Discovering that you’re an HSP – a Highly Sensitive Person with SPS (Sensory Processing Sensitivity to give it its scientific name) is the beginning of quite a journey.
I say beginning because you’ve been on a “blind” journey for all your life – wondering why you react to things the way you do. Why you seem – you have seemed – “different” to the embedded social and cultural norms you’ve seen around you.
With the knowledge that you’re an HSP (take the Self Test here if your’e not yet sure) you have a context in which to place and understand the feelings and reactions you’ve had, the choices you’ve made, the decisions you’ve taken – which other people often haven’t approved of. They criticize and chide and disapprove. Because they don’t understand.
They simply don’t have the experiences that you do – or they do but not to such a level that it bothers them or interferes with their everyday lives. And they worry for you. And that makes you feel worse right?
So here you are on this journey of discovery. Elated and delighted that you have all this new insight and understanding. You feel relieved. You read Elaine Aron’s book The Highly Sensitive Person and discover that you are, actually, perfectly normal. You share HSP/SPS with 20 per cent of the population. You are not alone. You are not singularly sensitive. And your sensitivity offers up so many positive attributes also. What a relief ….
What a high! And then comes the dip – because you do still feel different to the majority. You find you tire more easily than most. You do struggle with environments filled with noise and bright lights. You might be highly introverted. You might be extroverted and high sensation seeking and also be highly sensitive. And people often assume that extroversion and sensitivity are opposites. Nope. Not necessarily!
The workplace can seem a nightmare – you may be majorly overwhelmed by the pressures to multi-task and juggle a high-pressure workload, to always be engaged and present, to always be sociable. You want to be walking by the river, not trapped in the office block. You feel misunderstood and vulnerable. Feel at risk of being passed over or being bullied and victimised.
You know that it’s not healthy to wallow in a quagmire of victimville. You simply want to be understood, and your needs to be respected, honoured and met. Yet it seems like such a big ask.
And then your elation drops back to anxiety. That old familiar state of affairs.
This can be especially so for HSPs who suffered trauma during childhood – and/or who didn’t enjoy the benefits of understanding and supportive parenting from your parents or other adult caregiver. Elaine Aron and other authors of HSP material flag speak to this discrepancy between HSPs who had supportive childhoods and those who didn’t – the former often doing very well in life and succeeding with ease, the latter often falling behind, under-earning in relation to their intelligence, creativity and overall potential, feeling isolated …. perhaps showing signs of co-dependent behaviours and complex post-traumatic stress disorders.
Reading about all this can be both comforting and alarming. Comforting that you are not alone, alarming that it seems to hold you stuck whilst your sensitive sisters and brothers who had better childhoods seem to sail forth into successful, prosperous lives with consummate ease. It doesn’t seem fair, right?
So what can I offer you? What can I suggest?
My main guidance would be to read as much as you can and give yourself time to settle. You may need to re-calibrate your life as you learn.
As often as you can, go for a walk in nature. HSPs love to be in nature. Find some flowers and trees … and bathe in the scent and sensuality. Do a course on mindfulness – a basic introduction of you’ve never done one. Then check out Kristin Neff and Chris Germer on Mindful Self-Compassion see here So much to learn here. Also check out Brene Brown and her TED talks on Vulnerability and Shame and her books also. I’ve been reading Daring Greatly but she has a new book out, Braving the Wilderness. Check her out.
If it’s career you’re wanting more focus on then I’d take a look at Thrive! The Highly Sensitive Person and Career by Tracy M. Cooper.
Look out also for facebook groups for HSPs – or for introverts if you’re highly introverted (or for extroverted high-sensation-seeking HSPs of you’re HSP and HSS), plus meetup groups. There are also groups for Empaths if your naturally high levels of empathy as an HSP are way up there that you identify as an Empath.
You won’t gel with everyone – HSPs are as varied and different as everyone else. There is a huge range of experiences and “symptoms” – some HSPs have lots of allergies and auto-immune conditions, some do not. Some are morning people, some are not. Apparently many are really bothered when they’re hungry and many are sensitive to caffeine. Me not so much.
Some are introverted, some are extroverted. I’m somewhere in the middle – slightly more introverted than extrovert but still sociable. Until I hit my wall and then I need to escape and recover.
What I’ve noticed about myself is that I need contrasts and to be at liberty to move across environments so that when I’ve had my fill of noise and “busyness” I can go somewhere peaceful. And when I’ve recharged, decompressed and finding myself feeling bored and in need of stimulation, I can re-engage with society and the sociable scene. When I’m too hot I can go somewhere cool, when I’m too cold I can go somewhere hot to warm up again 🙂
Yep, I’m a wee bit (ok a way big bit Goldilocks!). Plus a bit – or a right royal – Princess and the Pea. Oh yes, did I tell you I cannot abide a lumpy mattress or scratchy fabrics … or high humidity or cold and damp … ? Or fluorescent lights or noise that I cannot control? …
I would also suggest learning about HSPs who have successfully integrated and come to terms with their high sensitivity – gone beyond it as their main badge of identity and created and developed a career and lifestyle that makes the most of their potential, that pays them well and honours their needs – and makes a positive contribution to the world. Even if they may have enjoyed a supportive childhood whilst you did not.
And if you are an HSP who has done very well and you’re finding what I’ve written a bit alien or all in the done and dusted, distant past, I’d invite you to explore how you can harness your sensitivity and confidence to make the world a better place for less fortunate HSPs and for society in general.
Yes, sometimes being an HSP can seem like an overwhelming challenge. It can seem like the odds are stacked against you. Like everything in normal life is too anxiety-inducing and overwhelming and you simply want to retreat into your bunker until the rest of the world calms down.
For some HSPs having a wonderful rich inner world may be enough.
If you’re looking for more, if you’re wanting to make changes I’d suggest scrolling up again to see the resources I’ve mentioned further up. I would add to that consider something like “Tapping” (EFT – Emotional Freedom Technique) to deal with trauma, and consider therapy and/or coaching.
If you’re stuck deep in trauma, you might not be ready for coaching. Or it may be that you could benefit from some coaching alongside some therapy or EFT or EMDR.
With a (large) spoonful of Self -Compassion and Self-Acceptance,
you can learn to Love your HSP Life!
And if you already love your HSP life, congratulations! You might still yearn for more refinement and alignment, creativity, clarity around your values – what matters to you – and align your life choices around that. Coaching can be a great help with that too.
If you would like to experience coaching with a focus on your Wellbeing and a deep understanding of your HSP life, feel free to get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
See me on youtube & facebook: Annie Wigman Coaching, loving your highly sensitive life.