We humans tend to criticize, judge, and even flat-out reject what we don’t understand. We take comfort in norms, even as we delight in their departures. If you’re a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), you know where this is headed. Those who don’t understand you are usually the first trying to “fix” you with a Highly Sensitive Person “treatment.” There just has to be a way to make you fit the mold of “normalcy.”
High Sensitivity comes with a lot of perks and powers. But even Superman will tell you that superhero powers come with responsibility…and a lot of loneliness when the cape is in the closet.
High Sensitivity can feel burdensome. Difficulty adapting to new situations is extra challenging. Being an emotional sponge is not easy.
These two qualities alone can make you, as an HSP, intrigued by someone touting a Highly Sensitive Person treatment.
The underlying insecurity on your part? You need to be fixed.
The underlying confidence on this “expert’s” part is that s/he can fix you.
Regardless of how interested you might be or how tempted you are to sign up for any Highly Sensitive Person treatment, you should run.
In the opposite direction.
There is no such thing as a Highly Sensitive Person treatment.
Being a Highly Sensitive Person is difficult to explain, especially to someone who has never heard of the trait.
Even HSPs themselves misunderstand High Sensivity.
It’s not uncommon for non-HSPs to think HSPs just need to have thicker skin.
Most assume that HSPs can simply turn their sensitivity on and off. Sensitivity, in their minds, is a weakness, not a strength.
That’s a tough, uphill label to fight against. Finding like-minded, compassionate comrades isn’t easy.
The scientific term for High Sensitivity is “sensory processing sensitivity (SPS).”
No “disorder” trailer.
Just an affirmation of “what is.”
SPS is not a disorder. An ultra-responsive nervous system is not a disordered one.
What makes a disorder a disorder?
Well, a psychological disorder is a pattern of dysfunctional thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.
Our society in general undervalues High Sensitivity. Any evidence of sensitivity is more often stigmatized than lauded. Leading to the mistaken belief that sensitivity is a disorder.
HSPs are more likely to feel deeply. And to express feelings. But this isn’t the same as having a mood disorder like depression.
Similarly, the tendency for HSPs to feel overstimulated and to process thoughts deeply doesn’t mean they have an anxiety disorder.
No matter what others say to convince you otherwise, there is no such thing as a Highly Sensitive Person treatment!
Contrary to the naysaying, sensitivity can be your strength.
And that distinction – of High Sensitivity as a strength vs. a disorder – is our focus here.
Here are 6 reasons, based on the HSP-defining acronym DOES, that you should run from anyone claiming to have a Highly Sensitive Person treatment:
- Depth of processing means you think things through.
You may take longer to come to an answer or conclusion, but that’s only because you’re paying attention to everything.
You naturally think layers deep before coming to a conclusion or decision. And even then you come to a multi-faceted final verdict.
You may be familiar with a problem-solving model called The 5 Whys (or 5Y), created by Toyota. It’s a means of getting to the root of problems to effectively resolve them.
A series of “whys” asked after every response is at the heart of the model.
“Sales are down this month. Why is that? Because we back-ordered inventory. Why is that? Because parts haven’t arrived. Why is that? Because we outsource from other countries. Why is that? So we can save money.”
While this example may fit nicely into a corporate scenario, its underlying premise fits perfectly with the HSP brain. Your ability to ask yourself, “What’s under that? And what’s under that?” is an asset to a world that would otherwise run on emojis.
This level of processing, however, can also be exhausting. It’s ongoing and not elective.
- Depth of processing means you recognize subtle patterns in things.
If you’ve ever watched Tony Shalhoub’s portrayal of Adrian Monk in the series Monk, you’ve seen pattern recognition at its best.
Granted, his character suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder and bizarre phobias, which are not the same as High Sensitivity. But these run alongside and separate from his natural brilliance.
You can literally see his brain working when he’s solving cases. He sees what everyone else misses, and he puts them together into constructs that lead to explanations and motives…and then to solving cases.
Translate that ability – to recognize and assemble subtleties – to the HSP, “non-disordered” brain, and you can see how much more of life you experience.
A nature hike, for example, is far, far more than a walk in the woods. A symphony of perfectly synchronized sights, sounds, smells, and timelessness is more like it.
As an HSP, you notice them all, in five dimensions, if not more.
- As an HSP, you have heightened activity in a part of your brain that processes information.
There’s nothing wrong with your brain. Neither you nor your brain needs a Highly Sensitive Person “treatment.” Your brain actually does more of what it was created and empowered to do.
Thanks to HSP pioneers like Dr. Elaine Aron and other researchers, this finding isn’t just hearsay or hypothetical. We have scientific evidence.
The HSP brain is more active than the non-HSP brain in areas dedicated to deeper processing and recognition of subtleties. It’s also more active in the insula, which integrates moment-to-moment knowledge and awareness.
- Recognizing your tendency for overstimulation and overwhelm can lead to greater self-care and a focus on what’s essential.
The fact that you can’t go from a long day of work to rush hour to a late-night concert in a huge arena doesn’t make you abnormal.
As an HSP, your highly active, deeply processing brain needs to rest!
Our culture is set up to go, go, go. Not being able to keep pace can lead you to believe you’re somehow flawed. You’re not!
Overarousal and depth of processing go hand-in-hand.
Your brain is going to process whether you want it to or not. And you need time, space, and non-stimulation to allow that to happen.
Honoring that means you are self-aware and self-caring, not anti-social.
- Emotional reactivity predisposes you to vantage sensitivity.
Vantage sensitivity is a fairly recent “discovery.” It’s the “positive” side of the reality that sensitive people react more than non-sensitive people to both positive and negative experiences.
While a lot of research has been done on negative life experiences, not as much research has been done on the positive.
But that’s changing.
And there is now evidence to show that HSPs have intensified reactions to both kinds of life experiences.
What does that mean? If you had a great, supportive childhood, you will have a stronger reaction to things and experiences with a “positive valence.” And you will stand to benefit from positive circumstances and interventions.
On the flip side of the coin, however, are HSPs who didn’t come from happy, supportive childhoods.
Remember that High Sensitivity is inborn. It’s not a choice.
So, for an HSP child to grow up misunderstood or ridiculed is deeply impacting, not just in childhood, but for a lifetime.
- As an HSP, you’re inherently empathetic.
If there’s anything this world is desperately in need of, it’s more empathy.
The quality of empathy takes compassion to a higher, more personal level.
Because of mirror neurons (or the mirror system), humans, like the primates whose brains led to the discovery, can “feel” by doing and observing.
That means we can, potentially, “feel” the emotions of others just by reading their faces and body language.
In the case of HSPs, activity in this part of the brain is much more active than it is in non-HSP brains.
The blessing? You’re quick to recognize where someone else is emotional, even if that person doesn’t recognize it yet. And your ability to feel – often long before others even notice, let alone feel what’s happening – primes you to take compassionate action.
The curse? If you don’t create and maintain healthy boundaries, you could be at risk for absorbing a lot of negative energy. And you could become especially vulnerable to anxiety and depression as conditions that accompany your High Sensitivity.
If you come away with nothing else today, hold onto this: High Sensitivity is not a disorder!
And certainly isn’t something to fix.
You definitely don’t need Highly Sensitive Person treatment (even if there were such a thing).
For every attribute that the majority would call “too much,” there’s a far greater prevalence of “not enough.” Too much thinking? Not enough thinking. Too much feeling? Not enough kindness, compassion, empathy.
Perhaps what needs to happen is a re-evaluation of “normal.”
What if High Sensitivity were the intended human state, and the Highly Sensitive Person is just the messenger to lead us there?
Dr. Elayne Daniels is a psychologist, international coach, and consultant specializing in eatng disorder recovery, body image, and working with Highly Sensitive People. For more information, please contact her here.