I’ve found it to be an obstacle in many situations of my life. I get exhausted when meeting too many people, walking in a busy street and taking public transport. Watching action movies and popping balloons at a birthday party can raise may stress levels very fast. Fireworks without pressing my ears… can’t even imagine that. I can’t stand strong smells and use only one perfume. I don’t like pullovers that itch and need to cut out all the labels in new clothes, as they scratch my skin.
“C’mon, how sensitive!” And yes, that’s what I am. Highly sensitive.
HSP (Highly Sensitive Person) is a term that has been described in the mid-1990s, so not long ago. You can also find SPS, which goes for Sensory Processing Sensitivity. I don’t like the HSP term, it sounds like you’re a sentimental softie not able to face hard situations in life. But high sensitivity is something else.
It means that your five senses are very open to receiving outside stimuli. As an HSP person I don’t filter so much what’s coming it – I hear, see, smell, taste and feel more. A person with HSP is more alert to what’s going on around – they can be more easily pleased and more easily annoyed and irritated. In crowded places or public transport there are many visual, auditory and sometimes sensory stimulations that can be overwhelming. I’ll just notice subtle things other people don’t. While in most people the brain consciously absorbs just the information needed, in Highly Sensitive People the brain filters out less.
The outcome: a person like me gets earlier overwhelmed, tired or stressed as the brain processes more unnecessary stimuli then the brain of a nonsensitive person. This sounds like a burden. But it doesn’t have to be.
If you wonder whether you’re highly sensitive, have a look at the typical signs:
- EYES: You may be more sensitive to light, colours and digital screens. Seeing too many things around you moving all the time (people on an airport, on a party) can easily tire you. Sometimes you sense that you see more than others, you’re more attentive and have witnessed things others haven’t.
- EARS: Your ears are sensitive to loud stimuli or to some frequencies that bother you. You get easily overwhelmed in places that are loud. You can distinguish a sound in a group of sounds. For example, the music is on, the family is talking and you still hear the washing machine has finished. The rest of the family didn’t realise anything.
- NOSE: You smell immediately that the food is off, you distinguish the ingredients of a meal, you even know which person has just entered the room – you can “smell” the unique scent of this person. On the other hand, you can’t stand heavy smells like sweet perfumes. Perhaps there are some specific aromas that make you feel sick, while other people are fine with them.
- TASTE: You are picky about tastes, and can easily distinguish ingredients or something in the food that shouldn’t be there. It may be you’re very sensitive to spicy meals (not my case!) 🙂
- TOUCH: Your skin is sensitive and gets easily irritated. Perhaps your skin doesn’t show any reactions but you are bothered by clothes scratching your skin, jeans that are too tight, a watch that is too heavy or too tight… maybe you don’t like touchy people or you’re sensitive with massages. Any extra sensitivity around “touch” is characteristic for HSPs.
As a consequence of that, you may:
- get easily tired and need more sleep than other people
- get exhausted and irritated in open offices and public places
- have difficulties “switching off” and relaxing
- suffer from migraines or easily feel stress in your body
- be very receptive to other people’s energy and emotional states and merge with them
The great benefits of Highly Sensitive People are:
- Empathy and feeling people’s feelings – HSPs are very receptive to other people’s emotional states and may feel that someone is not ok, feel a conflict in the air, perceive things others don’t. For some jobs this is a great trait.
- Creativity – being more receptive to stimuli means your mind gets easily and often inspired by new ideas, colours, shapes, sounds… For creative hobbies and jobs this is a gift.
- Harmony – if you’re highly sensitive, you love peace and harmony and avoid conflict and arguments. Simply because you feel the bad energy of conflicts much more, and harmony makes you relax and enjoy the beauty of life. These people are the diplomats and peace makers in a group, always making sure everyone feels ok and problems are being addressed and solved.
- Intuition – very strong potential of intuition. Sometimes HSPs need to get conscious of their intuition as they might be too focused on mental processes and reason. However, their senses allow to perceive things other people are not able to, making them very good at trusting their guts.
- Observing differences and finding improvements – they see subtle differences and potential for improvements others may be blind to see. You definitely want to have an HSP for tasks that require such skills.
- Deep conversations and understanding of things – this is something I feel very strong. I get easily bored in conversations that are too shallow, and love getting my mind into very deep topics of life. Working on this trait HSPs can become experts in their fields.
As you can see, a weakness always implies a strength. The trick is to KNOW yourself and use your weakness in the best way possible. My perfect job will never be one where a lot of people are going in and out, where I have to concentrate with a lot of stimuli around me or with a lot of noise. But I can use this limitation to do intuitive, creative and empathic work.
Sometimes you feel very limited with your weaknesses. How cool it is to realise that there’s always a second side of the coin. Find yours!