Yes, Highly Sensitive People, or HSP, is a thing. There’s solid research that supports this concept. According to expert Dr. Elaine Aron, author of The Highly Sensitive Person: How To Thrive When The World Overwhelms You:
“The brains of highly sensitive people have more activity and blood flow in the right hemisphere, indicating an internal rather than an external focus.
What is moderately arousing to most people is overwhelming to HSPs.
HSPs often have decreased serotonin levels resulting from the repeated stress of over arousal.
Likewise, they have more reactive immune systems (allergies) and more sensitive nervous systems.
The sensitivity trait is just as likely among men as among women; both represent about 20 percent of the population.”
Taking into consideration that 20% of the population currently corresponds to approximately 1.48 billion people worldwide, that’s too high a number for it to be just the latest fad, anyway. But hey, I get it. Many well-meaning parents, teachers and others responsible for rearing children want to understand what’s going on and do right by their kids, but don’t want to be taken for a ride in the process. With all the behavioral health trends that keep coming up, it’s hard to tell the difference between a legitimate thing and yet another label which legitimizes bad behavior. Or the difference between highly sensitive kids and over indulged brats, or between highly sensitive adults and dysfunctional drama addicts. The thing is, although being highly sensitive can lead to disorders and disorderly behavior, it’s not a disorder. Although it can lead to mental health problems, it’s not a mental health problem. It’s simply a different, more intense (sometimes much more intense) way of perceiving, relating to and connecting with the world. Of course, highly sensitive kids can become over indulged brats, and highly sensitive adults can be socially inept people or dysfunctional drama addicts. Why? Maybe part of the problem is simply the lack of awareness and information about how to raise a highly sensitive kid into becoming a functional highly sensitive adult. It can be hard to understand, relate to and deal with a highly sensitive child. The key is to remember that it’s also very hard to be one. Highly sensitive children are also referred to as “orchid children.” According to the article Genetic Roots of “Orchid” Children by Bruce Bower, “a Swedish expression that translates as ‘orchid child’ refers to a youngster who blossoms spectacularly if carefully nurtured but withers badly if neglected.” An orchid in a field of dandelions, the highly sensitive child has a much more delicate personality than his peers and needs a protective environment to properly flourish.
From early on in life, highly sensitive children have to live with the perception that they are different; that they don’t quite fit in; that there’s “something wrong” with them, according to others. Because they are so sensitive, they experience tremendous hurt, which may result in self-hatred and self-destructive behavior. In addition, highly sensitive people often have the capacity to understand or perceive what’s going on with others better than many do themselves. So they can become a bothersome and inconvenient presence to a lot of people, and frequently receive (and/or deeply feel) negative feedback from their input, such as anger, rage, fear, sadness, withdrawal, defensiveness, etc. In family dynamics, the highly sensitive child usually plays the role of the "scapegoat" or "screw up" or "problem child" (the "scapegoat" is the truth teller of the family; this role is played by the most sensitive and emotionally honest child, who often verbalizes or acts out the "problem" or dysfunction that the family is attempting to cover up or deny). It doesn’t get any better as the highly sensitive children grow up. I’ve heard many of my clients say that they are constantly told such things as: “stop being so annoying”; “why do you always have to see more into it or make a bigger deal than it is?”; “stop being so sensitive”; “calm down, you’re being irrational”; “you’re overreacting”; “you’re overthinking it”; “why do you care so much?”; “anyone else can handle this, so why can’t you?”; “you don’t know everything!”; etc. Of course, highly sensitive people are not always right about how they understand, feel or perceive things; but they are often on the right track, which annoys a lot of people.
A client once told me that it took her years to be able to see a dead animal on the road without crying, which used to cause her to be regarded by friends and family members (not to mention herself) as weird. Other clients say that they didn’t feel like they ever fit in; that they didn’t have a place. Some mention that they see (and intensely feel) too many things that are wrong with the way we live, the way we treat other humans and other living beings, the way we are destroying the planet, etc; and they simply can’t live with all that and go on pretending nothing is happening, ignoring what’s happening, or profiting from what’s happening, as so many do. They see the unfairness and injustice of the rigged system, along with all its rigged subsystems, that our modern society has become. And they want it to stop. Many of them do manage to thrive and become the dreamers, the doers, the game changers, the rebels with plenty of cause; but they often give so much of themselves and get so deeply involved that their cause sucks the living energy out of them. In addition, many highly sensitive adults often get discouraged easily, at the first sight of a challenge or disappointment; or simply change they cannot handle or suffering they cannot bear to witness. Others are lost and confused; they go into hiding for self preservation, often numbing themselves with mind altering substances (legal and illegal) and/or suffering from severe health issues which cause intense physical, emotional and mental pain. In short, many are hiding because they can’t find their place and their way; and they can’t function in this rigged system without it chipping away at their very souls.
Under References and Related Articles there are many suggestions that can be incorporated as part of the highly sensitive person’s survival kit, as well as sources of information for the non-highly sensitive people who have HSPs in their lives. As a highly sensitive person myself, I share some of what I have learned and offer a few suggestions below.
For the non-highly sensitive people out there:
For the highly sensitive people out there:
References and Related Articles:
1) The Highly Sensitive Person: How To Thrive When The World Overwhelms You, book by Dr. Elaine N. Aron
2) Are You Highly Sensitive? test from Dr. Elaine Aron’s website:
3) The Plight of the Empath or Highly Sensitive Person:
4) 16 Habits of Highly Sensitive People:
5) What Makes A Highly Sensitive Person?:
6) Genetic Roots Of “Orchid Children”:
7) On The Trail Of The Orchid Child:
8) Are You A Highly Sensitive Person? What You Need To Know About The Science Of This Personality Type:
9) Orchids and Dandelions Abloom - Best of Neuron Culture: