Are You a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)?

Some people refer to others as being highly sensitive in an offensive manner. However, they do not realize that it is not a stereotypical label for those who cannot emotionally handle specific scenarios.  Instead, it is a personality trait present in over 75 million men and women in the United States.  An HSP is individuals whose sensitive central nervous system becomes triggered with intense mindfulness of their environment’s emotional, physical, and social stimuli to clarify the actual meaning.   In layman’s terms, the overload of the sensory system induces the brain to react through the mind and body.  

In 1991, clinical psychologist Dr. Elaine Aron and her husband Dr. Arthur Aron began the instinctive studies on the personality trait of being highly sensitive.  Dr. Elaine Aron explains a deeper depth of how sensory processing sensitivity affects the brain.  The overload of stimuli in one’s environment causes flooded emotions cognitively and physically.  HSP’s overly adapt to their surroundings and bond with whatever element.  In many types of relationships, HSPs tend to analyze the scenario or conversation before engaging.  When a friend asks for advice, an HSP will process the story more profound and complex, almost picking apart every segment.  They become the narrative of their friend’s story and feel the emotions behind it as if it was them.  The advice given is calculated by the past, present, and future feelings, whether positively or consequentially.  Their friend may now look at the perspective in a different light or possibly not be receptive.  HSPs often have difficulty maintaining friends and relationships.  Those non-HSPs, cannot view and feel life as they do, making it cumbersome to connect and grow the relationship.  Quite frankly, some may think it is annoying. It is where the derogatory commentary comes into play when someone says things like “You are too sensitive” or “Why is he/she so sensitive?” They do not understand.

HSP’s connect with music, movies, literature, art, actions, and much more.  HSP develops a bond to a far deeper level than a non-HSP.  They feel the singer’s powerful voice and emotions of the song; they can internalize with a movie as if they are the character and feel the actors’ emotions.  Often, HSPs avoid violent TV shows and movies.  It is due to the increased sensitivity level because they can passionately feel the sadness, love, fear, anxiety, loneliness, even anger of the character and plot.  Despite what people may judge, this IS an intuitive gift.    

Now, this isn’t just about an emotional reaction.  Did you know an HSP reacts with physical attributes?  When the sensory intuition elevates, it is common for physical ailments to come to the surface.  For example, during the onset of the sensory system arousal, the face can flush, one may cry, and the body begins to sweat and shake.  During intense moments of reaction, reports state that an HSP can physically smell the scent described in a movie or a book when it is nonexistent. They are also highly sensitive to strong fragrances, powerful scents, itchy materials, bright lights, loud noises, and robust tastes; either enjoying it or they cannot be around or taste it.  

Are you pondering if you are a highly sensitive person?  Here are some signs that you are:

  • Highly empathetic and compassionate.  You connect to the exposure on a deeper level.
  • Extremely perceptive of situations and changes.  You perceive more than what is at the surface. 
  • Very detailed oriented.  
  • A problem solver.  You feel compelled to solve other people’s conflicts.
  • Pursue a purpose and meaning in your life—a need to feel a sense of accomplishment, appreciation, and a calling. 
  • Radiate kindness.  You are mindful of other’s feelings by being kind, polite, courteous, and deciphering right and wrong.
  • Experienced at making connections and incorporating complex information.
  • Creative.  Having the ability to process the inner world and create an expressive outlet.
  • Easily overwhelmed with the sensory response.
  • Sensitive to pain.
  • Sensitive to bright lights, loud noises, strong scents, and uncomfortable fabrics.
  • Affected by other people’s moods and emotions.
  • Deeply connected to the arts; movies, books, TV shows, theater.
  • Cater to people’s needs when they are in an uncomfortable situation.  
  • Consciously avoiding horror, violent movies, and TV shows.
  • Become nervous or anxiety induced when performing a task being observed or competitive.

The intuitive ability HSP’s have tapped into their gut, subliminal mind, and instincts.  This trait is very primal; they think before reacting as a survival strategy.  They become more disturbed with negative emotions, which is why they consciously avoid these surroundings.  One may intentionally not watch horror or violent movies, read sad, depressing novels, or even watch the news in times of fury.  As much as intuition is a gift, it doesn’t always play a positive role in their lives.  HSPs need to be aware of what they can handle and what they must avoid. It is much harder for them to balance strengths and weaknesses and establish boundaries for themselves.  

In my 25 years of seasoned experience, a tremendous amount of my patients are HSPs.  Those who cannot regulate this trait tend to suffer from anxiety and depression.  The emotional response to their stimuli, none of their own situations, weighs upon their mental health.  When they are not emotionally regulated and not establishing their boundaries, it becomes a long-term anxiety-induced time.  HSP can ruminate about the situation they are exposed to and continue to feel the emotions long after the initial onset.  To take a deeper look at if you cannot control your sensory overload. Our Senior Associate, Madeline Weinfeld, LMSW, shares her insights and coping skills in her blog “Challenging Anxiety during an Anxiety-Inducing Times.”

If you have difficulty navigating life with this personality trait, it is crucial to seek out coping skills.  Make time each day to withdraw by giving yourself alone time to decompress the feelings and bring yourself back to the present.  Whether it is meditation, yoga, solitude – it is practicing mindfulness.  Reduce exposure to loud noises and bright lights. Avoid crowds and overly stimulating environments. If you are still having trouble balancing your emotions, it may be time to seek psychotherapy with a licensed mental health clinician.  At Gateway to Solutions, we are firm believers; it takes a person to help a person.

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