Are you or someone close to you a highly sensitive person?
In the following article, you can read about high sensitivity: what it is, how does it influences us, and how I am working with clients with high sensitivity.
You may find this article relevant for yourself. Or you may also have people around you (family members, friends, colleagues) who are highly sensitive or HSP. In this second situation, you may find inspiration and understanding for their situation.
In both cases, I hope you will find this article inspiring and useful.
I wish you a pleasant reading.
Is sensitivity a human trait?
Sensitivity is a trait found in around 20% of humans, men and women, and, what may be new to you, also in most animals. There are as many sensitive men as women, but men are less open about it and have more difficulty accepting it.
What is sensitivity?
Sensitivity is a result of careful processing of the information you are exposed to before acting on it. This deep processing results in awareness of the subtleties of the situations, but it brings overstimulation as an effect of it.
This “enhanced perception“, as we call it, is a quality of the brain, and it means processing the information on a deep level. But what does this mean?
It means that, e.g. one person will be aware of details such as colours, sounds, tastes, another will be highly sensitive to other people’s reactions, a third one can feel cold or warmth easily.
Because of the enhanced perception, an individual with high sensitivity can quickly become overstimulated in important and relevant situations.
For example, if he/she is very aware of sounds and smells during a party, the event can soon feel tiring and unpleasant. This overwhelming feeling happens because you use up many of your resources by only participating and noticing all these details.
Because of the enhanced perception, the risk is that you become over-aroused. Therefore the situation brings out not only discomfort but also a poor performance as a result (e.g. during a test or in front of an audience).
Four relevant factors
Persons with high sensitivity symptoms need to be aware of four essential factors:
- depth in processing the information
- emotional intensity
- sensory sensitivity
It is essential to understand that “sensitivity” does not mean the same as being caring, feeling responsible for others, or being hypersensitive to criticism.
No, it means more than that. In fact, sensitivity is about these four earlier mentioned parameters and how they influence the way we experience every situation in our daily lives.
A relevant list of characteristics which are the result of high processing
Following is a list of distinguishing characteristics that are a result of the deep processing.
No sensitive person will have all of these characteristics, but a wide variety of them, instead of just having a few.
- Preferring to be on the side of a situation before getting involved in it. “I like to check things out first – to see what I am getting into” could be a typical approach.
- Awareness of small changes. “That picture (carpet, hairstyle) is new, isn’t it?”
- Wanting to consider every detail before acting. This would be the idea of “do it once and do it right” instead of the tendency to decide quickly. Other phrases could be “I am terrible at making decisions” or “I am a real perfectionist”.
- Awareness of others’ thoughts and emotions due to gaining more information from nonverbal cues intuiting the likely effects of a situation on others. An example? “I am often affected by other people’s moods.”
- Acting more conscientiously due to being heavily attuned to causes and consequences. A typical example could be “What if everybody left their trash behind??” or “If I don’t finish my work in time, I will be slowing others down.”
- Having an unusual concern about, e.g. social justice, the environment or animal rights, and expressing an unusual degree of compassion from childhood. A comment you could hear would be something like “I was trying to get others to understand about global warming for years”.
- Being easily overstimulated and therefore easily overexcited. For a person affected by high sensitivity, stimulation and over-arousal lead to poor performance. Sensitive persons are over-aroused sooner and by less stimulation (e.g. when speaking in public, while being trained or under observation, during timed tests, in places that are crowded or noisy, etc.), leading to statements like “I just can’t take tests.”
- Being gifted, artistic, or passionate about the arts.
- Having a strong interest in spiritual practices, often involving themselves in a specific practice.
- Reporting a more significant emotional reaction to events that evoke similar, but less intense, emotions for others. “Everyone was upset, but I was devastated.”
- Noticing unusual distress due to change. “I had no idea moving would be so upsetting…”
- Recalling the sensitivity characteristic occurring in childhood. “Everyone said I was very sensitive.”
- Reporting unusually vivid dreams.
- Complaining about an overstimulating or unaesthetic environment. Eg. “I can’t stand fluorescent lights.”
- Having physical sensitivities and greater sensitivity to pain and stimulants. “My doctor finds it hard to believe that I can notice anything from such a low dose, but I do.”
- Finding that nature has a remarkably healing effect or being moved by its beauty more profoundly. Being fond of animals, plants, or being near or in water.
The source of the previous information is Dr. Elaine N. Aron: ‘Psychotherapy and the highly sensitive person. Improving outcomes for that minority of people who are the majority of clients’, Routledge, 2010.
This author has published several books and articles on the highly sensitive person, and her work is the theoretic base of my work with highly sensitive clients.
My work with highly sensitive clients
My work with highly sensitive clients starts with developing a good understanding of the four earlier mentioned factors:
- depth in processing information
- emotional intensity
- sensory sensitivity
These parameters are always seen as an integrated part of the situations, highly sensitive clients are experiencing. It is the first, very important, part of my work.
The second part of the therapy involves collaborating with the client to find the best tools and strategies to cope with challenging situations. Because of the sensitivity towards other people’s reactions, highly sensitive clients often have challenges regarding self-confidence and self-respect.
This is another essential part of the therapeutic work: developing self-understanding, self-respect (including understanding and developing respect for the personal boundaries), and self-empowerment.
I find it crucial to redefine high sensitivity together with the client, so it is not seen as a problem, but rather as a situation that has challenges but also brings many rewards, and to focus on these rewards.
I hope you found this article relevant to better understand :
- yourself in case you are sensitive
- others around you who are highly sensitive
My hope is that now you can be more understanding and supportive towards yourself and/or those around you who have highly sensitive traits.
With all my best regards,
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