Everybody knows what a « highly sensitive person » is (especially those who are not, right?)
We all know what a « highly sensitive person » is, right? A sensitive person, who we should take special care of, a poor thing (who does not really know how to face the world), someone who is going to hide behind this term every time he/she’s confronted to the slightest difficulty/does not know how to do something like everybody else, a weak person, a pussy…
My friends, you, who know exactly what a « highly sensitive person » is without being one of course, I recommend reading this article nonetheless, for you might discover things your all-knowing-ness has not taught you yet! (I give you my word!)
Even if anyone can claim they are « a highly sensitive person » to excuse any excessive behavior (just like anyone can claim they are « suffering from depression » to get away with a negative behavior), highly sensitive persons do exist, for real. They are an actual category of people. Just like persons who are depressed, for real. So, beyond the opportunists and the honest people who do not differentiate a temporary state of mind from rooted characteristics, we should define what is a highly sensitive person.
Elaine N. Aron is a researcher and a psychologist, and the first to develop this concept in concrete terms. She is, by the by, affected by the phenomenon herself. (Saverio Tomasella and Arielle Adda have the same hobby horse if you want to dig further). According to Aron, about 20% of the whole population is highly sensitive. Talk about a « minority »… Add to that a « minority » which is almost invisible!
What’s more, we now know that hypersensivity is not just a psychological trend: it translates through real and concrete physical characteristics. For example, we know how to detect this phenomenon in saliva from an early age (the study has been carried out on infants!). The brain illuminates under MRI, the cortisol levels are up the roof, hormones fluctuate, the nervous system is activated at different degrees: hypersensitivity is a neurological wiring. It is a physical phenomenon which has psychological consequences which has physical consequences, which has psychological consequences, etc.
Aron highlights the fact that hypersensitivity is found all through the animal kingdom and it has a function. The tough and strong guys are not the only one to matter, thank you very much. The more « sensitive » ones also have their share to play in the game (see the strength list below). The author makes a meaningful comparison: there always have been, at all times, « warriors » and « counsellors ». Some run, some walk. Two complementary approaches. Everything is for the best in the best possible world. Except when we live in a world where running is king…
So, here’s a list of the main characteristics which differentiate a hypersensitive and a non-hypersensitive person:
You fight with someone and you get over it within a reasonable amount of time? We don’t.
You don’t care about having a bad night sleep? We do.
You’ve got a problem? You’ll solve/think about it later. We won’t wait.
You never feel exhausted by a conversation, a loud environment or a place which particularly solicitates one or a few of your senses? We do.
You never feel the emotions of others like they are your own, to the point of automatically confusing them with yours? We do.
You don’t, consciously or not, soak in the atmosphere of a room? We do.
You are almost never thrown over by your emotions? We are.
You take decisions really quick? For us, it really depends on the situation to be honest.
You expose yourself to every other new situation with confidence? It’s difficult for us.
Critics never get to you? They shoot us right in the heart.
You don’t remember the taste of tears? We have it on the menu very regularly (a moving movie, a beautiful landscape, the tragic death of a gecko trying to drink a little water, etc.).
You’re hungry, so what? We can (and probably will) transform into a gremlin in no time…
A skin irritation is itching? We will surely develop an edema.
Don’t be fooled: hypersensitive persons have significant perks too. They are strong. Very strong sometimes. Don’t we say we have the faults that go with our qualities? Let’s see…
They are, generally speaking, the first ones to blow the whistle about trends that will sooner or later not suit the rest of the population. They are the first fuses to go out to prevent a surge, a social risk. They are the first wave which takes on the oil slick before the pollution disturbs the rest of the ocean. And, very often, we do wait until the rest of the ocean actually starts to complain to give a damn. Might need to reconsider where to draw the credibility line of hypersensitives between alarmists and real informers… #whistleblowers #spoilsports
They show a lot of (/too much) empathy and compassion, which make them very good at listening and orientating people. #shrinks #caregivers
They do everything in their power to understand the overwhelming emotions they experience. #expert #researchers
They feel everything to the power of 10: joy included! #bliss
They know how to recognize fine nuances and things left unsaid (even before the persons in question can admit them). This is why they can be a pain in the neck sometimes… #smokealarmwithoutanyfumes
They often understand and elaborate theories about spirituality and life. #metaphysics #lifemeaning
As a bonus, please read the following clichés and help destroy them:
They are not necessarily shy (but they do have to protect themselves from too much « hyperstimulations », i.e. situations which seem normal for the others).
They are not afraid of everything (BUT their nervous system is sometimes so stimulated that the brain takes the surge and the consequent tiredness as fear).
They are not weak. On the contrary, they show more courage than anyone who does not find the world so tough. The challenge for the hypersensitives is not to give up on the world but to dive into it*.
This is awful to tell yourself that the « others » are not hearing you and don’t understand you. I then realized that, in order to give them a chance to do that — to accept myself as I was — I had to do it myself first. I have to be the first one to hear myself, to understand myself and to accept myself as I am. If you have not already jumped to the Judgement box after reading this sentence (and your brain is not thinking « Yes, well girl… just do it! It’s not that complicated for God’s sake! »), you’ll know managing to do that — to hear, to understand and to accept oneself — is no piece of cake. Even less when the whole society is telling us to toughen up and do this and that to live « normally ».
We’ll never live « normally », but we can live « differently », taking into account our particularities to get the same results as the others if we want to. But we cannot do it following the same advices made for less sensitive people, we cannot realize a wish or reach a goal (which once again may not be different from those the « tough ones » seek) the exact same way.
To us, facing a society which is calibrated for the « warriors » and which does not give as much credit to « counselors » (please let me say here that we do not want a world entirely composed of highly sensitives! We just ask for consideration, a readjustment of forces which represents more accurately the diversity of the world. I should keep this sentence for a future article about feminism explained to those who know everything about feminism). So, as I was saying, facing a society which is calibrated for the « warriors » and which does not give as much credit to « counselors », to resist, is not easy, every day. Only the most hardened highly sensitives (irony…) know how to find a peace shot every day. For the others, they’re always in withdrawal, waiting to master a little bit more the phenomenon and to stop always forgetting themselves in favor of… everything else (obligations, social pressure, norm, collective performances, etc.).
When raised in a sane environment, the hypersensitives can blossom, learn about their differences, accept themselves, find strategies to adapt without beating themselves up. When raised in a more « toxic » environment, let alone a violent environment, physically or psychologically, I let you imagine what can be the inflammatory damages on their systems. The hypersensitives can dive into depression and/or some other (severe or not) mental pathologies. Those will have to work on themselves to manage to live more harmoniously, but the good news is: it’s possible!
Maybe you find life with us difficult, adapting your world to our « flaws », « weaknesses », « shitty personality ». But know this: living with you is also a daily challenge… for US. To be honest I don’t really like this « The others versus us » angle in this article. In general, I’m all for respectful listening. I like this angle even less as it may seem like we are « poor little victims », which is not going to help prejudices…
Nevertheless, I needed to say things a little louder, so you can hear, understand and accept them. Maybe some other people would like you to hear them too? After all, don’t we sometimes have to go play on another’s ground first in order for a person to listen to us then?
(Article first published on La Boîte à Ressources EN-FR)
* Source: Elaine N. Aaron : The Highly Sensitive Person
To dig some more:
- Books by Saverio Tomasella
- Books by Judith Orloff