What Does It Mean to be Highly Sensitive?


Have you felt misunderstood much if not all all of your life, and/or like you didn’t fit in?

Do you feel you have a more finely -tuned nervous system than most people?

If so, you might be part of the 15-20% of the population with the trait of being Highly Sensitive.

Understanding what this means may well provide the missing piece to understanding yourself that can make all the difference–in your health, your relationships, your own sense of self.

So what does it mean to be “Highly Sensitive”?

First, please note that High Sensitivity in this sense is an inborn trait, found in approximately 20% of more than 100 species, not just humans.

Dr. Elaine Aron, whose book,  The Highly Sensitive Person and research put High Sensitivity on the map, delineates 4 characteristics of High Sensitivity, for which she uses the acronym DOES. The distinctives  include:

1.) Depth of Processing. You take in more information, from your five senses and also unconsciously and energetically, and you process it more deeply in your brain than “the other 80%.” Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) may be Extraverted (approximately 30% of all HSPs), meaning they get their energy from being with people and from lots of outside stimulation—yet they also need to process all that deeply and need a break from the stimulation as well. Introverted HSPs (70% or so) recharge from being alone and reflecting, and they absolutely need this time to function optimally.

2) Easily Overstimulated. Because HSPs take in so much, it’s easy to get overstimulated. This can be felt as anxiousness or shyness. What’s really happening is the nervous system is getting overloaded and the optimal level of arousal is exceeded. Our extremely stimulating world can present a real challenge to  HSPs who don’t realize what’s really going on with their nervous systems. It’s an especial challenge to Highly Sensitive Extroverts, who are drawn to interact with people and the world, but then get overstimulated.

3.) Emotionally reactive and Empathetic. The parts of the brain that register emotion are more active in HSPs, and they are more emotionally responsive to everything. Also, they are more empathetic. Many HSPs can actually feel what someone else is feeling as if it were happening to them. They can also take on other people’s energy, if they don’t know how to deal with this. (I have techniques I teach my HSP clients that help greatly with this.)

4.) Awareness of Subtle Stimuli. HSPs pick up on subtleties in the environment that other people do not. They are often more sensitive to temperature, the feel of clothing on their skin, loud noises, smells, subtle changes in the environment, other people’s emotions, etc. This is part of what can lead to the overstimulation—HSPs just take in more.

All of these characteristics can be great strengths—if you know how to work with them. However, much in our environment and upbringing goes against what an HSP needs to thrive.

Understanding what it means to be Highly Sensitive,  healing the wounds, and learning to thrive as an HSP has been one of the most transforming experiences of my life. I find many of my clients are Highly Sensitive, and I (as an HSP married to and HSP and mother to an HSP son, perhaps an extroverted HSP daughter) am passionate about helping others who have this trait to heal and thrive.

For more information specifically about High Sensitivity  and healing, sign up below.

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