I can’t bear confrontation. I actively avoid violent or scary films with an 18 certificate despite being 14 years north of that number. I notice changes in temperature more keenly than most. And after a busy day with lots of social interactions, I need time to recharge on my own. I always thought these things made me inherently weak and mainly, a bit weird. But after watching a TED talk, I had a minor revelation — I’m an HSP.
It hadn’t occurred to me that my aversions and sensitivities weren’t something to push through or suppress. How about embracing them? Counsellor and another self-confessed HSP Jenny Prescott talks us through the signs and some steps for self-care for highly sensitive people.
What’s an HSP?
"A Highly Sensitive Person is someone born with a particularly sensitive nervous system. And they’re not uncommon, the general population is made up of approximately 15-20% of HSPs. This special trait has its advantages and disadvantages. It means these people notice subtleties in their environment that others might not, but also means that they can become overwhelmed easily when their senses are bombarded".
Am I an HSP?
"If you are an HSP, it is likely that you feel emotions very deeply, and you can empathise easily with other people’s feelings. You may be sensitive to loud noises, bright lights, changes in temperature, strong smells or tastes. You might notice tiny details in things that others don’t necessarily pick up on, and know when some people or situations just feel ‘off’. Dr. Elaine Aron is a leading researcher in the field and she has resources you can use to determine if you’re an HSP".
Is there any good news?
"HSPs ability to empathise, and awareness of their and other people’s emotions means there’s huge opportunity for great depth in relationships. Because of their nature, HSPs might be particularly adept at tasks that require deep concentration, and attention to detail".
How can HSPs care for themselves?
"Being highly sensitive is a neutral trait - neither entirely good nor bad. Trying to accept this and reframe any negative beliefs you have about it can help on the way to taking better care of yourself. For example, when we consider that the overwhelm is a result of the nervous system being over-aroused, and not due to a flaw or weakness of character, we can start putting necessary actions in place to soothe it. Firstly, it’s helpful to recognise the situations that often trigger you. When you start to spot these, you'll know when you need to take extra care of yourself. Try compiling a list of situations that you feel overwhelmed by.
"Then think of ways to soothe your overstimulated nervous system, such as retreating to a quiet room or making time specifically for quiet and relaxation following an event that is likely to trigger you. These soothing rituals can be very specific to you, and you will probably find you already have developed strategies to manage your highly sensitive nature, without realising it"
Applying the science
Until I learnt about being HSP, I didn’t realise how much my heightened sensitivity shaped my experience. Now, rather than trying to toughen up and adjust to the unfeeling world around me, I'm beginning to recognise the power in being sensitive and embracing the positive aspects, like emotional intelligence and empathy.