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Sensitivity the Secret Superpower

By Ross from UPLIFT on Thursday January 9th, 2020

Discovering the Truth of this Often Misinterpreted Trait

I woke up abruptly, dazed and disoriented. It took me a few moments to get my bearings. It was light, definitely morning. I came to, slowly recognising that I wasn’t alone. As I turned my head, there was my daughter’s face less than a hands-distance away. She came in for a fierce morning cuddle, wringing me out like a bear.

I looked up to see my partner walking into the room, a slight look of concern on her face. As I saddled up in my bed, grunting with the effort of dragging my still-attached child with me, I asked my partner “What’s up?”.

“We were just having a chat about something that happened at school yesterday.” She replied.

My partner proceeded to relay the story that my daughter was being bullied at school for being a ‘cry-head’. Naturally sensitive, she struggles with loud noise and the past few days at school had apparently been pretty raucous. We were coming into the intensity of our sub-tropical summer. Cue overheated, overtired and overstimulated children. 

My daughter had fled from all the excitement during a lesson break. Overwhelmed, she had needed an emotional release and had gone to sit under a tree for a little cry. It was at this point that she’d been approached by a group of girls who had started calling her names and asking why she cried all the time. She lost it, sobbing uncontrollably until a teacher found her and comforted her.

“Stop Being So Sensitive!”

My own journey with sensitivity was one of both control and denial. I grew up in the 1980’s UK, still an era where one ‘just got on with things’, and ‘didn’t make a fuss’. I subtly learnt that ‘being sensitive’ was not a good thing. Crying, especially in public, was generally frowned upon. Bottling feelings silently encouraged. Any signs of ‘being emotional’ quickly judged as a form of weakness.

“…”I quickly learned to hide and disconnect from my sensitivity. Image: Jake Young

In my late twenties, I met my free-spirited partner. We got along great, bonding through yoga, healthy eating, and dubious 80’s music. What was not initially apparent, however, was the vast difference in our emotional landscapes. Although confident and outgoing on the surface, she was unknowingly a Highly Sensitive Person. I was still playing the role of a stoic British male. When arguments started, they would quickly spiral out of control. My logical and reserved sensibilities would butt against her emotional and acutely sensitive nature. Frustratedly telling my partner to “stop being so emotional”, and questioning “why are you crying?” was my norm. In hindsight, this was the worst reaction I could have had.

Over the years, I became more familiar and comfortable with my partner’s reactions, and with a few hiccups here and there, I became more competent at holding her through these times. We started a family, and over the ensuing years, I began to notice similar traits in our young daughter. After the playground incident, I decided it was time to get some answers.

The Sensitivity in Us All

The term Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) was coined by research psychologist Elaine Aron in her book The Highly Sensitive Person. Based on years of clinical research, and with a strong desire to understand her own psyche, Dr. Aron theorised that approximately 15-20% of the population fall into the HSP category. Often genetically inherited, HSP is not a condition as such, but a set of traits. The degree to which a person will identify with the characteristics of being an HSP can lessen or increase over time. For example, our level of sensitivity can be strongly influenced by external factors, such as our upbringing, our living environment and our relationships with those around us.

Dr. Aron points out that everyone is sensitive to some degree. A moderate level of stress-response remains essential to our survival and part of our in-built fight-or-flight response. Many people who believe they are not sensitive are merely lacking awareness of this innate sensitivity, and often, as in my own case, it’s a result of a lifetime of cultural conditioning.

“…”Everyone is sensitive to some degree. Image: Semina Psichogiopoulou

Rather than seeing high levels of sensitivity as a weakness, Dr. Aron takes a more nuanced view. While acknowledging the challenges this brings, she also has identified how these traits played an important role in society. Extremely receptive to their environment and highly intuitive, HSP’s are very tuned to subtle signs, such as being able to sense danger, as well as the needs of the young, old and sick. Formerly HSP’s were our eyes and ears, our watchers on the lookout guarding our communities.

Being Highly Sensitive

Due to a high level of attunement, situations that seem reasonable to some can be easily overwhelming for those with a highly sensitive nature. Loud noises, bright lights, being suddenly put under pressure and being exposed to strong emotions from others are all examples of areas where a highly sensitive person can struggle. They can also react very strongly to simulants, becoming hyper-excited, and then quickly slump after consuming alcohol or caffeine, for example.

On the flip side, the refined sensitivity allows for a more keen awareness of subtle details, such as being able to spot mistakes. Before I knew this, I often admonished partner and daughter for being overly pedantic. It also allows for a more insightful perception of their own emotional landscape, and that of others. They are often highly empathetic and attuned to the needs of others. The desire to more easily deal with stress and live in harmony with their surroundings means they are often attracted to calming meditative and healing practices. 

Letting Go of My ‘Highly Sensitive’ Judgement

In western culture, traits like being tough, stoic & outgoing are often seen as ideal. Our stories are full of victims who are portrayed as weak, over-sensitive, introverted and vulnerable. As I can attest from my own struggle with stunted sensitivity, I have readily judged the higher level of sensitivity in others and labelled it as a weakness. I grew up with movies like Star Wars & Lord of the Rings that portray a more traditional ‘hero’s journey’ narrative. Traits like sensitivity and vulnerability must be overcome as part of the character’s journey of transformation.  

My own path of self-discovery has been to recognise it’s ok to be sensitive, authentically vulnerable and to shed the cultural imprints that have restricted my emotional growth. I am starting to trust the deep wisdom that can come from listening to my intuition, that innate knowing that is natural for highly sensitive people. It has not been effortless for me but I am slowly reprogramming my software with this new, more compassionate and empathetic coding.

“…”I am starting to trust the deep wisdom that can come from listening to my intuition. Image: Jeremy Bishop

This journey of opening has brought a more profound love and understanding of the magical gifts of my highly sensitive partner and daughter. Seeing my daughter being belittled for her tenderness has brought forward a strong desire to be part of rewriting this outdated narrative. I want to educate and tell new stories where our sensitivity and vulnerability are cherished and valued rather than judged and diminished. I have taken to telling my daughter that her sensitivity is one of her superpowers and greatest gifts to the world. Something she can embrace and show to the world, rather than hide it in a dark corner.

It has been difficult to let go of learned prejudices. It has taken strides in my understanding of acceptance and unravelling years of conditioning to appreciate that everyone, in varying degrees, can be open, sensitive and vulnerable. We all have our little quirks, be that highly sensitive or any other ‘labels’. It helps me to remember we are all human first and foremost and underneath it all, perfect just as we are.

~

It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society. – Jiddu Krishnamurti

Do you identify as being a highly sensitive person? Or do you have a highly sensitive person in your life? We would love to hear about your experience, the challenges and the beauty. How have you accepted the sensitivity in yourself and in others?

With love

Team UPLIFT

How do you feel about this article? Join the conversation.

 

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references

References

https://hsperson.com/
https://highlysensitiverefuge.com/highly-sensitive-person-signs/
https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/communication-success/201711/24-signs-highly-sensitive-person

comments

48 Responses to Sensitivity the Secret Superpower

  1. I literally feel that been an HSP is both a curse and a blessing. I almost know everything before they happens. And i can sense danger from people especially love ones and those whom I’m connected to emotionally. But when i try to warn them, they don’t take me serious. And if i don’t speak and things go wrong my conscience would not seize to torment me…
    And many more i can say here.

  2. A clinical psychotherapist, who is a new friend, just sent me here. I’m autistic (Aspie) and ADHD but also, as she very rightly points out, very much HSP. I’ve just read this article twice! I’ve been struggling a lot lately and my friend cottoned on. Diagnosed Aspie and ADHD only 4 years ago and now this article speak volumes to me also. Almost like the final frontier for me in terms of coming to know myself. I’ve always been called “too sensitive” yet have so much to give others and see and sense details, potentially huge problems in the making like no-one else I know. I’m not a trained therapist but, through my embodied work (dance/embodied marine environmentalism / choreography/yoga) I’ve worked out how to help out so many people. And I love doing it. It fulfills me endlessly. Thank you so much for this article. I will also read the recommended book.

  3. IDK why but i’m really over sensitive. And, i can’t hide it either. Still i’m rational. Even though I don’t seem to care about things or people’s opinion, subconsciously i care about it a lot. My heart beat increases by a lot and My whole body shivers. After that i can’t keep my rationality. I always say i don’t care about people around me but when i don’t get the same importance as i give them i lose my temper and all.

    Just, how to not overthink? i just remember what they did wrong. Also, i regret things i did wrong. Help!!

    i’m really different than others around me and i can’t adjust with people, not even my family, relatives and friends. How to solve this??
    Help!!!!

    • Hi Dinesh, feels like a mask on you in form of that ‘rational/ logic/ stoic persona’ where in reality there is a lot of emotions inside and I don’t blame you here for being confused…
      I grew up in a family where people used emotions to look at others with superiority, that was a weakness (well, right now I can see that they were as blind about their sensitivity as those who showed their emotions more often but couldn’t explain why they felt that one). For years I’ve been working in environment that support black&white processes so learned to hide my emotions with time.

      Till the moment where my partner tried to commit suicide and guess what? In such a moment all the logic could go f%$k itself – I couldn’t anymore ignore that flame inside and needed to learn, to embrace, to feel what was going on inside of me to help my partner out.

      All of that can inspire you, but how to do it practicaly you might ask? No, you don’t have to wait for such awokening as I had.

      Simply read a book ‘Home Coming’ by John Bradshaw and you’ll understand where that hiding comes from.

      I need to warn you here, it might not be the most pleasant journey… it tooks me years and I’m still learning to process my emotions in a way that will serve me and those I’m with.

  4. Thank you for the boldness you show up with and speak up with. Every day of my life i have to overcome shame and blame to stand up for and speak for the vulnerability that lives and flows through me. i too was born this way and am starting to believe that we simply are the softest most sensitively attuned ones in a group who have themselves the task of overcoming shame and blame in order to represent this “voice”. Almost every time i dare to be myself i am deeply relieved that it is serving others around me too who have been holding up a shield protecting themselves from the humanity of others and ultimately the humanity within themselves. Humanity is in fact both vulnerable, deeply sensitive and attuned to the periphery – if we dare to be present to that place within ourselves, and then hold that presence in a group (much more difficult of course), we give everyone in the room the permission to touch that part of themselves and wow, all is then possible. Thanks for sharing, deeply grateful for your article!

    • So eloquently put Lea! Thank you for sharing your own vulnerability. We hear you. And we hope this gives you a little more courage each day to share that voice of yours because it is so worthy of being heard 🙂 Thanks for reading.

      Much love to you on your journey,
      Team UPLIFT

  5. Such beautiful heartfelt spirit in all of you. I could feel everyones strength and struggles as I recognise myself in the words. I want to post this article to everyone so we can be better understood. Thank yew all.

  6. I have been sensitive all of my life, and at times found it a great assett (choosing a “helping profession” for graduate school and working for 30 years as a speech therapist). I learned that I need a quiet space to work and complete documentation. Finding and implimenting emotional boundaries has been challenging and I have worked with a therapist to help me honor my “need to say “no” in order to stay healthy. I discovered art classes at the age of 50 and enjoy painting in a hroup setting as well as by myself. Right now I am dealing with grief (my dear 23 year old daughter died in April) and an unstable work situation, along with the realization of how anxiety related to “family issues stemming from childhoodd” continues to influence my responses to life’s challenges, mainly the loss of loved ones and economics related to scaling down on work-hours. I have found that I crave organization and stability at times like these, but also need to “pace myself” and have “rest breaks”. In other words, when shaken up, I can help myself by focusing on the people and activities that help me find emotional balance.

  7. My tears are very quickly there, but I know, where I can let them flow and where not. Thats for me very important. My ex-wife feels in a group the emotions and sometimes starts to cry at first and then others join. Thats a big gift. I also feel the emotions in a group. I learned that over “transparente Kommunikation” from Thomas Hübel. Its a great pleasure to come to that. I also feel it in the internet. In Skype or Facebook. When possible, I cheque, what I feel. One day I was in a group and the middle finger from my left hand started to feeling hurt. I reported that and one guy said his finger had being hurt for a while and was hurting now. We all have this gift in us. Its lost and we can learn it again. It helps to come to a better communication.

  8. It took me almost 60 year to understand and embrace the sensitivity that I was criticised for as I was growing up.
    I will be 71 this month and I am grateful for the gift of understanding and compassion I am able to share with people who are in need and suffering, both physically and emotionally. However, I now find it hard being an HSP, especially as we watch the daily news with all the horrors that we were shielded from years ago. I can no longer watch the (necessary) constant coverage of our catastrophic fires on the TV screen, as Australia burns. My heart is breaking for the farmers, and ALL the human loss and suffering, as well as the unbelievable loss of animal life on this scorched earth.
    And I sensitively ache for my small, young grandchildren and their parents, who will grow up in this very troubled world, lead by dangerous men who care more about power and money than human life.

    My apologies for showing such a high degree of negative sensitivity today.

    • Thanks Vivienne for sharing. Its the media, who do this. I stopped looking TV and reading papers. Its a tactic, that they bring us only the bad news. That makes us down and more easily to manipulate. I concentrate and read many good news. Thats also in our beautifull world. Theres so much of it. We live in the most peacefull time ever. That is my truth. Good luck my dear.

  9. As a highly sensitive person I found myself in my work environment being a leader “in bringing conflicts to the table”. Although this was difficult and seemed to be the opposite of what I as a highly sensitive person would do,my reason was a need to end the insidious back room conflict that flourised. I wanted us all to move to a position of more harmonious relationships and indeed to get on with the work we were meant to be doing. So I don’t think my colleagues saw me as a highly sensitive person but more as someone comfortable with conflict which was really not true

    • That sounds like a challenging position to have been in as a HSP Kathleen, but well done for doing it for the sake of all involved. I hope you’re able to find a way to foster harmony in your workplace that is more nourishing for yourself too.

      Much love on your journey< Team UPLIFT

    • Thanks Kathleen. I know this. That was also my role in one team I was in. The problem was, that nobody supported me during these meetings, but afterwards they came to me and said, that I was right. I left this team. For me its better to start my own firm. I did it 2 times and it was very succesfully. Now I am 69 and in pension. I still have a little job, cause my pension is to low. I started to be a cabdriver. But in 2 firms it was not good for me. Now I found a good company and I am still there. In my free time, I do, what pleases me. Like being here.

  10. Whilst I read this with a quiet understanding, I feel a sense of sadness that the writer’s first point of reference was not his parents,or siblings but a book.
    Books often have a way of complicating everyday emotions into academic/research terminology.
    I do value books, but with caution.
    If we are to delve into wisdom from self experiences and explorations, a different dialogue may ensue.
    Being as authentic as possible and remaining within a framework of self acceptance has taught me many things.
    Best wishes
    Shantnu

    • Thank you for your feedback Shantnu, it is valued. You make a valid point, leaning too heavily on research and books can defer the growth that comes from real-life exploration and experience. That said, I believe research has its place and can also complement our exploration. Particularly when navigating situations we are unfamiliar with and when we don’t have people around us that can guide us and share their knowledge, which I believe is the case here.

      Perhaps balance is the key 🙂

      Much love to you on your journey,
      Team UPLIFT

  11. Thank you for the lovely article! I always thought my sensitivities were a gift in spite of my world of people telling me I needed to more like them. I liked being me, now I can see the real problem; I was surrounded by people who were caught up in comparisons and judgements of others to avoid looking at themselves first. The more I became accepting of myself, the easier it was to choose the type of friends that had their own self acceptance and had no need to change the people around them. More and more self accepting people show up in my life these days, and I don’t bond with all of them, but I appreciate the ones I work with daily and keep appreciating the ones I am close to. I no longer try to fit in or care to. I feel for those I meet who lack sensitivity because that is a program they were taught, and yet I thank them for teaching me to be and appreciate myself.

    • What a wonderful and inspiring insight and reflection of your journey with self-acceptance Ann Marie! Thank you so much for sharing 🙂

      Much love to you,
      Team UPLIFT

  12. I felt like I’d finally come home when I read this article. Someone finally understood me. All my life Ive struggled to fit into the world. I know now what I am, I have a label, “Im a HSP” and Im proud of it! What is normal anyway? None of us are normal, we just need to be accepted and respected.
    Im planning to become involved with the homeless, its been a calling Ive had for many years. I know it will be confronting, and I know ill feel their pain, however I also know that I ‘need’ to do it. Hello all my fellow HSP’s, Im so glad to meet you!

    • Hello Tess, we’re so glad to meet YOU! It is so heartwarming to read this Tess, we are so happy the article helped you to understand and accept yourself a little more 🙂

      Much love to you and enjoy your journey helping the homeless! I’m sure it will be rich with love and growth 🙂

      Team UPLIFT

  13. Thank you for this well written article, that I’m sure it will assist many who are coming to realise, it’s a blessing to be sensitive, a valued emotion when they look back at a road travelled and the lessons learnt, the many hurts that were endured, feeling like the odd one out, not fitting in, even in their own families (the black sheep of the family). The journey to understanding who I was, why I often cried with no seeming trigger point (very embarrassing as a teenager), crying whilst talking to people/strangers, the tears would be streaming down my face. Why I couldn’t cope in stressful situations/deadlines/exams etc, but could in an emergency (act very calm and logically ensuring the emergency was dealt with, this came naturally). This journey to understanding the value of my sensitivity has taken 60 odd years…being called many names along with way, leaving work colleagues unable to help when at 30 during a particular stressful period when I needed to be strong at home, I cried and sobbed for hours. Feeling the pain of many over the years, the earth, the animals. Some days I just needed a hug within giving an explanation why (but couldn’t ask for what I needed . I’m now that person who understands on a deep level, opening up to this valuable gift, the nature of my work I can greet and say goodbye with a (((hug))), listen without comment and be there when needed.
    Bless all humanity and all forms of life. Each person has a unique skill, (we are all needed) when they find that skill and passion then coming into service, this beautiful world will change.

    • Thank you for your beautiful and honest share Linda. We too hope that other HSP like yourself out there can find some solace and self-acceptance through this article. We’re happy you have found that for yourself, despite it taking a while. And you’re so very right – we are all needed 🙂

      Thanks again for your blessings. Much love to you on your journey also.

      Team UPLIFT

  14. So much of this article I resonate with. My intuition was telling me long before my daughter was born that I was being “prepared” for something HUGE!

    This couldn’t have been more accurate and here over 20 years later, my book about the experience and what I learned from it is published.

    http://www.raisinghope.ca

    A story I am ready to share with the world! Love out, people! Let’s all rise up in 2020.

  15. I have dealt with being HSP my entire life but not knowing it was okay. Family and friends admonishing or making fun of me. My ex berated me for it while at the same time saying how much he loved that about me. He loved how emotional I got over beautiful things and nature, but the curse of it was how I felt pain in others easily. I carried it with me. I grieved over all the cruelty and atrocities of this world and felt them heavily. Wanting to avoid hearing or watching or reading news of horrible things, but at the same time feeling I had to know and grieve for the pain others and animals endured and be an advocate to put a stop to these things. I used to wish to be unfeeling but now I celebrate who I am and am grateful and thankful I am this way.

    • It is so wonderful to hear you have found love and acceptance for the way you are Debbie 🙂 It is truly a gift. Thank you for your share.

      Much love,
      Team UPLIFT

  16. Sensitivity I believe is the path to save the world. Conflicts have been taught that each side has the only correct answer. The US vs Iran an example. Sensitivity permits both in conflict to realize to “win” doesn’t mean the opposing position will need to lose. Sensitivity allows both positions to see more than just their side. When we attempt to eliminate sensitivity we create no room for understanding. When both sides “know” they are correct, no discussion occurs. Both positions stop listening. By chastising those who can be or are sensitive we shut down the possibility that we, in fact, have more than two solutions. In conflict, sensitivity provides the foundation for agreement. In conflict, Sensitivity is needed, to bring opposing opinions ( or the other facts) to find agreement and peace.

  17. Thank you, thank you, thank you !! So affirming and confirming of what I am beginning to KNOW. And when this Knowing becomes collective and connective, it will radiate out from us, and resonate with others, and strengthen their ability to help bring about the letting go of the old and the growth of this new awareness. Life on and of earth is desperately in need of this. Thank you again.

  18. I am a highly sensitive human with short term memory issues. I drive my husband crazy! Yet my sensitivity helps people feel good about being who they genuinely are. I have been told by friends,that my sensitivity helps them to open up and be real. People tell me that they trust me. Hooray to people being real about who they really are!

    • What a beautiful gift you have and are to the people around you Suzan 🙂 I’m so glad you can see this.

      Much love to you,
      Team UPLIFT

  19. Yes both ny mother and i are highly sensitive persons. i have learned to sheild myself from negativity and embrace my sensitivity as a gift. It helps me be compassionate toward others abd feel their vibrations. I love helping people with love and understanding soo this is a good trait to have. Embrace it and listen to your intuition

  20. How wonderful to read. I have struggled with this my whole life. Together with my overwhelming sense of “justice” I have not only had to deal with the HSP aspect but with the risks that I have taken by placing myself in harms way to protect others. I chose the wrong profession which placed me in a “man’s” world with a slow emotional death as a result. As the years passed and with the patience and love of my husband, who gets it, I have had to withdraw from most of society. I choose my friends very carefully. I surround myself with animals and nurture my plants and garden and I spend much time practicing gratitude.

    I am so glad that you have realised we are not freaks, we just care so much, feel so much. The world at large has been taught that we are weak. WE ARE NOT. If we were we would probably all decide to leave the planet. How wonderful a man you are. So is my gorgeous partner.

    Thank you for this article.

    • This is so moving to read Elisabeth 😀 I’m happy you have found ways to better nourish and care for yourself too. Thank you so much for your kind words.

      Love to you,
      Team UPLIFT

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