Are you highly sensitive? Then you may have found it quite difficult to explain to others what that means. Or maybe you yourself are trying to better understand your own sensitivity and what it actually means.
Knowing the qualities, perks and challenges of being highly sensitive can help make your life easier. When you understand how you tick, you can work with your natural tendencies and put your high sensitivity to good use at work, at home and out socializing.
Here are four ways to explain what it means to be a highly sensitive person (HSP) to others.
1) Being highly sensitive is a character trait, not a disorder.
Being an HSP can sometimes make you feel like there’s something wrong with you. In truth, there is nothing about you that needs to be fixed.
Being highly sensitive is simply part of your physiology. Highly sensitive people’s brains and nervous systems seem to work differently and process information on a deeper level than others.
Studies with fMRI scans have shown increased brain activation for people who are highly sensitive compared to people who are not highly sensitive.[https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4086365/]
Far from being a disorder, this natural tendency of HSPs to deeply process things can lead to:
- innovative and creative thinking
- seeing nuances, details and patterns that other people don’t see
- observing and taking into account non-verbal information and the ability to ‘read between the lines’
However, it also comes with two main challenges:
- HSPs are more easily overwhelmed by everything they see, hear, feel and experience. They need more time alone to process what they’ve experienced. Loud sounds, bright lights and busy places can be too much for highly sensitive people because they experience everything in a more intense way.
- Many HSPs are attuned to other people’s emotions, which is why they tend to put others first and sometimes forget their own needs, leading to exhaustion or even burnout.
2) High sensitivity and empathy are two different things.
There is a difference between being highly sensitive, being an empath and being empathetic.
Being empathetic means you have the ability to feel empathy for others. For example, when your friend is grieving, you understand why she is grieving. You can place yourself in her shoes and understand what she might need or how it would be if you were in that situation.
Being an empath goes a little further: It means that you pick up emotions from other people and feel them as if they are your own. So when your friend is grieving, you feel her grief in your own body as if you were the one grieving instead of her. You’ll probably need to cry to release the emotion, even though it wasn’t your emotion in the first place.
Many highly sensitive people are also empaths, but not every highly sensitive person experiences this in the same way. There is no agreement yet as to whether empaths are a subgroup of HSPs or whether they should be considered separate. It is, however, a trait that many HSPs possess and often struggle with.
3) Being highly sensitive doesn’t automatically mean you’re introverted.
It is often thought that HSPs are also introverts: people who recharge themselves by being alone. This doesn’t have to be the case. Some highly sensitive people are extraverts: they thrive on connecting with people. Some highly sensitive people are even high sensation seekers (HSS) who constantly seek new stimulation and experiences and get bored easily.
Whether you’re an introvert or extravert HSP, you’ll still need time to process everything you experience. This can be an extra challenge when you’re an extravert because your natural tendency is to go outward instead of inward.
4) High sensitivity can come with challenges of overwhelm and overstimulation, but it also comes with great gifts and talents.
People who are highly sensitive are often very creative and innovative thinkers. Thinking outside of the box is natural for them. They are able to see nuances and patterns in large chunks of information.
Because highly sensitive people are aware of other people’s emotions, they tend to care deeply about others and they have a natural talent for knowing what someone else needs in order to feel better.
They have the ability to connect on a deep level with others, with nature, and with themselves. They have the ability to develop their intuition with ease.
The life of a highly sensitive person is hardly ever boring. They live intensely and are also able to enjoy life deeply.
To someone who is not highly sensitive, understanding what it’s like to live in a body that is so easily overwhelmed and processes things so deeply can be hard to grasp. Make it easier by having these HSP facts in your back pocket so you can easily explain what being highly sensitive actually means.
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If you’d like help with finding the gifts and managing the challenges of your sensitivity: take a look at my online course Thriving with Sensitivity, designed to help you do just that! Click here for more information