To an non-highly sensitive person a highly sensitive person can be a bit of an enigma. That’s why a little information can create a lot of understanding. Here are ten things you should know which will open your eyes about what being highly sensitive is – and is not.
- Being highly sensitive is not about being overly emotional. Being highly sensitive means that the nervous system is more sensitive to external stimuli and reflexes are faster. A highly sensitive person (HSP) is therefore easily overwhelmed by high levels of input. Think along the lines of busy rooms, loud noise, a hive of activity in their environment – this all becomes too much quickly. A non-highly sensitive person will filter much of the external stimuli out but a HSP’s brain will actually process all of that input thoroughly. Picture it as a parcel sorting room: a non-highly sensitive person sorts parcel based on their destination country. A highly sensitive person sorts them not just based on the destination town, but down to the postcode too. Put that in the context of a highly sensitive child (HSC) processing stimuli in a school classroom all day long and maybe the meltdowns after school are easier to understand.
- A HSP does not have a behavioural disorder. There is nothing wrong with a HSP.
Being highly sensitive is a set of natural personality traits and not in itself a reason to knock down the door of a therapist or doctor. 15 to 20% of the population is highly sensitive. HSPs are in the minority but it’s a significant minority.
- A HSP’s senses are finely tuned into the world around them. Stop and focus on your senses to see, hear and smell everything around you. That, and more, is what a HSP senses automatically without any effort. You can see that bright fluorescent lights are shining from the ceiling but a HSC hears the faint buzzing too, notices the dead flies inside the light cover and sees the shadows the light casts on the other side of the room. It’s all about the details with a HSP.
- A HSC is not fussy or spoilt. A HSC genuinely feels discomfort under bright lights, with sand on their hands, scratchy tags in their T-shirt, surrounded by lots of noise or when their sleeves are wet. Their tears and meltdowns are the result of overload and feeling overwhelmed and not because they are trying to get their own way. Often, particularly when they are young, they don’t know why their emotions suddenly overtake them. Take their discomfort or complaints seriously and don’t dismiss their words as fussing. Whilst it is hard to imagine how something so small can feel so distressing when you are not highly sensitive yourself, adopting the mantra to truly believe what a HSC says will help you both.
- A HSP is not a party pooper. A HSC needs a lot of downtime because processing all that external stimuli is exhausting. Quiet time is essential to recuperate, recharge and reset. A HSC’s system literally gets overloaded and they feel physically and mentally exhausted. Think of it like a sponge that can physically take no more water. It needs to be wrung out before it can be used again. Grant that time and a HSC will likely be ready to face the world head on again.
- A HSC takes longer to make a decision. A highly sensitive person weighs up all the options and considers all the possible outcomes of their decision. What seems like a simple question to you can be a complicated balancing act for a HSC. If a HSC is asked to make a quick decision they will likely be upset and feel stressed – one choice is always at the cost of another. It’s something to bear in mind when you ask a HSC to make a decision. Narrow down options as far as possible before you pose the question and make sure you don’t apply pressure for quick decisions. This applies in the workplace too – giving a HSP the time and room to mull over options will be to your advantage as the answer will be thorough and well-considered and may include potential pros and cons you hadn’t previously considered. Remember that HSPs are all about the details.
- HSCs notice the details. See? As I said, HSPs are all about the details. They see when items are moved around, when you are wearing a new top, when you have had your hair cut. They see the tiny bugs nestling in safety of the flower petals. They even know when you are trying to hide courgette in the pasta sauce. Believe me, I know.
- Criticism is taken very personally by a HSP and felt deeply so you need to be careful about how you deliver negative messages. This is again also relevant in the workplace.
- Being highly sensitive is not the same as being shy or an introvert. Although a HSC may well be shy and an introvert the three concepts are not interchangeable. Around 70% of HSPs is introvert but a significant minority is extrovert. Labelling a child as shy when they are actually highly sensitive won’t help anyone, the child least of all.
- HSPs are aware of your feelings often before you are yourself. Very subtle emotions and signs are picked up by by HSPs which mean that they often receive conflicting messages when someone standing before them is verbally denying the emotion they seem to be showing. For example, uttering “I’m not angry with you,” whilst your body language tells a different story is something a HSP will pick up. Honesty is usually the best policy when you are dealing with highly sensitive people – big or small…….