Anyone who’s highly sensitive owes a debt of thanks to one lady: Elaine N. Aron. It was Dr Aron who, in the 1980s, first coined the term ‘highly sensitive’ in her book The Highly Sensitive Person. In doing so, she took highly sensitive people out of the shadow of labels like ‘shy’, ‘introverted’, ‘inhibited’ and ‘fearful’ – which do not describe us all – and for the first time introduced the notion that high sensitivity has a positive side. All of the basic information we know about Highly Sensitive people stems from Dr Aron’s ground-breaking work, and I can’t recommend her books and articles highly enough to anyone looking to understand high sensitivity. To find out more, visit her website at www.hsperson.com.
High sensitivity (or sometimes called by its scientific name, sensory processing sensitivity, or SPS) is an innate personality trait whereby the individual has a very sensitive nervous system. That means they process information from the senses more deeply and more thoroughly, which leads to:
- Keen awareness: They notice many, many tiny details and they think about these. They can’t turn off this constant awareness of the world around them and of their inner world of thoughts and feelings.
- Intense experiencing: They experience – feel – very, very intensely. It’s like they have an inner intensity dial that’s turned up several notches.
- Overload: All this awareness and intensity is exhausting. Like a small baby bewildered by lots of noise and movement and colourful toys they become overwhelmed. An overpowering need to stop the overload grows.
Studies indicate that around one in five people (children and adults) are highly sensitive.
Why are people highly sensitive?
Because they’re made that way. You don’t learn to be highly sensitive; you don’t develop the trait because of your surroundings. If an individual is highly sensitive they have been that way since they were born. Which means there is no more choice over this part of who they are than, say, their height or their eye colour or the sound of their laugh.
What’s up with being highly sensitive?
Absolutely nothing. That’s the truth.
If a person is highly sensitive, they aren’t ill or damaged in some way. They don’t need to be carted off to a doctor to get a diagnosis, and then hunt for a ‘cure’. High sensitivity is simply a personality trait, like being conscientious or being agreeable.
It’s normal to be highly sensitive. But it is hard to be a highly sensitive person in today’s world because they are a little different. And too often people see ‘different’ as ‘odd’ or ‘wrong’ in our culture.
How can I find out whether I’m highly sensitive?
If this article has struck a chord with you, then head to Dr Aron’s website and take the simple self-test to find out whether you’re a highly sensitive person. It won’t take you long, but the results may just change your life – because if you are highly sensitive, then understanding that about yourself is the first step to not just coping with this trait, but thriving.