What does it mean to be sensitive? That you cry at every little thing? Can’t take a joke? Seem moody or emotional to your family and friends? Research Psychologist Elaine Aron has been investigating the personality trait of High Sensitivity since 1991 and has brought to light a deep understanding of what it means and how it works. She has discovered both genetic links and the physical nature of being sensitive. Although many people feel they are sensitive, in fact only 20% of the population would categorize as Highly Sensitive. Aron is not just looking at those who are good listeners or good friends because they are willing to help you through your break ups or other difficult life situations.
A Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) actually has brain and nervous system processes that are different than the rest of the population. It is primed to take in more information, understand connections by fully processing the material and then attaching a deeper emotional value with their increased range of emotion. An HSP is the first to notice any changes in the environment, understand why it happened and what it means for future outcomes. She’s the one in your office that always knows when someone has highlighted her hair, figures out who is pregnant before being told and is the most likely to cry with you or take up your cause when you need it most. There is no difference between the sexes in this personality trait either. It is a pretty even split, but a sensitive male is sometimes harder to identify because we are all taught not to show our tender emotions and extraordinary abilities. Historically it has been a condition of identifying as male to be strong, which equaled unemotional.
The difficulties that HSP’s encounter can be many. From never being understood, especially if you grew up in a family that was not sensitive, to fully breaking down whenever you need to make a speech or are pushing your body too hard to keep up with your friends and colleagues. Are you doomed to a life of swinging emotions, overwhelm, anxiety and loneliness? Not at all. There are ways to embrace your gifts, make them work for you and accept yourself. This can give you back your self confidence, allowing space in your life to make your ideals a reality. If you are willing to work through your difficulties.
During the month of May, (a time of rebirth, new life and energy) I will be writing about the Highly Sensitive Personality and offering you one challenge every week. You can look at it as a way to begin healing and cultivate self-acceptance.
This week, as you go through your days, I want you to notice where you feel tension. Make note, perhaps in a journal, of what was happening and how you felt. Then take a look at the beliefs that are involved. So many of us have beliefs instilled in us from childhood that are not serving us now. When we cannot live up to these unrealistic ideals we feel like failures. Were your beliefs set for you and your unique being? They can be.
In my practice I often hear statements like:
I can’t relax until everything around me is taken care of. The kids, the cleaning, my partner. I couldn’t live with myself if I let them down.
My job is so busy that I can’t possibly get it all done. But every time my boss has a new task I feel I have to take it on. How could I justify my job? I could get fired if I don’t do it all.
It is not safe to show how I feel about things. I don’t like confrontation so I never tell anyone when something is bothering me. I would hate for them to be upset.
Do any of these sound like you? I challenge you to look at your beliefs around these and many more stressful situations. Why do you believe that you are the only one that can take care of the entire house? Are you a failure if you ask for help? But isn’t that what your family is doing by asking you to do everything for them? Are they failures, or do they simply have needs, like every other human being?
As HSP’s we don’t ask to have our needs met because we were often taught that our needs were a burden to someone else. That feeling that we are too much for other people makes us feel alone and unimportant. Sometimes even broken or defective somehow. But we don’t give our loved ones enough credit. They too can adapt. So look at some of your core beliefs this week and see what you might be holding onto that doesn’t fit your personality. Just because your friends like to stay up until all hours doesn’t mean you are boring when you don’t join them. It means you have more going on in that beautiful head of yours.
– Gillian Strange-Dell, Psychotherapist & Director, Emotional Health Dept., CWP
If you are curious to see if you fit the category you can go to Elaine Aron’s site (hsperson.com) and take a self-test. If you want to talk more about it, Gillian Strange-Dell offers a free 30 minute consult at the Wellness Path.