A highly sensitive person (HSP) is one who is easily overwhelmed by stimulation outside of themselves, such as loud noises, bright lights, busy schedules, strong smells, and course fabrics or tags. They can also become frazzled by internal stimulation, such as dealing with other people’s moods, are overcome their own pain, feeling pressure to get things done in a short period of time, becoming moody or have difficulty concentrating when hungry, startles easily, or cannot function without sufficient sleep. With this level of sensitivity, HSP need to find a way to cope, usually by withdrawing for a while or changing their environment so that it is more tolerable.
With this, it is important to understand that the brains of HSP actually work differently than those who don’t struggle with this. A HSP’s brain processes information more thoroughly, and with added detail in scope. They function well when they have time to process and work through what is in front of them. However, they become overloaded when the stimulation they experience becomes too much. That is, for example, why they oftentimes enjoy the arts, including concerts and readings, one-to-one conversations, that have with it a more thorough or deeper reflection, and with less demand.
Unfortunately, an HSP carries traits that the American culture has difficulty assimilating with our high-paced and demanding lifestyle. Subsequently, HSP’s struggle with low self-esteem, and feel abnormal or devalued or don’t measure up to the standards held by society, oftentimes being told, “You are too sensitive”!
Highly sensitive people need to accept and tailor their life accordingly, just as we all do. They need to take advantage of their in-depth insight and introspection and use it to the good. We all want to be in sync with our brains. Each of our brains carry with it its own processing speed, ability to tolerate stimulation and its level of adaptability. We go with what works, without judgment. HSP offer much to our society and our personal lives. And, if we all marched to the same drummer, it might be easier; but oh, so boring and simple. Wearing our uniqueness gives us a little bit more salt to keep life more interesting and worthwhile.
Claudia A. Liljegren, MSW, LICSW