Highly Sensitive People

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I have found a good amount of the clients I have identify as Highly Sensitive People and/or Empaths who often become People Pleasers living for others. As and Empath myself, I do believe we find ourselves drawn to helping others, but at the same time, easily overlooking our own needs to the point we may often find ourselves in situations that prove detrimental to our lives. Because we feel the need to help others, if we do not have proper boundaries, people with ill intentions may take advantage and we may experience traumatic situations. Sadly, when the pain does not stop, we may turn toward unhealthy behaviors or an addiction to ease the pain.  In my case, it took hitting rock bottom to begin re-claiming my life, but I first had to recognize where I had come to believe that I was somehow broken or less valuable than those around me who seemed to relate to the world as it is, better than I could.  I often say it is as if I was born without the necessary armor to reside safely on this planet. Of course, none of us get through life without wounds, however, for the Sensitive or Empath, a wound can feel like complete annihilation. For the Sensitive who has not been supported, it is easy to be conditioned in such a way we develop  self-limiting beliefs that we are”too sensitive”, “weird”, “over-reacting”, etc. This leads us to trust ourselves less and to essentially live someone else’s life, rather than the one we would choose for ourselves. After working with my own Life Coach, I was was able to replace self-limiting beliefs with empowering ones and finally live the life I had only dreamed of, which started by essentially being comfortable in my own skin, surrounded by those who supported my sensitivity as a gift, rather than rejecting it as a flaw. If you find yourself struggling with this, you are not alone. One of my missions in life is to spread awareness that High Sensitivity is indeed a real thing and the more it is understood, the more our gifts can be used to do the work we are meant to do within our family, community, and/or career. To help you get started, I have written an article with the support of a fellow Sensitive that focuses on what we bring to the “world table” so to speak.

 

 

The Gift of the Highly Sensitive Person

In a culture where sensitivity is shamed and deemed a problem to be “fixed” it can lead those of us with Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS), now known as Highly Sensitive People (HSP), feeling broken, alone, and very confused. In 1991, Dr. Elaine Aron began researching sensitivity and found 15-20 percent of the population is highly sensitive (50/50 male/female) and it is an innate occurrence with many benefits such as heightened awareness of surroundings due to our nervous system essentially having more “antennas”, more creativity, and greater empathy to name a few. However, this is not a new discovery, just a misunderstood one, and a personality trait just like any other. To study further, Dr. Elaine Aron and her husband Dr. Arthur Aron, used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine brain scans of highly sensitive individuals and what they discovered were areas of the brain associated with awareness and emotion, including empathy showed greater blood flow than those with lower sensitivity. Though most people agree compassion and empathy are qualities to appreciate, living as one of these people with emotions and sensitivity on over-drive can lead to anxiety, depression, and a general discomfort with day-to-day living if the HSP is not encouraged or accepted. Further, if an HSP experiences significant trauma in their lives, the effects often run deeper than the general population. Additionally, while people claim they admire these qualities in others, living with a Highly Sensitive Person has its challenges especially if those around said individual have little comprehension of what they are dealing with. In the past few weeks, several individuals confided in me, wanting to “turn it off” because they are “so tired” and “it’s nothing but a hindrance in our culture”. In fact, if you were to look up information regarding HSPs, so much points to the negative straight away. In this article, I will reveal the positives traits of an HSP and provide additional coping strategies in future articles.

Personally “coming out” as an HSP with high empathy (research shows we are much more receptive to mirror neurons, feeling the emotions of others), is probably the most vulnerable thing I have ever done. Yes, I have wanted to “turn it off” and yes, I have high anxiety and oh my goodness do I realize I take too much personally because I feel everything. I feel yours and I feel mine. I feel my family, I feel my country and I feel the world. With this in mind, I felt I had two choices in life. I can withdraw and keep my world small (most HSPs are introverts and prefer predictable and stable environments) or I can try to help and serve on a bigger scale (30% are extroverts and that’s me) by putting myself “out there”. Helping others is the only way for me to feel better which has led me to dedicate my life to teaching and coaching. Harming others on purpose or using others for my benefit does not “compute”, though I hear all of the time, “That’s just the way the world works.” If I accidently harm someone, I need to know and I need to make it better. The less you suffer, the less the world suffers, and the less I suffer. It is no coincidence that many HSPs are in some sort of healing, teaching, or a creative profession. It is my belief, based on years of conversations with those just like me, that we want others to feel better because in turn, we know it brings us much needed peace. It is interesting to me how easily we understand this on a sliding scale, some individuals have more aggression than others, but we are less inclined to accept the existence of individuals with heightened emotions that are beneficial to our world. If we do acknowledge this as a “real thing”, we call those people Drama Queens (male or female) or neurotic. If someone is highly aggressive, we call him or her an asshole. Guess what is more valued in our culture? My guess is most would choose to be thought of as an asshole over being a Drama Queen. I also would venture to guess, those branded “Drama Queens” have lived the life of the “Ultimate People Pleaser”, which leaves them open to being taken advantage of, and therein lies the “drama”. Imagine a world where people understood that being Highly Sensitive is a blessing and a gift, not a “weak” or “broken” flaw. What if HSPs, along with the rest of the general population took into consideration the following attributes most HSPs claim?

  1. Sees beauty in all things

  2. Feels connected to anything and Everything

  3. Attentive Listener

  4. Problem Solver

  5. Non-judgmental “More Discerning”

  6. Compassionate

  7. Empathetic

  8. Loyal

  9. Sincere

  10. Pick up Subtle Nuances in Meaning/More Emotional Awareness

If given proper support, the above list is made of your artists, writers, healers, teachers, “visionaries for the greater good” and more. On the personal side, the above attributes make for an understanding, caring, and aware friend or family member.

Drs. Aron suggest if given a supportive environment the HSP thrives and the positive qualities are a benefit to all, if not, the heightened sensitivity feels more like a curse that does not benefit anyone. The past couple of years, I have made it a point to surround myself with those who have an understanding of the benefits of being close to an HSP and what I am finding is that while my “gift” is on overdrive, I can process in a much healthier way, no longer as prone to people pleasing and appropriate boundaries are set in place. Of course this change of mine came after a lot of loss and the realization that yes, the world works in a way that I just cannot understand and that’s ok. Now, I have learned how to have appropriate “armor” (more on that in another article) and I have surrounded myself with others who view the world through similar lenses. In fact, I asked for help with this article, wanting to know how other HSPs feel their sensitivity is a blessing rather than a curse. Here are some of their responses.

“I’ve had to learn to have boundaries and not necessarily in a defensive way but an individuating and self-nurturing way. I have to recognize what isn’t mine, what is greater than me and that even if/when it isn’t directly mine, it still affects me. I have to nurture, be introspective and take care of my needs and myself and then I can be more outwardly connecting and empathetic with and toward others. Still working on that outwardly connecting part…so easy to just be in my safe and quiet little haven at home.” ~Martha

“On days when I’m feeling overwhelmed, I certainly say ugh, I hate this. Then, I instantly see how I’m hating my God given gifts and shift into my true self. It’s a reminder that I need to slow down and do self care. How I use this gift as strength is ensuring I’m taken care of first. When I do, I can keep up my bubble of feeling feelings while still protecting my own. Then, it’s powerful because I can articulate and help others in a way that’s productive because I have the brainpower to do it. Bottom line: it’s all in the self-care and boundaries I think. That’s what keeps me loving it!” ~Lindsay

“It makes me highly sensitive and accurate to my patients and their families’ needs. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “How did you know that?!” ~Karla

“HSPs struggle with their gift and boundaries. There are numerous positive and negative traits of this gift. It is extremely useful to see the big picture and numerous sides of an issue. This comes in handy when making decisions and if you have an analytical type career. Or even in the Legal, Counseling or Human Resources fields respectively. As an HSP, you are seen as caring, an excellent listener, and nonjudgmental which draws many people to you. Being an HSP is truly an amazing gift. You feel deeply and sense a connection to everything. You appreciate nature, animals and the Arts. All resonate with you. A beautiful colorful sunrise will bring you to tears. A massive cumulonimbus towering higher and higher makes your jaw drop. A huge wedge tornado puts you in awe at the power of Mother Nature and all we still don’t understand in this World. What you do understand or “feel” is that we are all connected by this powerful energy.” ~Summer

In any given population, we need both the highly sensitive and non-highly sensitives. Non-highly sensitive people are still sensitive to others, just to a lesser degree and this is neither a “good” or a “bad” thing just as being Highly Sensitive isn’t “good” or “bad”, it’s just the way it is. It is my hope that spreading the awareness of HSPs can help us see more the benefit and gifts we offer the world, rather than HSPs continuing to feel that there is something “wrong” with them. There is nothing wrong with being Highly Sensitive, in fact, it’s normal; it’s simply that our nervous system is more in tune with everything around us. Learning to focus more on the positives about our sensitivity is a start to realizing that it’s not a curse, but a gift.

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