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Highly Sensitive People (HSP)

HSPs are a subset of the population who are high in a personality trait known as sensory-processing sensitivity, or SPS. Dr. Elaine Aron and her pioneering research and clinical work have provided in-depth psychological understanding about this trait. Her research shows that HSPs have a stronger activation of brain regions involved in awareness, empathy, and self-other processing than non-HSPs.

Some HSPs grew up with others labeling them as “shy” or “fragile”, finding it hard to fit into social groups. They may have heard people questioning them, “Why are you overly sensitive all of the time?” or telling them to “Just get over it”. There are many environmental and sensory triggers that can affect them including crowds, high noise levels, bright lights, strong smells, and changes in temperature. These triggers can be confusing to non-HSPs, and oftentimes highly sensitive people try to mask their reactions, leading to great discomfort. This can become burdensome and lead to symptoms including low mood, isolation, loss of interest in activities, worry, and feeling on edge.

Here is a list created by author Mel Collins that includes some traits that HSPs typically share:

1) Experiences strong emotions deeper than other people seem to.

2) Overwhelmed by large groups of people and a need to withdraw.

3) Acutely sensitive to loud noises or negativity.

4) Highly conscientious and take longer to make decisions due to possible consequences.

5) Great attention to detail; perfectionism qualities.

6) Struggles with self-love, tend to “rescue” others.

7) Greatly impacted by other people’s moods.

8) Boundaries are difficult to implement.

Due to these traits, HSPs often have challenges with feeling depleted, especially within negative environments. They may struggle to overcome circumstances including grief and loss, and take longer to heal than non-HSPs. They may develop a general sense of not belonging, perhaps identifying as “the black sheep” of the family. Some may spend years trying to adapt to others around them, yet always feeling like something is “wrong” with them. This can lead to decreased self-esteem and constantly comparing self to others. There may be struggles with relationships, chronic health issues, and a general feeling of being unfulfilled in life. Fortunately, through understanding this trait and practicing self-love, HSPs can re-gain hope and feel empowered. They can start to view this trait as the gift it is, rather than a hindrance.

If you can identify with some of these traits, here are some ways to practice self-love:

1) Stop comparing self to others—work towards an acceptance of who you are instead of trying to compare yourself to others. There will always be someone out there quicker, smarter, richer, etc.…so take time to focus on your gifts and your inner beauty instead of focusing on what you don’t have.

2) Practice self-compassion and forgiveness—think about how you would treat a friend in your situation and treat yourself with the same level of compassion and forgiveness. Practice saying positive affirmations and allow room for mistakes. Humans aren’t perfect, and sometimes we need to have humor and laugh at ourselves. Try practicing self-soothing, give yourself a hug, look in the mirror and say three great things about yourself, start a gratitude journal.

3) Learn to set healthy boundaries—many HSPs struggle to tell others “No”, even if their cup is drained and they are running on empty! Guilt may stop them from being able to say no and put themselves and their energies first. Putting yourself first and taking care of yourself is not selfish! You need to fill your own cup before you can attempt to fill others.

4) Be true to yourself—if you do not want to go to that concert with friends, if standing in long lines at amusement parks seems dreadful, if that loud and crowded restaurant is not looking like fun to you—don’t feel afraid to speak up and voice your opinion. The more you begin to recognize and understand your HSP traits, the more you will be able to communicate with others and start to embrace your authenticity rather than feeling pressure to fit in with people and places that are uncomfortable.

If you are struggling with hyper-sensitivity, identify as an HSP, or experience any difficulties with the challenges listed above and would like to speak with a licensed therapist, reach out to 253 Therapy and Consult today. We are here to help you learn to embrace your authentic self, in hopes that you may start to feel empowered and fulfilled!

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