5 Pieces Of Sound Advice For Highly Sensitive People From A Successful Highly Sensitive Person
When you’re in the minority or have needs beyond the familiarity of most, where do you go for advice? For Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) looking for sound advice, this isn’t a rhetorical question. It’s a real-life dilemma.
If your answer is to go to an expert, we’re on the same page.
Dr Elaine Aron isn’t just an expert, she’s a pioneer.
And, when it comes to High Sensitivity, she’s revered as the pioneer.
Dr. Aron identified the High Sensitivity (HS) trait in 1991 and has been studying it ever since.
The release of her groundbreaking book, The Highly Sensitive Person (1996), was, for millions of HSPs, a sort of Ancestry DNA moment. For the first time in their lives, they were able to make sense of themselves, their relationships, and their life experiences.
Because Dr. Aron is both an expert in HS and an HSP, there is no one better to provide advice for Highly Sensitive People. But what is it about HSPs that leaves them needing dependable advice for living what the majority of people would consider an “everyday life”?
Well, the answer is actually embedded in the question.
For Highly Sensitive People, there is no “everyday life” — at least not based on the criteria and experiences of the non-HSP 80%.
HSPs are born with a neurological proclivity called sensory processing sensitivity.
SNS is not a defect, disorder, or diagnosis, but a “design” — a neurobiological construct that determines how the HSP senses, experiences, and responds to everything.
SNS, which presents as the HS trait, causes its torch bearers to be highly aware of subtleties and to process information deeply.
While this biological difference means HSPs tend to be insightful, deep thinkers, it also means they’re more prone than others to stress and overwhelm. As Allison Lefkowitz says, HSPs often “laugh louder and cry harder” than people without the trait.
High Sensitivity has a long list of inherent features, and no two HSPs are exactly alike.
There are, however, some overlapping themes. And, as is true with most things in life, being Highly Sensitive has both benefits and disadvantages.
Dr. Aron has coined a handy phrase for talking about how HSPs can optimize their trait’s benefits and live their best lives.
The HSP’s Five To Thrive: Best Advice for Highly Sensitive People
- Believe the HS trait is real.
- Reframe the past in light of it.
- Use the understanding to heal past wounds and prevent future wounds.
- Design a lifestyle aligned with the trait.
- Spend time with other HSPs.
Highly Sensitive People thrive under the five conditions.
1. Believe that High Sensitivity is real.
HSPs take on the burden of finding a way and place to fit in. “Why am I so sensitive? Why do I not feel connected to this world? Does anyone understand me?”
If you recognize yourself in this description, you’re actually not alone. You are, most likely, an HSP, sharing your slice of the pie chart with 15-20% of the population, with no gender bias. (To find out if you are an HSP, take this quiz.)
HSPs notice (e.g. see, hear, feel, taste, and pick up on) subtleties other people don’t notice. And they seamlessly integrate internal sensations and external experiences.
Making connections between past, present, and future comes naturally. (Thank you, depth of processing.)
HSPs feel more intensely than non-HSPs and recognize earlier on when something isn’t right in their bodies or the environment.
They don’t just witness the beauty of a sunrise; they feel the awe-inspired beauty through their own gaze.
Annoyances are also experienced more intensely. Someone next to you chewing or cracking gum sounds like a chainsaw that won’t stop. And the repeated sound and irritation of a pen clicking, clock ticking, or water slowly dripping from a faucet are amplified. Aaargh!
All of this because a specific region of the brain, the insula, is particularly active.
One of the downsides of not knowing about the trait or that it’s real is misunderstanding HS features as mental health symptoms.
Viewing HS traits as symptoms of, for example, social phobia, could prevent HSPs from developing skills to live in the world as they are.
It could also lead them to take medications for “symptoms” that are not actually symptoms. Simply taking (unnecessary) medication could disrupt their Highly Sensitive neurobiology.
High Sensitivity is the baseline for HSPs. Luckily, there is no pill to make it go away. (And please don’t take the advice of anyone who says your sensitivity needs to be “treated.”)
Ideally, if you accept this advice for Highly Sensitive People, you will strive to recognize the many benefits of the trait. And, as a result, your creativity, deep thinking, empathy, and intuition will shine.
2. Reframe the past in light of the trait and to better understand it.
We established that being Highly Sensitive is not a disorder. Nor is it a euphemism for being thin-skinned, too sensitive, easily offended, or unable to take a joke.
Now is a good time to talk about reframing all those times you were told to “pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” “stop your crying or I will give you something to cry about,” and/or “toughen up.”
Instead of being offended and hurt by the comments, you could understand them from a different perspective.
Reframing is when you re-evaluate a situation, interaction, thought, or opinion. Doing so is especially helpful when you don’t have much control over the environment.For example, consider the concept of intent and impact. Was the person whose comment offended you deliberately being hurtful (intent)? Or was feeling hurt the impact, despite no malicious intent?
Keep in mind, too, that differential susceptibility is a real thing. HSPs are more sensitive to both positive and adverse experiences, especially in early childhood, compared to their non HSP counterparts.
HSPs feel slighted more easily than people without the trait.
And, even from a young age, they may not respond enthusiastically to happy occasions celebrated in crowded, noisy settings.
Remember, the HSPs’ finely tuned nervous system is wired differently than the majority’s. HSPs are prone to overstimulation — social, emotional, and environmental.
The gift of self-compassion, for your past and present self, is essential.
Your “big” feelings aren’t intrinsically too much. You may have felt that you were too much because you were taught that feelings were meant to be swept under the rug.
You may have even been taught that feelings are somehow bad or that something is fundamentally wrong with you.
All of this misguidance can lead to low self-esteem.
HSPs are uniquely skilled at healing, as long as the empathy and attunement they have toward others is turned inward.
Regard yourself and your feelings with kindness and understanding. The support of an HSP-informed therapist can also be helpful.
3. Use the understanding to heal past wounds and prevent future wounds.
Remember differential susceptibility (DS)? Jay Belsky came up with the term, which posits that HSPs are especially impacted by their environment, “for better and for worse.”
With adverse experiences in childhood, HSPs are more likely than others to be depressed or anxious.
With good, stable childhoods, HSPs do even better than non-HSPs. They are more confident and less likely to be depressed or anxious.
Many HSPs have good-enough childhoods with little or no trauma, abuse, or neglect. They have supportive, validating adults in their lives.
However, lack of familiarity with or interest in HS among parents and teachers creates a problem.
The highly sensitive child is apt to be misunderstood, making it easy to grow up feeling there is something wrong.
When you live with that feeling of being “too much,” even if you try to hide it, people think something is a little off about you.
It may seem like the HSP’s childhood wasn’t that bad. So why are they troubled by it?
DS will help you understand how and why childhood difficulties may still be affecting you.
The HSP brain deeply processes all incoming information.
Scientists are still trying to learn exactly why this is. But research published in 2022 suggests that there are simply more connections between the HSP’s brain cells, especially in regions of the brain that handle memories and emotions.
More connections between brain cells means the HSP brain is exceptionally efficient at processing information. And more connections mean more bits of information available for the brain to work with when processing situational responses.
4. Design a lifestyle aligned with the trait.
Because they feel everything on a deeper level, HSPs tend to be more easily delighted, appreciative, moved by nature, and motivated to help humanity. Creating a lifestyle in line with the HS trait means you can live a life that works for you rather than for everyone else.
Remember, as an HSP you are more in tune with what is going around you. As a result, you think, feel, and process things intensely.
Highly sensitive people are creative. They are also highly integrative.
Given how thoroughly they process things and how many subtleties they notice, they can put multiple seemingly unrelated things together. “Two plus two equals four” is far too elementary for the HSP brain.
People with High Sensitivity have a unique capacity to live life with tremendous depth, gratitude, and empathy.
This can be a huge advantage in life, so trust your intuition!
5. Spend time with other Highly Sensitive People
HSPs crave connection and need to feel it in order to thrive. The feeling of being seen and understood is second to none.
Spending time with people who are similar to you can feel luxurious, like immersing yourself in a warm bubble bath. The intuitive recognition of energetic mirror neurons in others creates immediate resonance and calm, like a big exhale. HSPs are well aware of their need alone time. It’s one of the greatest self-care provisions and pieces of advice for Highly Sensitive People.
When they’re in like company, HSPs don’t need to make excuses or feel awkward for keeping a visit short. Being with others who also have “porous skin” and soak up others’ emotions provides HSPs with the option of relying less on people-pleasing and more on their own inner-clarity.
Friendships are important to everyone, but especially the HSP. Authentic connection adds meaning, dimension, and vibrancy to the highly sensitive life.
Many features of the HS trait stem from being more easily overstimulated than non-HSPs. Nonetheless, because of the trait, the HSP’s overall experience of the world is vibrant, rich, and deep.
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