“It takes me forever to make a decision.” “I can’t watch the news or violent shows.” “When my kids start screaming in the house or my house is a mess, I feel like my head might explode.” These are some of the things said by highly sensitive parents.
Sensitivity, in American culture, is viewed as a negative thing. We are all supposed to be strong and independent. Here’s the thing: being highly sensitive is not mutually exclusive from being strong and independent. You can be both.
Being highly sensitive does not mean what most people think it does. Most people would describe highly sensitive people as timid, shy, neurotic, inhibited, or some other not-so-positive adjective. What it actually means when you are highly sensitive is that your nervous system processes information on a deeper level than most people. You pick up on subtleties than most people don’t. That doesn’t mean you are psychic or better than other people. It just means your brain is wired differently.
As an example, let’s look at two people walking into a new environment. We’ll call them John and Sally. John and Sally walk into a restaurant for their date night. Sally walks in and is so excited to finally have some time to spend with John without worrying about the kids and all the other demands of life. She walks in and waits for the hostess to seat them. John is also excited to finally have some quality time with his wife. He walks in and suddenly feels weird. He feels a tension. On the other side of the restaurant, there are two people arguing. It’s not super loud, but it’s enough to cause a few people to begin staring. John and Sally don’t see the argument, but John, being highly sensitive, felt something was off. Again, John is not psychic, but he picks up on subtleties in the environment that most others don’t. He may not even be able to pinpoint what was causing his unease. He just felt it.
“Wait a minute! John is the sensitive one?! I thought it was mostly women who are sensitive.” No, that’s just our society’s perception. While only about 15-20% of the population is highly sensitive, the proportion of men and women who are is the same. That’s right-50-50.
Okay, so highly sensitive people pick up on subtleties in their environment. What else? Well, the biggest characteristic of HSPs is that they feel more deeply. So yes, that is why if you are highly sensitive, you cry more easily at sad events and those commercials that make you want to throw your shoe at the TV. But you also feel joy, anger, frustration, and other emotions more intensely. It’s not than most people are not sensitive, it’s just that in the sensitive person’s brain, the stimulation gets processed more intensely. Therefore, you tend to become upset at things others think is silly, and find beauty in things others find ordinary. Clutter and disorganization makes you feel chaotic. Clothes laying on the floor can drive you batty, especially when the hamper is two feet away. But for those who are not as highly sensitive, they may not even notice it.
Another common trait for HSPs is the way loved ones are viewed and treated. Innately knowing that treating others with love and respect is important, HSPs work hard to do so. After all, you know how much it hurts when treated any other way since you’ve been treated less-than-ideally many times in your life. Sadly, you may also tend to view treating other people well as more important than treating yourself well. You may neglect your own self-care, even though it is super-duper critical for the HSP.
Although you value treating others with respect, you may find it difficult to respond with love when others do something that makes you feel angry, since you feel that anger very intensely. You may also struggle with being peaceful when you are overstimulated, which happens pretty easily. You may, ironically, even become mean. You also become overwhelmed easily and may have a hard time understanding how other people don’t get frazzled in a situation that has you feeling very overwhelmed and stressed.
The good news? Gaining a better understanding of this trait that can seem to rule your life allows you to feel in control (another important thing for HSPs) because you can make adaptations that make things flow more smoothly.