By: Lisa Philippart
“And those who were seen dancing were thought insane by those who could not hear the music.” —Nietzsche
Several years ago, I had a client ask me if I was an HSP. At the time, I was too embarrassed to inquire what an HSP was, so deflectively I asked her why she wondered. She told me that our connection felt so deep and empathetic that it was almost like I could feel her emotions. Her words began my journey into understanding the trait called HSP, or highly sensitive person. I am forever grateful to this client because my life now makes so much more sense to me, as I embrace the gifts and challenges of this characteristic of my personality. Let’s look at what it means to be a highly sensitive person.
The trait of high sensitivity is found in about 15-20% of the population and, surprisingly, equally divided in numbers between men and women. There are way too many of us for it to be a disorder, but not enough to be well understood by the majority of those around us. This incredible trait is innate and can be found in over 100 species of animals, reflected by a certain type of survival strategy…being observant before acting. The brains of highly sensitive people actually work a little differently than non-HSPs. We are more aware of subtleties because our brains process information and reflect on it more deeply. We can become more easily overwhelmed. When you notice everything, you are naturally going to be overstimulated when things become too intense, complicated, chaotic or unfamiliar.
The HSP trait is not a new discovery, but it has definitely been misunderstood. HSPs prefer to “assess” (I say this word all the time!) before entering new situations, and this has been misinterpreted as shyness. But shyness is learned, not innate. In fact, you can be an introvert or an extrovert and an HSP. High sensitivity has been mislabeled as introversion, inhibitition, fearfulness, and even neuroticism. And it seems to be valued differently in different cultures. In the United States for example, HSPs are told “don’t be so sensitive,” so we tend to have low self-esteem issues and suppress or ignore our compassion and understanding.
Are you highly sensitive? I encourage you to complete the self-test to find out! Take a few moments and go to www.hsperson.com which is Dr. Elaine Aron’s website. Dr. Aron is a psychologist who made this discovery of high sensitivity and published her findings in her international bestseller, The Highly Sensitive Person. In my next article, we will summarize some of the mental, physical, psychological, spiritual, and behavioral characteristics of the HSP. I look forward to sharing with you more about this fascinating attribute.
Until next time…..Lisa
Lisa Philippart LPC is the only HSP-trained therapist in Alabama!