The Handbook for Highly Sensitive People

Books

Humans are wired to connect and to have authentic conversations. Being sensitive, empathetic and vulnerable are traits that allow us to truly connect with people. A highly sensitive person (HSP) experiences the world through a heightened way through high sensory experiences. This may be through crowded places, strong scents or loud noises. It is said by the clinical psychologist Dr. Elaine Aron that 15-20% of the population are HSPs. HSPs process and feel emotions more deeply than others and they are highly empathic and tend to have rich inner lives. The emotions they may feel are very deep whether that may be positive or negative.

Growing up as a classical musician, I was deeply moved by music during a performance, a painting in an art gallery, reading a book or watching a movie. Taking actions such as surrounding myself in nature, sitting at a library or taking time to pray or meditate would bring peace and calm. Discovering that I am an HSP explained so many factors from my childhood, career and the unexplainable feeling that there was something wrong with me. The act of practicing loving yourself and being gentle with yourself is one of the most kindest and lifechanging things you can do for yourself.

I recently read The Handbook for Highly Sensitive People by Mel Collins, and felt touched by a lot of the ways she describes the experiences that HSP’s have during their lifetime. The book is separated into three sections. The first section expands on the term HSP. This includes the definition of an HSP, the Environmental and sensory triggers and the challenges HSP face. The second section looks at different strategies through processing emotions, practicing self-love and tapping. The third section talks about the spiritual perspective from exploring our past lives and maintaining inner balance.

The book is a great introduction for those who want to have a better understanding of being an HSP. The book reminds you that you are not alone in this journey, as it invites HSPs to recognize their strengths rather than look at themselves as flawed. Collins expands on the top ten challenges faced by HSP’s. These include being empathic sponges, deep emotional sensitivity, a feeling of not belonging, a difficult childhood, self-esteem and self-worth issues, relationship struggles , health issues, difficulty accepting the ‘inner darkness’, parenting parents or other family members and feeling unfulfilled.

Being empathic sponges can be draining due to the HSPs being kind-hearted and highly empathic by nature. When surrounded in a negative environment it can leave them feeling over-stimulated. Collins says that “HSPs often feel a need to withdraw from the outside world to release the energies absorbed and to recharge.” Deep emotional sensitivity is felt through the positive (joy, kindness and love) and negative emotions (guilt, shame, fear, hurt, loss, unworthiness, jealousy, anger and feelings of betrayal). A feeling of not belonging can start from a young age particularly for those who have experienced a difficult childhood.

Self-esteem and self-worth issues may arise due to the HSPs sensitive nature being criticized or judged from a young age, causing shame and embarrassment because of it. Relationship struggles can be common for HSPs such as nurturing friendships, as they are natural givers and good listeners. This can attract the friendship patterns that are one-sided. Health issues can be a problem as HSPs are extremely sensitive to pain. For example, they may experience disorders such as chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia or insomnia.

Difficulty accepting the ‘inner darkness’ is a common trait for many HSPs. HSPs tend to be kind-hearted people who want to be good to others. Collins states that “They often have difficulty accepting what is viewed as the ‘darker’ side of themselves. This can lead to them suppressing what they see as their more negative emotions.” The words Collins adds rings true “whatever you resist persists.” It’s important to find healthy and safe ways to release any suppressed emotions.

HSPs can grow up taking the role of the parent subconsciously. This is common for HSPs whose parents were emotionally unavailable. The final challenge Collins states is feeling unfulfilled. Collins states that “In my experience working with HSPs, many have a strong drive to feel they are making a difference in the world. As a result, many believe that if they don’t feel fulfilled in this way, they are in the wrong career.” Many may find that there is a long period where they may spend searching for what they are ‘supposed’ to be doing. However, she says that “In reality, however, any job has the capacity to reflect an aspect of themselves or meet an inner need […] Every job can be viewed in this way if you make a choice to do so – as a stepping stone towards a more fulfilling purpose.”

For many HSPs it can feel like you are spending a lifetime finding your purpose and understanding the depth and complexities of your emotions. Embracing your inner self and accepting that you feel deep emotions will free you from the chains. The pain was only extended through the deep fear of judgment and rejection for how I was feeling. Taking steps and finding specific ways that help you with your feelings is an important step to healing. I really hope in writing this, that it can help even one HSP know that you are not alone. I spent many years with depression and anxiety. I found methods such as meditating, praying, journaling, walking, being in nature and self-havening incredibly healing in the moments where I’ve felt helpless or overwhelmed.

Your sensitivity is your superpower. The ability to empathise towards others and deeply connect to animals, nature, music and the arts is a gift. The search for meaningful connections means that you give your all or nothing in friendships and relationships. Sensitivity is both a blessing and a challenge, but sensitivity is a strength, not a weakness. We live in a world that tells us that we need to be a certain way, but when we acknowledge the strength of being sensitive, it opens the door to understanding. The characteristics that you may have not seen as worthy are the very aspects that make you beautiful.

“By becoming conscious of what it is in the ‘darkness’ or ‘shadow, you are shining light into the darkness and encouraging it to dissolve.” – Mel Collins

Art by Kate Pugsley

A Highly Sensitive Person’s Guide To Flatting

Personal
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It is currently my fifth year of flatting life, and I wanted to share some of my experiences with you all as an HSP on what to be aware of. It’s important to note not all HSP’s may have a mental illness, but my experience as an HSP with anxiety has taught me a lot. If you’re interested in understanding more about HSP, feel free to read more here. We make up 15-20% of the population, and have a different way of coping with specific situations. Being an HSP means that we have a higher sensory perception, which means that we are more sensitive to the environment eg. loud noises, strong smells, crowded places.

I was four years old when I was in kindergarten, but I preferred quietly holding the rabbits and guinea pigs. Interacting with other children made me feel overwhelmed at times, and till this day, it is far more comfortable for me to interact with one person at a time or a group of people close to me. There have been experiences of living with people that are close to me, and experiences of living with people I don’t know very well. Being alone really gives one time to wind down, and to not become over stimulated. Not all HSP’s are introverts, however, introverts who are HSP may need more time to be alone.

Many HSP’s need to have deep relationships and build close interactions. The difficulty in this is if you are living with people you don’t feel close to, and it can make you feel out of place. There is a crave for meaningful interaction and understanding, as well as being surrounded by people who bring the best out of you. In the past, I’ve lived with people who really cared for me, showed compassion and understanding. It can be difficult when there are experiences where there is miscommunication and people (understandably) might not realise that you are an HSP, as it is a term that’s not widely understood.

A quiet space allows you to sleep well and be refreshed, as a loud space can cause stress, anxiety and overwhelming feelings. HSP’s have a strong inner world and feel emotions deeply, which is why the alone time is beneficial and much needed. Some HSP’s may also have a strong sense of independence and prefer doing certain things alone. Some of the things I’m very grateful from my flatting experiences is organisation, in terms of things being generally neat and organised. A few more of the things to observe when looking for a place to live is the lighting, window, temperature and the location. A few more things you’ll realise when living with people are the different habits we have.

The difficulty I have found in terms of living with people I am not close to, is the ability to communicate smoothly. This is something I need to learn, because I am someone who wants to avoid conflict or negativity, but then this causes me to build up those feelings and bottle them up. On the flip side, it can be much easier to tell someone I am close to about how I feel about something. This is one of the struggles I have found with flatting, because I feel more comfortable in expressing myself with those who know me personally. It is a learning lesson. A HSP really soaks up their energy, and if they feel happy, they feel deeply happy, and if they feel sad, they can feel deeply sad.

Living with people who accept you as you are will make the living situation much more calm and steady, whereas, living with people where you feel they do not understand you can be tiring and wear you out. HSP crave connection with individuals where both sides can truly open up, express sensitivity and have empathy. An article I’ve found helpful with the lists of things to take note when moving out of home, include the following things: living with people who have a balanced lifestyle, who aren’t partiers, drinkers, smokers and noisy and are considerate and quiet after bed time.

Are you an HSP? What is/was your experience like living with other people? How many people did you live with? How do you wind down at the end of the day? What is something that bothers you as an HSP? What were the positive and negative experiences of your flatting experiences? I’m very curious to know, as I’ve often felt that there are certain misconceptions about HSP’s being a certain way. There are also simple ways to make living enjoyable when flatting with others, just as it is simple for it to crumble like a cookie. If you are an HSP and live alone, what have been the pros and cons?

“They are living evidence that this rich and varied world with its overflowing and intoxicating life is not purely external, but also exists within . . . Their life teaches more than their words. . . . Their lives teach the other possibility, the interior life which is so painfully wanting in our civilization.” ― Elaine N. Aron, The Highly Sensitive Person

A great video to watch for more information about HSP

The Life Of A Highly Sensitive Person

Daily Thoughts

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The misconception with the words highly sensitive, is that one may instantly assume that it is a person that is extremely emotional, intense, dramatic, weak and anxious. However, many HSP’s are some of the most loving, caring, compassionate, empathetic and kindhearted people. We feel more deeply and some of us are more prone to having depression or anxiety, however for every individuals it’s a different journey. We make up 15-20% of the population, and have a different way of coping with specific situations. Being an HSP means that we have a higher sensory perception, which means that we are more sensitive to the environment eg. loud noises, strong smells.

A great video explaining more about HSP can be viewed here. Our nervous system is far more sensitive than the average person when picking up our surroundings. This means that HSP’s can be more easily over stimulated. Many of us have an appreciation for peaceful environments and the little things, such as walking in nature, reading a good book, listening to a good song or watching a movie. It’s important to learn how to be aware of each situation and how to deal with them. When I’m alone, it’s the perfect time for me to feel calm and safe within my surrounding.

The Psychologist Dr. Elaine Aron coined the term Highly Sensitive Person, and after I researched about what it means to be an HSP, it makes sense. It means that some of us are simply born with a more highly sensitive nervous system than most people. There is a reminder to live life simply and let go of what is out of our control. There is also more open arms to acceptance in order to live a calm life. There’s nothing wrong or strange being an HSP, but rather it’s simply that your nervous system picks up sensory information more strongly. Whether that’s sound, emotions, actions, thoughts, smells, weather, lighting, environment and so on.

There is an association of sensitivity with weakness, which is often tied together in a society that looks down upon sensitivity. We tend to live in an environment where feelings aren’t always meant to be expressed, because they can make one appear vulnerable. It’s judged and hidden, which creates more of a stigma, the way introversion or mental health still have negative connotations towards them. However, it can also be ones greatest strengths. Your body will communicate with you when something feels right or wrong, and you’ll learn when to trust it. Your mind and body also become more present and you’ll feel a stronger connection between the two.

Being an HSP means we are often more analytical, perceptive, intuitive, have a rich internal mind, need time out and are easy to feel stressed by loud noises. There are certain things you can do to lessen the feeling of being over stimulated. Eating a healthy diet is really important for your emotional and physical state of mind, having a form of regular exercise for your mental health, as well as drinking enough water to stay hydrated. Getting enough sleep, having down time and surrounding yourself in peaceful environments are all beneficial.

Compassion is one of our greatest strengths. Many of us want to be able to help others, and treat others how we would want to be treated. We’re more critical of ourselves and can set ourselves high standards. In our culture, everything is fast paced, and there seems to be a view on being tough and pushing through it by ignoring your other emotions. However, this can cause anyone to bottle up those feelings, and feel a deep sense of pain over time. There are times where we just need to accept that we feel a certain way. Having a gentle nature means you may naturally have a way of sensing how others may feel.

As a deep thinker, it’s good to understand how you can focus on the positive, and allow that to flourish. Staying in tune to why you may feel a certain way emotionally, physically and mentally can create more awareness. The small things from patting a cat, going out for a nice long walk, drinking a hot chocolate or talking to a good friend. It’s those simple things in life that we can all cherish. Know that there is nothing wrong with being an HSP. We all experience different situations throughout the day, and it’s facing those situations that help us grow, learn and become stronger from them.

Art by Yelena Bryksenkova