What is High Sensitivity?
Being Highly Sensitive equates to having a highly developed nervous system, and can show in a number of ways.
Scientifically known as Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS), High Sensitivity is present in approximately 20% of the population as a whole, that’s every fifth child or adult, across the globe. For the record, it’s also present in over a 100 species of animals.
Dr. Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D. is credited with first using the term “highly sensitive” when starting her research in 1991, though Carl Jung, as far back as 1913, observed “particularly sensitive people” and their strengths and weaknesses. Dr. Aron and went on to publish her book “The Highly Sensitive Person” in 1997 and was instrumental in formulating the initial knowledge we have about High Sensitivity, which she and others have subsequently developed further.
Dr. Aron’s acronym best sums up the key aspects of High Sensitivity, present in a Highly Sensitive Person:
DOES stands for Depth of Processing, Overarousability, Emotional Intensity, and Sensory Sensitivity (Aron, 2010).
Depth of Processing is about deep thoughts and feelings, or contemplation, both of oneself and the world in general. You would take your time over reflection; it could be about you, your family, your career, animal welfare, or a war being waged. You are likely to have a highly artistic and creative side, which is mated with conscientiousness (offset against the awareness of failure and what it could bring).
Overarousability can manifest in many ways and will be a result of too much stimulation for you. This can take many forms from alcohol, caffeine and other drug intake, glaring or fluorescent lights, needing total darkness to fall asleep, noise, strong smells, “itchy” fabric, a crowded area, and the pressure of an exam or a tight work deadline. You may modify your behaviour to avoid these common stimuli and seek more time alone to compensate. Overarousability is highly individual and no two HSPs are alike.
Empathy and Emotional responsiveness; you will have a high level of empathy, possibly from a relatively early age, coupled with intuition and ability to be aware of others’ emotions. This high level of empathy may contribute significantly to draining your energy, and HSPs also have a wider possible range of emotional responses; some may present at the same time such as sadness/joy, anger/elation, or anxiety/anticipation. As a result, self-care is paramount for HSPs for effective functioning throughout life. Emotional Intensity will show in deeper, stronger, longer emotions; praise and criticism will affect you more. You are likely to be disinterested in violent films and TV programmes.
Sensory Sensitivity there is some overlap with some aspects of overarousability; would you notice I’ve changed a picture in my therapy room from one wall to another, for example? Again, this aspect is highly individual.
So how do you check if you are Highly Sensitive?
The easiest way is to take a simple test such as on Dr. Aron’s website:
And to check if your child may be highly sensitive:
I am a Highly Sensitive Person and dad to a highly sensitive child. I continue to explore the world of the HSP, and have had many hours of personal therapy.
Discovering the trait was a real light bulb moment for me, an enlightenment that changed my life.
I have continued to further my knowledge in this subject: in June 2018, I went to an international gathering attended by people from all over the world, which included a talk by Dr. Elaine Aron via Zoom on the latest research. Following attending a course at the NCHS in Hampshire, I’ve been a HSP mentor since Oct 18.
It’s normal to be Highly Sensitive.
Let me say that again: It’s normal to be Highly Sensitive.
It’s simply a trait just like other aspects that you have been born with.
You don’t need treatment and you won’t find a “cure”.
You may need help with high sensitivity on a personal level or as a parent, especially in a culture where the HSP can still be incorrectly labeled as shy, aloof, or different. And a Highly Sensitive Child requires a different parenting approach to other children, more so for boys, where the message they often can get is to “toughen up”.
High Sensation Seeking
This is also an innate trait, so present from birth, and may or may not be coupled with high sensitivity (either as an introvert or extravert). An internal conflict will be present in HSPs who are also HSSs : described by Dr. Aron as: “one foot is on the brake, the other on the gas”.
There are four main aspects, though you don’t need to be “high” in all of them:
Thrill and Adventure seeking; Experience & Novelty seeking; Disinhibition – outside societal norms; Boredom susceptibility.
To check on High Sensation Seeking, try the test below:
I am a Highly Sensitive Person and High Sensation Seeker as well as dad to a highly sensitive, high sensation seeking child. I continue to explore the world of the HSP, and have had many hours of personal therapy.
Do please contact me – I am always happy to hear from you and to help you or refer you on as appropriate.
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