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
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.
“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.
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