In its most basic form, being highly sensitive means my nervous system processes sensory information differently than it does for other people. An environment that may feel normal for some people feels intense and overwhelming to me because of my sensitivity.
Learning that I am a highly sensitive person was a game changer for me. It allowed me to understand this massive part of my personality – why I get stressed out about social situations, why loud environments feel so overwhelming to me, why I feel things so intensely all the time. It allowed me to begin accepting who I am and why I do the things I do.
Like anything in life, having sensory processing sensitivity has its upsides and downsides. For example, I get overwhelmed easily, especially if I’m in a chaotic environment. I need tons and tons of alone time, which can get in the way of my relationships. Instead of being excited about a night out with friends, my immediate reaction is to worry about all the ways I might be uncomfortable in the situation. I feel so much, sometimes to the point where I physically ache. I often have emotional hangovers from movies or books or TV shows that are sad or disturbing or dramatic. My mind is never quiet or still, it’s constantly going and going and going and going.
It can be difficult and it can be frustrating and it can be too much at times. But the more I learn about being a HSP, the more I find that having this trait has some incredible advantages. For example:
1. I am tuned into my emotions.
I have a complex inner life; meaning, I’m in my head a lot. I’m constantly processing how I’m feeling as I react to all of the sensory data being thrown my way. I think about my emotions in a deep and intense way. I am in tune to how I’m feeling in any given moment, which in turn helps me to understand myself and what I need. I understand when I’m feeling overstimulated and need a moment to myself. In short, I just understand myself and my needs because I am so tuned into my emotions.
2. I am empathetic and considerate of how other people are feeling.
I love talking to my friends about what they are going through and how I can help them. I can’t help but be sad if a friend is sad. I cry easily. My empathy is one of my favorite parts about me. I love that I care so deeply and honestly about how other people are doing. When I ask how you are, I genuinely want to know. I want to know the good and the bad, what is lighting you up and what is burning you out. I am sensitive to how the people around me are feeling. I want people to feel included, to feel accepted, to be lifted up. I know what it feels like to be left out and made fun of in insensitive ways, and I never, ever want someone to feel that way around me. I’m the therapist, the cheerleader, the confidant. And I love that about myself.
3. I am deeply moved by books, TV shows, and movies.
When I read a book or watch a movie that touches me, I can’t stop thinking about it. I remember how I felt after I read Two Kisses for Maddy and I had an emotional hangover for weeks and weeks. It happened again after I read The Martian (not a heavy topic, but I loved that book so, so, so much that I couldn’t stop thinking about it when I finished it. I still have yet to see the movie because I know I will have an intense emotional hangover.) Every time I watch Titanic, I’m a mess for a week or more. I just have this intense emotional connection to some books, TV shows, or movies when the topic touches me in a deep and meaningful way. I love that something as simple as a book or a movie can affect me so profoundly that it messes up my entire world. It’s a powerful feeling.
4. I am more aware of the subtleties in my environment.
I process sensory data very carefully, which means I am more aware of the subtleties around me. I notice if a room is too cold, a chair is too uncomfortable, music is too loud. But I also understand the subtleties of body language and nonverbal cues. My grandma would call this my “sixth sense” because I understand people really well. I can read people’s reactions, expressions, and body language to figure out how they are feeling – happy, scared, nervous, excited, emotional, angry. I think this also falls back on being empathetic. I can pick up on nonverbal cues and adjust myself to acknowledge those cues and respond to them in the right way.
5. I am conscientious, and I care deeply about the work I do.
No matter what I am doing, I strive to be the best I can be at that very moment. I was never the kid who was at the top of the class, nor have I been the employee that stands out from the pack, but I am always working towards that. I care about my work, I care about how I am perceived at work. I am diligent in what I do, making sure it is at a standard that I can be proud of.
6. I place great care in the decisions I make.
This could be seen as a negative aspect of being highly sensitive, but I choose to see it as a positive. When making decisions, I take my time. I don’t rush into anything, but instead allow myself the space to figure out exactly what I want. I think of the past and the result of certain decisions. I think of the future and how other decisions might affect my life. In the end, the decisions I make are well-thought-out and thorough.
(But, sure, I could learn how to be a bit more spontaneous in my life. Heh.)