Were you told that you were too sensitive as a child? Do you get easily overwhelmed or over stimulated by experiences, sounds, smells, bright lights or crowds that others navigate with ease? Have your friends encouraged you to grow a thicker skin? If so, you may be among the 15-20% of the population with sensory processing sensitivity, a totally normal and innate trait.
Even though sensitivity is a naturally occurring trait in humans (and over 100 other species), it is often misunderstood.
Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) have a nervous system that perceives more subtleties and processes more sensory data than do non-HSPs. Their brains also operate differently. This causes them to take longer to process the same experience than their peers. In turn, their slowness is sometimes mistaken for dullness or inhibition. HSPs also have a preference for observing before acting, particularly in new situations. Because of this, they are often mislabeled as shy, inhibited, fearful, or neurotic. They may also be labeled as having an anxiety disorder or some other type of pathology. Also, sensitivity is a separate trait than introversion or extroversion.
In fact, a person who is highly sensitive can be either an introvert or an extrovert, though the majority of HSPs (70%) tend to be introverts.
For the most part, our society and culture does not value sensitivity (particularly for those who are males). As a result, many HSPs grow up thinking there is something wrong with them, which is damaging their self-esteem.
Dr. Elaine Aron, PhD has been researching high sensitivity since 1991. She has written several books on the subject, one that is a national best seller. Her books help people who are highly sensitive or parents of highly sensitive children to understand the trait of high sensitivity better and learn how to manage their high sensitivity in order to function better in the world. More information and research can be found on her website, including a self test to help you determine if you or your child are an HSP.
Stacey Wald, LPC
Swald @ growcounseling.com