What is an HSP?
“Highly Sensitive Person” is a term coined by Dr. Elaine Aron in the 1990s that describes the nearly 20% of the population whose nervous systems use a deeper processing strategy for stimuli. This means that as HSPs, both positive and negative stimuli are more impactful on us than on non-HSPs.
HSPs have many distinctive traits relative to the majority population, such as:
- Being moved more deeply by music & art
- Needing more downtime in between stimulating activities
- Having their feelings hurt or lifted more easily
- Being more sensitive to caffeine, alcohol and other substances including medication
- Prefering to learn through observation over participation initially
- Being non-impulsive and needing to think over decisions longer and more frequently than most others
- Perceiving and being more affected by nuances in social situations than most others
And a host of other unique characteristics.
High Sensitivity is not a Disorder, and Can Be a Superpower
At first glance this may seem like a weakness, but if you look closer, you’ll see that it’s all about perspective when it comes to the HSP.
Being a Highly Sensitive Person is not a bad thing or a “disorder”. This trait is so beneficial that 20% of at least 100 different animal populations have evolved to have it. It is simply a different way of being. A “strategy of processing” as Dr. Aron describes it, with a number of strengths. Those with high sensitivity are not only sensitive to negative stimuli, but positive ones as well, with research showing that HSPs benefit more greatly than others from a “good enough” childhood, in the same way that they are more negatively impacted when their childhood is not “good enough”. A good environment can take a Highly Sensitive Person farther than others and a bad one can inhibit them more greatly.
HSPs are more likely to detect when something is off with their inner world or in their environment, so they are more likely to seek treatment for mental health issues, even when there are none to be found. These dispositions could influence the HSP to be healthier and more looked after than the average person, so we should not be under the illusion that to be highly sensitive is to be unstable or unhealthy.
It can be a great superpower to have a deeper processing central nervous system, like HSPs do.
For example, I have trouble watching movies with blood and gore if they have lackluster story elements, but all of my favorite movies happen to have high amounts of blood and gore. The story, writing and other elements can be so moving that it offsets the negative effects of the other stimuli.
HSPs are also characterized by a need of alone time or downtime after social events, but I find that if vibes are great and energy is high, I can go on and on and on at a social outing, despite being highly sensitive and usually needing time to process high levels of stimuli.
You may have other nuances, like you don’t enjoy loud noises, but you enjoy playing certain songs you love on loud speakers whenever you can. These are just some examples of how great an effect positive stimuli can have on the HSP. It can completely offset the effects of what is regularly perceived as negative stimuli.
How to Cope as a Highly Sensitive Person
As with most things, the first step to cope as a highly sensitive person is to understand and accept that this is who you are. There is nothing wrong with you. You are not weak. You just have a different way of processing the world around you. It is a survival strategy that worked for some of your ancestors, or they wouldn’t have survived to pass it on to you! This information alone can do a lot of good for those who feel like the HSP label makes them less resilient.
If you are needing help with more ways to cope, try any combination of the following:
- Find an outlet for when you are overstimulated: either creative, physical, emotional or spiritual.
- Engage in activities that soothe your nervous system. As an HSP, you are likely to have to engage in activities that are overstimulating for your nervous system on a daily basis to survive; knowing this, why not incorporate things like Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR), meditation, yoga, ambient music, and/or great scents, on a daily basis, to offset some of the overstimulation and help you relax? This is basic preventative maintenance for an HSP.
- Engage in some practices that help you lean into acceptance like meditation or others.
- For men who are HSPs, it can be even more difficult to cope, as our Western ideals of manhood can seem not to include thoughtfulness, sensitivity or deep processing. Remembering that your high sensitivity is a “strategy” that has been used for millennia to survive and protect your communities is just one empowering way to understand yourself as an HSP. If you’d be interested in a full article dedicated to Highly Sensitive Men, please let us know in the comments!
- If you are struggling with mental health issues on top of being an HSP, there are many tools at your disposal, including therapy. Getting matched with a therapist who understands and acknowledges high sensitivity is a priority. Sound Therapy (we offer the Safe & Sound Protocol and Unyte – Focus), Neurofeedback, and/or Ketamine Assisted Treatments are also options if a doctor determines that these are right for you. For a free consultation on these methods, click “Begin Your Journey” at the top of this page to complete a short form, and someone from our team will reach out to you.
If you think you might be a highly sensitive person, take this test created by Dr. Elaine Aron to see how you score on the scale: https://hsperson.com/test/highly-sensitive-test/
Do you identify as an HSP or know someone who might? Share your stories below!