By: Michelle Nortje
A Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) is someone who has a heightened sensitivity to external and internal stimuli.
This includes sensory and social stimuli, as well as internal stimuli such as mental images and emotions. This trait is not a disorder but rather a personality characteristic. Dr. Elaine Aron, a psychologist, introduced this concept for the first time in 1996, and has since extended her research on this trait.
Here are some common characteristics of being a Highly Sensitive Person:
- Deep Processing of Information: HSPs tend to process information deeply and thoroughly, often reflecting on experiences and stimuli more intensely than others.
- Emotional Reactivity: HSPs may be more emotionally reactive and empathic, picking up on subtle cues and feeling emotions more intensely.
- Overstimulation: HSPs seem to have heightened perception. As such, they can easily become overwhelmed by too much sensory input, such as loud noises, bright lights, or crowded spaces.
- Need for Solitude: They may therefore require more time alone to recharge and recover after an overload of stimuli.
- Sensing the Subtle: HSPs often have a heightened awareness of subtleties in their environment, such as changes in mood, body language, or the energy of a room.
Did any of these characteristics resonate with you? You can complete this self-test to give you a better sense of your sensitivity levels.
Being a Highly Sensitive Person comes with a unique set of advantages:
- HSPs often possess a profound capacity for empathy, allowing them to connect with others on a deep emotional level.
- Their heightened sensitivity to subtle nuances enables them to perceive details that may go unnoticed by others, fostering a greater appreciation for art, beauty, and the intricacies of life.
- This depth of processing also contributes to enhanced problem-solving skills and creativity.
- HSPs tend to be conscientious and thoughtful, making them valuable team members and compassionate friends. Their ability to experience emotions intensely can lead to rich, meaningful relationships and a profound understanding of their own inner world.
However, having this trait can also come with some challenges, especially in a world that is often fast-paced, busy and has high demands on our personal resources!
Tips to help the Highly Sensitive Person can thrive even in demanding environments:
- Self-awareness: Understanding and accepting one’s sensitivity and capacity is an important first step. Recognizing that being highly sensitive is a trait that many other people also share can help individuals embrace their unique strengths.
- Boundaries: Setting healthy boundaries is crucial for HSPs. This includes knowing when to say no, not overscheduling themselves, taking breaks when needed, and communicating their limits to others.
- Self-Care: Prioritising self-care activities, such as getting enough sleep, engaging in relaxing hobbies, and practicing mindfulness, can help manage stress and prevent burnout.
- Mindfulness and Meditation: Techniques that promote mindfulness and meditation can be beneficial for managing overwhelming emotions, finding quiet moments, maintaining a sense of balance and calming the nervous system.
- Healthy Lifestyle: Proper nutrition, regular moderate exercise, time in nature and adequate sleep contribute to overall well-being and can help HSPs manage stress and over-stimulation more effectively.
- Selective Exposure: Being mindful of the environment and selectively exposing oneself to stimuli can prevent over-stimulation. This might involve choosing quieter settings, taking regular breaks, wearing earplugs, or having an escape plan when in crowded or noisy places.
- Therapy and Support: Seeking the guidance of a mental health professional, especially one familiar with the traits of highly sensitive individuals, can provide valuable tools tailored to your individual sensitivity needs. Reach out for support if you think your high sensitivity is creating more obstacles than benefits.
It’s important to remember that being a Highly Sensitive Person comes with both challenges and strengths. Embracing and understanding the value of this trait, while having compassion and patience for the challenges, can lead to a more fulfilling and balanced life.
Article supplied with thanks to The Centre for Effective Living.
About the Author: Michelle Nortje is a psychologist who works with a range of age groups and mental health issues, including Solution Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT), Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), Positive Psychology, mindfulness-based approaches, Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT), Attachment theories and psychodynamic theories.