Ever told someone that your child is highly sensitive only to be met with a blank stare? Or worse still, to be given a sceptical ‘yeah right’ look? In an era of social media when strangers think it is acceptable to throw the label of snowflake about, or share their unwanted rude (and usually uninformed) opinions about any topic you can imagine, it’s often easier to say nothing at all about the trait of high sensitivity. People hear the word sensitive and apply negative connotations. Which is a shame, because being highly sensitive is completely and utterly normal – but is misunderstood.
What is Highly Sensitive?
Between fifteen and twenty percent of the world population is highly sensitive. That’s up to one in five people. Men and women. Boys and girls.
In essence, to be highly sensitive means that your nervous system is more sensitive to stimuli than other people’s. Highly sensitive people (HSPs) not only notice more details, and subtleties, but their system processes the details more deeply and for longer.
That means in a busy environment a HSP’s system is working overtime to notice, take in and process the activity around them. A HSP cannot naturally filter out things going on around them and just ignore it, though some do gain the tools during their life to hone this skill.
This results in a HSP feeling overwhelmed more quickly than a non-HSP.
Downtime during a day is as essential to a HSP as food, water and sleep.
Being highly sensitive is not about crying in every situation, or being overly emotional. Many HSPs are emotionally sensitive, picking up body language, mulling over unsaid words and soaking up emotions like a sponge. However, this is certainly not what being highly sensitive is all about.
You can read much more on what it is to be a HSP here: What is Highly Sensitive Anyway?
Why Do People Feel Uncomfortable Talking About Being Highly Sensitive?
Up to twenty percent of the population is too big a minority for highly sensitive to be a disorder. However, the fact is that HSPs are in the minority and misconceptions about the trait is high.
The trait of high sensitivity is not new, but the light shed upon the trait is relatively recent. As a result, many HSPs have grown up feeling different to their friends, classmates, family and later work colleagues. They have grown into adults believing there is something wrong with them.
Many adults only realise they are highly sensitive when they become parents who discover they are raising highly sensitive children (HSCs). Many adults discover too late that there is a word that encompasses their traits: highly sensitive.
Many adults realise too late that being highly sensitive is perfectly normal.
How to Make Others Understand
Being understood and accepted is important for a HSP.
Being highly sensitive is in some ways highly subjective. Making yourself understood can be difficult.
I have an issue with a lot of noise around me. I have come to realise that if my sons have friends round to play and they are all busy doing different things, making noise, running from room to room or in and out of the house, asking different things of me, or telling me things at the same time I quickly get cranky with them.
It’s because I cannot process everything going on and feel overwhelmed.
Other people can handle this perfectly well, and would wonder what on earth my problem is.
It’s the same with loud music, or rather music played elsewhere with a heavy beat. It quite literally hurts to listen to it for a long period of time. Others can filter it out, and say ‘A party now and then at the neighbours is fine, just ignore it’. It drives me nuts and I cannot ignore it, even if I know it’s something that only happens occasionally.
What I come across as to those who don’t get highly sensitive traits is a party pooper, and a stress case.
HSPs can come across as shy, aloof, moody and unpredictable. A HSP can react in way that doesn’t make sense to others. This is particularly true of children.
Tip: If family and friends really don’t get what it means for your child to be highly sensitive ask them to read Understanding the Highly Sensitive Child: Seeing an Overwhelming World through Their Eyes (My Highly Sensitive Child).
It’s a real mission to explain to people around you that HSPs simply experience the world differently. But it’s a mission worth accepting. Read: 4 Reasons Why Everyone Should Understand What ‘Highly Sensitive’ Means.
Highly Sensitive is NORMAL
So, at the end of the day being highly sensitive simply means having particular characteristic and traits. Those traits differ between HSPs. And most importantly, those traits are NORMAL.
There are benefits to being highly sensitive, and there are cons to being highly sensitive. And that applies to every kind of personality trait you can come up with.
If you think you or your child may be highly sensitive read The Highly Sensitive Child Test: The Earlier the Better.