increased sensitivity to sensory processing. Researchers have also discovered highly sensitive populations in animals ranging from horses to fruit flies. For HSPs and animals alike, this sensitivity works as a type of survival strategy. Put simply, highly sensitive creatures are more likely to think before they act. Heightened levels of perception help sensitive individuals process situations before proceeding.
Am I Highly Sensitive?
According to HSP expert Dr. Elaine Aron, most highly sensitive individuals tend to respond to stimuli in similar ways. HSPs tend to possess many of the same traits as empaths, for instance. Highly sensitive individuals tend to pick up on the emotional energy emitted by individuals and groups before even engaging them in conversation. Many HSPs are easily affected by the moods of others, readily absorbing the feelings of those around them. A majority of HSPs are intuitive and most are highly conscientious. Highly sensitive individuals have deep ties to others’ emotional worlds, both for better and for worse.
Physically, HSPs are hyper-aware and highly sensitive to stimulation. Many individuals have low pain thresholds and become quickly overwhelmed by loud environments, violent TV programs, strong odors, bright lights, bothersome fabrics, and other overwhelming stimuli. Highly sensitive people are prone to caffeine sensitivity; they may also be more “hangry” when experiencing hunger. For these reasons, highly sensitive people are often described as having “sensory processing sensitivity,” an alternative term for describing the HSP experience.
Highly sensitive people tend to get startled and rattled by situations involving excessive busyness or stress. Avoiding chaos and conflict are top priorities for many sensitive individuals. Many HSPs seek out privacy and silence to escape the overstimulation of their day-to-day lives. Focusing on a single task at a time may help some HSPs escape these feelings of tension and disquietude.
The contemplative, empathetic tendencies of HSPs often lead others to categorize them as “shy.” To see HSPs as withdrawn, however, is generally a misconception. Though the majority of highly sensitive individuals are introverts, this is not always the case. A sizable 30% of HSPs are predominantly extroverted. Put simply, HSPs are a diverse group of individuals. Though they share similar traits, these individuals have personalities and pursuits as varied as any other segment of the population.
The Joys of Being Highly Sensitive
Though being highly sensitive can sometimes be isolating, there are many upsides to this biological trait. HSPs are often particularly moved by music, film, literature, and the arts. HSPs also have rich and fascinating “inner worlds” filled with deep thoughts and powerful emotions.
HSPs tend to be extremely alert and insightful. Their loyalty, listening skills, and attention to detail make them excellent colleagues and friends. Increased levels of perception make HSPs more adept at seeing through others’ façades, too, limiting their entanglements with narcissists, liars, manipulators.
When given the ability to tailor their environments to their needs, sensitive individuals can truly thrive. Deep levels of empathy and self-reflection make highly sensitive individuals well-suited for care-oriented professions. These characteristics also lend themselves to the pursuit of creative careers and hobbies. Tapping into these personal strengths can help sensitive individuals experience greater levels of success and personal fulfillment.
HSPs in Relationships
When pursuing romantic relationships, HSPs tend to be highly caring, romantic, and idealistic. These individuals tend to seek meaningful emotional and spiritual connections with others. Due to wearing their hearts on their sleeves, sensitive individuals are more likely to fall truly and deeply for others. If you’re highly sensitive, consider “taking it slow” while dating others. By proceeding with caution, you just might save yourself from future heartache.
Though the HSP personality is often drawn to vulnerable individuals, avoid pursuing these rescue-based relationships. In a romantic context, this may lead to unhealthy codependency.
Whether you find love with a fellow HSP or not, it is important to find a partner who is understanding of your boundaries and personal needs. Find a partner who respects and treasures your sensitivity as the gift that it is.
Whether you’re a highly sensitive individual or not, it is important to understand the way HSPs experience the world. If you’re sensitive, work on nourishing this unique and beautiful part of your soul. If you don’t fit the profile of an HSP, reflect on the ways in which you interact with more sensitive individuals. Instead of laughing off others as dramatic or over-emotional, consider the fact that they may simply be more affected by others’ feelings, words, and actions. By striving to understand one another, we can build better and more meaningful relationships for all.
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