In a society where being tough and undaunted is synonymous with being more valid and capable, having extraordinary sensitivity can carry a stigma that is difficult to overcome.
High sensitivity is one more characteristic of a person's personality, which does not define it in its entirety, but rather explains a different way of perceiving the world. In this article, we will explain the essence of the trait and we will give some basic keys to be able to manage it in the most favorable way possible.
High sensitivity is a personality trait, normally hereditary, that occurs in the same proportion in both women and men.
Highly Sensitive People (HSP) have a finer nervous system, capable of detecting subtle stimuli that go unnoticed by other people. This sensitivity occurs both at an emotional level and at a sensory level: sounds, images, smells, physical sensations. This difference does not occur only in the detection of stimuli, but also in the way in which the brain processes the information that reaches it, which seems to be much greater in PAS.
Between 15 and 20% of the population show this personality trait. It is hereditary, so at least one of the parents will also have the characteristics associated with it.
HSPs are more sensitive to sounds, sights, smells, small changes in the environment and in other people. They don't usually like crowds and often feel exhausted after long days of both work and leisure. They will need longer times to rest and recover, otherwise, they will feel overwhelmed and overactive. When this occurs they tend to feel anguish, isolate themselves and spend more time alone. For this reason, they are usually considered shy, weak, not very social, or neurotic.
It is very common to confuse it with anxiety disorders, depression, and even syndromes such as Asperger's, but it is important to clarify that it is not a pathology or a disorder, it is a characteristic that makes up our temperament.
The high-sensitivity trait began to be studied relatively recently and was pioneered by Dr. Elaine N. Aron. In 1991 she defined high sensitivity and coined the term Highly Sensitive Person (HSP). According to her, the trait is based on four basic characteristics, common to all PAS:
Ability to process large amounts of information, comparing it with previous experiences or other data, which allows deeper reflection on things and reaching conclusions that other people are not able to reach.
Due to the large number of inputs that reach them, their brain is unable to process them all, so it becomes saturated, resulting in lack of concentration, mental and physical exhaustion, difficulty expressing emotions, and even irritability.
This characteristic is the most limiting for the PAS since it makes these people tend to compare themselves with the rest of the world, and seeing that they cannot do what the rest can, they feel "weird", less valid, which significantly lowers your self-esteem.
They feel more intensely, which causes them to be on an emotional roller coaster almost constantly. Great ability to connect more with others and feel their emotions as if they were their own. It is shown that their mirror neurons have more activity than normal.
They have a great ability to capture details and almost imperceptible changes in the environment and in other people.
For all these reasons, HSPs are more reflective, more prudent, creative, intuitive, less impulsive, and more inwardly oriented. This leads one to think that they are introverted people and, it is true, that they do not enjoy being in large crowds or at parties, but they do like to have a small group of close friends with whom to share.
On the other hand, there is 30% of PAS who are socially extroverted, who have many friends, and enjoy being surrounded by people and meeting new people. It may be because they have grown up in large families, with a great social life and are used to being surrounded by people, more or less known, whom they consider safe continents.
Since this trait will accompany them throughout their lives, it is necessary to learn to live with it to get the most out of it and not see it as something limiting that separates them from the rest of the world. There are a number of guidelines to achieve this goal.
Knowing the trait, with its good things and its drawbacks, and understanding how it has affected us in our lives in general. Be aware of our strengths and accept our vulnerabilities to get the best out of them. Considering the trait from the prism of self-knowledge provides a reformulated vision of the past that will allow the present to be lived more fully.
Heal the wounds of the past. Letting go of what caused damage and suffering for not understanding this different way of feeling the world and trying to meet the expectations of others.
As a tool to manage the discomfort caused by feeling out of place. For PAS, rest is very important, not only physical but also mental. A very useful tool is meditation, which allows you to be with yourself in the present moment. Also, a good diet, exercising, doing pleasant activities, being in contact with nature, art, music.
Count on people who provide support and security and know the limits. Know to what extent they can participate in society and when to withdraw so as not to suffer from overstimulation. Knowing other PAS can also help them get to know and understand each other better and feel accompanied.
All adult HSPs were boys and girls at some point. The family environment may or may not be a facilitator of the trait. It is very important to know the children, understand their peculiarities, and accept them. In environments where sensitivity is valued positively, children will feel more welcome, safer and have higher self-esteem, so they will perceive the trait as something favorable. They will also be more aware of the disadvantages and this will help them to solve them in the most optimal way.
In contrast, there is research on HSPs who have lived in more discouraging environments, in which the trait was not understood or supported, showing a greater predisposition for anxiety disorders and depression. They have lived trying to be someone they really are not to be loved, respected, and valued and they have lost themselves along the way.
The trait has no valence. It is neither positive nor negative in itself. Whether it is more or less favorable will depend on the experience of each person and how they manage it.
Not all PAS are the same. Although they have similar characteristics and meet the four basic pillars, their way of expressing themselves will depend largely on their life history, environment, experiences, and other personality traits.
I wouldn't say it's a gift or a curse, but a different way of seeing and feeling the world. The problem is not having a trait like high sensitivity or not having it, but the way it is valued and managed. The most important thing is self-knowledge and the unconditional acceptance of what each one is.
Even so, if difficulties arise in understanding it or it produces restlessness or anguish, it is positive to contact a specialist who can help resolve these issues.