On World Introvert Day

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Growing up, I didn’t know about introversion and instead I got labelled as shy and told that I needed to join in and get out of my shell. Spending play time alone was seen as antisocial, even though instinctively I knew even at such a young age that I needed space away from other people because it was exhausting me.

By the time I reached 6th Form College, I realised that in order to be normal, I had to fake it. So I did.
What they don’t tell you is that an introvert who continually tries to live a life that is the direct opposite to how their brain is wired (because among many differences, an introvert’s brain is more sensitive to dopamine and doesn’t need as much stimulation, whereas an extrovert is less sensitive to dopamine and needs more stimulation)without any time to truly recharge their batteries, gets sick. Physically and emotionally, we start to erode around the edges, until we finally break.

With the emergence of the internet I found out about introversion and even discovered other introverts online. For the first time I found out that a) I was totally normal, and b) there were other people just. like. me.
The internet is damn near perfect for introverts. We can converse on a expansive and level, we can allow ourselves time to think and respond to people and when we have had enough, we can stop.
It has given us confidence. It has given us power. Most of all, it has freed us from extroverted expectations.

So of course when half of the world starts to push against the status quo, you get a bit of a backlash. ‘Introverts are taking over the internet’, ‘they think they are so perfect’, ‘they are putting themselves on a pedestal’, ‘introverts are narcissists’, ‘they are getting too big for their boots’ and before the day is out I am sure there will be the ‘what about a day for extroverts?’ question banded about.
Oh and have you noticed the similarities with how gender is reacted to?

The thing is, yes of course introverts are becoming more vocal, especially online. We are finding our voice and it’s thrilling when the likes of Susan Cain are heading our cause and starting a discuss how we can be more ourselves in mainstream media. Not only that, but of course we’d talk about not liking small talk and how draining it is to be expected to ‘extrovert’ on a regular basis – we’ve found our family.

Outside the internet, the world still isn’t as accepting of introverts. There is still the inability to understand that shyness and introversion are not the same. Terrorists who shoot up churches and schools are called ‘quiet’ and ‘loners’, spending time away from other people is considered ‘unnatural’ and ‘suspicious’. Extroverts earn more money, and how can an introvert be happier? It’s not finding their own authentic selves, but it’s to (allegedly) act more live an extrovert. We still have to endure the open plan office, the expectations that in order to succeed you need to be extroverted and the perpetuation in the media of the geeky, loner who just needs someone to bring them out of their shell, compared to the happy, personable extrovert.

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What it boils down to, is that we shouldn’t forget that introversion and extroversion are two sides of the same coin. Neither one is better than the other, and hopefully the world outside of the internet will appreciate just how much we can offer to the world when we aren’t expected to (and wasting time and energy) pretending to be something we’re not. In the meantime, allow us the space to enjoy our introversion, to laugh about what the world expects of us – you never know, maybe in the future introversion and extroversion will be less of an issue altogether when both sides can see that we have so much to offer each other.

Are HSPs missing the empathy ‘call to action’?

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soggy-flowersA while back I saw a post where someone said that they had been brought to tears after seeing an old man crossing the street. While it was interesting to see the amount of ‘yes, me too’ replies, what was even more interesting was that there didn’t seem to be anyone saying that this emotional reaction had prompted them to actually help. This got me thinking; is having an empathetic reaction really just a prompt to action? Also, are HSPs sometimes drawn into an empathising vicious cycle to such an extent that we are unable to see that call to action? Finally, is pursuing that call to action a way of diffusing that vicious cycle of over-empathy that HSPs can have?

Let’s go back to the old man. Seeing him could trigger a wealth of thoughts from the HSP ranging from remembering a beloved old relative, to their own mortality – what will happen when they get old, how will they cope; to the man himself, are they in pain, are they suffering, has he got family… and so on, until you are no longer thinking about a man crossing a road, but building up a whole story around him.
Meanwhile, this old guy has walked across the road and is probably at home halfway through an episode of Corrie. Yet it is the nature of the highly sensitive beast that this event and the subsequent knock on thoughts will be revisited, until it becomes almost removed from the initial event.

HSPs are already attuned to be more empathetic – it’s the E part of the DOES attributes which stand for emotional reactivity and empathy. So not only are we are far more aware of what is going on around us and with other people, but we are more inclined to empathise too – and there’s nothing wrong with that. What can be problematic is the extent to which it affects us.

It’s like the adverts on the TV ‘Here’s a small hungry child/abandoned dog/refugee family/neglected kitten/dying Dad/sick Mum’. They focus on one person because as human beings we are more inclined to have an empathetic response if we can make a one on one connection. They are deliberately made to shock, knowing that the more harrowing it is, the more donations that way – one charity got over £100k more in donations because of the advert so they will take something that is already emotive and take it several steps further. Unfortunately for HSPs, just a whiff of those words and our brains are off empathising away – we don’t need the gory details or even a picture. We are there and feeling that pain. It is what makes it so hard for us to cope with the deluge of pain and suffering that is all around us. And why it’s often a way of survival that we turn away from these images.
Of course, there is turning away and pretending these things aren’t happening, and there is turning away and still being present enough to do something. This distinction can be where HSPs can get in a pickle.

HSPs can reach that stage of destructive empathising far quicker than non-HSPs, and with that, we enter into a debilitating vicious circle where we can’t stop building upon these empathetic thoughts, along with the feelings of helplessness and anxiety.
For non HSPs this tends to be a slower process. The trigger, having an empathetic reaction, and then the opportunity to act upon what they are empathising with, all happens at a more manageable rate without a tidal wave of emotions. In turn the action which provides a release for the building empathy and reveals itself as an option, instead of just being overwhelmed with FEELINGS. For example if someone is having a bad day, you empathise, then you talk with them and then there is the release. If you see someone struggling across the road, you empathise, take action in offering help, then there is the release knowing you helped. Often HSPs seem to be stuck on the first part, stuck like a rabbit in the headlights.

It turns out that this is an academic concept which C Daniel Batson called the ‘empathy-altruism hypothesis’ – that by feeling empathy you act. As a society, we are less influenced by religion telling us to love and care for those less fortunate, so instead that role has fallen upon our leaders like Obama and celebrities like Angelia Jolie and Richard Curtis. This has created an environment where we are told that we should as a global society be more empathetic, while showing us the consequences in the most emotional circumstances in the hardest hitting way possible. Yet in the face of all this suffering, no wonder HSPs are often overwhelmed by the amount of empathetic reactions that the world demands of us. Even Mother Teresa spoke about how overwhelming the mass of suffering can be and that to cope with it you simply concentrate on helping one person at a time instead.

I think that as HSPs, we can often become frozen in our own thoughts and feeling when it comes empathy. (I also wonder whether the severity of this is often what gets people labelled as Empaths, but that is a discussion for another time). This knee jerk reaction means that we are often taken away from the situation in hand, and straight into our own heads – where we are probably less than helpful to the people we are empathising with or ourselves.

So what can be done?
Know your limits.
I do not need to know and have the agony and suffering of people and animals spelt out in gory neon lights in order to elicit an emotional response, so I will turn over the TV channel if certain adverts come on and I will limit my exposure to the 24 hour news cycle. I used to think that it was my duty as a human being to witness all the horrors humanity has done, even (and especially) if it upset me. Then I realised that as an HSP, I could still feel as much, and be engaged – even more so without full on exposure. Allowing yourself breathing room is not failure.

Help
Going back to the old chap walking across the road. If you are getting an empathetic reaction, if you can, go and help. He might be grateful for your help, he could also tell you to bugger off. Either way, you are stopping that descent into over empathising where you are creating more scenarios in your imagination by being present in that situation.

Help can also be making blankets for animals or children, donating food, a simple pay it forward at the coffee shop, signing a petition or contacting your MP, or it could be donating money.
Recently there was a picture of a Syrian gentleman selling pens in the middle of the street, carrying his sleeping child. Amazingly thanks to the internet, he was tracked down and a fund was created for him and his two children. Now raising over $191k and rising, he wants to help other Syrians. Now what started out as a small gesture to an unknown man will be helping many more people.

Tonglen
When I feel that I can’t help I resort to the Buddhist practice of Tonglen breathing in all the pain and suffering and breathing out kindness and compassion. Does it help? Maybe. It’s better than dwelling on it.

Finally, it’s also important to remember that having an empathetic reaction is never about you and is always connected to external stimuli. When the line is crossed and it becomes about an inwardly facing empathy, it immediately loses perspective. You might feel like you can sum up who that person in front of you is and what they are feeling, but in reality you can’t, no-one can.

HSPs need to realise the importance of distance, and that distance with regards to empathy doesn’t mean that you care less but you are creating enough breathing space to actually use that empathy that you are feeling and hopefully respond to it in a productive way. There are no bonus points for over empathising, especially when you end up triggering anxiety being overwhelmed by catastrophizing, or suffering more than the person you are empathising with.
As HSPs we have these different attributes that actually help the world around us and give us purpose , we just need to manage them so they work as effectively as possible.

Sensitive – The Untold Story : A Review and Recap

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Sensitive The Untold Story had a lot to live up to. It was crowdfunded from people all over the world, with the hope that having the facts of high sensitivity in an easy to understand format would increase awareness – that is, as long as people actually watched it and the media who reviewed it could restrain themselves from sensationalising with inaccuracies (hint, they couldn’t).

The film included introductions by both Elaine Aron and her husband Arthur. It was made clear that High Sensitivity was a trait; that simply our brain works differently. It’s not a condition (although The Daily Telegraph seemed not to get that memo) or a failing. They then proceeded to back it up with cold, hard facts. I loved this sensible, straightforward approach. So often high sensitivity gets wrapped up with words like blessing/curse/special/superpower while the facts get shoved into the corner and forgotten – just look at how many people who identify as HSPs, yet haven’t even read Elaine’s book or know the basic facts.

It was also made very clear that not every HSP is the same. We all have different brains, different experiences and different talents. Just with ‘introvert’ and ‘extrovert’; the trait ‘HSP’ is a wide umbrella covering a huge range of people, who just so happen to share the same four basic traits. An HSP can be an academic like Elaine Aron, a musician like Alanis Morissette, CIS like John Hughes, and so on. Nowhere was there a hint  of ‘my sensitivity is better/worse than yours’, just simply that we are all individuals and have the opportunity to do great things with our HSP brains, we just need to understand how it works.

In her speech before the film Elaine Aron made it absolutely clear that being sensitive (and she’s not even sure if that is the ‘right word’) does not imply that we are better than non HSPs, nor does it mean that non HSPs can’t be compassionate and sensitive either. As much as HSPs are different, the traits that we have are not unique to us, it’s just we have them in a higher concentration.

Here’s a run down of what the film covered and my opinions. I wanted to repeat a lot of the stats and facts that were mentioned as I think that it is important to keep this at the forefront of the HSP discussion. I also live tweeted as I watched the film that can be seen in a Storify here

The Basics
High sensitivity is found in 20% of all humans and animals. There’s a lot of research going on with pets and wild animals showing how high sensitivity actually helps to ensure their survival by being more aware of their surroundings, of threats, where food is, where other animals are and so on. In turn, this can be applied to early man, and an insight into why high sensitivity hasn’t evolved out of humans.

Aron explained that from a very early age we get labelled. A highly sensitive child has just started school and is sitting at the back of the class, taking everything in. The teacher witnessing this is thinking, ‘Is she shy, is she frightened, or anxious? Is she reserved, or frightened, socially backwards?’ The child is in fact none of these things, her brain is just processing everything that is going on around her using her heightened depth of perception. Yet the teacher during that short amount of time has already created a weighty list of labels that could follow her through her school life and even beyond.

This is such an important issue as it impacts the majority of HSPs who have been involuntarily labelled because those around them haven’t understood that their brains are working differently. Yet because that HSP doesn’t know any better, and that label is often coming from an authority figure, they end up taking on those labels thinking ‘Well I must be shy if that’s what they keep on telling me.’ Slowly HSPs become more convinced that we are those labels, which are achieving nothing but moving us away from who we are.

What does DOES mean?
These are the four traits found in all Highly Sensitive People and are as follows.

Depth of perception
This is behind all sensitive behaviour and can only be seen with an fMRI scan. These scans show that HSPs are using different parts of their brains in novel situations where it’s engaging in systems awareness, depth of perception, the integration of other people into the situation, their emotional reaction, as well as themselves and overall emotional needs. It also showed that HSPs are not by nature socially anxious, depressed or shy. This is another important statement, as so many assume that this is part of being an HSP. Instead an HSP can become socially anxious, depressed or shy when exposed to the triggers that would cause depression, anxiety etc in anyone, but often feels it to a greater extent.

It was also explained that we frequently know things without understanding exactly how we know them, as part of this depth of perception. Our brains are so busy making connections that it bypasses the individual links and instead tells us the end result. I’d argue that this is why so many HSPs consider themselves empaths or telepathic. It’s simply part of their depth of perception, but they end up using terms like empath that are easier to understand and fits in with their personal ethos and vocabulary.

Over Arousal and Overstimulation
As the brain is so busy examining everything around you in such greater detail, of course it will be tired and you will suffer from overstimulation. Unfortunately this is what non-HSPs tend to notice when it comes to high sensitivity. No-one is  at their best when they are tired and overwhelmed, so I can understand how some people might have misconceptions about HSPs. Instead of realising that it’s a small price to pay for all the awesome things that our brains can do, it gets overblown as the primary factor of being highly sensitive, usually accompanied by the weight of the criticism.

As HSPs we need to manage our downtime to deal with overstimulation before it becomes detrimental to our health. When talking to Alanis Morrisette about her experience with overstimulation, Aron pointed out that yes it’s a downside, but it is part of being highly sensitive. You can’t pick and choose these traits, and is why so many people burn out or resort to substance abuse as a way of coping. As with understanding what our brains can do, we need to also realise that there is a cost and it is up to us to manage that too.

Emotional Reactivity and High Empathy
Because of the greater depth of perception, it’s only natural that HSPs are more emotionally aware of situations and of other people’s needs too. This results in greater empathy towards other beings. We do tend to cry more easily (although I’d argue the difference between crying easily, and openly crying, which I believe acts like an emotional safety valve).
We can use this combined with the other traits to our benefit, coming up with solutions that other people wouldn’t dream of because we can knit all these different factors together.

Sensitive to Subtle Stimuli
This is the most simple to understand – HSPs can notice subtle cues that many non-HSPs ignore. We take those on board and then apply them to existing information (D again) and our previous experience. Using the Insula part of the brain, we are far more aware of these subtle differences, especially when it comes to our senses.

Moving onwards
“You can’t look at someone and determine if they are sensitive or not” – Elaine Aron.

There was a lot about children, especially featuring the problems that boys have with expectations about how they should act. What it boils down to is that sensitive kids are malleable; treat them well and they will flourish, treat them badly and they will struggle. Crush a boy because he doesn’t fulfil your idea of what a boy ‘should’ be, then you’re damaging him for life – even more so if he is highly sensitive.

Dr Ted Zeff was interviewed and said the split between men and women HSPs ARE EQUAL. This is such an important fact to take on board. So often it’s assumed that high sensitivity is the domain of women, but that is only because we are more at ease/allowed by society to talk about emotional issues, whereas the only acceptable emotion for men in society seems to be aggression. The equal split shows that there are a lot of HSP men out there who are unaware of their sensitivity and probably suffering as a result. Our boys and men are bombarded with the notion of what a ‘real man’ is and I can’t help but feel that as HSPs we need to be at the forefront to break down this perception and show that sensitivity isn’t a weakness but a strength when it comes to all genders.

HSPs at work
HSPs are often highly valued at work, yet our well-being suffers as a result. John Hughes, a successful businessman said that ‘HSPs don’t miss a thing’ (that depth of perception again) which makes us brilliant employees (remember the man from the WSJ article who saved his company millions?) Where we often fall down is that we don’t practice enough self care to recharge ourselves. The world, especially in business, tends to value extroverted traits often ignoring the less flashy traits of the introvert. While there are both extroverted and introverted HSPs, we often face the decision of whether to ‘play the game’ to fit in and succeed, but at the cost of being overwhelmed, or not. Muddling this even further, and at the cost of our own well being, here we have people saying how highly valued at work. Once again as an HSP, and personally as an introvert, I think that we need to try and shift these perceptions. Employers can no longer expect to reap the rewards of an HSP while expecting the ‘dazzle’ of a non-HSP extrovert.

In the end
When asked what she wanted from non-HSPs, Alanis said “Mercy and Respect”. Which makes sense, and I think that it is something that we should demand more. So often we get ridiculed and dismissed thanks to people seeing us at our worse when we are overstimulated; yet there is so much more to us than that. We do need mercy and understanding for all the stuff that is running through our brains; and respect because it’s exhausting, and we can’t stop it. It’s proven since the dawn of man that society and the world benefits from what is going on between our ears, so maybe it’s time to allow us some space to get on with what we are good at instead of dismissing us.

Final Thoughts
I thought that the film was very interesting. I liked all of the research that was covered and it was good to see it all presented in a very clear and sensible way with a minimal amount of ‘woo’. Although the dramatic skits seemed a little unnecessary.
I think that if you have sensitive children or a loved one who is an HSP it would be very useful, but I struggle to see how the people who need to see it, will. I can only hope that maybe some sound bites can be created to go on YouTube to provide some basic information.

Personally, seeing how much research and concrete proof there is, has reinvigorated my interest for high sensitivity. There was a quote in the film, although I can’t remember who said it (please email me if you know who)
“We need people with a good heart and a deep mind in this world.” And that sums it up. It’s so easy for HSPs to hide away as a knee jerk reaction to being overwhelmed by the world, but really all that that we are doing is cursing the darkness without trying to put on a light – if nothing else, this film showed how much we have to offer this world we live in, and the key to surviving is self care.

You can view the film at http://sensitivethemovie.com/ for $4.99 or buy it for $9.99

The Sensitive Movie – Part One

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Over the weekend I watched the Sensitive movie. I admit that it was a litte reluctantly. After my last post I was tired of all the HSP shenanigans that I saw online and wanted a break, but I had bought the ticket which had a time limit and it needed to be watched. 

I really enjoyed it. Elaine Aron’s mix of facts and a non-dramatic approach to the trait left my brain teeming with ideas. Unfortunately it was a case of the brain being willing and my body refusing, so I can’t type up a new post. Instead I went old school, all the while practicing self care too. 

  

No, Highly Sensitive People Aren’t Special

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Recently I have come across a lot of people saying how ‘HSPs are special’ and that being an HSP makes you special. Typically the internet has started to leak these terms into articles about HSPs which are now talking about it being a superpower or a special gift. Or even worse, that we are sensitive or troubled souls who are wounded by every day life, as if we are some kind of battered and soggy butterfly staggering around, who is talked about in hushed tones “oh but they are special, they’re sensitive.”

The first and most persuasive argument I want to use against this ‘special’ term comes from Elaine Aron herself who said that “HSPs and non-HSPs are different yet equal.” This is a far better way of describing what it means to be highly sensitive. You are simply different. Yet it seems that this perfectly accurate description is missing a certain amount of fairy dust and pizzazz which many require. You will get far more retweets and pins when you post a quote about HSPs being special or troubled souls than if you just say that we are different.

SpecialnessI can understand how it may be attractive to label high sensitivity as special, especially if you are new to the trait and have had your own sensitivity dismissed and ridiculed, but we have something that is more special than being “special” and that is cold, hard facts. Using fMRI scans, it can be seen that highly sensitive brains work in a different way and it’s also genetically proven that high sensitivity is real. You simply don’t need to use terms like ‘special’ and ‘superpower’, which are so often used to bolster something that relies upon an element of imagination, because we actually have proof.

What makes me feel particularly uneasy is that by describing HSPs as special it immediately sets us apart from, and suggests that we are better than the rest of the world. The definition of special is “being better or greater” and we are absolutely not that. It also distances us from the very people who should be educated about sensitivity, as well as distancing ourselves from using our sensitive attributes to benefit people/society/world. We are simply setting ourselves apart, and against the world, rather than striving for inclusion.

As Elaine Aron explained, there’s a reason why evolution hasn’t just removed the highly sensitive traits from humans, and that’s because high sensitivity is useful for society. With our DOES attributes we provide an added insight for humanity, whether it’s giving a highly detailed, different perception into how systems (political, scientific and business) work, with regards to planning, safety and risk management; or within the arts, literature, films and books. It’s why 20% of all animals are highly sensitive.
Yes, the world overwhelms us and most HSPs have experienced people being negative about our sensitivity, but it’s important that we live within the world despite all of those issues, as we have so much to give. Hiding behind the ‘special’ label is like hiding your light under a bushel.

Of course as HSPs we want to communicate with other HSPs, that’s natural. More people at the start of their highly sensitive journey, instead of seeing it as a way of growing themselves, retreat and use it as an excuse for isolating themselves and hiding from the world. This is why so many people are now talking about having an ‘HSP day/moment/episode’ as if it’s some kind illness that comes and goes, rather than something that is knitted into our DNA. Or the countless times the idea of having an HSP village where all the HSPs can hide has been floated – as if that isn’t an absolute disaster waiting to happen, just look at HSP only groups online to see how that’ll play out.

As HSPs, we do have a different insight into the world, but it is because of that we should be of the world, not bystanders or hidden. We are simply no more special than anyone else, but just different and we should use this difference to make connections showing that our insight are not only useful but essential. It’s why we’ve been like this since the dawn of man.

Finding out you are an HSP is just the start and you have to actually do some work to understand your sensitivity, which also includes removing the barriers you’ve put up while trying to live in a non-HSP world and reach a stage where you are comfortable within yourself. It also involves understanding that there are many people who want to use our high sensitivity and who don’t have our best interests at heart. They’ll say how special we are, how fragile and broken and reliant on them to help us. They’ll do so while trying to flog negative ion water, or a super duper special diet for special people, or mats with crystals in them or magic bunny rabbits. We should all be moving towards the ‘enlightened HSP’ state that is reached from within and not via snake oils and definitely not puffing ourselves up with misguided self importance against the world that we should be a part of.

So next time just keep in mind, are you creating a barrier with your high sensitivity or are you ‘daring greatly’ and being open to the word? If you insist on claiming special status, just know that everyone in the world is special – which negates any kind of power or status that the word has.

12 Thoughts from 12 years of illness

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41LUPz0aOeL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_When I was first diagnosed I read a lot of books about PHN, pain management and CBT. Almost all were frustratingly useless and only succeeded in making me feel terribly alone. Then I discovered How to be Sick by Toni Bernhard and it was a revelation. What stood out was the compassion; not only for the sick person you are now, but for the transition from being healthy to the sick person that you are now. A regular contributor to Psychology Today, Toni did a ‘12 tips from 12 years of illness’, so I thought that I’d do my own version to mark my 12 year anniversary back in January.

  1. You gradually accept your metamorphosis Letting go of your ‘old’ life and accepting changes to your identity is a monumental step and one that is a continual work in progress. You aren’t any less of a person just because you are wonky; you are just a different version, and one that can be just as much, if not more ‘you’ than you were before.
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  3. Sorting out your screws  This is my Dad’s term for losing yourself doing a repetitive task that requires concentration. I’ve since discovered that this is also a mindfulness exercise. By completely focusing your mind on the task at hand, you are preventing your brain from wading into a quagmire of what ifs and worries. When things get really bad I organise beads and threads or more often than no sew. It doesn’t matter what it is, just that it is distracting and interesting.
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  1. Achieve something every day that makes you happy At the start of my illness I thought that I had to achieve something every day, fearful that I would lose myself. Now I think that it’s more important to do something that brings you joy – however small or silly. You might not be happy all day, every day but achieving something that makes you happy is a far simpler and a more enjoyable task.
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  3. You realise everyone is a medical expert. You are often told about an article where someone was cured with Manuka honey or breathing in a certain way, positive thinking or geranium oil*. Often this is comes from a place of kindness, but always comes across as ‘this person is better, why aren’t you?’ If all it took was to douse myself in honey, chant or go gluten free I would have done it 11 years and 11 months ago. My advice is to just say “Thanks, I’ll look into it” and leave it there.
    * All of these have been suggested to me
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  5. Therapy I was adamant that I could cope on my own by reading self-help books, and it took reaching rock bottom before I realised I needed to talk to someone. Not only has it helped me work through the issues that caused my body to have a melt down, it’s also helped me understand about being an introvert and managing my pain. Most of all I discovered I was an HSP which answered so many other questions. It’s not an easy option and it takes a lot of work, but it’s worth it when you realise how much energy you are freeing up.
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  7. Take charge of your own healthcare Doctors are only human and as someone who is probably becoming an expert in your illness, you need to make sure that you are able to fill in the gaps in their knowledge. I also keep a diary of symptoms, changes in medication, and triggers
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  9. Grieving  There will always be a part of me that is ever so slightly shell-shocked wondering what the hell happened to me. This in itself shows how deep the grief is and it is common whatever your illness. It’s also totally natural to grieve for your old life, for your old body and who you were when you were healthy. This grief is cyclical, every so often it hits you, you deal with it – and rinse and repeat. By accepting that it will revisit you is half the battle and takes the sting out of any surprise, even though the sadness is still there.
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  11. Time changes What takes a healthy person 30 minutes, usually takes me at least three times as long, thanks to pain and ‘pacing’. On top of that is payback in the form of increased pain and a collection of other symptoms. If you are lucky it’s just for a couple of hours, but more often than not it takes days to recover.
    So not only is the frustration that things take longer, but it also means that if you do something that will leave you with payback, you want to make the most of it. Just as if you are going to treat yourself while on a diet, you want to make sure that the extra calories are worth it. If I am going to have days of payback, I want to have optimum bang for my pain ‘buck’.
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  13. The importance of having the right people around you Having a chronically ill friend is hard, some people step up, learn and your friendship becomes stronger for it. Others will bemoan that you aren’t the ‘old you’ making you feel ever so slightly substandard. If someone can’t accept who I am now, illness and all, then all the history between us won’t make up for the emotional pain that causes. It’s brutal, but taking into consideration the previous point, these interactions need to count. Being made to feel awful and physically pay for the privilege is not worth it.
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  15. It’s OK to be angry/sad/furious You are human and you are going through a lot. It’s not just that you are suffering from an illness, but your whole identity is evolving too. It’s also frightening as you deal with career change/unemployment, friends not being able to handle your illness, and all the while trying to find a way to exist within your body; and it’s not fair. Be angry, be sad; just try to find a way of balancing this out with more positive things even if it’s losing yourself in cat videos online.
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  17. Learn there are times to stop and there are times to push yourself
    Knowing the difference can be tricky, in fact I wonder if I’ll ever truly know, which is why it’s often so frustrating. However knowing it’s OK to stop and that it isn’t a defeat is just as important to learn as it is to learn when to push yourself.
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  19. Reach out. The internet is a keystroke away  I have found allies and friends online. On Twitter, I’ve made friends with fellow HSPs, chronically ill, INTJs, as well as authors, activists and musicians. While on Facebook I’ve found support groups. They have expanded my horizons, allayed my fears, challenged my preconceptions and even made my life easier. It’s the perfect way to connect with people; if you get overwhelmed you can turn it off and do something else. You can also do it in your pyjamas with the cat and tea – which is damn near perfect for an introvert.

     

    My final thoughts on this, is that you find a way to keep on going. Some days are (much) harder than others, but you get through them. Sure, you may have to let go of plans and people, but they get replaced with others – and maybe those are what you were meant to be doing all along.

If you haven’t read it already, please read How to be Sick. It’s a life changer.

Some Resources for Highly Sensitive People

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This week I was disappointed to discover another person trying to jump onto the ‘let’s teach you about being an HSP’ bandwagon without any kind of expertise for sums of money that are, well, ridiculous. While I expect to see more of these as high sensitivity is becoming more prominent, I am concerned that new HSPs may well be unwittingly taken in. So here is a list of places and people who will provide you with excellent information about being an HSP.

The first thing is to read Elaine Aron’s books and website. This will give you a solid background of what it means to be an HSP, in particular the DOES attributes (Depth of Perception, Over aroused, Emotional reactivity, Sensitive to subtle stimuli). It also shows you how being highly sensitive is something that affects all kinds of people. Bearing that in mind, from here on out as we move away from the facts of research, anything that you do read may be coloured by that person’s experience of being an HSP.

Back to Elaine Aron, she has written the following books
* The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You – this is the first book which should be your starting point
* The Highly Sensitive Person in Love: Understanding and Managing Relationships When the World Overwhelms You

* The Highly Sensitive Child: Helping our children thrive when the world overwhelms them
* Psychotherapy and the Highly Sensitive Person: Improving Outcomes for That Minority of People Who Are the Majority of Clients

She has an incredibly useful website hsperson.com and there is a Comfort Zone which has her blog/email messages where you will also find out information about the research she is doing.

Ted Zeff has also written several books about high sensitivity, as well as a  survival guide which really helped me when I was first told I was an HSP. Ted has written a book that is in particular helpful for men and boys who are highly sensitive and his tweets @drtedzeff often feature topics linked to this that is important whatever your gender
* The Highly Sensitive Person’s Survival Guide: Essential Skills for Living Well in an Overstimulating World (Step-By-Step Guides) I found this book particularly useful when I was first told that I was an HSP
* The Power of Sensitivity
* The Highly Sensitive Person’s Companion
*The Strong Sensitive Boy – this is an excellent book for men and parents of boys.

While it’s not specifically about high sensitivity Susan Caine’s book about introversion also touches on issues that affects highly sensitive introverts.
* Quiet – the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking

Elaine Aron also has a list of international websites.
http://hsperson.com/resources/international-websites/

In the UK there is the National Center for High Sensitivity run by Barbara Allen Williams who has helped me understand, accept and grow my sensitivity.
She runs Meet Ups throughout the country and has started to run continuing professional development and training workshops (CPD) for professionals. Her website features therapists/counsellors/mentors who understands SPS and HSP.

Other people
Jacquelyn Strickland http://www.lifeworkshelp.com/ is currently writing a book and is an expert in high sensitivity and Myers Briggs. She also organises the world wide HSP retreats which have been attended by Elaine Aron. Jacquelyn created the HSP subculture document which is incredibly useful and shows just how wide ranging HSPs are.

Peter Messerschmidt  http://www.hspnotes.com/ touches on some very interesting subjects in his blog

I think that is enough for a start. Happy reading.

How Highly Sensitive People are Negatively Portrayed in the Media

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How HSP are Portrayed Are you an HSP? Do you spend your days in tears and clutching your head?
No? I didn’t think so. Yet the media seems to think that we do.
The collage above is only a fraction of the articles I found illustrated using these images. It didn’t matter if the article was positive, in fact most of them were, yet all had the same stereotypical photos in common.

Blogs and articles without images are almost unheard of. This is because you can get 94% more total views with them. More than that, online media and blogs live and die by their clickability – so of course the picture editor or writer will be looking for the most attention grabbing photo even if it is at odds with what the article is saying.

While I completely understand the reason behind it, I still get frustrated when I see images like these because as that 94% stat shows, images *are* important. It creates a visual connection with what you are reading which cements itself in your brain. By continually to illustrate articles, however positive, in such a way, you are adding to the stereotype that works against the whole concept of being highly sensitive. Part of the problem is that an authentic, empowered HSP looks… just like any other person and that simply isn’t dramatic enough.

22 signs you're a highly sensitive person (and that's OK!) Hello Giggles a "positive online community" being positive there

22 signs you’re a highly sensitive person (and that’s OK!)
Hello Giggles a “positive online community”

I did ask fellow HSPs how they would like to be represented in a couple of HSP forums and the variety of suggestions reflected the wide range of people who are sensitive. Some preferred the esoteric, featuring chakras and mystical signs, or pictures of nature and abstract images. Others wanted bright colours while some found that too much of a distraction and wanted peaceful tones instead. One thing that was agreed on, was that no-one felt that people were the best image to use. I imagine this is also why many HSP specialists tend to refrain from using pictures of people on their books and websites.

Of course HSPs do cry and get overwhelmed, but there is far more to us than that. It just seems like the writer/picture editor has got stuck on the ’emotional’ aspect of high sensitivity, probably because it fits in with the popular definition of ‘sensitivity’. Yet that’s only a very small aspect of highly sensitivity, but is sadly more ‘grabbing’ than things like greater depth of perception.

I wonder if there will be a change in how HSPs are portrayed, especially given the Sensitive film which will be released soon, or if the stereotypical image will prevail. Maybe it is also time for HSPs to make a stand. That when articles with these inaccurate images of highly sensitive people are published, we make an effort to point out “That’s not an HSP”. How can a stereotype be broken if we aren’t willing to lend our voices to correct it?

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Below is a list of the articles with links featured in the first collage, moving clockwise from the right.

  1. Elephant ‘Why being sensitive could be your greatest gift’
  2. Rebelle Society ’13 Awesome Characteristics of Highly Sensitive People’
  3. Bustle ‘”Highly Sensitive Person” Is An Actual Scientific Diagnosis, So Now You Have An Excuse’
  4. Huff Post ‘Are You a Highly Sensitive Person? 8 Strategies to Help’
  5. Psych Central ’10 Tips for Highly Sensitive People’

No, some HSPs don’t necessarily cry easily. A response to the Wall Street Journal.

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There’s a lot of stigma when it comes to being Highly Sensitive, even the term ‘sensitive’ can conjure up a world of misleading preconceptions which makes it hard to discuss the actual facts. However, at the moment a lot of really positive things are happening in the HSP world. There are several worldwide retreats, many Universities are researching high sensitivity in both humans and animals, and the new documentary ‘Sensitive’ with Elaine Aron is due to be released this year. Then an article by Rebecca Bernstein was published in the Wall Street Journal
“Do You Cry Easily? You May Be a ‘Highly Sensitive Person’”

WSJ Page

WSJ Page

It features Michael Hassard, a ‘manly man’ who just so happens to cry over country songs, is moved by his religion and acts of kindness – which to me, seems like things that would cause many people to shed a tear over. His tendency to cry is frequently returned to throughout the article (at least four times by my count), it’s only in the penultimate paragraph that we find out that being an HSP has allowed him to have a more empathetic relationship with his kids, helped him save multi millions in his job by being the only person perceptive enough to notice the needs of the client and has a girlfriend who loves him. In short, being an HSP has empowered him, but that fact was barely addressed.

It’s clear that in order to make the article as hard hitting as possible, the author looked for the most contradictory extreme – a man who cried. There are two issues here, one is being an HSP – for which there were excellent references to research and comments by experts (although none mentioned crying as being a key HSP issue). The other is repeatedly going back to Michael crying; which is not only a cheap shot, but also buying into this toxic idea of masculinity that is rife within society – and in particular affects HSP men. If you want to know more about toxic masculinity, this is an excellent account about what a group of 9 year olds didn’t like about being boys.

There are some very interesting points in the article. There was mention of brain scan studies where the neural activity of HSPs were analysed and showed to be different than non-HSPs, with Lucy Brown from Einstein College of Medicine in New York saying “They think more deeply about things” – which is a pretty good summation of being an HSP! There’s also mention of genetic research into being an HSP, as well as a study in the UK showing how sensitive teenage girls have benefited from the reframing of depressive thoughts.

Then it is all undone with “HSPs get worn out by too much stimuli. They can become easily hurt or offended. And they have been known to overreact to a situation.”

Those two sentences are small but powerful. Why would it undo all the copy about the research that proves the legitimacy of high sensitivity, you may ask? Well, it’s how the article is framed. The expert opinions, compared to the rest of the piece were more complex and full of medical terminology that the reader could casually skim over, while the reporter uses more emotive terms which served to reinforce the negative issues. That opinion, along with the attention grabbing headline, the equally irritating photo of a cinema full of people bawling, combined with the repeated references about Michael crying are all reinforcing this message that ‘HSPs = Crying, overreacting, and easily offended’. Why would anyone want to be around an HSP, let alone admitting to being one with that write up?

If you still question the power of this, then check out the section on the Today show that brushed over the whole concept of being an HSP, with the discussion ALL about crying instead. Not to mention all the stellar comments under the article, that sniggered, poo pooed the research, suggested that it was PTSD or a liberal conspiracy (!).

One thing that was noticeable in its absence, was the plain and simple fact that aside from Aron’s DOES attributes, everyone’s high sensitivity is unique to who they are. Bernstein chose to focus on Michael, and in turn only showed high sensitivity reflected within his personality. He seems like a nice chap, but his sensitivity isn’t mine – nor is it like the dozens of HSPs (both men and women) I know. Now, this of course could be a T vs F issue. In the HSP T group, there was concern that the image of an overreacting crybaby had created a stereotype that would stick – as if we don’t have enough of those already. While in the mainstream F groups, they seemed happy to have any kind of mention even if it was skewed, nor did it seem to bother them that the facts took a back seat in exchange for sensationalism (and yes, I am very aware that my INTJ is showing!).

What I found particularly interesting was that Michael, who seemed at ease with himself, said that he “taught himself how to modulate his feelings and reactions—and to “dehumanize” situations to remove emotion.” ‘Dehumanize’ is an emotive term and suggesting that to cope with life as an HSP you have to dehumanize situations is very sad. I think that what he is probably trying to say is that HSPs have to know when it is and isn’t appropriate to show over emotion. I imagine that it is more difficult for men – and maybe that is why he used the word ‘dehumanized’ instead of say, ‘taking a step back’, ‘not being so emotionally invested in everything’ and so forth.

Instead of going to the many, many HSP experts (some of whom are men) the author relies on a Dr Julie Hanks who, by the look of her extensive media clippings, is something of a comment for hire and who doesn’t seem to have mentioned high sensitivity before. Her five tips focused on how to deal with your partner and less about self development and self acceptance (although maybe this is her being ‘on message’ for her new book, than specifically about HSPs). I think Bernstein missed a trick here as there are so many innovative experts who are about empowering HSPs who would have probably given her some excellent suggestions instead of relying on the insipid, ‘Make sure you rest’, ‘eat properly’ and ‘remember there’s positive and negatives to being an HSP’.

Finally, am I just overreacting? Well, having read the article many times, no. There were so many positives as far as the research, proving that being an HSP isn’t an affectation or a figment of the imagination, but they were eclipsed by sensationalising the crying issue. Michael’s true nature only comes into focus at the very end of the article. They could have so easily talked to and shown how HSPs are successful and yes, even powerful – and how being an HSP has helped them achieve things and enriched their lives. Not to mention that HSPs can also be highly masculine (and highly feminine), because guess what? HSPs are as varied as the rest of the population.

Ever since I found out that I was an HSP I have been fighting against the stigma of the ‘delicate ickle sensitive flower’ which was bad enough. Now we have a mainstream newspaper saying ‘Crying a lot? Then you might be an HSP – and more importantly what you are reacting to and how you are feeling can be dismissed in one fell swoop as “overreacting” or just as you’d treat a toddler, maybe you are just tired.’ It’s just another thing to add to the slow and subtle devaluation of the term ‘highly sensitive person’, something that by the look of the comments is to be mocked and rejected without further thought. Sure there may be people who tend to cry who are now looking into being an HSP, but what about all those who don’t, who will now dismiss the idea of being an HSP outright thanks to this article?

What it boils down to is that it doesn’t matter if Michael cries a lot, any more than it matters whether he’s left or right handed. What really matters is that his high sensitivity has enhanced his life and empowered him. Pity that wasn’t the point of the article.

Finally in response to all the comedians in the comments section who are sniggering behind their hands at a man who is confident enough to show his sensitivity, I’ll leave you with the words of Henry Rollins.
“Muscle mass does not always equal strength. Strength is kindness and sensitivity. Strength is understanding that your power is both physical and emotional. That it comes from the body and the mind. And the heart.”

The key to understanding fellow HSPs – the thinking vs feeling spectrum

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The Myers Briggs thinking vs feeling spectrum is an excellent way of explaining one of the main differences between HSPs. The majority of HSPs are Fs, so when a T visits an HSP group or forum you often find yourself questioning your HSPness.

What is really going on is an issue of translation, and one that also has a knock on effect when it comes to understanding what it means to be an HSP and the information available, especially online.
Firstly it’s important to state that Thinking vs Feeling is about the dominant way you process information and make decisions. Neither one is better nor worse than the other. It’s just different. If you want more information about T vs F, there’s an excellent video by Craig Calvert here.

It goes far deeper than how you interpret information – with thinkers making objective evaluations and feelers make subjective evaluations. It’s about language and nuances; a reflection of past, present and future experiences; childhood, education, ethics, religion, and beliefs. It’s your physical and psychological state. It’s how you see yourself and how others see you and a whole medley of things that is all reflected objectively or subjectively in how you communicate with other people, as well as how you see yourself and your ideas. As Jacquelyn Strickland pointed out, it’s like the often quoted “We do not see things as they are, we see them as we are” and something that should be remembered when talking about high sensitivity.

So whoever you are, when you communicate it’s all affected and reflected through who and what you are; then it is processed subjectively (F) or objectively (T). Once you take that into consideration, you see why such a personal and unique concept as being a ‘highly sensitive person’ can create such a whirlwind of emotions and experiences that often gets mistaken for concrete HSP truths. Consequently, it’s how you communicate these with the world, and in turn, how the world sees you.

It’s only natural to communicate with your dominant trait, and as the majority of HSPs are Fs this explains why HSP groups can often feel a little alien to Ts, but once again, there’s more to it. In these groups some Fs, who are subjectively evaluating their HSP experiences with each other (and often putting more importance in them than reading, say, Elaine Aron’s books), discover mutual connections which are then used to reinforce their idea of what it means to be an HSP (e.g. spiritual beliefs, being an empath, psychic intuition, being ‘gifted’, astrology and so on). In turn, this list of traits is then perceived as an HSP truth, even though it only applies to one facet of the HSP community and instead leads to misunderstandings all round.

Let’s get back to the source. Elaine Aron created a list of common attributes found in HSPs – (DOES) Depth of perception, Overarousal, Emotional Reactivity/Empathy, Sensitive to Stimuli. These attributes are broad for the very reason that if you attempt to pin down specifics, you end up missing out just as much as you are including. This is why misinformation is so common, as what can be spot on for one person, can be off the mark with the other – yet both are HSPs!

I’ve also noticed that even language and frequently used terms hold different meanings which to put it bluntly – makes my INTJ head hurt. Some Fs rely less on the actual definition, but more on how that term makes them feel, fits within their personal ethos and connects them with other people.
For example, take intuition, something that is intimately connected with being an HSP. Fs often lean towards seeing intuition as something that is almost spiritual. Where it not only connects you with ideas and vibes, but also with other people; some even see it as a part of Psychic Intuition – and so is linked to the E part of DOES (Emotional reactivity/high empathy). Whereas Ts often see intuition more philosophically; as subconsciously accumulated information that slowly filters through our brain which is used alongside the D part of DOES (Depth of Processing) when we allow our brain to ruminate on issues, leading to an intuitive result. The word is the same and both are utilising HSP attributes, but what the word actually means can be wildly different between F and T.

We see our sensitivity in the ‘language’ that is easiest for us to understand. For Fs it’s natural to express and understand their sensitivity in emotional and even spiritual terms, while Ts tend to find it easier to understand our sensitivity using physical proof – whether it is down to physical sensitivities or information in books and research. Neither way is wrong, but as a T, when you can see a gradual shift away from the concrete ‘proof’ and onto more emotional issues and personal commonalities that doesn’t even apply to all HSPs, it simply doesn’t make any sense. No wonder you have HSP Ts who witnesses this and dismisses the whole concept of being an HSP altogether.

As a knock on, a lot of information about HSPs is written by, aimed at, and published by Fs. While the main books still tend to draw on Elaine Aron’s work, articles online are another matter. As high sensitivity for some can be so closely intertwined with spiritual elements, it’s not surprising that these websites muddy what it means to be an HSP with concepts such as empaths, indigos, auras, psychic stuff and so on. Again, preferring to base their information on interactions with others instead of the objective facts. In turn, when the mainstream looks for information about HSPs, they repeat the same inaccuracies, usually with a photo of someone looking pained. Once again, portraying an image of a certain element of highly sensitivites, but not the whole picture.

What can be done? Not much really. I find that as a T HSP knowing why there seems to be such a disparity when interacting with fellow HSPs helps. Not only that, but it also explains why articles about HSPs are so hard to grasp simply because they have been written by and aimed at F HSPs. So T HSPs, you aren’t alone and before you dismiss the idea of being highly sensitive, take a moment – is it just a translation issue?