Many Highly Sensitive People feel “different” and like there’s something wrong with them — especially if they don’t understand what high sensitivity is and how to manage it. High sensitivity also comes with many advantages that can enrich your life and those of your friends and family. To highlight the joys of being highly sensitive, I invited Nicole Burgess, an introvert empowerment mentor, to write this guest post.
The Joys of Being a Highly Sensitive Person
By Nicole Burgess
Do you ever feel like you’re swimming upstream versus going with the flow? Like you don’t quite fit in – perhaps because you’re more sensitive or introverted than others?
What is a Highly Sensitive Person?
Highly Sensitive Persons (HSPs) are conscientious, creative, intuitive, motivated, and sensitive. In fact, fifteen to twenty percent of the population is a highly sensitive person. And of that group, 70% are introverted and 30% are extroverted.
Elaine Aron, Ph.D. has researched what it means to be an HSP and how we can cope with our busy, loud, and overly stimulating world since the early 90’s. If you’re wondering if you are an HSP click here to take Dr. Aron’s questionnaire.
Dr. Aron has identified four categories for the HSP traits which can be explained with the acronym D.O.E.S.
- Depth of Processing – You tend to take more time to make a decision, do more reflecting, and have deeper feelings and empathy for others. Depth of Processing is one of the key traits of high sensitivity.
- Overarousability – Because you notice every detail about every situation and you process things more deeply, you’re prone to get overstimulated. You need to find the “optimal level” of stimulation, as Dr. Aron states, not getting too bored or too overstimulated, which means taking small breaks throughout the day to prevent overwhelm.
- Emotional Intensity – You’re more prone to strong positive or negative feelings than non-HSPs who, in the same situation, will have emotions, but they may not be as strong.
- Sensory Sensitivity – Usually arises from the processing of stimuli (i.e. smells, lights, sounds, etc.) and can manifest as low threshold, the ability to distinguish subtleties, and low tolerance for high levels of sensory input. Often all 3 are present.
HSPs often feel flawed and different
Our sensitivities can make it difficult for us to fit in. Because we feel things so deeply and are easily overwhelmed and overstimulated, we often feel like there’s something wrong with us. At times you may be tempted to push down those parts of yourself to fit into the cultural norm that encourages us to hustle and “suck it up” as the accepted lifestyle.
Embracing your sensitivity
Now imagine embracing your HSP traits and seeing them as assets rather than obstacles. When you do this, you are able to live more in tune with your creativity and insight because you can slow down and be more authentic. And in order to get to self-acceptance, you need to stop trying to squeeze into a mold that doesn’t fit.
It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I discovered I’m an HSP after seeing some social media posts from a colleague and learning more about the traits. It was another “a-ha” life moment, similar to when I decided to heed the calling of going to graduate school for my masters in counseling psychology. It was like I was coming home to my Self and gaining a deeper understanding of who I am and why I am on this planet.
Sensitivity can be your superpower
You aren’t like everyone else! And that doesn’t mean you’re “less than”. HSP traits can be a huge asset in life when we know how to take care of ourselves. As an HSP you have to nurture yourself differently. For example, you may need to take breaks more often to calm your mind and body. And HSPs are nurtured by depth in healthy relationships, enjoying works of art, or being in nature. (This is usually experienced as positive Emotional Intensity.)
One of the HSP strengths is in noticing the little things. You notice the non-verbal cues of others, sense their moods and see subtle changes if something has been changed in a room. You may like to enter a situation and observe before you engage. One of the many strengths of being an HSP is the Depth of Processing. This allows you to continue to process information after a conversation or event, which enables you to give feedback in the form of creative ideas, solutions to issues, and more. (Tip: If you know you are heading into a meeting or event, ask if you can have the agenda or items to be discussed so you can participate during the event after you have had time to reflect on the areas you want to contribute to.) The cultural norm favors quick decision making, however, HSPs strive to make the right decision and need time to mull over information vs reacting quickly. It is not that HSPs can’t make decisions it is more of how the brain processes the data. With more time you make good decisions which are usually the right decisions for you.
Find your own way of caring for your sensitive self
HSPs are vulnerable to overarousal and exhaustion. Dr. Aron suggests at least two hours each day of downtime. When overstimulated it is challenging to be creative and intuitive, and easier to be irritable and short with people. Dr. Aron suggests simply closing one’s eyes can stop the stimulation that is coming in (i.e. bright lights or other visual stimuli, which is also part of the Sensory Sensitivity). I personally maintain a mindfulness and spiritual practice to help manage or prevent overwhelm. Dr. Aron discusses how many HSPs have a spiritual practice because we enjoy understanding where things come from and where things are going in our world. I think having a spiritual practice keeps us connected to our soul plus Spirit/God/Universe/Divine, whatever fits for you. When you spend time in self-reflection or go deeper into contemplation, it also allows for your intuition to grow stronger and other spiritual gifts to come forward. Over the years I have followed the work of Marianne Williamson, Carolyn Myss, Byron Katie, Iyanla Vanzant, Wayne Dyer, and many more. Building a spiritual practice offers freedom from what you think you “should be” according to society, culture, or family norms and bring all parts of yourself into this world. It helps you stay connected to your inner wisdom and grace thereby buffering against outside stimuli.
If you are an HSP without a spiritual practice, a time for self-reflection and self-nurturance, what would it look like if you were to create that in your life? This doesn’t have to be complex. It can be as simple as prayer, painting, meditating, laying down with eyes closed, walking in nature, mindful movement/dance. How can you begin to incorporate more of this spiritual practice into your daily life? Having a practice that connects you to your higher Self and embraces your strengths allows you to leave fear and chaos behind and live with more joy and bliss.
Learn more about being a Highly Sensitive Person
The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine Aron, Ph.D.
Soulfilled Sisterhood podcast
About the author:
Nicole Burgess is a licensed marriage and family therapist and Introvert Empowerment Mentor for women. She helps women break free from the Good Girl facade and live a more soul-filled life. Nicole is also the host of Soulfilled Sisterhood podcast.
©2018 Nicole Burgess. All rights reserved.
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