Are you a Highly Sensitive Person?
by Tamara Mortimer, M. Ed, RCC, CCC
Even if you’ve never heard of the term, or its abbreviation “HSP”, you may recognize yourself—or someone you know—in the definition.
According to Dr. Elaine Aron, the Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) has a sensitive nervous system, is aware of subtleties in his/her surroundings, and is more easily overwhelmed when in a highly stimulating environment.
And, perhaps surprisingly, HSPs comprise between 15 and 20 percent of the population.
Dr. Aron is perhaps the most well-known person in this era to bring public awareness to the trait of high sensitivity. She has done extensive and ongoing research on the subject and has also written several books. However, the trait of high sensitivity has also been brought to light previously by various people, including Carl Jung (who used the term “innate sensitiveness.”)
To find out if you are a Highly Sensitive Person, you can ask yourself the following kinds of questions from Dr. Aron’s self-test:
- Are you easily overwhelmed by such things as bright lights, strong smells, coarse fabrics, or sirens nearby?
- Do you get rattled when you have a lot to do in a short amount of time?
- Do you make a point of avoiding violent movies and TV shows?
- Do you need to withdraw during busy days, into bed or a darkened room or some other place where you can have privacy and relief from the situation?
- Do you make it a high priority to arrange your life to avoid upsetting or overwhelming situations?
- Do you notice or enjoy delicate or fine scents, tastes, sounds, or works of art?
- Do you have a rich and complex inner life?
- When you were a child, did your parents or teachers see you as sensitive or shy?
Even if you didn’t answer “yes” to all of the above, you may still be an HSP.
People who are HSPs have often felt “different” for most of their lives, so are usually relieved to learn that their sensitivity is a normal trait as opposed to a flaw or a syndrome.
Thankfully, the findings of Dr. Aron’s research on high sensitivity are making it into the mainstream and being published in various counselling magazines and journals. This helps both non-HSPs and HSPs become more aware of the traits of high sensitivity and what it entails to live with one or be one. This education about HSPs helps people understand a few key points:
- In the past HSPs have been called "shy," "timid," "inhibited," or "introverted," but 30% of HSPs are actually extroverts. HSPs only appear inhibited because they are so aware of all the possibilities in a situation.
- In a culture that seems to prefer confident, bold extroverts, it is important that HSPs understand and use the highly sensitive aspects of their personality as strengths rather than weaknesses, so that they are confident enough to contribute their unique and necessary gifts to society.
- Due to their high sensitivity, HSPs are often more deeply affected by challenging situations in their childhoods and therefore may need help processing past traumas and developing tools to function more effectively in their adult lives.
- It is important for parents who have children with high sensitivity to understand what their HSP child needs in order to thrive and how to gracefully incorporate that child’s sensitivity into a household where some or all of the other members may not share the trait. As well, HSP parents need to heal any past traumatic events related to their sensitivity in order to parent an HSP in the most helpful way.
Again, it is vital for the wellbeing of HSPs to realize that their sensitivity is an asset that they can learn to appreciate, understand, use and protect. In fact, according to Dr. Aron, many HSPs are "unusually creative and productive workers, attentive and thoughtful partners, and intellectually gifted individuals."
In my personal and professional experience and from my research on the subject, it is apparent that HSPs are more affected by difficult or negative past experiences than non-HSPs and this may heighten the challenging aspects of our sensitivities.
However, the good news is that although the high sensitivity is innate, HSPs CAN learn how to cope with and even thrive with this sensitivity, and use it as the gift it truly is, even if it has previously had a negative or challenging influence on their lives.
With the right tools, an HSP can follow their calling and live a fulfilled lifewithout becoming overwhelmed. HSPs have the sensitivity required to connect empathically with other people and animals, and have the potential to become some of the most conscientious, ethical, and progressive business people and the most potent artists, visionaries, creatives, writers, counsellors, health practitioners, healers, and parents of our time (among other professions and callings, of course!)
Accessing the ability to manage high sensitivity, process past events effectively, and live life passionately with purpose often requires a supportive environment, personal healing work, and learning new and effective tools for the mind, body, and spirit.
I have felt very lost and often misunderstood about who I am, especially with regard to being an HSP, and I really appreciate your valuable insight, your ability and willingness to clearly explain and fully answer all of my questions, along with your compassionate nature and wonderful ability to provide a safe space in which to explore sensitive and painful issues.”
>~Name Withheld – Artist/Designer, Calgary, AB
If you are interested in learning about how to deal more effectively with your high sensitivity or with the high sensitivity of someone close to you, I would love to work with you! I very much enjoy working with fellow HSPs.
Please contact me at 1888 504 4111 or tamara@inessencecounselling to arrange a free 20 minute consultation.
Also, you may be interested in checking out my blog for HSPs, which is at www.celebratingsensitivity.com