Have you ever heard of the Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)? Hm. Either way, know that although I’ve been a highly sensitive person my whole life, I had never heard this phrase until about 2 years ago. Here’s what happened.
About 2 years ago I was at a team building event, and we had one of our instructors come and talk about the highly sensitive person.
It only took about 10 minutes for me to get it. Yep. Then?
I read some of The Highly Sensitive Person book, by Elaine Aron; and took the HSP test. Yep, confirmed.
As I reflected upon the information I received at the teambuilding, and the new information from the book, so many things occured to me about my childhood, youthood, and adulthood.
I could clearly see my high sensitivity, what was then labeled as shyness or actually derogatorily called being sensitive.
I internalized my shyness and sensitivity as a problem for many, many years.
What I could have never known as a child, youth, or even as an adult previous to a couple of years ago, is that being a highly sensitive person is also a paradox, and a gift. Yep. How, you ask?
Sure. One, question first.
What do you think of when you imagine someone that is highly sensitive; or what association do you make? It’s okay. It’s not a judgement.
Did you see someone in a position of weakness, or in need of help? It’s okay if you did, today it’s normal.
What I am showing you is that in language being sensitive is associated with weakness; and, that that same language is what is used to experientially socialize children to think of high sensitivity as a weakness.
Here, let me show you.
2a: receptive to sense impressions
b: capable of being stimulated or excited by external agents (such as light, gravity, or contact) sensitive cells
3: highly responsive or susceptible: such as
(1): easily hurt or damaged especially: easily hurt emotionally
(2): delicately aware of the attitudes and feelings of othersMerriam Webster
Now, though I am pleasantly surprised that the definition leads with receptivity and capability, it soon enough gets to easily hurt or damaged. Unfortunate, and just plainly not ture.
What is true is that being a person with high sensitivity, like most things in life, is a paradox. How, you ask? Right, well, let’s take a look shall we.
First, let’s explore high sensitivity. Now, know that my experience with the topic of high sensitivity is in being a person with high sensitivity. Meaning, that I’ve not read much about the topic.
Alright, ready? let’s go.
What is High Sensitivity?
Having high senstiivty pretty much means as it sounds. That, in some aspects, people with high sensitivity are more sensitive to external and internal stimulation.
Here are a couple of examples.
People might be highly sensitive to light, sound, touch, taste, smell, and emotions, both their own, and other peoples. There are many ways these sensitivities manifest, which you can check out on the Highly Sensitive Person website.
More often than not, people that have high sensitivity do not know it. Some don’t ever end up knowing it, and some, like myself, do. Approximately 15 to 20% of the population has high sensitivity.
The issue with not knowing, is that people with high sensitivity may end up internalizing their sensitivity as a problem, which is unhealthy and can be destructive.
Many people with high sensitivity end up using unhealthy coping mechanisms, like substance abuse, to bury their sensitivity and inability to understand and cope in more healthy ways.
And, the paradox? Yep, here we go.
High Sensitivity as A Paradox
I label high sensitivity as a paradox to push the limits of language and experience, of what is known. Important. Example? Of course.
I know several people with high sensitivity; and, all of them are clear and strong.
Yep, they are sensitive, and sensitive in different ways, yet that sensitivity makes them clearer and stronger.
In language, as we discussed, sensitivity is associated with a weakness, or deficit, which is simply not the case.
When people that are highly sensitive know about their sensitivity, they can learn to cope with their higher sensitivity, and, in many cases, higher emotional input and output in more healthy ways.
Further, because emotions are felt more, both internal and external, it provides the highly sensitive person with a gift.
The gift of feeling more, knowing more, and loving more.
Another gift is being able to sense where people are at emotionally. Super helpful always, and even more so in leadership roles.
It gives you the opportunity to meet people exactly where they are, free of any judgement. You understand your emotions more, and so you understand other people’s emotions more too. It works like that.
Being a person with high sensitivity has been a journey from thinking for many, many years that I was broken to the realization that I am clear about my emotions and stronger for my sensitivities. Much Stronger.
If you think you might be a person living with high sensitivity, I recommend you take the sensitivity quiz on the Highly Sensitive Person website.
Regardless of whether you are a person living with high sensitivity or not, it is important to remember that our senses and emotions are part of being human. We all have them.
Yes, some people are more sensitive than others to their senses and emotions. However, we all need to take the time to understand our sensations and emotions; time to be with them, and greet them with compassion and grace.
Along the way, please also don’t forget to continue to extend yourself that same compassion and grace. You deserve it.