- High sensitivity = emotional sensitivity
- “Highly Sensitive Person” is a synonym for introvert
- All HSPs are timid or shy
- All HSPs are anxious
- Sensitivity = weakness
Let’s look at why these are false.
High sensitivity does not equal emotional sensitivity
High Sensitivity, at it’s core, is about noticing more. The brains of HSPs are highly attuned to their external environment, their internal environment, and to their relationships with other people. HSPs are wired on a neurological, and even an immunological level, to pick up on subtleties.
Just as HSPs notice a subtle change in their environment more quickly than non-HSPs—furniture being slightly rearranged, for instance—they also notice, consciously or unconsciously, subtle shifts in their internal state. This attunement is what leads to HSPs experiencing their emotions more intensely than non-HSPs. HSPs experience everything more intensely than non-HSPs, emotions are just one piece of that experience.
Some Highly Sensitive People are extroverted
Not all HSPs are timid or shy
Generally speaking, HSPs who are also high sensation seekers often feel and appear to be more traditionally “outgoing.” However, high sensation seeking HSPs will usually take care to avoid the most risky or dangerous behaviors by choosing safer alternatives that still meet their need for new experience. For instance, an introverted, high sensation seeking HSP might get their kicks by diving into a brand new hobby or mastering a challenging new skill. An extroverted, high sensation seeking HSP might love to go dancing with friends on Friday nights, knowing that they then need to dedicate the following Saturday to low-key, rejuvenating activities.
Not all Highly Sensitive People are anxious or neurotic
Some HSPs struggle with anxiety, just like many non-HSPs struggle with anxiety. It’s theorized that the Behavioral Inhibition System (BIS) is stronger in HSPs. The BIS is likely related to HSPs’ awareness of subtlety and their ability to recognize opportunities, as well as potential dangers, in their environment. But because HSPs are naturally wired to detect potential threats, those who’ve had a difficult childhood are more likely than non-HSPs to develop anxiety, depression, or shyness (fear of social judgment). HSPs who had “good enough” childhoods are no more likely to experience anxiety, or other mental health issues, than the non-sensitive.
Sensitivity is not a weakness
In the United States (and in many other countries as well), the dominant culture is highly influenced by the values of capitalism. From birth we are imbued with the idea that our self-worth is intimately related to our level of productivity. Productivity is moralized, seen as a virtue, and is associated with strength, capability, and competency. Because of the way HSPs’ brains are wired to take in and deeply process more data, they need more down time. According to capitalism, needing rest equals weakness. And by that logic, sensitivity, and everything it entails, also equals weakness.
Most HSPs have been told over and over again that they’re “too sensitive.” As a result, many have low self-esteem and view their sensitivity as a problem to be fixed instead of a potential strength to be understood, celebrated, and further developed.
Common positive attributes/skills of Highly Sensitive People
- Highly perceptive
- Highly creative
- Rich and complex inner life
- Ability to come up with creative solutions to complex problems
- Highly empathic and often compassionate as well
- Ability to tolerate and hold space for complexity and paradox
- Capacity for deep wisdom that comes along with deep introspection
- Often make great advisors because of their ability to recognize patterns and foresee potential problems before they arise.
- Often make talented healers, doctors, therapists, etc. because of their ability to see things holistically and intuit what others need.
- HSPs who tend toward extroversion often make great managers/project leaders because of their ability to take everyone’s needs into account and navigate interpersonal conflict skillfully.
- Often make great parents because of how skillfully they can attune to and meet the (often unspoken) needs of their young children.
- Often make great partners because of the ability to be emotionally attuned to others.
All of these strengths come from HSPs' ability to notice things that others don’t and to then spend the time thinking deeply about what it all means. This internal work that HSPs are always doing behind the scenes (often subconsciously) is also what makes HSPs more vulnerable to nervous system overwhelm and why they need more down time.
Pushing back against false messages
What negative ideas have you internalized about your sensitivity? Start intentionally paying attention to your negative self-talk. Do you feel shame if you need to rest? Do you beat yourself up for not being more social or outgoing? Write the thoughts down (in a note on your smartphone, maybe) as you become aware of them. Writing them down moves them out of your mind and body. It helps to externalize the belief, which means it helps you begin to separate from the thought and see it more clearly for what it is.
Then start to introduce more accurate and/or supportive phrases about your sensitivity. I provided a few examples below, but I encourage you to come up with your own. You can write these down and put them somewhere you'll see daily, like on your bathroom mirror. Or you might want to pick one or two phrases that deeply resonate and use them as an affirmation or mantra during meditation or throughout the day.
This is meant to be an ongoing mindfulness practice around stepping into your power as a Highly Sensitive Person. Over time the results of consistent practice can be truly life changing.
- My worth as a person is in no way related to my level of productivity.
- I function more effectively when I also rest and take care of myself.
- I will not give from an empty cup, because I know that is short-sighted.
- I reject the idea that my sensitivity is a weakness. I refuse to carry that message inside my body anymore.
Looking for an online therapist in Kansas?
My Lawrence, Kansas counseling practice specializes in providing therapy for codependency, therapy for anxiety, therapy for self-esteem, therapy for Highly Sensitive People, and grief and bereavement counseling. I help people overcome shame and the fear of being their true selves. Breaking the cycles of people pleasing and self-abandonment is possible, and I'm here to help.
I offer online counseling throughout Kansas. Reach out today to schedule your free 15 minute phone consultation. I'd love to hear from you!
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