Highly sensitive people: a condition rarely understood

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Highly sensitive people: a condition rarely understood

Post by Ria on Sat May 14, 2016 11:55 am

Highly sensitive people: a condition rarely understood

Maria Lally

Are your own feelings easily bruised and do you worry endlessly about hurting other people’s? Do you well up when watching charity adverts for illness or animal cruelty, dislike scary films or feel bothered by loud or irritating noises (think music coming from somebody’s earphones) in a way that those around you don’t? Then you could be a Highly Sensitive Person, or HSP, a condition that’s common but until now rarely understood.

However, this is all set to change. Awareness of HSPs has been gathering pace in the US for a while and a new documentary called Sensitive The Movie recently premiered in San Francisco. It explores the issue of HSP and features Dr Elaine Aron, a scientist and author of The Highly Sensitive Person (it’s sold over a million copies). It also includes new research that shows how the region of the brain that deals with empathy and sensory information is different in people who score highly on the sensitivity scale.

“Rather than just being a personality type, like being shy or outgoing, being a HSP is defined as having a hypersensitive nervous system”
The singer Alanis Morissette, a self-confessed HSP, is among those who appear in the documentary. “My temperament is highly sensitive. I’m very attuned to very subtle things, whether it’s food or minerals or lighting or sounds or smells,” she says. “Overstimulation happens pretty easily.”

Rather than just being a personality type, like being shy or outgoing, being a HSP is defined as having a hypersensitive nervous system. As well as being easily overwhelmed by emotional things (they tend to have incredible empathy and get upset very easily), HSPs also have a Princess and The Pea-like sensitivity to physical things like lights, sounds, temperatures and even scratchy labels or certain fabrics.

“Being HS is genetic,” says Dr Elaine Aron, who is a leading researcher in the field. “Twenty percent of us are born with it and it affects both sexes equally. I explain the condition in four letters: DOES. D is for depth of processing, which is the key to the whole condition. They process everything around them very deeply. O is for overstimulation, which is brought about because of D. E is for emotional reactivity and empathy. Research shows HSPs respond more to the emotions of others and to situations in general. And S is for sensitive stimuli – they’re incredibly sensitive to smells, sounds and light. However, not all HSPs are alike. For example, we know that around 30% are extroverts rather than introverts, which is what most people expect them to be.”

Dr Ted Zeff, a psychologist and author of The Highly Sensitive Person’s Survival Guide, agrees. “Every sensitive person is different,” he says. “It’s also important to remember that some people have some of the traits, like empathy, but they’re not HSPs.”

So what are the traits? Dr Zeff says people who are HS “don’t have a natural shield – they find it hard to tune stuff out. For example, somebody standing close behind them and peering over their shoulder will really unsettle a HSP.” Dr Aron says HS men have a much harder time generally because society is less forgiving of them.

As for a cure, however, Dr Zeff says there’s no need. “If you are a HSP you shouldn’t want to ‘cure’ yourself. It’s who you are. In certain societies being highly sensitive is seen as a positive thing. Research found that highly sensitive men in Thailand and India were rarely, if ever, teased, whereas highly sensitive men in North America were frequently so.”

“Because HSPs become easily overwhelmed, they need daily downtime.”
HSPs, he believes, do best in nurturing environments and are more likely to be artists, musicians, teachers, counsellors and health practitioners. They’re also likely to be popular because they’re so in tune with the needs of others.

So if heightened sensitivity doesn’t need to be cured, how can those who have it manage, rather than be overwhelmed, by it? “Most tend to develop coping mechanisms as they grow older and mature,” says Dr Zeff. “So while a 21-year-old HSP might feel peer pressured into going to a noisy club with friends, a 41-year-old will know what situations they can cope with and avoid those they can’t.”

Because HSPs become easily overwhelmed, Dr Zeff says they need daily downtime. “They shouldn’t be ashamed of who they are, nor compare themselves to others,” he adds. “However, if you’re in a relationship or part of a family or workplace there needs to be some compromise. For example, just because you don’t like noise it doesn’t mean everybody around you has to be quiet. Don’t be what I call an ‘insensitive highly sensitive person’! Just go into another room or go for a walk.”

As for highly sensitive children, Dr Aron says when they’re raised with an awareness of their overactive nervous systems they’ll thrive and get ahead socially because they have such great empathy and kindness. However, if they’re constantly told off for crying or told to “pull themselves together” they may think something is wrong with them and become depressed, anxious and overly sensitive to criticism as they get older.

“The reason I wrote The Highly Sensitive Child is because so many adults wrote to me saying they wished their parents had understood their sensitivity rather than trying to stamp it out,” she says. “The good news is highly sensitive adults tend to respond well to therapy because they’re so in touch with their emotions. But if they’re raised in the right way in the first place, this group of people have so much to offer the world.”

‘Sometimes I just need to sit in a quiet room’

Kate Townshend, 34, explains how it feels to be a HSP

“Those warnings at the start of the news about how some viewers may find the following scenes upsetting? Well I’m that viewer…

“It’s not just the news though. I’ve been known to cry at everything from Cancer Research adverts (reasonable) to the Great British Bake Off. But there’s a serious side to all of this. Because people like me who find sad images hard to shake (particularly right now, when images of dead children and beheaded hostages haunt our headlines) have been given a name by experts: Highly Sensitive People (HSP).

“As well as the extreme empathy, we HSPs tend to startle easily and find noisy, busy or brightly lit environments distressing (I can’t get around supermarkets quickly enough). The upside though is a vivid imagination and a depth of understanding that comes from paying too much attention.

“My husband and I even have a code where I’ll whisper to him, ‘I’m feeling a bit HSP-ish’ if a situation becomes overwhelming. And with the greater awareness of the condition and research that backs up the experts’ views, there’s a significant amount of relief in simply knowing I’m not alone in my quirks, and that if I need to sometimes sit in a quiet, softly lit room for a bit then that’s OK.”

The habits of Highly Sensitive People: could you be one?

*They feel more deeply and cry more than most.

*They’ve often been told to stop being so sensitive or to toughen up.

*They enjoy solo sports: Dr Zeff says that research shows HSP prefer solo sports like cycling or running, although they can enjoy group sports too.

*They agonise over decisions: as well as having great attention to detail, being more aware of consequences they also worry about upsetting others. “But they tend to make very good decisions in the end,” says Dr Aron.

*They notice small details: “An HSP will notice somebody’s new haircut or the design of a hotel carpet when others won’t,” says Dr Aron.

*They’re people pleasers: because they’re so sensitive to criticism they tend to overcompensate.

*They feel other people’s pain: “HSPs tend to have incredible empathy and will worry about others a lot and be in tune with how they’re feeling,” says Dr Aron.

If you think your child is highly sensitive, take the test on Dr Aron’s website: http://hsperson.com/test/highly-sensitive-child-test/


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Re: Highly sensitive people: a condition rarely understood

Post by Spiral on Sat May 14, 2016 12:07 pm

I don't think that a hyper sensitive person has to be empathic by default, they could be a bit aspy too.

It's not necessarily genetic either, being born into a threatening situation is probably going to cause this too.

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Re: Highly sensitive people: a condition rarely understood

Post by Ria on Sun May 15, 2016 9:13 am


Robin Williams
What Dreams May Come-Robin Williams RIP

After hearing the sad news of Robin Williams and his suspected suicide, I am really tired of hearing some people refer to depression as a ‘disease’. It is not a disease, but more chemical and emotional imbalance of the brain, normally affected by long-term stress, deep trauma or grief, for some it is difficult to diagnose the root cause. Here is a good article written by Dr John Grohol on defining Depression for those of you that are insistent on calling it a ”disease”.

Furthermore, should it really be referred to as a ‘mental illness’ either? Through my research and personal experiences, depression is an understandable psychological reaction to the stress and violent deformities of the modern world.

I have tried a number of conventional and non-conventional methods to treat my own depression and I feel the most valuable activities are spending time in nature or in the company of animals, rather than people, writing and creating and being as honest with one’s self and others as possible.

Obviously, getting to the root of possible triggers and root issues such as recovering from anger, trauma, grief are examples that are the root cause of the problem. Diseases like cancer or diabetes are not cured in this way.

People whom suffer from depression are usually highly aware and sensitive folk that are creatively gifted or perceptive in some way. As a result they are people that find it difficult to feel normal in a society that places value on things that are leading humanity and the environment to destruction. People that suffer from depression find it difficult to connect with others on a personal level and mostly they are simply overwhelmed and disheartened by the amount of injustice, destruction, greed, cruelty and abuse that goes on in an increasingly hostile world.

A number of other environmental scientists such as Dr Stephan Harding, a deep ecologist like myself, see the value in needing to restore our lost connection with Earth and understand that we are all part of one greater consciousness. Deep Ecologists will tell you that there is something wrong with you if you are not profoundly saddened or depressed by the state of things at the moment. We are living in the sixth greatest mass extinction, we are killing off the last of the dolphins, whales, tigers, great apes, elephants, rhinos, insects, bees, amphibians, destroying the oceans, ripping apart the last of the Rainforests and indigenous people, we are seeing the largest scale ecocides and genocides. The amount of torture and abuse that our fellow creatures suffer at our hands is just overwhelming, let alone the killing, torturing, abusing and trafficking of women and children en mass worldwide, innocent victims of insane wars, exploitation and slavery.

It is important to understand the psychological impact of the current ensuing chaos worldwide, as we now also have the internet and technologies that bring such information into our awareness. Some of the emotions we feel with depression are a collective conscious reaction to this daily violence and exploitation, along with grieving our severed connection with mother earth and our lost ancient knowledge of whom we are and where we have come from. The ill-usion of separation has created a very ill world. Anyone that is not affected by this should go into therapy and be diagnosed as mentally ill, not those of us that are acutely aware of what is unfolding around us.

We have been made to feel nothing more than commodities, whom need to be obedient and our only value is as consumers and as obliging wage slaves, whose taxes go to destructive exploits. Our human rights are being fast eroded and many of us cannot even imagine a different world. It is a challenge to imagine that we can rise above these lower vibrations. There are still ways we can become self empowered sovereign beings. There are ways we can create a more harmonious and sustainable world without predatory imperialism and it’s destructive force that has driven this rise in depression and suicide worldwide, even among those regarded as the most privileged. This is an obvious testimony among those of us that are empathic and compassionate beings, that humanity needs to change.

We must begin to learn our value as human beings, as part of a larger global community that is working towards change in the midst of all this chaos. We can begin to reclaim our connection with earth in various ways through growing food communally, rebuilding and re-inventing new communities and a transparency in our relationships, in government institutions, in society. Teaching and establishing new value systems in societies and communities, with emphasis on the value and practice of unconditional love, kindness and acceptance, rather than status, idealised perfection and elitism, which are all forms of violence and repression on the human psyche.

I personally draw a lot of strength from the work of Jeff Foster and Matt Licata, Jeff Foster has an interesting explanation of depression being a sign of needing Deep Rest from it all. Being someone in need of deep rest myself after working for ten years in environmental conservation,I can vouch for this. However, current society would rather say there is something wrong with people like us, than admit that society itself is malfunctioning, not serving humanity but serving an elite few and there it is corrupt to the core. It is modern society that needs to be treated for mental illness, especially the psychopaths and paedophiles holding power in government, religious institutions and monarchy.

Accepting our humanity is key in healing, accepting it is okay to feel broken, deep sadness and the spectrum of emotions that bring us the gifts of questions and answers in the form of truth. It is time for humanity to question its actions upon earth and ourselves. It is time to be totally honest and say ‘fuck it’, I need to allow myself to fall apart into the dark hollow and just allow these emotions to flow through, to just be free to feel what comes through, it’s not normal to keep marching on while a war on consciousness is ensuing, the pressures from others, from society which is dictating more and more how people should conform and not make their own choices.

The subtle violence of what society calls normality is disturbing enough and so is what is expected of people to conform in such an environment. Enough to drive someone with depression, to suicide, because they see it as the only means of relief and peace out of an unpeaceful world that currently denies most people their humanity.

I have lost several good friends to suicide and I understand how it feels to be that despaired. However, I am fortunate enough to be constantly reminded of the love surrounding me and so I try to pull through best I can even at the worst times, so as to stay here for those that love me and it’s not easy to do at times. Being as honest with one’s self and others as possible is important, we are not robots, we are not machines. Being in nature, being creative, painting, writing, singing, making things, developing projects that contribute to a better and more harmonious world, playing music, getting involved in a community project, doing something that aids deep relaxation, meditation or trance, banging a drum, all can help bring us more into the moment and reconnect us with the joy that comes from just being.

Reaching out as much as possible to friends and family, without feeling humiliated or the stigma that is carried with the label ‘depression’ and the negative phrases that go with it, mental illness, mental disease. Krishnamurti was right “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”

Inner work is really important for all of us, not just those of us suffering from depression, but those of us suffering from denial also.

by C.Shaw

Further useful links

Jeff Foster Links



Matt Licata

Dr Stephan Harding


Dr John Grohol

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