I think I’ve been sensitive from precisely the nanosecond I was conceived. And according to some psychologists, that’s because it’s embedded in my DNA.
As a child, I remember being perpetually terrified. I was always biting my lip or sucking my thumb. I remember crying my eyes out on the doorstep of my kindergarten class, and my teacher insisting that she wouldn’t let me out for recess until I stopped.
I didn’t eat recess that day.
The Out Loud team take the quiz that will tell you whether or not you are a highly sensitive person:
If you think about it, life is pretty intense. There are lots of people and noises and smells. Every single person experiences a complex web of thoughts and feelings that I have no chance of fully understanding. Life, in short, is complete chaos.
For anyone who has ever been told they are “too sensitive” or “shy” – you are not alone.
You might just be a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) . Yep – it has capital letters because it’s absolutely a real thing.
The terms HSP or SPS (sensory processing sensitivity) were coined in the mid 1990s, and refer to "hypersensitivity to external stimuli" due to the nature of their central nervous system. It is also characterised by particuarly high emotion and a greater depth of cognitive processing. Some psychologists predict that 15-20 per cent of the population process data with heightened sensitivity.
To be clear, HSP or SPS is not considered a disorder, but rather a personality trait that has both positive and negative outcomes. Here are some of the features;
- You feel more deeply than others.
- You become rattled when you have a lot to do in a short period of time.
- On busy days, you feel like retreating into a dark room (or maybe even bed) which will offer you some "privacy and relief" from the situation.
- You are easily overwhelmed by loud noises like sirens.
- You have a particularly sensitive sense of smell, and are sometimes distressed by things like bright lights or uncomfortable fabrics.
- You are used to hearing things like "Don't take things so personally" and "Why are you so sensitive?"
- You would much prefer to exercise on your own.
- You are more prone to bouts of anxiety or depression.
- You feel like you cry more easily than the average person.
- You've never taken criticism particuarly well.
- You are absolutely NOT a fan of an open plan office.
- You are very detail oriented, noticing very specific features of your environment, or your colleagues new shoes.
- You take a long time to reach a decision.
If you're still not sure, you can take an online test here.
Like with any theory of personality, the HSP classification is flawed. Sensitivity is a normal and important part of being a human being. But it is conceivable that some people are just genetically more sensitive than others, and that often we are punished for being so.
It is also important to note that being highly sensitive is not synonymous with introversion. In fact, approximately 30% of HSP identify as extroverts.
So, what now? What's the use in knowing that you might be genetically predisposed to feelings things more deeply than the average person?
Listen to the full episode of the show here:
Well, as the Greek aphorism goes, "Know thyself". In truly knowing and understanding oneself, we are able to better examine our own behaviour and, in turn, forge stronger relationships.
If you're hypersensitive, you might need more time to decompress. Make sure you allow yourself alone time to properly unwind. Meaningful and honest relationships are also particularly important to sensitive people, so invest in your friendships. Get plenty of sleep - because a lack of sleep even makes the average person uncomfortable irritable. Social tension can be cause for significant anxiety, so sensitive people should work on healthy and gentle ways to manage conflict. Finally, spend time in nature. Being sensitive means that you are acutely aware of your environment, so make your surroundings beautiful and calming.
In fully knowing oneself, we can be sure to use our heightened sensitivity to our advantage.