As a highly sensitive person, you have probably heard the words ‘You are so sensitive’ one time too often. And it might feel as a negative comment or sometimes even as an insult. However, there are some considerable advantages that come with the package of being ‘(highly) sensitive’.
Before we go any further: are you familiar with the phenomenon (high) sensitive person? If not you might want to read this little background information before you continue this article.
HSP is the abbreviation of ‘High Sensitive Person’. The term gained prominence since it was introduced by the American psychotherapist Dr. Elaine Aron in 1992. Dr. Aron studied the hypothesis that in a part of the population the nervous system and the brain operate differently. As a consequence, this part of the population experiences the world in a different way. Dr. Aron’s work confirmed that there are people who process stimuli differently, which entails that they quickly note and experience external and internal signals stronger than the rest of the population.
Before I jump ahead I want to ask you a question: How many (highly) sensitive people are populating this planet? Is it the odd one out? Is it half of the population? Let me enlighten you: approximately 15-20% of humankind is (highly) sensitive. This is approximately 2 players per soccer team, 2 – 3 cabinet ministers, 5 – 6 school children in a class of 30 children and all the people populating the 5 largest cities in the Netherlands together. There are about as many (high) sensitive men as women. Many people are (still) not aware that they have this quality.
It’s easy to focus predominantly on the challenging aspects of being an (highly) sensitive person (HSP). Yet there’s more.
During my childhood and young adult years I used to think that everyone was equally sensitive as I was. Surely that must be true as I could not imagine any other way of living. Maybe they were just better at hiding their true emotions of despair, hope, happiness and awe. How could others not sense if two strangers were in love, or just pausing in a fight? And of course everybody secretly wanted to submerge themselves in a cozy submarine when they had failed someone, or themselves, for that matter. Or so I thought.
Only in my late twenties I began to realize that not everybody was born with the same sensitivity. There were in fact people who had no idea of what was truly going on between two people that just pretended to be happily in love. Or that to some people a conflict is not something to be avoided at all costs for your own sake.
Luckily I always had lots of hobbies and enough good friends to make me feel ok with myself. Although I oftentimes felt ‘different’ I never felt the outcast as I have heard from other (high) sensitive persons later in life.
When becoming older and more aware of my sensitivity – and how to cater it, I discovered that I could actually use it as an asset. A valuable asset that I could use purposefully and to my advantage (as long as I honored the rest of the needs of my sensitive me to keep me fit, relaxed and healthy).
After I’d accepted myself I started to train some of the marvelous capacities that I’d come to identify as ‘not self-evident for everybody’ and loved it. I also started assisting sensitive friends and treating (highly) sensitive people in my therapy practice and love to see how they start to lighten up when they get an idea of the ‘sunny side of the (highly) sensitive package’.
Do you wonder what I have found out? Are you curious about what makes clients beam with joy?
Let me share a few of our secrets:
- (High) sensitive people notice subtleties that others may miss. Although the sense organs are the same than those of non-HSPs the information that they gather is processed more detailed, because areas of the brain that are associated with more complex processing are used. This awareness of subtleties comes in handy at countless occasions. Think f. ex., of the simple pleasures in life like tasting good food. But this heightened awareness can also be used to determining the mood or trustworthiness of another person through faultlessly interpreting the others’ nonverbal cues that they may have no idea they are giving off.
- As a spin-off of this ability to notice subtleties, sensitive persons are great at noticing errors and avoiding mistakes. Being aware and observant can be a very positive quality. There are a lot of jobs that require great perception and insight so being sensitive can be a great asset to many different career paths.
- (High) sensitive people learn languages more easily. All information is processed deeply, which often leads to a good understanding and remembrance of new words and phrases.
- Sensitive people are able to process material to deeper levels. They relate and compare what they experience to past lessons from other similar situations. The information is processed in what psychologists call ‘semantic memory’, a type of long-term memory that deals with meanings, understandings, and other concept-based knowledge.
- Sensitive people are able to learn something new without being aware that they have learned. This means without the ‘stress ’ that can accompany the feeling of ‘having to learn something’. Intuitively information of all kinds can be picked up and worked through in a semiconscious or unconscious way. This ability may lead to experiences like ‘suddenly just knowing’ the answer to a problem, without knowing why. The intuition can be used as a ‘sixth sense’ supercomputer in which every answer can be found if one searches in the right way. Which, by the way, oftentimes is unconventional way, like f. ex. meditation or just relaxing or taking a walk.
- Sensitive people are very aware of how their past and present actions can influence the future. By reflecting about related events that have happened in the past, and including all the possible outcomes of how their decision might affect the future, sensitive people do their best to create the best possible future. This wish is not limited to their own future but extends to the future of all humanity.
- Sensitive people can be very creative. Instead of being affected inwardly by an outward stimulus, sensitive people can also use their sensitive nature to connect to the creativity within. Some of the most creative people I know are highly sensitive. Extraordinary things can happen if these artists use their awareness and clarity to unlock their inner world and share it with their surroundings. Being sensitive can function like a front row seat at the inner theatre of life and help translate these inner adventures to amazing outward art like films, music and painting that allow the less sensitive amongst us to share in the sensitive’s perception of life.
- Sensitive people are able to integrate new concepts very deeply. Instead of using their sensitivity to absorb a lot of hurt feelings and harmful thoughts, they can put this quality to use toward positive input as well. Given a handful of healthy tools, a person who is ‘sensitive’ to new information can be very eager to learn. They can use their sensitivity to embrace new concepts and harvest extreme benefits from them.
- Sensitive people reflect naturally. They often are more aware of and better able to talk about their inner reflections and musings. This includes the analysis on the underlying factors of a project or plan that went wrong and helps them to avoid a similar mistake in the future.
- (High) sensitive people have high levels of empathy and the wish to act upon what they sense in others. Sensitive people are naturally aware of other people’s moods and intentions, and many actually also feel another person’s emotions strongly themselves. In a study Bianca Acevedo http://biancaacevedo.org/research–resources.html, sensitive and non-sensitive people looked at photographs of both strangers and loved ones showing different emotions. Sensitive people showed increased activation in the areas of the brain associated with empathy in response to all pictures shown. Notably when looking at the happy faces of loved ones. Interestingly, when presented with pictures of unhappy looking loved ones, sensitive people showed more activation in brain areas associated with active behavior. This may indicate that their impulse to act on unhappiness is strong. Which, in turn, might explain many a sensitive person remaining idealists their whole life long.
Mind you, this is a list of advantages that you might have as a HSP. You might not have all of the above-listed traits.
What do you thing – is not this a fascinating subject? If by now you wonder if you are (high) sensitive yourself, just take this quick, renown test and find out!
If you learn that you are (highly) sensitive: congratulations! Or maybe you knew it already but did not know how to handle it, let alone put it to your advantage. Either way, I’d be delighted if you get in touch with me for help or inspiration on you journey, or just for your empowerment and recognition that the community of (highly) sensitive people is alive and kicking.
If you liked this article please follow my blog or visit again in 2 weeks time, on Wednesday 25th of May for the next article about (high) sensitivity:
‘10 must-know misconceptions about (high) sensitive people’ (May 25th)
’10 reasons why being trendy is a piece of cake for (high) sensitive persons’ ( June 8th)
’10 essential ‘instant Zen’ flower remedies for (high) sensitive person’s emergency use’ ( June 22th)