Understanding Highly Sensitive People

In recent years there has been much new information gleaned regarding personality and innate temperament. One such fascinating trait which has garnered much attention of late, is that of the highly sensitive personanlity, or HSP. In the groundbreaking book by Dr. Elaine Aron, aptly titled, ‘The Highly Sensitive Person: How To Survive When The World Overwhelms You,’ we can discover the intricities of this rather unusal trait. In essence, the highly sensitive person has a nervous system that has a much lower threshold to stimulation than most people. In fact, Dr. Aron affirms that only 15-20% of the population has this trait. Some people are born with a neurological system that is pre-wired as highly sensitive. Others may be traumatized early in development and become hypersensitive as a result of abuse or extreme childhood stress.

What are some of the signs of being a highly sensitive person? According to Dr. Aron there are several characteristics related to being an HSP:
Being an HSP means your nervous system is more sensitive to subtleties. Your sight, hearing, and sense of smell are not necessarily keener (although they may be). But your brain processes information and reflects on it more deeply.
Being an HSP also means, necessarily, that you are more easily overstimulated, stressed out, overwhelmed.

This trait is not something new I discovered-it has been mislabeled as shyness (not an inherited trait), introversion (30% of HSPs are actually extraverts), inhibitedness, fearfulness, and the like. HSPs can be these, but none of these are the fundamental trait they have inherited.

The reason for these negative misnomers and general lack of research on the subject is that in this culture being tough and outgoing is the preferred or ideal personality-not high sensitivity. (Therefore in the past the research focus has been on sensitivity’s potential negative impact on sociability and boldness, not the phenomenon itself or its purpose.) This cultural bias affects HSPs as much as their trait affects them, as I am sure you realize. Even those who loved you probably told you, “don’t be so sensitive,” making you feel abnormal when in fact you could do nothing about it and it is not abnormal at all.

An event that is only mildly stressful to a non-HSP, would most likely be extremely stressful to a highly sensitive person. Although every HSP will have individual characteristics resulting from their trait, most HSP’s share some common experiences. For instance, HSP’s tend to startle easily, are easily stressed by loud noises, strong odors, and bright lights. They also tend to be affected by other people’s moods, and can usually pick up on any subtelties in their environment that most individuals wouldn’t notice. HSP’s also possess a different learning style. They tend to pick up on the more subtle things, learning better this way than when they are overaroused. If an HSP student is not contributing much to a discussion, it does not necessarily mean they do not understand or are too shy. HSPs often process things better in their heads or they may feel overaroused. This may be the reason for their not contributing. HSPs are usually very conscientious but usually underperform when being watched. This also applies to work situations; HSPs can be great employees good with details, thoughtful and loyal, but they do tend to work best when conditions are quiet and calm. Because HSPs perform less well when being watched, they may be overlooked for a promotion. HSPs tend to socialize less with others, often preferring to process experiences quietly by themselves.

Growing up as an HSP is even more of a challenge, especially if you happen to be a male. The traditional and stoic manner which most boys are raised by does not sit well with an HSP. The old adage, big boys don’t cry is especially relevant here. This is not to imply that girls do not suffer from being highly sensitive, but most of the traits associated with being an HSP are often more acceptable and expected from the female sex. However, society in general tends to view the highly sensitive person in a negative light. Hopefully, with the influx of new knowledge regarding the HSP trait, this will become less of an issue.
Listed below are some very informative links that deal extensively with the trait of high sensitivity: http://www.hsperson.com/