Wednesday, May 21, 2014

6 signs you could be a highly sensitive person

May 21, 2014

Psychologist Elaine Aron‘s 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?


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 HSP’s 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 can’t 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 don’t 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.


Here are some things that tend to be associated with HSPs. (You can also take a self-test online.)

1. You were described as sensitive or shy as a child. ...

2. You pick up subtleties in your environment. The HSP’s brain processes information and reflects on it more deeply. ...

3. You can easily become overwhelmed. Too much intensity, chaos and noise can wreak havoc on an HSP, which is why they often work better in quiet environments. When they are able to concentrate, HSPs are excellent at work that requires deep thinking and fast turnover. ...

4. You fall hard and fast: Aron has devoted an entire book, The Highly Sensitive Person in Love, to the topic of HSPs and their style of loving. When they fall in love, they often feel tremendous ecstasy, and often very quickly, but they also feel anxiety, overstimulation and difficulty processing their intense emotions. Overstimulation and intensity can make intimacy difficult for HSPs, who are also the type of people who naturally seek it out. For HSPs, the risk of heartbreak and unhappy relationships is unfortunately higher than average, but understanding the trait and finding a partner who can be patient with it can increase the odds of success.

5. You are conscientious: HSPs tend to be conscientious people who try hard to perform their duties well and execute their work at their very best level. They often have particularly good manners, and notice when others don’t. Rudeness and work that is full of errors drive them nuts. HSPs are often especially concerned with issues of social justice, and will fight hard to right wrongs in the world.

6. You have a vivid imagination: HSPs are often very creative people. ...

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