6 signs you could be a highly sensitive person

Posted: May 21, 2014 at 3:50 pm


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This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

PsychologistElaine Arons research on a temperament category she describes as the highly sensitive person (HSP) has been gaining increased attention in recent years, and giving many people a big aha moment. Could you be among the 15-20 percent of the population she believes make up this group? Ive learned that I am, and finding this out has changed the way I look ateverything.

When I was a kid, the taste of many foods was unbearably intense, and certain sounds were, too. I had a vivid imagination and experienced acute awareness of emotions both my own and those of others. Yet I was not shy. Somtimes I would get so overstimulated I would find myself talking constantly, a tendency that earned me the nickname Loquacious Lynn from my mother and demerit points in school. I was transfixed by odd things: once, at summer camp, I stood paralyzed by the side of a stream, knowing that when I reached the other side I would be older and could never reverse the flow of time. I felt and saw things that enchanted and sometimes frightened me.

I grew up thinking I was most definitely weird, if not a tad crazy, and tried to send these peculiarities underground so Id appear normal. The effort was exhausting.

According to Aron, a lot of kids grow up feeling flawed (and perhaps medicated on that assumption) when they are not really flawed at all they are just expressing a trait well within the normal human range: high sensitivity. In some cultures, such as Japan, the trait is highly valued, though sadly, this is often not the case in Western society, and such children can experience negative or confused reactions from peers and adults. In the 2011 documentary Bully, a child who commits suicide in repsonse to bullying shows his first signs of being different as high sensitivity to loud noises, a fact no one comments upon as linked to his distressing experiences at school.

An HSPs temperament appears to be largely inherited (revealed through twin studies and other research), though environment plays a key role in how it develops. If the child is either overprotected or chastised for expressing what is for him or her perfectly normal, problems develop. Researchers who study the brain find that HSPs are aroused by stimuli that may not be detected by others and their difference has to do with how the brain processes information. They cant change what they are, though they can learn how to cope and monitor themselves.

High sensitivity can be seen in other higher animals, too. From an evolutionary standpoint, the trait is valuable in a group. While you dont want everyone, or even most members to have it, heightened sensitivity in some individuals is beneficial: They can warn of potential danger, make acute observations of the behavior of other animals, and share the wisdom of their tendency toward greater reflection. In history, HSPs would be the priest-advisors in the community. Today they are often the artists, teachers, researchers, and judges.

In the modern world, the trait has both positive and negative aspects. On the good side, you may be better able to spot errors and process information to deeper levels in your brain. On the bad side, you can react to false alarms and become rattled by loud noises and other stimuli. Caffeine and medicines may cause you to react more than most. Aron has also observed in her work that HSPs who had difficult childhoods are particularly prone to anxiety as adults.

According to Aron, this trait is not a new discovery, but it is something that has often been misunderstood and culturally devalued, making life challenging for people who live with it. Here are some things that tend to be associated with HSPs. (You can also take aself-testonline.)

1. You were described as sensitive or shy as a child.You were the kid who knew what somebody was about to say before they said it. You reacted strongly to changes in your environment. Maybe you were the one who paused to watch before jumping into the game. Aron emphasizes that while most HSPs have been labeled shy, a full 30 percent have not and would be described as extroverted. She notes that some observers, like Susan Cain in her best-selling bookQuiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Cant Stop Talking, may really be talking about sensitivity when they discuss introversion. Being highly reactive to stimuli does not necessarily mean you dont seek out crowds or new acquaintances, although it often does. The key underlying trait is sensitivity, not inhibition. Some HSPs are actually sensation-seekers stimuli can bring them intense pleasure as well as discomfort.

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6 signs you could be a highly sensitive person

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May 21st, 2014 at 3:50 pm