I have been told I’m sensitive since I was a child. My dad used to call me “greenhouse flower” and although it may sound nice at first it really wasn’t because it meant I was not like everybody else. Today I understand I wasn’t like everybody else, I was a highly sensitive child, who had to deal with high sensitivity alone and who eventually learned being sensitive was a nuisance rather than a particular mode of being and witnessing the world. I could sense other people’s moods, I got startled easily, and a slightly raised voice would feel like thunder in my brain. I’d be on edge if I had to remain or walk among a big crowd.
Since my perception of the world didn’t seem to resonate with the perception of my family and later of my school peers, I tried my best to suppress my sensitivity and look stronger than I was, both mentally and emotionally. This cost me a great deal of emotional impairment and a weaker ability to face life struggles. The Highly Sensitive Person is born with a more sensitive nervous system, which makes them much more susceptible to stimuli and strong psychological experiences. According to Dr. Elaine Aron, high sensitivity is present in at least 15 to 20% of all higher animal species such as horses, monkeys, and dogs.
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People with this characteristic are usually visionaries, artists, and inventors. They care a great deal about social change and living a more conscious life. On another hand, highly sensitives are also easily disturbed and prone to feeling overwhelmed to the point of burnout. Since their nervous system is more sensitive to stimuli, they also take more time to recover and need a greater amount of rest. Although the majority are introverts, we can also find extroverts with this characteristic. In fact, extroverts can have a harder time perceiving and accepting their high sensitivity since they are more comfortable around others and when engaging in group activities.
A good way to understand more about the peculiarities of the highly sensitive person is to delve into what Dr. Elaine Aron calls “D.O.E.S.”, an acronym that describes the main characteristics of highly sensitives: Depth of processing, Overstimulation, Emotional reactivity (or empathy), and sensitivity to Subtleties. Let’s what each of these characteristics means in the context of the highly sensitive person:
Depth of Processing
Highly sensitives process stimuli and information more deeply thanks to the sensitivity of their nervous system. They are more susceptible to what surrounds them and what is happening inside their mind and heart. They are keen on establishing connections between what they are experiencing now and what they have experienced in the past. This allows them to form deeper connections and links between different sources of information. The cost of this characteristic is that highly sensitives are slower at decision making.
As a consequence of their depth of processing, highly sensitives are prone to overstimulation and need to be extra careful with their energy management and the length of exposure to different stimuli. Many highly sensitives can endure a full day of hiking but the chance of having any energy left to go to the pub after dinner are quite short. This occurs because the highly sensitive person absorbs the richness of each experience at a greater level of depth. As a result, they will feel tired and need to rest.
Highly sensitives have an intense emotional world in the sense that they react much more to both negative and positive stimuli than the average person does. News reporting violence or appealing to negative emotions such as fear has a strong negative impact on a highly sensitive person’s well-being. Whereas highly sensitive people can benefit a great deal from positive interventions, they can also be easy targets of distraught and upset.
If there is something that highly sensitives are good at is reading between the lines and interpreting nonverbal cues. This is mostly accurate when they are thriving and not burned out. If they are overwhelmed, it is likely that they won’t be able to process much, whether it’s something obvious or subtle. Overstimulation can happen as a consequence of being sensitive to subtleties. The benefit of this characteristic is that they can get a lot of pleasure from the simplest gifts of life such as watching a sunrise or a child giggling.
Although being a highly sensitive person may feel like a curse or a nuisance, there is great strength in accepting what makes us unique. There are times in which my high sensitivity puts me in dark, complex places, but there are also many times in which it leads me to the most wonderful people, situations, and adventures. I believe we can do a lot of good to the world as long as we learn to first manage our needs and sensitivity. Learning to be assertive, when to say no, and just make a pause to rest are some of the skills we need to master in order to thrive n a world that is fast-paced and often emotionally dry.
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If you are a Highly Sensitive Person and you often find yourself with one foot on the gas, and another on the brake, make sure you find the right balance for you between engaging in stimulating activities and resting. Also, incorporate as many sources of positivity as possible into your daily life as it helps to buffer stress and overwhelm. Take it as an act of self-care and make it a priority. These are healthier ways of getting and recovering from that thrill you seek without harming yourself.Keep reading