Highly sensitive people, or HSP, is a term coined by psychologists, Elaine and Arthur Aron in the mid-1990s. It is not a mental disorder but a personality trait shared by approximately 20% of the general population. HSPs experience heightened sensitivity to physical, emotional or social stimuli because of an overactive Amygdala, the emotional centre of the brain. Positive incidents leave them joyously delirious, but negative ones overwhelm them with anxiety and apprehension. Almost 70% of HSP’s are introverts, but the two remain distinct personality traits.
Traits Of Highly Sensitive People
Highly sensitive people often get dismissed by others as being too sensitive or for thinking things through too much. They may struggle to let go of negative thoughts, and sometimes take great offence to constructive criticism from people who mean well. Crowded places overwhelm their senses and sudden bright lights or loud sounds can activate their “flight or fight” response to extreme levels. They do not cope well with hectic schedules, and some refuse to watch movies with violent scenes that can leave them retching. Generally, highly sensitive people avoid conflicts and situations that inundate their senses to a state of extreme discomfort.
However, life is not all drudgery for them, either. Highly sensitive people are among the most fortunate people in the world for the way they experience and process positive stimuli. They notice the beauty of the world with deep appreciation and enjoy good wine, food and music on a much higher level than most. Furthermore, their attention to detail empowers them to solve problems and manage projects with excellence. Their highly empathic nature allows them to form deep and meaningful relationships with compatible people. They will shed tears of happiness during a heartwarming movie and hold existential gratitude for all they have in life. Some say they have the innate ability to enjoy life’s pleasures to their fullest.
Misdiagnosing Highly Sensitive People
Unfortunately, highly sensitive people can spend years being misdiagnosed for disorders they might not have, like ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, Anxiety and Depression and even Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). Often they are on unhelpful medications that can cause side effects in their highly sensitive system. If you believe you are an HSP, then you will quickly come to realize that the best way to get help is to strongly advocate for yourself and seek out the opinion of people who specialize in this personality trait.
Elaine Aron uses the acronym “DOES” to describe four facets of high sensitivity present in all highly sensitive people.
- “D” represents processing information “deeply”. Highly sensitive people think through matters more thoroughly and consequently, they require more time to make decisions.
- “O” stands for over-arousability. HSP’s can clearly hear faint sounds like a tap dripping in the distance. They notice with detail the amount of clutter around them. Subsequently, this constant bombardment of stimulation from multiple sources leads to their nervous system going into overdrive mode.
- “E” is for empathy or emotional sensitivity. Highly sensitive people can feel the energy and sentiments of the people around them. While this makes them very empathic, it can also drain them emotionally.
- “S” represents sensory sensitivity. The five human senses of eyesight, hearing, taste, touch and smell are very pronounced in HSPs. They notice everything from subtle tastes in food to the fabric of the sweater they are wearing.
Managing An Over-Aroused Nervous System
Because of their constant over-aroused senses, HSPs benefit from routine self-care coping strategies to get through the experiences of daily living. Doing so requires them to recognize the triggers that set off their extreme responses and understand their window of tolerance. Once they have this awareness, they can compensate with lifestyle changes to make their lives manageable.
For example, creating a calm and soothing environment for resting, meditating and grounding will allow the nervous system to decompress from the onslaught of daily stimulation. Scheduling breaks in between taxing tasks and social events can keep the nervous system from going into overdrive. Understanding triggers will provide foresight to avoid unnecessary stressful situations, like staying away from horror movies if they incite terror. And being mindful of tolerance levels can allow highly sensitive people to assertively turn down tasks that they do not have the capacity to take on.
Working With A Therapist
Often this journey into self-discovery about triggers, tolerances and self-regulating strategies is easier done with the guidance of a trained psychotherapist familiar with HSP. They will spend time assessing your situation and then formulate an evidence-based treatment plan tailored for your needs. Therapists deploy a number of modalities to help you along, including:
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
- Behavioural Therapy
- Attachment-based therapies
- Trauma-informed therapies
- Experiential and Humanistic therapies
- Psychodynamic therpies
- Somatic therapies
- Systemic and Collaborative therapies
Therapy fees are one reason why some people avoid seeking help, and we understand this, completely. Here’s how we charge for our time. We are happy to have a frank and open discussion with you about this to ensure we manage your care in the best way possible. Our services are covered by most extended benefit insurance plans. If you do not have coverage, we also offer affordable therapy sessions at discounted rates through our internship program. Therapy is an investment in your health and happiness and it is more affordable than common belief.
Also, our blogs, authored by professionally trained therapists, are available for free on our website. In many cases, this information will help you understand what you are experiencing. However, our blogs do not constitute professional advice, diagnosis, treatment or therapy. You must always consult with a physician, psychologist or qualified mental health provider to professionally direct your physical, mental and emotional health.
Often a few targeted sessions may be all you require and we never keep you in therapy for longer than you need. To accommodate varying schedules we offer online and in-person therapy sessions during office hours, evenings and weekends.