At first glance, the phrase “Highly Sensitive Person” tends to evoke some negative connotations. Unfortunately, the term “sensitive” has been used as a term to label, bully, and shame people. In particular, the word is abused in contexts where someone is labeled as too sensitive.
This shame-based labeling is both harmful and inaccurate. We all have our own unique sensitivities, and some of us are more sensitive than others. However, I refuse to state that anyone is too sensitive. On the contrary, I would argue that sensitivity is a gift when we find it.
(I chose this coffee photo because I think of drinking coffee by myself as a respite from feeling overwhelmed)
It’s with that preface that I’d like to discuss a trait coined by Dr. Elaine Aron as “Highly Sensitive Person,” or HSP.
Dr. Aron has researched high sensitivity since 1991 and has produced many helpful self-help resources as a result of her research. There are an array of presentations of HSPs, but there are a few key pieces of information regarding the trait that I’d like to highlight. These bullet points are pulled from the HSPerson.com homepage:
- The HSP trait is normal
- It is innate
- HSPs are more aware than others of subtleties
- HSPs are more easily overwhelmed than others
- The HSP trait is not a new discovery, but has been misunderstood
- Sensitivity is valued differently in different cultures
About 15-20 percent of the population meet criteria for the HSP trait. I’ve found Dr. Aron’s research incredibly helpful to me and my practice. Most therapists meet criteria for this trait, and a majority of my clients also meet criteria as an HSP. I find Dr. Aron’s material helpful to name and normalize something that’s often been misunderstood – particularly in Western culture – and to offer a sense of validation for the gift the trait provides.
Dr. Aron’s resources on the subject are incredibly helpful on their own so I won’t attempt to reinvent the wheel here. My hope in writing this post is to simply shed light on this trait for those of you reading who may have this trait or know a loved one who may be highly sensitive. If the idea of being more perceptive and more easily overwhelmed than the average person resonates with you, I encourage you to start by taking the brief quiz available on the HSPerson website to find out more.
I invite you to visit Dr. Aron’s website on HSPs which includes an array of additional self-help resources and books. The homepage is www.HSPerson.com.
Until next time, I hope you enjoy learning about this special gift. Have a lovely day!