Many people who know about HSP come and ask me for tips about living with their sensitivity. Or they ask for help to increase their energy level, decrease the amount of stimuli they take in or for assistance in exploring the up-side of this characteristic.
But people who have never heard of HSP give me a surprised glare when I mention what the book I’ve been writing is about.
It is for them that I compiled some concise answers to commonly asked questions to satisfy their curiosity.
You are high sensitive yourself? You, too, might find some interesting new answers here, so keep on reading.
1) What is an HSP?
HSP stands for ‘high sensitive person’ and at present is a bit of a buzzword in the personal growth community.
Indicative research by Dr. Elaine Aron, author of The Highly Sensitive Person, suggests that between 15-20% of males and females are born with a finely tuned, highly sensitive central nervous system. They sense and notice more than less sensitive people. Yet not all HSPs are equally sensitive or sensitive for the same stimuli. Some HSPs, for example, are extremely sensitive to odors, others to light, yet others again are extremely empathic. Or you can be sensitive to any combination of these.
2) How do I know if I’m HS?
There are some characteristics that are typical for HSP’s. They tend to be sensitive to either loud sounds, bright lights, or sharp scents. Many also process information in detail and use past experiences in their decision making? If you process information very deeply, and use your analysis prior to responding you have a good chance of being HS. Many HSPs are also very empathic and sensitive to the effects of drugs but also alcohol, caffeine, heat or cold.
Still not sure whether or not you are HS? Take the 3-in-1 HSP test of Antoine van Staveren in my book ‘Ontdekkingsreis Hoogsensitiviteit’ or on the website and find out. This test does not only give you a pretty good indication of whether or not you are HS, but also how well you already have adapted to this trait. For English, I refer to Dr Aron’s test on www.hspperson.com.
3) What can I do if my partner or child is HS?
If you found out that someone dear to you is HS, great! Then you have already taken the first step towards better understanding them. Educate yourself and encourage the HSP to do the same. You can, for example, start by reading a relevant book or related articles on my website (for more suggestions, see point 12 of this blog). Or you can watch Dr. Aron’s film entitled ‘Sensitive The Movie’ together, which is featuring Alanis Morissette. The trailer is open for preview at Sensitivethemovie.com.
4) Is HS a medical diagnosis?
No. HS is sometimes also referred to as Sensory Processing Sensitivity. Being high sensitive is not a medical diagnosis but an innate and genetic, and sometimes acquired characteristic. It is more like having brown eyes or black hair where no choice-aspect is involved in having or not having it. Although most authorities feel that being HS is always inherited, there are some who state that HS can be acquired if, f.ex., a young child is exposed for a long time to a situation where it is forced to read between the lines and use all his or her abilities to survive in a challenging home or environment.
5) Can people recover fully from HS?
Since HS is not a disease, there is no need to ‘recover’ from it. HS is a normal and natural disposition. Some HSP might consider to take medication to help them de-sensitizing to fit in better with the oter 80% of society. I personally don’t feel for this solution but prefer (self-) education and training to get to know yourself better and find your position in life.
6) Are there techniques to help a HSP in his/her daily life?
For most HSPs the challenge is to prevent overstimulation. This can be tough in today’s high-speed society. Also for school-aged HSPs often face a challenge in large classes with lots of stimuli. Both children and adults will benefit from calm spaces that are not jammed with clutter and from learning how to plan the tasks they have to accomplish. For all HSPs it is important to integrate breaks for recovery in their schedules and use it to f.ex. listen to music, relax, play an instrument or spend tame in nature. Furthermore HSPs often benefit greatly from getting sufficient physical exercise. But be sure that it is the kind of exercise that you enjoy, otherwise it just adds to the pressure that most HSP easily feel anyway. For more helpful tips check out my blogs at ankewebersmit.com.
7) How can I help (other) HSPs?
Simple: just talk to them and encourage them to find out more about their trait. Confirm that they are perfectly ‘normal’ and in the company of 15-20% of the population. Back them up in finding their own way to embrace their abilities and flourish. Maybe they want to exchange with other HSPs more or talk about HS at their local school or at work in order to inform and educate others.
8) Do HSPs benefit from therapy or coaching?
I think that most people benefit from coaching in one or the other way. In fact, most people are being coached at work or at home, to some extent. So yes, I think that also HSPs benefit from coaching. Because it helps them discover their fears but also their strengths. Coaching can help to unravel and overcome traumatic childhood memories and to change occupations. It helps HSPs to fully embrace their sensitivity and can provide tools on how to reach their goals in order to thrive in life. As to therapy, it may also benefit some HSPs but since HS is not a medical diagnosis, therapy sounds a bit heavy to me. Some HSPs might indeed benefit from therapy but this is not something that I feel is necessary for the majority.
9) I’m confused that I’m ‘different’ and cannot function in our less sensitive society. Can you give me an example of a successful HSPs?
Of course you can function. HSPs are found in most professions. As for everyone, it is important that you know yourself and you know what you want. For HSPs it might be even more important that they choose a profession they really like and where the circumstances are ok for them to work in. There are many successful people that show clear HS characteristics, f. ex. the politicians Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. And the scientists Sir Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein an Jane Goodall, filmmakers Sir. Alfred Hitchcock, Michael Moore and the visionary talent Walt Disney. And last but not least the artists John Lennon, Barbra Streisand, and Wolfgang A. Mozart.
10) Can HSP’s have a happy, successful and fulfilling life?
Absolutely, and why not? The sooner we learn about HS and to use it to our advantage, the better! By learning about HS as kids or teenagers helps to integrate it in your life rhythm and to plan your success later in life because they already know how to schedule their day and week in order to prevent over-stimulation, keep their batteries charged, finding hobbies that nourish them and develop their senses according to their wishes and needs. And last but not least: to be open about their sensitivity and learn to communicate it, if desired or necessary.
11) What do you see as the (future) role of the HSP community in our society?
HS has been known for about a century now but it has hit the center stage only in the past 2 decades. Awareness has been raised, more and more people talk about it and scientific research is starting to catch up. HSPs, given their natural inclination to overthink and combine information in detail, are excellent pioneers. If they also use their innate empathy they can fulfil the important function of an ‘early warning system’ for the local, national and even global community.
HSPs who are aware and know how to handle themselves can be excellent role models for others who look for alternative ways of finding happiness in their life’s, away from social media stress, mass consumption and unhealthy levels of stress in their careers.
12) Which books and websites do you recommend to learn more about HS?
There are quite a few good books and websites. I found Highly Sensitive Person and The Highly Sensitive Child (by Dr. Elaine Aron) very inspiring. Since their publication there have been other authors like Annek Tol (Hoogsensitiviteit professioneel gezien), Antoine van Staaveren (Bewust-er—zijn met hooggevoeligheid) and Carolina Bont (Hoogsensitiviteit als kracht), to name just a few authors who published in Dutch. And of course I hope that my own book, Ontdekkingsreis Hoogsensitiviteit” offers insight, council, tips and inspiration for all HS persons and their friends, families and colleagues.
Concerning websites, check out www.hspperson from Elaine Aron (English) or www.hooggevoelig.nl for information over HS. I also find the ‘Landelijk informatiepunt voor Hoog Sensitieve Kinderen’ (www.lihsk.nl) interesting.
Find out more on the HSP congress, 13 October! Use this code AW0022 and save 10% (22.70 euro) on your registration.
I will launch my book, “Ontdekkingsreis Hoogsensitiviteit”, a practical guide and travel report on this HSP congress!
Dr. Anke Weber Smit an experienced ecologist and practicing life coach and healer. She is also an international speaker and the author of the book ‘Ontdekkingsreis Highsensitivity’.
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