When I look back at my six decades on this planet, I marvel at the fact that I’ve made it as far as I have. Recovering from depression, addiction, and PTSD were no small feats, but what underlies these clinical syndromes was something that many people experience. What is that force underneath my psyche? It is the neurological sensitivity that is called being a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP).

I see many people in the spiritual and personal growth communities who reflect this neurological profile, so I want to dive into the science behind our sensitive souls, while also outlining the benefits of being an HSP.

If you have yet to be exposed to the characteristics of what defines an HSP, here are a few of the markers:

You are highly sensitive, unnerved by:

  1. Loud noises.
  2. Large crowds.
  3. Overly stimulating environments, even things such as very full stores (think WalMart).
  4. Violence or aggression of any kind – even second-hand such as viewing these things on media.
  5. Frequent changes in routine. You likely prefer similar routines and surroundings, even familiar foods and clothing.
  6. A need for time alone to recharge.

Conversely, HSP’s also possess these traits:

  1. A rich and somewhat complex inner world.
  2. A high degree of self-awareness.
  3. An ability for deep and complex thought.
  4. The ability to hold conflicting emotions at the same time without being overwhelmed.
  5. A high degree of empathic attunement to other people’s feelings and needs.
  6. Conscientious attention to tasks, relationships and surroundings.

Research suggests a growing understanding of the Highly Sensitive Person. Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D., a prominent researcher in the field, proposes that HSPs possess a more sensitive nervous system, leading them to process information more deeply. 

This can manifest as a heightened awareness of surroundings, emotion, and stimuli. Far from being a weakness, this sensitivity offers a unique set of advantages.

One key benefit is the potential for profound empathy. A study by Van Doeselaar et al. (2023) suggests that HSPs not only experience emotions more intensely, but also have a stronger ability to understand and share the feelings of others. This translates to deeper connections and fosters a more compassionate approach to life.

HSPs often exhibit a rich inner life and a strong pull towards creative pursuits. I often joke with my spouse that, “I miss myself” after extended periods of company, travel, or just being “on” for extended periods of time. (And “extended periods” is a very different timeframe than our non-HSP peers!).

Dr. Aron’s research suggests a link between high sensitivity and creative professions. This heightened awareness allows HSPs to perceive the world with greater nuance, drawing inspiration from the beauty of art, music, and nature. This fertile ground of experience fuels creative expression and fosters a deeper connection to the world’s inherent beauty.

However, it’s important to acknowledge the challenges associated with heightened sensitivity. HSP’s like myself are often averse to crowded, loud environments, harsh criticism, or overwhelming social situations, which can be draining for a highly sensitive nervous system.

With awareness and clear boundaries, you can learn to manage this. Techniques like meditation, spending time in nature, and saying “no” to draining situations have been lifesavers for me. Be sure that you engage in what helps you calm your overly active nervous system and help you create inner peace and protect your energy reserves.

The heightened awareness of an HSP can also be a gateway to deeper intuition. Pay attention to your gut feelings, dreams, and synchronicities – they may be the universe’s way of guiding you. By trusting this inner compass, your sensitivity becomes a superpower, leading you towards a fulfilling life.

Ultimately, being a Highly Sensitive Person is not a limitation, but a unique strength. It allows for a richer experience of the world, deeper empathy for others, and a wellspring of creative potential.

You are a gift to the world and by understanding the science behind your sensitivity, you can harness its power and illuminate the world with your unique gifts and contributions.

Citations:

  • [1] Aron, E. N. (1996). Counseling the highly sensitive person. Counseling and Human Development, 28, 1-7.
  • [2] Van Doeselaar, C. M., Beedie, S. A., & Wichmann, M. T. (2023). Emotional experience in highly sensitive persons: A review and meta-analysis. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 27(1), 3-22.
  • [3] Pluess, M., & Pluess, P. (2021). The relationship between high sensitivity personality and creative achievement:A meta-analysis. Personality and Individual Differences, 180, 110932.