Highly Sensitive People - According to Sarah, part one

{ Disclaimer: This is a post that I have been writing (and rewriting, and rewriting) for several months.  It is both intimidating and overwhelming to even consider pressing the publish button on such a personal post, but  I did make a vow to be open and honest on here, so... here goes nothing. Allow me to explain... }

Last year, I came across some research by a woman named Dr. Elaine Aron about what she calls Highly Sensitive People.  It caught my eye, as I have been known to be a bit sensitive in the traditional sense of the word.  I had no idea, however, just how much her research on HSPs would move me.  It is not just referring to someone who gets their feelings hurt easily.  It is how and why the world overwhelms these people that identify as HSP: because they have a much more sensitive nervous system.

The reason this is so intimidating to write about, is because I relate so much to it, but also because I worry I won't do it justice.  I am not a psychologist, researcher, or expert in any sense of the word.  I simply feel that this personality trait describes me better than I have ever been able to describe myself.  

So rather than trying to speak scientifically about Highly Sensitive People, I intend to talk about how and why I relate to this trait.  I also worry that everything I do will now be attributed to this trait and while I do relate to it on many levels, not all of it applies to me.  And it certainly doesn't mean that everything I do is because I, myself, am an HSP.  Yep, you heard right.  My good friend, fear, is holding me back from speaking more openly about this.  I am hoping that this post (and any more to come in the future) will generate positive discussions and compassion towards people that might appear to communicate, handle situations, or just generally act different to you.  Not just HSPs, but people in general.  For surely there are others out there who may not identify as an HSP, but as having another personality trait that impacts the way they move about in the world.

It has certainly done this to me.  I am much more aware of how kind and compassionate I am to both myself and others.  I can better understand the fact that not everyone thinks, acts, eats, drives, or communicates in the exact same way as me.  And that's okay.  It's more than okay, it's what makes this beautiful little world of ours so great.

So, just what does it mean to be a highly sensitive person?  Gosh, I won't even pretend that I can explain this as well as Dr. Aron, but what I can do, is tell you is how this trait affects me.  How does that sound? 

If I had to say, in one sentence, the best way to describe how this trait affects me, is to say that because I tend to be much more aware of my surroundings, and I take everything in, I can feel easily overwhelmed by the world.  When I say overwhelmed, what I mean is that I get overstimulated.  I don't only notice the general things in a situation, I also observe every small little detail about my surroundings or situation without even realizing that I am doing it.  Until recently, I thought that everyone did this. That I was normal in picking up on all of these seemingly insignificant details.  Turns out, that might not be the case after all.

I understand that this might sound silly, but it's important to note that having these heightened senses doesn't mean that you don't enjoy being out in the world.  In my situation, it is quite the opposite.  I love socializing, trying new things, and visiting new places.  All of which, quite often lead to over-stimulating my brain.  So as long as I have downtime after these intense (to me) situations, I'm golden.

Now, along with that over-stimulation, comes other side effects.  HSPs typically tend to feel more, and feel more deeply than your average person.  This is where the sensitive part is exactly what you would expect it to be.  I don't know if it is a result of the over-stimulation that makes us more sensitive to situations and people, or if it is its own unique part of this trait, but I will say that over the years I have been put into the box of being too sensitive more times than I can count.  And while I have always wished that I could grow thicker skin to hide this sensitivity, I now understand it in a way that makes me proud of my sensitivity.  Like its own little badge of honor.  It's who I am, it helps me have compassion for others, it allows me to truly feel my emotions, and, of course, to cry at work.  That last one I am not super proud of, and can honestly fill an entire post about HSPs in the workplace (or at least my own experience as an HSP in the workplace), but I will leave that for another chapter day.  

{ stolen from hubs... }

As much as I fear that I will be put into a certain box for being open about this trait of mine, I also have hope. Hope that if I can help even one other person to better understand themselves, that this public declaration and moment of (insane?) honesty will have been worth it.

So I will leave it there for today, allow it to percolate, restrain myself from going back and deleting the entire post before more people see it, and return with a follow up post in the coming weeks about my life with this unique (and totally awesome) trait.

If you are interested, I highly recommend Dr. Aron's book (she has many!), called The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You.  Even if you don't think that you relate to this trait, it might help you understand a friend or loved one in your life that does.  

Wonder if you, too, may relate to this trait?  Take the self-test on Elaine Aron's site.  And visit here and here for even more information.  There is another test for HSPs that are also sensation seekers, which I suspect I just might be.  More on that to come!

Okay, that's all.  Oh, and please be gentle in your comments...