Growing up I never labelled myself as sensitive—I thought the opposite, yet there were many underlying traits that pointed out the obvious. Oftentimes I would get sensory overload more quickly than others: the itch of fabric on my skin set me off, bright lights seemed to burn and my mother asking me a question when I was trying to focus on my homework sent me into an angry spiral. It took a long time before I discovered that I may be considered a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP).
What is an HSP? It’s not a disorder or condition, but it is part of your personality that can be defined as sensory-processing sensitivity (SPS). Although you may have never heard about this, Dr. Elaine Aron believes that 15–20 percent of people can be described as an HSP. This may seem like a large portion of society, yet it still goes unnoticed and unheard of by others, which is why you may have never considered yourself one.
So, are you highly sensitive? Lets go over eight common traits of an HSP. Reflect on these and see if they apply to you.
- You get easily overwhelmed, more so than your friends. Being naturally observant tends to mean you may also get overstimulated quickly when things appear intense, chaotic or complex.
- You tend to process things deeply. Ted Zheff, Ph.D, explains that HSPs “like to process things on a deep level” and that “they’re very intuitive, and go very deep inside to try to figure things out.”
- You are more emotionally reactive. HSPs will often react more in situations than others, as they feel things on a much deeper level. They have a lot of empathy in situations and are always considering others’ feelings.
- Crying is a common response. A lot of the time HSPs are prone to crying, which is a totally normal emotional response—I cry once a day sometimes. Knowing this, it is extremely important to surround yourself with people that don’t make crying seem shameful, but rather embrace that part of you.
- Change can be unsettling. Although change can be scary for anyone, an HSP takes comfort in their daily routine and sets schedules, and when something disrupts them it is often met with hesitance. It takes some time for HSPs to adjust to new changes, whether they are good or bad.
- You highly fear rejection. Whether it’s from a relationship, a job or even a stranger on the subway, the thought of rejection can send you into an endless spiral of self-doubt or self-criticism—I know it has for me.
- “Shock” media leaves you upset. Seeing negative and violent events on the news leaves you upset and feeling helpless.
- You startle easily. Loud noises, honks in traffic, people yelling—all of these sudden surprises startle you.
If you relate to any of these traits, it would be a good idea for you to do some more research on being an HSP. There are many resources online, including tests and blog posts that can help you identify if you may be highly sensitive.
Now that we’ve gone over some traits, what does living as an HSP mean? Although people typically associate sensitivity with negative connotations, take it from someone who identifies as an HSP—it can be great. Although there may be challenges in processing things deeper than your friends or crying at every inconvenience, I also get to experience the world through an empathetic lens that allows me to connect with people more easily than some of my friends. Once I began to understand this part of myself, I found I had deeper, more meaningful friendships and relationships, and that I loved these parts of myself instead of feeling ashamed of them.
Understanding and supporting myself and these traits has allowed me to pursue a life that caters to my sensitivities, and although it may take some trial and error, it is possible! Some of the easiest ways to start are to surround yourself with loving people, set aside some time every day to meditate (it helps to calm your mind and sensitives), and incorporate healthy eating and exercise into your life (it does wonders for sensitivity anxiety!). Most importantly, know that you are not alone and that you’re totally normal—just because you may think and process things differently than others doesn’t need to be stigmatized with shame. It’s great to have people in your life that perceive things differently from you!
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