Do a Google Image search for Highly Sensitive Person and you get a selection of people who look like they are in pain, crying, wan, slightly constipated or gazing off with the fairies. This stereotype is of course totally inaccurate, but it is a preconception that is firmly entrenched when you think of an HSP.
The term ‘Highly Sensitive Person’ was established by Dr Elaine Aron and is an effective ‘does what it says on the tin’ kind of description. However, you do need to put aside the preconceptions of what “sensitive” means. Society and media frequently associates ‘sensitive’ with weakness, pain, suffering or irritation – just see how often it’s mentioned in adverts; so we need to get back to basics to truly understand the term.
The Oxford English Dictionary definition of sensitive is:
Quick to detect or respond to slight changes, signals, or influences
Having or displaying a quick and delicate appreciation of others’ feelings
So a Highly Sensitive Person is someone who is quick to detect or respond to slight changes, signals, or influences, whether within themselves, other people or environmentally.
Which is a far cry from what is often depicted, and probably makes a lot more sense.
There is no typical HSP. Being highly sensitive simply magnifies elements of who you are; both your talents and weaknesses – and as everyone is different, so every HSP is different too. Of course you can’t choose what it magnifies, so you may be able to write amazing music or poetry, but also have a sensitive immune system; or be able to make deep connections with different ideas and concepts, but also have anxiety.
As high sensitivity magnifies both good and bad, it tends to be a double edged sword, which is why there is often so much confusion about what it actually means to be sensitive. Bearing in mind that there is no typical HSP, when you start visiting HSP groups there are countless threads with people trying to pigeon hole what it is to be an HSP, and in turn making wild assumptions (HSPs are *all* introverts/feelers/empaths/Capricorns/aspie) and muddying the very simple fact that anyone can be an HSP and the effect that it has is equally as different. This desire to create a defined check list of HSP traits and jumping to the conclusion that “all HSPs are…” means that disinformation is actually having a negative effect on how HSPs are seen, and more importantly, it’s turning away people who may be legitimately sensitive, yet don’t feel that they fit into the metaphysical/empathy/introvert pigeon hole that is often being advocated.
It’s also important to remember that being an HSP doesn’t make you special or better than non-HSPs; nor does it mean that you are doomed for a life of suffering because of it. It’s not like asthma, you don’t get an attack of HSP. For example, if you suffer from anxiety, being overwhelmed could trigger an anxious reaction. That anxious tendency was always there in you, but being an HSP compounds it. The way to manage being sensitive, would in this case be to deal with the anxiety, thereby taking away the impact it has on you. You also can’t turn it on or off, neither can you grow out of it, or shake it off. It just is and it’s up to you to accept it and find ways to manage your natural tendencies that can be triggered by your sensitivity. Fighting your HSP-ness is a bit like fighting your eyeball, a useless waste of energy that will probably leave you with a headache.
Most HSPs have simply unconsciously adapted to being sensitive, just as you would as an introvert – and maybe even making it a feature in their lives. Look at notable HSPs, such as Abraham Lincoln, Carl Jung, Jane Goodall, Nikola Tesla, Charles Darwin, Layne Staley, Nicole Kidman, Einstein, Alanis Morissette, Neil Young, Alfred Hitchcock, Steven Spielberg, Emma Watson, Keanu Reeves and Zooey Deschanel. Here are a wide range of different people, with different talents, and different personalities; yet all are HSPs.
In the last few years, I think that we are getting to a stage where, thanks to a greater understanding of introversion, issues concerning high sensitivity are slowly filtering into public consciousness. Actors talk openly about being highly sensitive, while some hard rocking musicians are described as being ‘too sensitive for this world’. This can only be a good thing, however, it’s our responsibility as HSPs to make sure that the right information is getting out there.
Naturally Elaine Aron is the best person to get information from. She has written several books and visit her site http://www.hsperson.com/and you will find a list of possible issues that can point to being Highly Sensitive. On the whole, these are vague, and that’s because they are meant to be! Remember anyone can be an HSP, and that’s OK. I’ll be tackling some of the more in depth issues about being an HSP later on. Until then!