Chances are quite big that you are someone that is Super Sensitive, because 15 to 20 out of 100 people are. Because of this super-sensitivity it received the psychological term HSP, meaning “Highly Sensitive Person”. And that might be you. If so, please read on! If not, read on as well, because it may help you understand 2 out of 10 of your friends and family members better. You know, those awkward silent ones that suddenly disappear for some time or that never answer a call or a mail.
Why this article?
As quite an extremely highly sensitive person myself I have researched this trait in myself through articles and books for over two decades now. Paired to my interest in psychology I always have been interested to find out what it exactly was that made me feel a stranger with a dire need to withdraw at times, and so I have always been looking into ways of living with it.
Maybe you have Googled HSP already sometime to find a lot of information out there that is interesting, but most of them are dry and clinical observations or people calling out in forums: «YES, I am HSP too!!!».
Of course it is really nice to recognize that how you seem to be is not as funky as you thought it was, but there is very little structured information online offering suggestions on how to live with it. Hopefully this article will shed some light on what HSP is and be helpful to some of you that are struggling with it.
What is HSP?
I already named that 15 to 20% of us have the psychological trait of being extremely sensitive. These people are called a «Highly Sensitive Person», in short «HSP». Some of us are more highly sensitive than others but all roughly share the same set of traits.
Even though HSP is not classified as a psychic illness, many psychologists seem to confuse it with social anxiety and in more extreme cases with social phobia. Sadly enough these people get market with a stamp saying something like: “SOCIAL ANXIETY” and start treatments that will never see any useful results. I know a number of these cases personally that got misdiagnosed and treated for something that they were not. Some simple tricks that I’ve picked up on the way totally got them on track again, giving them a normal life back. HSP is besides the social fear factor also often confused with introversion, which it is neither. A HSP can be an introvert or he or she can be an extrovert.
What being a HSP is from my personal experience is that I absorb most sounds, smells, and visual impulses that happen in my surrounding and then so much so that I can easily become overwhelmed by them. In the same kind of way I am also easily overwhelmed by emotions and unrest. I simply feel all of them very deeply. This I say in the first person but I know this counts for others too.
It may mean for example that the sound of a colleague chewing frantically on a piece of gum can be experienced as if someone is chiselling away some concrete with a pneumatic hammer. You are disturbed by it. The same counts for some customer entering smelling very strongly of perfume. It can draw your attention away from the conversation. This also can mean that you just as strongly and disturbingly feel the restlessness in someone else or that an emotional happening that might be just a tiny issue to someone else can be felt as if the world is splitting apart. Others may feel you exaggerate or that you are a pussy (I can tell you that I am far from that) but to someone who is a HSP all these experiences are real and deeply sensed.
Let’s list a number of traits that most of us have.
- You tolerate strong lights, odours, noise, disorganisation and clutter badly
- You have tendency to withdraw from the world to be «invisible»
- Critisism and insults can cut you very deep
- You are afraid to criticize because you don’t want to cut deep
- You feel uneasy in crowded places like shopping malls
- You don’t want to be a bother to others
- You dislike participation in groups
- You appreciate the beauty of simple things
- Beautiful things can also overwhelm you but then very positively so
- Your intuition is better than that of most people
- You are creative
- You like to let the phone ring
- You have a very strong need for solitude and you function best alone
- You have problems with people looking over your shoulder when working
- You are able to concentrate very deeply when you are in your solitude
- You easily absorb new information that interests you
- You are always aware of very subtle things that others don’t notice
- You are very good at what you do
- You might have difficulties expressing yourself in sudden social situations with strangers
- You have a strong connection to emotions, those of yourself but also those of others
- You are able to sense emotions
- You are very empathic
- News (bad news) disturbs you deeply, so you might avoid it
- Planned social activities give you stress before they even happen
- You easily have an emotional response to beautiful music or touching movies
- You are easily very deeply disturbed by disturbing music or movie scenes
- Sudden social changes can make you feel uneasy
- You also have a strong physical but also emotional reaction to stimulants and also to certain foods or supplements
These kind of reflect that there are many social situations that can overwhelm or over-stimulate you.
All impulses that you have been subjected to need to be processed. The more impulses you have received the more processing time you need and that you need do alone.
This means that you will feel the strong need for some time on your own after a party, a meeting with new friends, meeting people that deeply touch you or matter to you, a hectic working day, kids that want constant attention and so forth. How long you need this time is hard to tell in advance. It is needed until all impulses have been processed.
HSP and profession
A busy job can be challenging because you will probably function exceptionally well at work but once at home you are exhausted by all those impulses and you feel the need to withdraw. If this happens day in day out then there is little time left for a social life.
What may be wise is to find a job that is not filled with so many impulses. An easy desk job for instance in case of you being a receptionist. Even though you might be extremely good at handling all those different calls coming in and managing several things at the same time (you are used to that) it is wearing you out.
It may also be beneficial to work less and have more spare time. Cut down those 5 days to 4 for instance, giving you some more time to recover. But it is best to find a job where you can decide what you do when. Or to find another job or surrounding where little stress is involved.
HSP and social life
A social life is challenging for a HSP. In personal connections you will feel the other persons emotions and you will easily connect with them. Others may feel very comfortable with you because you are able to feel them and tune into them, talk to them as they are, which can give great and deep connections.
But the other one, not being HSP, may not have the ability to emphathize with you in the same kind of way as you do and that may mean that the connection wears you out.
A couple of days with a very disharmonious person can totally wear you out for instance, giving you the need to recover for several days. If you would have social obligations in those following couple of days then you will feel very closed off and unsocial, because you have given it all and you should be in recovery mode. You will have the wish to call off but often you don’t because of social obligations which will make the recovery time longer.
So to you meeting people and especially meeting people in crowds like in a party where there is sound, visual impulses and many people that you all absorb can be very challenging at times.
How you may cope with this is by balancing and by anticipating. When you know that you have a busy week ahead at work, then try not to fill your agenda too many distractions. Decide for instance on a party day if you will go out or not.
Just say to people: “I don’t know yet if I can come but I will tell you if I can”. You don’t have to give a reason and you don’t have to tell when you don’t come which relieves you from the burden of having to contact them to maybe disappoint them. HSP’s have a hard time disappointing others.
So basically you plan enough rest and time for your self and try to have as little obligations as possible. The social contacts that you have are usually very deep and meaningful and it is better to only have a couple of people in your life that really matter then many that disturb you.
HSP and relationships
Now we come to a very tricky area where I happen to have a lot of experience with. Not the best kind of experience I have to add, but from that you learn the best things.
The basic need to withdraw when you are over stimulated may not always be understood by your partner. And being HSP you just don’t like to disappoint and you don’t like conflicts because they cut you very deep. So what likely will happen is that you avoid conflicts by not expressing your emotions and feelings, making it impossible for your partner to really understand you.
In a way it is a tricky thing because it is easy to get caught in a double bind. Communicating with your partner may mean calling up a fear for conflicts and disappointments (this also really depends to your partner), but not expressing your wishes and needs will actually cause those conflicts at the end. So the way to deal with that is to be truly honest to your partner. Give him or her all of you. If the relationship is strong and deep enough then he or she loves you as you are and only feel a deeper connection with you because you share and connect with your partner like no one else can.
A very healthy relationship with someone who is far from a HSP is possible of course but many of those relationships did unfortunately not last because of HSP related issues, so let’s give some dating pointers too.
Don’t date someone that is not HSP. Simple as that. If the other person is HSP as well then he or she will have the same need for space as you do so he or she will understand yours.
Found an other HSP? Talk about it and agree to tell if there is something bothering because neither of you both will have the natural inclination to do so.
Maybe pursue a “Living Apart Together” relationship in the earlier stages rather then cohabiting too quickly.
Living together is in the picture? Make sure you have your own room and space whereto you can retreat to do your own thing. And let it really be your space.
Found an other HSP that feels totally right for you? Just truly go for it. Understand that most of the times the feeling will be mutual and you as two empathic and deeply caring beings can feel and love each other perfectly by giving enough personal space and through connecting completely with each other emotionally, mentally and sexually.
I express all of this because it is an easy trap to try to date with non-HSP people. They can be lovely but it will crumble as soon as you get those text messages like: “Are you still alive?”, “For how long were you planning to withdraw from this world?” after you withdrew for a day. To me those have been clear indicators that it wouldn’t work out because of course I need someone that can also try to take care of my needs just as I will try to take care of her needs.
Of course you don’t only partner up because the other one is HSP, but if there is a chemistry going on then it just might work out very well if you are conscious of the traps.
Tips for coping with HSP.
I’ve named a few but I would like to give some extra pointers on how to cope with your HSP.
For a first rule. Observe your self in honesty. Do YOU need time for yourself just take it. It will be hard when you start with this because you might feel that you will disappoint people but truly, you won’t!
Tell people about it and explain how you work. This helps lot. You suddenly find out that other people become more considerate of you. Apart from that it would be a very positive action, because most HSP’s keep very much to them selves while they open up to others by listening and reacting and by considering. It just will make the “relationship” with the other person more balanced.
When you know you have a busy meeting, a busy weekend or social activity coming up, just prepare yourself by just relaxing and doing things that you like to do. You just not only need to arrive physically rested but also socially rested.
At a social meeting, leave when it has been enough for you (if you can), when you get that jittery feeling. I end up leaving at the first possible opening when I feel the need, that moment that you can leave without being all too rude.
Meditate or do yoga. It is a very great way to release some stress and to recover. Once you are “disconnected” in a way, you recover quicker. And you being HSP will probably be very good at your yoga or meditation too. So it will be very effective.
Go outside, preferably in nature. Nature is natural and in harmony so absorbing that natural harmony will balance you out too.
Get a cat. This sounds funny and I think it’s funny but really it helps. It would help me better though if I were not allergic to my cat.
Find a quiet place to live. Preferably in a natural area. Cities throw a constant of stream of impulses at you which will not help you relax.
Be very clear to new people in your life that you are highly sensitive and that you need some time off because of that. Add that they should not take it personally when you completely disappear from the map for some days or weeks but that you need it. I always say that I will be back, “stronger and better than ever”. People laugh and accept.
Let that phone ring. Or better, turn it off.
Get enough sleep! Don’t compensate in such a way that you invest the time that you should sleep for some quality alone-time. It might seem a good idea in the evening but in the morning you are extra sensitive, making you more tired and oversensitive that next afternoon and evening.
Google on supplements that work with ADHD. What you are dealing with is not ADHD but some traits come close and some causes too. I found out that those supplements like Pine bark, Zinc, St. John’s wort, Fish oils, and especially a substance called DMAE can help you lots with coping and they can be very helpful in your “recovery time”. As a HSP you react stronger to those supplements than most people do. Research DMAE for yourself by the way, don’t take it just because you’ve read it here. I caution you because it is not a very safe supplement to some people.
Try to be moderate with stimulants like coffee, alcohol and stimulating drugs. Those will put your senses more in an overdrive.
Then we also come to diet. It is something that most are not aware of but highly Sensitive People are highly sensitive to food. This means that processed foods, junk food, and all those fizzy beverages will give you stronger reactions due to your hypersensitivity. Positively in a way because it would be better for you to keep clear from those anyway. The more nutrient rich you eat the better. Rather drink fresh juices and eat lots of greens than consuming easy food like bread, pizza, pasta and those fizzy beverages with or without calories. It would be in your advantage to cut down on meats, diary and sugar. The better your body functions physically the better you are able to cope with the stress that is caused emotionally and mentally by all those impulses.
I personally eat a mostly a raw vegan diet and I can say that it changed my world in such a dramatic way that I maybe have one withdrawal need every two months. That opposed to needing that at least several times a week. I am not extreme with it as I eat other things too but I try to be as fit as possible by filling my body with things that cleanse, that are highly nutritious and that are easily digestible.
Last but not least
Being highly sensitive is a beautiful thing when you embrace it. You will feel and see and experience beauty deeply and will be able to express them in a deeper and more touching manner. You will make the best actor, the best artist, the best writer, the best in the most things actually because what you feel deeply you can do or express with more clarity. That is also something to be proud of. So be clear to others and, honest and caring towards yourself and embracing yourself for who you are instead of fighting yourself over that is really not the worst thing you can do for yourself as well.
by Douwe Boschma.
Image credit: http://niv24.deviantart.com