Being highly sensitive in a world that is chock full of sensory stimulation can lead you to feel weird, isolated, different, wrong, or just plain wimpy.
The way you perceive the world is also deep, amazing, intense, thoughtful, filled with wonder, and unique. Always remember that.
You're in the minority if you're highly sensitive, but that doesn't mean living a lower quality life—it just means learning what works for you and how to be the best version of yourself.
Imagine a situation where your friends are excited to go to a loud restaurant with live music after a day of group activities and lots of talking. You might feel unfriendly or anti-social if you say you'd rather go home and read a book than go out to eat.
And that makes you different, but still a good person. Your needs are just as valid as everyone else's, even if they go against the norm.
It may be hard to understand that the need for solitude and quiet has nothing to do with loyalty, sociability, or friendship.
What's it all about then?
Here are some facts about being a Highly Sensitive Person from the guru of HSPs, Dr Elaine Aron. She's spent her career furthering our understanding of Sensory-Processing Sensitivity, the scientific term for HSPism.
I highly recommend her book, The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You, from which these facts come.
1. Everyone, HSP or not, feels best when their nervous system is neither too bored nor too aroused. Too little arousal and you can feel dull and ineffective. Too much arousal of the nervous system and you become distressed, clumsy, and confused.
With extreme arousal you can’t think clearly and feel out of control. The best amount of arousal falls somewhere in the middle and this “optimal level of arousal” is one of the most solid findings in psychology.
2. People differ considerably in how much their nervous system is aroused in the same situation, under the same stimulation. What is moderately arousing for most people is highly arousing for HSPs. What is highly arousing for the majority of the population causes an HSP to become frazzled or even to shut down.
3. The difference in neurological response is largely inherited and it is very real and normal. And innate. If you're an HSP you were born this way, like 15-20% of the population.
4. Being highly sensitive is innate and biologists have found high sensitivity in over 100 species. This trait reflects a certain type of survival strategy—being observant before acting—which can be extremely beneficial in the wild and other many other settings.
5. HSPs notice levels of stimulation that go unobserved by others. Sounds, sights, physical sensations are all taken in and processed more deeply.
It's not that the hearing or sight is more acute. The difference seems to lie somewhere in the brain, in a more careful processing of information. You reflect more on everything, and you sort things into finer distinctions—HSPs sort into 10 sizes what others sort into three.
6. HSPs are also more easily overwhelmed. If you notice everything, you're naturally going to be overstimulated when things are too intense, complex, chaotic, or novel for an extended time.
It's important to realize that dealing with high sensitivity isn't about "getting over it", "growing a thicker skin", or "not being so selfish".
But you can learn to use that difference as a strength—even a superpower—with skills and a shift in how you view things.
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