You just spent a day at Disneyland with your family, getting lost in the throngs of people, noises, lights, and smells. Your kids are ready to ride Space Mountain again, but all you want to do is go find a dark, quiet place to hide out for a while.
If that sounds familiar, you might be a highly sensitive person.
In 1996, Dr. Elaine Aron published her groundbreaking book, The Highly Sensitive Person, in which she described what an HSP is, reassured us that it was okay to be one, and gave us permission to take better care of ourselves.
Before I read The Highly Sensitive Person when I was 26 years old, I thought there was something wrong with me that only a lifetime of therapy (and maybe drugs) would be able to fix. I felt neurotic, imbalanced, and constantly frazzled.
But Elaine Aron taught me it’s okay to be me… a highly sensitive person.
Are you an HSP?
A few clues that you might be highly sensitive:
- You are easily overwhelmed by bright lights, strong smells, itchy fabrics, or loud noises.
- You shutdown or get rattled by having too much to do in a short amount of time.
- You avoid the news and violent movies because they effect you so much (like you can’t get the images out of your head or leave you physically uncomfortable).
- Sometimes you need to be completely alone without any sound, lights, or touching.
- You notice subtleties others miss (sounds, tastes, smells, etc).
To get a clearer answer, you can take the Self-Test on Dr. Aron’s website.
A couple of other, less documented clues that I’ve found to be true for myself and other HSPs that I know are: feeling other people’s feelings, sensing things physically (like you feel emotions and thoughts in your body), and an intimate understanding of what it means to feel frazzled or overstimulated.
Why should you care if you’re an HSP or not?
Because frankly, knowing is half the battle.
If you know for sure you are not an HSP, awesome. You can stop reading now.
But you if know you are or think you might be an HSP, it’s important to understand what it means and how you want to be with this trait.
First, let’s be clear: being an HSP is not a disability, disease, or weakness, it is a trait. Like eye color or height.
High sensitivity is a trait that shows up throughout the animal kingdom, not just in humans like me (and maybe you). These highly sensitive animals often act as an early warning system for their pack or herd because they notice the subtle changes of approaching danger before anyone else.
It’s estimated that up to 20% of the world’s population is highly sensitive, but different cultures treat sensitivity differently and most people aren’t even aware of the trait.
Knowing that you are highly sensitive can be liberating because it frees you from the old story of being broken because you’re different.
Understanding your sensitivity can open new possibilities by giving you permission to try things that work for you. And understanding your high sensitivity is key in designing a life in which you can thrive.
Awareness is the first step.
I’ll be writing a few more “so you’re an HSP, now what?” kind of posts in the coming weeks. Let me know in the comments if there is anything in particular you’d like to know more about.
A few resources for highly sensitive people…
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Photo Credit: Tom Bricker on flickr.