By Suzanne Marie, Contributing Writer
Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) is a relatively new phrase, but has been the subject of much research since the early 1990s. HSP was officially coined in 1997 by Elaine and Arthur Aron. It is estimated that 15-20% of the population have sensory processing sensitivity, which is a personality trait, not a disorder or diagnosis. Essentially, some individuals have a central nervous system that is more sensitive and stimuli, whether physical, emotional or social, is processed more deeply. These individuals are said to be more highly sensitive people.
Being a Highly Sensitive Person is an innate trait, meaning you were born with it. The brain of someone who is a HSP functions differently and processes information and stimuli on a much deeper level. They become hyperaware of their surroundings and tend to notice even the tiniest aspects of things within their environment. This can become overwhelming, making thoughts, feelings and emotions too intense and chaotic to process. Many who are HSPs report that at some point in their life, if not repeatedly, someone else has referred to them as “too sensitive.”
Highly Sensitive Persons are often very intelligent, creative, empathetic and outgoing with the trusted people in their lives. Having a strong support group is essential. HSPs tend to like the comforts of home, where the lights, sounds and environment can be controlled. Home is their sanctuary, the place to decompress and unwind.
Some examples of HSP characteristics are:
- They often absolutely abhor violence, abuse, neglect and cruelty. It almost hurts them physically.
- They need more down time than normal. They thrive in silence and a slower pace of life. They need extra time to relax and process the experiences of each day.
- They tend to be low-maintenance and easy to please. They enjoy the simple things in life and don’t settle for less.
- Making decisions takes longer than normal. They have to weigh the pros and cons to come up with the best possible decision. Because they tend to take in more information, they can get trapped in overthinking, which takes more time to process.
- They have difficulty with change. Familiar is a lot less stimulating than something new. They can be excited for a positive change and highly anxious about it at the same time. As long as they are moving forward, positive things will happen.
- They feel things more deeply. They notice fine and minor details. They are very observant and will reflect on their experiences, good and bad. This can lead to over-thinking and obsessing. HSPs can have a million good things happen in a given day, but they will obsess over the one bad thing.
- They have great difficulty with conflict and criticism. They tend to already be hard on themselves and are aware of their shortcomings, so when someone points them out, it can be doubly overwhelming.
- They tend to have a rich inner world, are often more creative, perceptive, insightful and self-aware. They dream big and have no problem reaching those dreams.
- They are often misunderstood. HSPs are commonly told they are too “thinned skinned” and “overly sensitive.” Because of their higher anxiety and tendency to withdraw in new or tense situations, HSPs can be seen as shy and standoffish, being labeled something they are not. Many HSPs are actually extroverts!
- They tend to keep their social circle small, but full of love and support. It takes a lot for them to let another person in, but when they do, they are there for the long haul.
If you relate to the experiences of a HSP, there are many things you can do to minimize overstimulation:
- Avoid crowds. Go shopping on less busy days.
- Surround yourself with positivity and beauty. Take regular walks in the woods. Take a dip in a creek. Hang beautiful artwork in your home.
- Exercise regularly (if recommended). Yoga can be a rewarding choice, but getting your blood moving will give your day a lift!
- Get enough sleep. The next day will be crazy enough. Rest up!
- Participate in meditation, deep breathing and relaxation techniques. Prayer is also a good choice. Find a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted.
- Keep your self-talk positive! Be kind and gentle to yourself. Look at yourself in the mirror daily and say something positive. It may sound silly, but it works!
- Say “no” when you need to. If the situation is going to be too overwhelming, just say no. If you’ve had a rough week at work, a loud, lively party is not going to work for you.
- Journaling is an excellent way to get your thoughts, feelings and emotions out. There are many styles, find one and go with it. Bullet journaling which is a favorite of many.
- Do something creative. Arts and crafts, coloring, painting or drawing. Find your niche and do a little daily.
- Bubble baths can literally wash your troubles away. Adding candles and bath salts can make it a very enjoyable and relaxing experience.
Here are a few additional readings that may be of help:
- “The Highly Sensitive Person” by Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D
- “The Emotionally Sensitive Person” by Karyn D. Hall Ph.D
- “Self Care for the Self Aware” by Dave Markowitz
- “My Journey as a Highly Sensitive Person with Anxiety” by Lauren R. Stewart
- “The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People” by Judith Orloff
“24 Signs of a Highly Sensitive Person” by Preston Ni, M.S.B.A.
The Highly Sensitive Person-Elaine Aron, Ph.D
Suzanne Marie is a professional writer living in rural North Carolina. She has a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and has been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, ADHD, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. She looks forward to writing posts for Creekside Therapy Center, LLC and expanding her knowledge of mental health.