Highly Sensitve Person
What is the HSP (Highly Sensitive Person) trait?
High sensitivity is an innate trait (meaning you are born with it) that approximately 20% of people across all populations exhibit. It is a relatively newly researched trait and is often misunderstood. It is NOT a disorder, disability or deficit. It is simply a characteristic, that means that you process sensory data more deeply than most.
The term was coined by Dr. Elaine Aron in the early 90s. She used the acronym DOES to highlight the main qualities of the trait.
Depth of processing; people feel things on a deeper level and process stimuli more thoroughly. The Highly Sensitive brain has a more active insula, the part of the brain that helps enhance perception and increase self-awareness.
Overstimulation; HSPs can get more easily overstimulated in their environments. HSPs might not enjoy things that are very stimulating like large gatherings or excessive noise. Or they may enjoy these things but for shorter periods of time.
Emotional responsiveness/empathy. HSPs react more to both positive and negative experiences and are also able to understand the feelings of others more easily.
Sensitive to subtle stimuli, HSPs often notice the little things that others might miss such as non-verbal communication, and subtle changes in an environment.
How do I know if I or my child is an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person?)
What does it mean for me and my life?
The trait carries some advantages and disadvantages. A main area of challenge is that HSP's tend to get overwhelmed more easily. HSP's might be more likely to experience anxiety, social anxiety and/or depression, and they sometimes struggle with making tough decisions and setting boundaries with the people in their lives. They sometimes have a hard time finding satisfying relationships (often because they wont settle for small talk or non-genuine connections) and they often have low self-esteem.
There are many positive qualities of the trait, which are important to remember. HSPs tend to be highly creative, conscientious, and aware. They feel more deeply, they have a stronger connection with animals and nature, they are interested in deeper and more meaningful conversations and relationships and they make great friends/partners.
Should I seek help with therapy?
Being Highly sensitive is not a disorder, so treatment is not always required, however many highly sensitive teens and adults would benefit from having their traits validated and explored in a safe and warm environment.
I love working with highly sensitive clients. I do a lot of education in my work with clients about the trait and ways to find the good and manage the not-so-good. I’ve heard from my clients that by acknowledging the trait and talking about it with a caring HSP therapist, they have been able to be more accepting and connect to their strengths.
I myself am a highly sensitive person, many therapists are. I have come to learn more about the trait and see it as a gift, something that benefits me and my clients, and also something that I have to keep in mind in terms of my own self-care. I know that I can more deeply attune with those around me, I am sensitive to not just the words my clients say but the way they say it, their body language and their emotions. I am able to have greater empathy and be present with my clients in a meaningful way. I also know that I need to manage my schedule and not have too much going on in one day so I don’t get overworked, and I need to take time to myself in nature or in silence to recharge more than others might.
Other HSP resources:
If you have more questions about the trait, are still not sure if you are highly sensitive, or are interested in therapy for yourself our your highly sensitive child/teen, Please reach out to speak with me. I'd love to talk to you about how you can thrive as an HSP.