Understanding Highly Sensitive People

Since the dawn of time, mankind has recognized that a certain percentage of its population was more in tune with the world around them and the world within them. These were the people who were shamans, healers, counselors and advisors to the tribe’s leaders. Their intuition and ability to read people were treasured because they were able to help mediate conflicts within the group and with other tribes. Their ability to sense slight changes in the weather, the environment, the animals around them, helped people to avoid disaster, to move with the herds they were hunting, and to choose the best places to set up camp.

In todays’ Western industrialized societies, the appreciation of people with high levels of sensitivity to stimuli has all but been lost. In fact, we have come to a point where highly sensitive people are at a disadvantage and are considered at best odd, at worst wrong. Many are constantly told that they are too sensitive, that they need to get thicker skin, or that something is just wrong with them.

In addition to the messages from family and society at large, the environment also puts highly sensitive people at a disadvantage, sometimes to the point where they are all but disabled by allergies and illnesses related to pollution and exposure to chemicals in their environment. People who suffer from these diseases such as Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome are often told that it’s all in their heads, leaving them to feel even more isolated and strange.

In 1996, Dr. Elaine Aron reintroduced the concept of the Highly Sensitive Person to the Western world with her book “The Highly Sensitive Person: How To Thrive When The World Overwhelms You” In it, she explains that being more sensitive to stimuli than other people is an inborn genetic trait, and that humans are not the only animals who experience this phenomenon. About 15 – 20% of vertebrates in a population are usually more sensitive than the rest. These are the organisms who sound the alarm to alert the others when danger is near.

HSPs often suffer from depression and stress related disease because they are easily overwhelmed by the noise, clutter, violence, neon and fluorescent lights, yelling neighbors, car alarms, smoke and pollution that they experience on a day to day basis. While other people are able to screen these intrusions out or just aren’t aware of them to begin with, HSPs find it impossible to do this, and tend to shut down or withdraw when overwhelmed. Then they wonder what is wrong with them, why they can’t be like everyone else, and why they are so “weak”.

The truth of the matter is that HSPs are unable to change their sensitive nature, and they shouldn’t have to! There are many wonderful traits that come with being highly sensitive. (Although not all HSPs have these traits, they are very common among them)

artistic, musical and writing abilities
appreciation of art
deep understanding of animals and children
ability to read people by their body language and tone of voice
deep profound sense of justice
idealistic vision of how things should be
attention to detail and fastidiousness
empathy, compassion, sympathy, for people and animals
connection to the spiritual world
highly detailed imaginations and creativity ability
love of peace, quiet, and calm
highly developed sense of intuition
possible psychic ability

HSPs tend to have a small number of people that they are close to, but those relationships are usually very deep, meaningful, and can last a long time since HSPs are very loyal people. On the flip side, HSPs are easily hurt and can become quite isolated and cynical about the human race if they are not taught to appreciate and work with their sensitive nature.

Since Dr. Aron’s book was published over ten years ago, acceptance of the HSP phenomenon has been gaining acceptance in the psychological community and in the culture at large. There are now psychologists, therapists and life coaches who specialize in working with Highly Sensitive People. Also, more and more people are writing books to help people who are HSPs to thrive in relationships, at work, and to heal from trauma.There are countless websites for Highly Sensitive People and many forums for HSPs to get together and discuss what life is like for this special 15% of the population.

Hopefully as our society becomes more aware of HSPs, children will be recognized as HSPs at an early age and taught to appreciate their unique traits and learn how to protect themselves from being overwhelmed. Teachers and parents will teach HSP children that they have so much to offer and will help them to develop their traits instead of labeling them “too sensitive” “too shy” or trying to get them to change. As HSP get old enough to consider what kinds of careers they want, they will be taught which careers are best for their temperament and how best to succeed in a workplaces that are hostile to HSPs.

In a world fraught with violence, noise, pollution, and increasing pressure to do everything faster and to have more and more and more, Highly Sensitive People are needed by society now more than ever.