Highly Sensitive Personality Trait - When emotions run deep

The following article was written by Palmeira Practice counsellor Mo Jones.

  • Were you described as ‘over sensitive’ or ‘over emotional’ when you were a child?
  • Are you prone to soaking up the emotions of people around you?
  • Does the chaos and energy of busy modern life often floor you?
  • Is alone time the only place you really feel safe and relaxed?

If this is ringing bells for you, this article maybe of benefit to you.

So what exactly does it mean to be sensitive? In literal terms it means to have greater receptivity to stimulation. So for those who are highly sensitive this means they can become easily overwhelmed by environmental stimulation, resulting in an exhausted nervous system:-

Frazzled. Strung out. Rattled. Jangled. Spangled. Anxious. Done in. On the edge.

Being frequently overwhelmed by your environment and your emotions can make the world feel like a scary place. Leading to questions like ‘is there something wrong with me?’ and ‘can I cope with life?’ However the common theme with this trait is that it is misunderstood. And if we were to reframe the ‘over sensitive’ child as being ‘overstimulated’, we can move forward with a greater understanding and nourishment of the highly sensitive person.

Elaine Aron, a leading researcher in the field, proposes that 15-20% of the population have this trait. She feels the trait has an evolutionary purpose tied into survival. For to be a person who is acutely aware of the subtleties of our environment means they can warn the rest of the community about danger, the needs of the vulnerable, new food sources and the habits of other animals. Historically, the highly sensitive are often the advisor or counsel to the less sensitive warrior types who usually took action or the lead in society. Creating the important balance between caution and action, which helped shaped the growth of humankind as we know it.

 Living with the highly sensitive personality trait can sometimes make life seem like it's moving too fast - like it's all a bit overwhelming.

Living with the highly sensitive personality trait can sometimes make life seem like it's moving too fast - like it's all a bit overwhelming.

Traits of the highly sensitive

Emotional depth: Feeling emotions deeply and with profound insight. Acutely aware of other people’s emotional state due to innate empathy. Often to the point of carrying the feelings of other for them.

Detail: Find it difficult to make decisions due to increased breadth of perception. Noticing the subtleties and details in most situations, such as a new haircut or change perfume.

High sensitive people are also more sensitive to stimuli.

Sound: Easily startled by a loud horn or a shout. Confused/irritated by the complexity of hearing multiple conversations or sounds all at once. Or conversely moved to tears by emotive music.

Smell: Overcome by powerful odors or enraptured by beautiful scents

Light: Finding bright lights/sunshine uncomfortable/painful or simply too much.

Touch: Easily irritated by course fabrics or labels. Or hugely impacted by a gentle touch.

Food: Hunger disrupts mood and concentration. Reactive to certain foods or drinks.

Visuals: Intolerance for violent movies and television.

Not all HSP are alike and you may only experience some of these traits, for we are individuals after all. But on the whole the commonality is that the HSP nervous system is more receptive to being overloaded.

How can counselling help with the highly sensitive trait?

Counselling can create a space for you to discover how to work with your trait, rather than fight against it, for example:

Separating a fear response from the effects of being over aroused, for example the heart maybe  pounding due the effort of processing the extra stimulation.

Learning personal tolerance levels in various contexts and how to recognise the signs when these limits are near.

 Living with a highly sensitive personality can be a challenge, but it understanding the strengths it gives you (such as unparalleled empathy) can make it a joy.

Living with a highly sensitive personality can be a challenge, but it understanding the strengths it gives you (such as unparalleled empathy) can make it a joy.

Finding a balance between feeling overstimulated, ie you’ve spent too much time out in the world and feeling under-stimulated, i.e. when you’ve spent too much time alone in order to protect yourself.

Taking time to rest when needed; recognising when you’ve been sent over the edge and need to reset with some downtime. Or giving yourself permission to leave a situation or person that is overstimulating you.

Building boundaries. Your deeply intuitive nature may mean you inadvertently sense and soak up the emotions of people around you. Sometimes becoming too intimate with with people too fast or subconsciously taking the responsibility for other people’s feelings.

Self-Compassion. Bearing witness to your over stimulation and talking to yourself with a loving voice. Accepting your trait for both its pros as well as its cons.

Learning how to interact with people who are non-HSP.

Most of all perhaps, exploring your highly sensitive traits can be about making peace with yourself. Accepting the more difficult aspects of your trait along with the rainbow colours it offers to everyday life. Although society often has a bias towards extroversion as a sign of ‘strength’, perhaps real strength comes from the ability to feel life in all levels of depth and nuance.

For support around living with a highly sensitive personality, contact Mo for an introductory counselling session.