Am I Highly Sensitive?John Nicoll2023-06-06T16:34:17-07:00
Being a highly sensitive person and not knowing it can be difficult and disorienting. However, if you have highly sensitive physiology, finally finding out the truth can be a great relief, and the beginning of finding mastery of this powerful, evolutionary trait seen in more than 100 species in the animal kingdom.
What Are the Signs of Being a Highly Sensitive Person?
Dr. Elaine Aaron first introduced the world to the reality of highly sensitive physiology in 1999, when she published The Highly Sensitive Person. The name she chose can be a little confusing; however, the whole subject is fascinating and amazing as you’re about to discover.
A Special Note For Men
As a man with highly sensitive physiology, it took me many years to even be willing to look at the subject of high sensitivity. I’ve seen this happen with other men as well. The word “sensitive” has a thoroughly negative connotation in society, especially for men. And growing up with this kind of physiology, some of us had to develop very strong defense mechanisms to try and shield ourselves from overbearing, inattentive or insensitive fathers. What’s important to understand however, is that highly sensitive physiology is a certain kind of evolutionary wiring in the body. Some of us are just built this way, and the truth is the wiring is very powerful once you gain an understanding of what it is and what it’s meant to do.
Do This First!
The Highly Sensitive Person Quiz
The first step is to take the highly sensitive person self-test. The quiz we’ve linked to below is the original and best high sensivity test, designed by Dr. Elaine Aaron, the doctor who first coined the term “highly sensitivity person.”
Be sure to take the quiz before you watch the video: so you can get an unbiased score.
Let’s look at four traits that highly sensitive people share:
Depth of Processing
At the foundation of the trait of high sensitivity is the tendency to process information more deeply. This processing is measurable, with more activation in the insula, a part of the brain that integrates moment to moment knowledge of inner states and emotions, bodily position, and outer events.
With more activation in this part of the brain, highly sensitive people are actively integrating more sensory input, both internal and external, at any given moment than people who are not highly sensitive. This increased processing is kind of like a super-power, but it also has its cost.
One way to think about the experience of depth of processing is that it’s a bit like concentrating all the time, but without trying. Imagine a non-highly sensitive person looking at a difficult problem and concentrating intently to figure it out. While that may represent a peak state of mental efforting for the average person, it is the “normal” state for a highly sensitive person. For this reason it has been said that HSPs see more clearly into the true nature of any given situation, unless they are tired or worn out.
This level of processing is incredibly valuable, and requires resources, care, and boundaries. It is a gift, and one that must be respected and taken care of.
Because highly sensitive people are processing and integrating their internal and external expereinces more deeply than the average person, we tire more easily. So in situations that involve complexity, or that go on for a long time, or that involve intensity, we are going to wear out sooner people who are not highly sensitive. For example, staying at a party for several hours may become overwhelming to an HSP.
Because the understanding of high sensitivity is so new, most of us have little framework for how to live life enjoyably as an HSP. We may have spent years or decades “trying to be like everyone else”, without success. The good news is that life can be lived enjoyably as an HSP. We do not have to try and be like the other 80% of the population who are not highly sensitive. For many, this is a major breakthrough and a journey of self discovery.
Fascinatingly, HSPs seem to react more to both positive and negative experiences. So when an HSP sees a sunset, they have a deeper reaction to the beauty. And when the experience is negative, say an argument, the HSP has a deeper internal reaction. There’s a lot more to learn about this topic.
In a study by Bianca Acevedo, sensitive and non-sensitive persons looked at photos of both strangers and loved ones expressing happiness, sadness, or a neutral feeling. In all situations, when there was emotion in the photo, sensitive persons showed increased activation in the insula, but also more activity in their mirror neuron system, especially when looking at the happy faces of loved ones.
Sensing the Subtle
As highly sensitive people, we tend to notice things that others miss. This makes sense when we take into account that our insula is integrating more information than the average person.
A Talk on High Sensitivity
We’ve just scratched the surface of what it means to be a highly sensitive person. If any of this is resonating with you, then welcome, you’re in the right place.
As a next step, consider watching Dr. Aaron speak about high sensitivity: