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Are you easily overwhelmed by sensory input like bright lights, strong smells, coarse fabrics, or loud noises? When you were a child, did your parents or teachers see you as sensitive or shy? Do you get rattled when you have a lot to do in a short period of time? Do you feel the need to withdraw during busy days, into bed or to a darkened room where you can have privacy and find relief? Do you have a rich and complex inner life?
If you answered yes to all or most of these questions, then you might be a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP). Identified by Dr. Elaine Aron in 1991, HSPs are individuals who experience Sensory-Processing Sensitivity, an innate trait found in approximately 20% of the population—in Dr. Aron’s words, “too many to be a disorder, but not enough to be well understood by the majority of those around you.”
Sensory-Processing Sensitivity is an unconscious survival strategy experienced equally by men and women that involves being observant before acting. It means that your brain processes information and reflects on it more deeply, making you more likely to be aware of subtleties than those around you. It also means that you’re more likely to become easily overwhelmed. When you notice everything, you’re naturally going to become overstimulated when things are intense, complex, chaotic, or novel for long periods of time.
While this trait is not a new discovery, it has been traditionally misunderstood. Because HSPs prefer to pause and consider before entering into new situations, they are often mislabeled as “shy.” But shyness is learned, not innate. In fact, Dr. Aron estimates that roughly 30% of HSPs are actually extroverts, although the trait is often mislabeled as introversion. It has also been mislabeled as inhibitedness, fearfulness, and neuroticism.
Sensitivity as a trait is not inherently good or bad, but, like all traits, it does lend both strengths and weaknesses to those who possess it. It’s also valued differently in different cultures, communities, and family systems. In systems where it is neither valued nor understood, HSPs tend to have low self-esteem. The first step towards healing is recognizing that there is nothing inherently wrong with you. While it’s true that your sensitivity might create unique challenges for you in your life, we are here to help you learn how to better navigate these challenges. Being highly sensitive can be a gift when understood and responded to properly. Reach out today for a consult on how you can come to love your sensitivity and use it to change your life for the better.
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“Highly sensitive beings suffer more, but they also love harder, dream wider, and experience deeper horizons and bliss. When you’re sensitive, you’re alive in every sense of this word in this wildly beautiful world. Sensitivity is your strength." —Victoria Erickson