I am a highly sensitive person (an HSP), and you might be one too.
Research suggests that 15-20% of people are highly sensitive, so even if you’re not, then you probably know someone who is. If not a human, then maybe an animal – high sensitivity appears to be at similar percentages in other species too!
All that high sensitivity means is that all kinds of stimuli – sound, sight, social stimuli, internal life, emotions etc. – have a bigger impact on the brain. HSPs process stimuli that other people easily ignore, and we process things for longer and more deeply. The emotional part of our brains is also impacted more easily, and often more profoundly. This all has its benefits and its difficulties!
The benefits are include being good at detailed tasks; a rich inner life; an aptitude towards creativity; an awareness of subtlety in situations and ideas; a perceptiveness and intuition; empathy and ability to read others’ emotions; an ability to take on new concepts at a deep level and to make connections between ideas. Wonderful!
However, the reality is often thoroughly exhausting.
This is kind of what I imagine my brain looks like, but more so!
Or maybe it’s more like this video:
… every stimuli setting off a handful of bouncing balls in my brain, that bounce around all over the place. The more stimuli there are, the more intense the bouncing, and the larger the number of bouncing balls. And the newer the stimuli, the more true this is. It can get a bit intense in there!
There are definitely real challenges to being an HSP! Our brains may be flooded with greater joy at seeing a beautiful sunset, but the story of suffering on the other side of the world could affect us for days, or the sound of that buzzing light or the dripping tap may genuinely drain us. It’s even been found that simply the presence of another person in the room has a bigger affect on an HSP’s brain, and the awareness of someone else’s emotions can affect us really deeply.
It doesn’t help that this world of ours is inevitably set up for the 80%. Open plan offices, crowded streets, bright lights, chaotic social spaces, loud music, and so on. It is easy to feel frustrated and overwhelmed as an HSP. Simply living a modern 21st Century life can leave a HSP feeling wrung out, stressed, headachy, frazzled and exhausted.
I quite often find myself so exhausted and/or emotional that I just have to withdraw into a darkened room to recover. Sometimes for a couple of days.
I’m on a journey with my high sensitivity. Much of the time I am able to focus on the benefits, and I have built a life that allows me to avoid being overwhelmed. Now that I know that I’m not broken, but that I’m built differently, I don’t worry that I’m ill or weird. Which I certainly did before! I’m ruthless about bedtimes, I only work part-time, and I am quick to pull back when I sense I’m overdoing it. I say no to invitations that I know I won’t have the energy for, and I’m careful to build in recovery time so my brain can calm down and rest.
But I struggle with it too. I am a people-person, but being around people puts a strain on my brain. I get frustrated with the fact that I have to so strictly limit my time socialising, and investing in friendships. I love to discover new things and experiencing new places, but my capability for this is so small! I can use all my brain space just getting from Coventry to London, before I even get to that cool event. I often find myself wishing someone would invent teleportation! I get fed up of my brain desperately trying to make sense of everything all the time. It would be nice to be able to read the news and not feel like I need a year to process everything.
My previous post about being an HSP was called ‘thriving as an HSP’ and to be honest I’m doing OK, but I’m probably not quite thriving. That’s why I took it down. It didn’t feel authentic. A couple of weeks ago when I found myself sobbing in church about it all, I realised I needed to be more honest with myself and with God. I certainly don’t want to lose the benefits of being an HSP, but I’m sometimes fed up of having to be so ruthless with myself to survive. I don’t want to live a small life, boxed in by my sensitivity. I want to go on adventures and grab life by both hands.
I realised that I need to let God into this journey, and loosen my grip a little, to recognise that it’s not the worst thing in the world to sometimes have to take some pain killers. I don’t have all the answers, but an having an honest cry about it all did really help.
I’ve come a long way on my journey as an HSP, but I’m definitely still on it!