For as long as I can remember, I’ve felt things deeply, both good and bad. I’m affected by what others are going through, I have to turn away from violent movies and even boxing matches, have strong intuition, simple things are incredibly beautiful to me, I understand others deeply and can see both sides of any issue, a fight or something upsetting will leave me gutted for days, and pain hits me a little differently — for starters. Things like this have always been my normal. In college, I learned there was a name for someone with these personality traits — an HSP. I’m a highly-sensitive person and maybe you are too.
With the ongoing stress of the pandemic and just day-to-day life, HSPs are very affected by the loss, stress, uncertainty and anger that seems to be swirling around us even more than ever.
Did you know that 1 person out of 5 is highly sensitive and it’s not gender specific?
Given that stat and what we’ve all collectively lived through this past year plus, I figured now was a good time to write about this. Whether you’re an HSP (and know it, or are discovering it via this post), know someone who is and want to support them, or are just curious about HSPs, read on for an intro into what being a highly sensitive person is all about and what I’ve found incredibly helpful over the past year.
What is a highly sensitive person?
So first, have you ever been called too sensitive? Or maybe you’ve referred to someone else as too sensitive?
Sensitivity is actually our superpower but it is often misunderstood. We are often misunderstood.
HSPs are not delicate little flowers. It doesn’t mean you’re sensitive in that you’re emotionally fragile or always have your feelings hurt, are emotionally unstable, are necessarily a super sweet person who hates rocking the boat, that you can’t handle tough situations or that you’re weak.
Nope, that’s not what sensitivity is referring to here. It also isn’t synonymous with being an introvert. In fact, up to 30% of HSPs are actually extroverts.
What it means is that our nervous systems are extra sensitive to outside stimuli. Things just hit differently and this is biologically proven. This includes sensory input, the people around us, and the environment. We’re actually built a little differently in that regard and all it means is we process the world around us in a different way, a more sensitive way.
How do you know if you’re a highly sensitive person (HSP)? Well, we can start here….
Do any of the following highly sensitive personality traits sound like you or someone you know:
-You don’t like crowds
-Bright lights and loud noises aren’t your friends and you can get overwhelmed by sensory input (sight, smell, touch, taste, and sound)
-You can’t watch violent TV or movies
-You feel drained after being around a lot of people
-You try to avoid overly stressful or overwhelming situations maybe without even realizing it
-You feel emotions deeply
-You’ve been told you’re too sensitive
-You notice the subtleties around you that other people overlook
-People tend to tell you their life story and personal details, sometimes strangers or people you don’t know well
-Takes a while to wind down after a busy day
-Sensitive to the effects of caffeine and medication
-Very affected by the moods and energy of the people around us
-Difficulties dealing with change
-Strong intuition or just knowing how someone is feeling
-Low pain threshold
Do you identify with anything above? It’s a short list of some of the most common traits that might identify you as an HSP. Of course, be sure to do more research since I’m not a medical professional, but if you’re identifying with a good portion of those traits, info on HSPs might be worth exploring further.
To be clear, being a highly sensitive person is not a disorder or something to fix. It’s a personality trait that millions of people have all over the world.
The trait makes us empathetic, caring, and above all, feeling. We feel the good and the bad more than those without this trait. Our nervous system is wired differently.
What’s it like being a highly sensitive person?
We don’t know anything different and that’s why many highly sensitive people out there might not even be aware that there’s an actual term for this trait that describes us to a T. Everyone’s experience is going to be different but maybe you can identify with feeling overwhelmed a lot, having to recharge after experiences that are draining (more than other people around you), are often told you’re too sensitive but for you, your feelings are normal and you wonder why others seemingly care so little about things that are obviously worth caring about.
On the plus side, we connect deeply with others and are highly compassionate and empathetic. We see beauty in the world and can be affected in the most beautiful way by simple things.
Many of us are creative, curious, highly intuitive, insightful, and empathetic and we use these traits to our advantage. HSPs thrive in helping professions where their sensitivity can shine and be of service to others. Think teachers, nurses and other medical professionals, social workers, artists, writers, etc.
I think as a society, especially American culture, we’re taught to be strong and powerful. Being sensitive is thought of as a weakness or something to fix, when in reality it’s a gift. Then we think something is wrong with us, compounding an already overwhelmed state.
The truth is that high sensitivity should be valued as a positive trait. We tend to know how to read the room and are highly intuitive. That’s one of my favorite highly sensitive personality traits. We can sense the energy of a person or situation and just know what’s going on under the surface even if someone is smiling and seemingly fine.
You might not even realize you have this gift because it’s so ingrained in you as normal. That was the case for me. I thought everyone had this insight into the people around us but I learned others weren’t picking up on the things I was.
What’s an empath?
Three’s also this term empath that people sometimes use interchangeably with highly sensitive person. Empaths are all highly sensitive but not all HSPs are empaths so there’s a bit of overlap in the traits. Think of it on a spectrum and empaths are all the way to the right, like a supercharged HSP.
Empaths take it a step further and can sense subtle energy and actually absorb it into our own body if we’re not careful. We can energetically feel the emotions and pain of people around us even if we aren’t consciously try to do this, leading to us not knowing if the feelings are our own. This can be really confusing and anxiety inducing until we get a handle on it.
Have you ever had a strong emotional reaction seemingly out of nowhere? (I’m not talking about crying during a sad scene in a movie. That’s expected.)
Before I realized what being an HSP/empath meant and how it impacted me, I was confused by my emotions and didn’t know how to get a handle on them. This doesn’t mean we’re a rollercoaster of emotions all the time or overly teary (although some HSPs can be). I’m not one to cry at sad movies or be mushy, so don’t get the wrong idea about HSPs that we don’t know how to handle our emotions. I think goes back to the stigma of “sensitive” being a bad thing in people’s minds.
Let’s get back to my story.
One day (and there are many experiences like this that run the emotional spectrum that I could tell you about) at the gym, one of the employees I was friendly with had just lost her ex-partner, her son’s dad. He had taken his own life a few days prior.
I knew this already when I went to say hi to her in the gym. She was just an acquaintance, not someone I knew particularly well, and I hadn’t ever met her ex-partner. But when she told me the story, tears started flowing out of nowhere and it took me by surprise. I was feeling her pain. I ran to the bathroom to compose myself.
Can you relate to this? An instance where you were totally fine one minute and then feel overtaken by grief or anger or sadness out of nowhere? That’s something to think about. If any of this is resonating with you because maybe this sensitivity is something you’ve never really heard about before but is something you’ve noticed about yourself, keep reading…
Learn more about high sensitivity
One of the best highly sensitive person resources I came across last year that I’ve found incredibly informational is all of Julie Bjelland’s work. She’s an HSP who is a psychotherapist, specializing in high sensitivity and founder of the Sensitive Empowerment Community. Julie has a blog full of incredible information to help us thrive as HSPs and to better understand ourselves and our place in the world.
Best of all, she offers tools for how to best manage our sensitivity in tough times — hello 2020 — and use it to our advantage. Her free masterclass is a great place to start if you want to know more and I personally found her eBook enlightening on so many levels.
I’ve leave you with this quote by Victoria Erickson from her eBook “The Empowered Highly Sensitive Person,” which had me shaking my head in complete agreement and understanding.
Highly sensitive beings suffer more but they also love harder, dream wider, and experience deeper horizons and bliss. When you’re sensitive, you’re alive in every sense of the word in this wildly beautiful world. Sensitivity is your strength Keep soaking in the light, and spreading it to others. –Victoria Erickson
Finally, over the years, I’ve picked up on the fact that many of the people most active in the Oui in France community are also HSPs. I see you. 😉 If the past year or two has been particularly tough for you and you’re sensitive like I am, I hope Julie’s work is as helpful and validating for you as it’s been for me. You can start by checking out her blog here. It’s honestly one of the best highly sensitive person resources out there.
Tell me, are you an HSP or do you know someone who is? Are you familiar with the term?
Disclosure: I’m an affiliate for Julie’s work and became one after buying her book and realizing how helpful her blog is for fellow HSPs.