HSP (Highly Sensitive People) can suffer more than others – but it can also elevate them higher

4 Oct 2018
No Comments

Do you seek validation from social media? Or over-worry about what other people think of you, or find yourself replaying conversations and over-analysing them?

And do you find yourself affected by news stories, or even welling up when you see something cute (that Andrex puppy!)?
Have you ever been accused of being over-sensitive?
Well, perhaps you are…
But it might not be your fault, you might not have much control over it and there’s a reason why this is a good thing.
Dr. Elaine Aron, a California-based psychologist and one of the leading scientists studying the psychology of love and close relationships, has been studying the innate temperament trait of high sensitivity since 1991, and she has found that around 20% of the population are highly sensitive (and that extends to around 100 other animal species). You can read more about her work here https://hsperson.com/
The term ‘Highly Sensitive Person’ or HSP was first coined in the mid-1990’s by Dr. Aron along with her husband Dr. Arthur Aron, and they have developed the Highly Sensitive Person Scale (HSPS) questionnaire by which sensitivity is measured.
The origins of the trait are unknown but it can be hypnothesised that throughout our evolution, having members of your tribe who are attuned to the environment or more particularly to changes in the environment is beneficial to the survival of everyone. That actually makes good survival sense, because they notice when things aren’t quite right, when a threat might be lurking and so can alert the rest of the tribe to the potential of danger before they are attacked… before the bad weather comes in… before the fight breaks out…
As we evolved as a species, we developed the neocortex, the part of our brain that we use for our rational thinking. But we still have the original primitive part of the brain which was instrumental in keeping our primitive ancestors alive – this part of the brain looks out for our survival, the stress response system (or freeze-flight-fight response). It’s that sixth sense you might have, a gut feeling, when we sense something is wrong, and it can take over if it feels our lives are in some kind of crisis or under threat. In HSP this part of the brain is highly tuned.
Because we evolved to survive better in communities than on our own, it also constantly compares us to our peers – which can make modern life difficult for HSP with our dependence on social media:
Am I doing better or worse than my neighbours?
Should I spend time with this person or that one, who will ensure my survival?
Are they stronger than me, should I seek friendship with them for protection?
Or are they weaker than me, so it might make me look stronger if I associate with them!
Although we no longer have to include ourselves in social groups for our survival in our modern lives, we still have this primitive mechanism – we are hard-wired to be part of a social group. So we still compare ourselves subconsciously.
We might all recognise that feeling of guilty pleasure when we measure up better or see someone take a fall (either metaphorically and physically) – this is not an intrinsic nastiness but a survival position.
And it can be exhausting – you can end up taking on board other peoples’ issues, and you’re usually known as someone everyone can come and talk to, can lean on for support. However on the flip-side, being sensitive can be extremely uplifting as your connection with others is often on a deeper level, especially if you are living or working in a caring role, you can build amazing rapport.
For your own self-preservation it’s worthwhile understanding yourself and having strategies in case you need them.
Recognising if you’re highly sensitive:
1. You get overwhelmed when there’s a lot to do, becoming anxious and stressed, which means productivity takes a nose-dove
2. You struggle in noisy, busy environments
3. You get ‘hangry’ (hungry/angry)
4. Pinch-points like interviews, exams, presentations in front of other people are highly stressful and you feel super-stressed, maybe not being able to perform well or at all. You hate being centre of attention, preferring instead to blend into the sidelines.
5. You ‘see’ the world in vivid Technicolour – see a sunset and you feel moved to tears!
6. You ‘feel’ other people’s discomfort.
7. You feel like running away when things become too overwhelming (remember the freeze-flight-fight response? Your preferred fallback option is definitely flight!), you need periods of quiet and calm to recover from daily life.
8. You don’t like seeing violence in any capacity, whether it’s real-life or in the movies or playing video games.
Things to do to help you cope:
1. Learn to stand back a little, put some perspective in place especially when using social media, recognise that people post their highlights not their real life.
2. Don’t over-ruminate on conversations or messages. Taking interactions at face value will help you cope better, it means you won’t waste valuation time and energy looking for hidden meanings or agendas. If in doubt, ask what they mean, don’t create your own versions and stories around what’s been said or not said!
3. Saying ‘no’ is your most valuable tool. You don’t have to be a shoulder for everyone to cry on, learn to be selective about who you support and don’t be shy about asking them for support if you need it – and this can lead to even deeper bonds between important members of your family and friendship groups.
If you see yourself in this, recognise that highly sensitive trait, and you want to learn to cope better with stress and feelings of anxiety, contact me. Hypnotherapy works through tapping into your intellectual brain, the calm, rational, relaxed part that enables you to make good positive decisions that work for you – and that includes being able to say ‘no’ when you need to.

Share this post