Being a highly sensitive person (HSP), and what it means for me

I tend to peruse Instagram a lot, mainly because I enjoy the visual nature of Instagram Stories. Someone I followed on Instagram talked about being a HSP, which I jokingly asked if it meant was a halal snack pack.

At the time, she laughed, but when we got to chatting, she said it meant highly sensitive person. I queried what it meant and was connected to the tests that exist online.

I took a couple of those tests, and was self-diagnosed as highly sensitive.

What are some of the characteristics of a highly-sensitive person?

I’d like to thank Choosing Therapy for providing the 12 characteristics below:

1. You Have Been Called Oversensitive

This is the hallmark characteristic of being an HSP — after all, high sensitivity is in the name. HSPs tend to be much more sensitive than those around them.

2. You Are Easily Overwhelmed by Your Senses

HSPs typically experience overstimulation from at least one of the five senses: sight, smell, taste, touch, and sound. Some HSPs may find that one or two of these senses overwhelm them at times. Other HSPs may feel overstimulated from all five senses.

3. You Are Easily Upset by Violence in Media

Since HSPs are highly empathic, any display of violence in the media can be extremely upsetting. As a result, you may avoid watching horror movies, torture scenes, or even the news.

4. You Avoid Stressful Situations

Many HSPs structure their lives so that they can avoid stressful or overwhelming situations. While this may happen unconsciously at first, many HSPs realize this is true for them as they start to reflect.

5. You Are Overwhelmed by Crowds

Large groups of people are often overwhelming for HSPs. Crowds may make you want to withdraw or shut down entirely. This can be due in part to the sensory stimulation that comes with being in a crowd, along with the emotional energy that HSPs absorb from others.

6. You Identify as Deeply Emotional

HSPs tend to have a strong connection to their emotions and other aspects of their inner life since HSP brains process things more intensely. If you spend a lot of time and energy contemplating or cultivating your internal world, you may be a HSP.

7. You Were Called Shy as a Child

As adults, many HSPs identify that they were labelled as “shy” or “withdrawn” when they were children. Even if these words were not explicitly used, HSPs often remember people commenting on their sensitivity as a child.

8. You Are Overwhelmed by Tasks

A full to-do list can be overwhelming for HSPs. It can feel even more daunting when you feel as though there is not enough time to complete the tasks. This may be due to the fact that HSPs go to great lengths to avoid making mistakes or upsetting other people.

9. You Are Attuned to Nuances

HSPs are adept at picking up subtleties: in the environment, in projects or art, and even in the emotional reactions of those around them. The high sensitivity that is characteristic of being a HSP enables you to notice things that others may miss.

10. You Are Sensitive to Pain

Increased sensitivity to pain is common amongst HSPs. Again, this is related to the sensitivity to sensory input as well as the extra processing that HSP brains engage in compared to others without this trait.

11. You Are Considered Thoughtful

If people are consistently remarking on your thoughtfulness, it is likely that you are a HSP. Since HSPs are detail-oriented, they pick up on things that other people may not notice or remember.

12. You Work Hard to Please Others

HSPs go to great lengths to avoid upsetting others or making mistakes. As an HSP, disruption in your environment — which includes the people around you — can be extremely disrupting to your nervous system.

How do I fit in with that?

In the Highly Sensitive Person self-test, I scored more than 14, which suggests that I am a highly sensitive person.

It made a lot of sense to me. Being called oversensitive, shy or an over-thinker made a lot of sense now. Being organized on a number of fronts and being cognizant of tasks is something I have long been known for, and being overwhelmed with tasks beyond my control is something that can throw me off.

I’ve long been a people pleaser – I believe that it’s been part of my personality for a long time.

The history of the term

The term “highly sensitive person” has existed since 1996, coined by psychologist Elaine Aron. According to Aron’s theory, HSPs are a subset of the population who are high in a personality trait known as sensory-processing sensitivity, or SPS. Those with high levels of SPS display increased emotional sensitivity, stronger reactivity to both external and internal stimuli—pain, hunger, light, and noise—and a complex inner life.

It’s been floating around ever since then, and some have argued that there are links to people with anxiety, depression, ADHD and autism – in that, HSP are more likely to also suffer from anxiety, depression, ADHD and/or autism (please note the correlation, not causation).

What to do?

HSPs need time for self-care… possibly more than other people. Understand that being a HSP is part of their temperament and it cannot be changed, so encourage them to look after themselves. Give them their space to decompress and explore their strengths – go on that journey with them. If they want to spend time on their own, let them spend time on their own. If they seek you out, go with it.

HSPs really do care about the people around them.

The trait, with you from birth, can transform into one of your biggest assets.

Learning about the High Sensitivity trait allows you to appreciate it more. Especially when you use the knowledge to support your highly attuned nervous system.

The way you experience the warm sunlight reflecting off the beautifully heart shaped leaf on the tree by the lake is something you wouldn’t trade for the world.

There is nothing “too …..” about you. You are just right.

And that, my Fellow HSP, is extra awesome.

What It’s Like For Highly Sensitive People In An Insensitive World, Dr. Elayne Daniels, December 20 2020

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

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