Sensitivity is your ability to pick up on sensory information with your nervous system. It is neural. It is like a sensitive microphone; it picks up on subtle sounds. Not good or bad.
Psychologist Elaine Aron has been researching a temperament category she describes as “highly sensitive people” (HSP). Her work has been gaining increased attention in recent years. This little understood inherited temperament could be impacting your life or someone you love in surprising ways. According to Aron, this trait is not a new discovery, but it is something that has often been culturally devalued, making life challenging for people who live with it.
HSP experience everyday sensory input in a uniquely heightened way that can cause them both pleasure and pain. HSP feel emotions deeply and, as they tend to be empathic, find themselves affected by the emotions of others. We often think of sensitivity as weakness for three main reasons: it is out of our logical control, it makes us vulnerable, and we don’t know what to do with it, which means that we suppress and judge it – so it has manifested in weakness.
Could you be among the 15-20 percent of the population that make up this group? Here are six tell tales that tend to be associated with HSP:
- You were described as sensitive as a child.
- You pick up subtleties in your environment.
- You can easily become overwhelmed.
- You fall hard and fast (as in love).
- You are conscientious.
- You have a vivid imagination.
Some HSP develop animosity toward their way of experiencing the world. Yet it is not a curse, but a path to wisdom. HSP who deny their sensitivity can lead to unhappiness but exploring its benefits can lead to positive change in yourself and others.
If you sense that you are a HSP and would like to experience more of your sensitivity, here are three ways to strengthen that awareness:
- Distinguish between sensations and emotions. A sensation is neural sensory information in your body (butterflies in the stomach, tension in the shoulders). An emotion is a personal response to a sensation (I personally feel scared about this).
- Give yourself permission to feel your sensations, then engage with them. For example, “I feel my body shaking right now and that is okay. I can shake.” Rather than judging it by saying, “Why am I shaking right now? What’s wrong with me? I shouldn’t be nervous now!”
- Remind yourself that you are an active life participant. See yourself as being on the chessboard rather than viewing it from above. Allow yourself to feel in response to the position you are in. Ask yourself “What would feel better right now?” and then let that come to you.