Highly Sensitive People

“Feeling is being. Sensation makes life worthwhile.” Michael J. Cohen, Connecting with Nature

This special reported is adapted from a speech presented at the 2003 West Coast Annual HSP Gathering at Walker Creek Ranch, California.

When I was a child I was always being told “You are too sensitive!” Actually I’ve been told this all my life. It is usually said in an irritated tone of voice that implies there is something very wrong with me.

My reaction was to toughen up. I learned to grin and bear it. Put on a happy face. Grit my teeth and discount my feelings. But, that didn’t work very well. Because I was a highly sensitive person and those around me did not respect or even recognize my sensitivity, without realizing it, I became very controlling. Actually I felt quite desperate to control everyone and everything so I wouldn’t become overwhelmed

I got very good at this, but it was really a drag. Literally. Having to control everything was exhausting and, of course, impossible. I usually ended up becoming overwhelmed anyway. Toughing it out through so many inevitable overwhelming situations eventually took a toll on my health. I got sick.

That was a great blessing. Of course, I didn’t know that at the time. I felt sorry for myself and disappointed that I wasn’t a stronger person. Later I read a book by Elaine Aron’s book, The Highly Sensitive Child, and had the good fortune to interview her on my radio show. I realized I am a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) and thus different from many other people.  It explains why I became overwhelmed more easily than others.

It turns out that 15% to 20% of us are born with nervous systems that are highly aware and quick to react to everything. While many children are a blend of temperaments – some active and emotionally intense; others quiet – all highly sensitive children are sensitive to their environments, both physical and emotional.

Might you be highly sensitive or have a highly sensitive child?  If you identify with a substantial number of the following characteristics of highly sensitive people, read further:

Senses and Sensitivities

Do your keen senses mean that are:

  • Aware of the distress of others, subtleties (something that’s been moved, a change in a person’s appearance, moods, etc.), unusual odors
  • Bothered by noisy places and bright lights
  • Deeply affected by events
  • Easily startled.
  • Irritated by scratchy clothing, labels against skin, etc.
  • Very sensitive to pain
  • Want  to change clothes if wet or sweaty

Mental Abilities

Does your keen mind mean that you:

  • Are conscientious and a perfectionist
  • Ask many questions, often thought-provoking
  • Have a good sense of humor
  • Have a hard time getting to sleep after an exciting day
  • Intuitive
  • Learn better from gentle correction than from punishment
  • Seem to read the minds of others
  • Use big words for your age

Preferences

Do you prefer:

  • Beautiful calm environments
  • One-to-one communication
  • Private time
  • Quiet play or activity
  • Small groups of people
  • To consider if it is safe before climbing high or undertaking other possibly risky activities
  • To perform when strangers are not present

Dislikes

Do you dislike:

  • Being yelled at
  • Big surprises
  • Demands to act quickly
  • Expectations to do several things at once
  • Lots of things going on at once
  • Loud, noisy, or crowded activity
  • Major changes

What We HSP’s Can Do to Enjoy Life More

Here’s what I did: I started taking better care of myself. I began to listen to my body and give it the respect I always wanted from others, honoring my sensitivities. Having made this commitment led to a decision that would change my life.

I visited a friend who had a cabin in the mountains north of Los Angeles where we lived at the time. The moment I got there, I knew this was the kind of environment my body craved. Nine months later we moved to that small mountain village in the Los Padres National Forest. Since then I’ve learned just how good I can feel. I wasn’t the only one though who noticed the positive effect Nature was having on me. After I’d been living in Pine Mountain about six months I went into the city for a routine checkup with my doctor. “What have you been doing?” he asked in amazement. He couldn’t believe the dramatic improvement in my health over such a short period of time.

Because nature was having such a healing effect on me, I wanted to learn everything I could about its healing power. So I enrolled in a PhD. Program through Akamai University with Dr. Michael Cohen to blend Ecopsychology into my life and practice. Here are some of the surprising things I’ve learned from nature about being an HSP:

First, nature’s lessons are non-verbal. For example, take a moment right now to recall one of your favorite experiences in Nature. Where were you? What was so attractive to you about this particular experience? Remember how you felt. Were the positive feelings you had there related to your senses? Which ones?

Dr. Michael Cohen has identified at least 53 sources of sensory input that we inherit through our biology and physiology. These 53 innate senses are the way our bodies experience everything in our environment. Chances are as an HSP you used a rich array of these senses in the nature experience you just recalled. Take a moment to remember how good that felt.

Ecopsychologists say that’s how we’re supposed to feel! Not just on vacation or on weekends, or on breaks, but all the time.

Usually, though, HSP or not, we don’t feel like that most of the time because we spend 90% of our time indoors and because we have been taught to ignore and discount our feelings as immature, irrational, silly, sissy, childish, wimpy, flakey … you fill in the blank. What were you taught was wrong with your feelings? Do you remember when you first began to get the idea that there was something wrong with your exquisitely sensitive feelings?

If possible, take about ten minutes now to go to a nearly outdoor location you find attractive and just follow the natural attractions of your senses. If at any time an area or any aspect of the environment is no longer attractive to you in some way, move on to another area that is attractive.

Then take a cloth or piece of clothing and cover one of your hands. Find something in this natural setting that attracts you. It could be a tree, a flower, a rock, etc. Begin to explore it with both your covered hand and your uncovered hand. Notice the difference. Be sure to stop the activity at any time it no longer feels attractive to you.

What did you notice from doing this activity? How do you feel about your sensory sensitivities after this activity? How would you feel if your highly sensitive abilities were taken away from you?

Guess what? You may already have realized that the way you felt with cloth over your hand, that’s the way the world feels to anyone who has dampened down their senses – to anyone who is not highly sensitive and to us when we close down our sensitivities.

These are a just a few of the lessons nature has taught me about what it means to be an HSP and how nature has blessed me with exquisite sensitivities that protect and heal and care for me. These lessons have not only healed my body but my life as well. I apply them to everything I do and can see them helping the clients I work with. If you would like further information about how you or someone you love can enjoy life more as an HSP, contact me.

© 2012 Sarah Anne Edwards