If you don’t already know if you are highly sensitive you may want to take Elaine Aron’s brief assessment. Open it in a new window since WordPress is full of fail and isn’t letting me create a link.
Part I: Sensitivity
Sometimes I am completely baffled about the lack of awareness of the concept of high sensitivity in America. I take that back. Our “awareness” of sensitivity basically means we identify a person as “sick” and give them a pill hoping to cure them. I’m sorry America, but the only cure for LOUD is to remove ones self from the source. The only cure for a sugar or gluten sensitivity is to remove the substance from ones diet. The cure for changes in temperature is to attempt to find a happy median. None of these things require a pill. They do, however, require education and awareness which just so happens to be my point.
After 6 years of college, including spending time in graduate school while working on a degree in counseling, the subject of sensitivity never arose. Ever. Let me reiterate that. I was in school being trained to become a therapist and there was no mention whatsoever about the trait of high sensitivity. No mention of high sensitivity during my entire academic life and no mention of high sensitivity during my time as a clinical intern.
I almost get angry when I think of general lack of awareness when it comes to high sensitivity. I think of all the sensitive souls that were in therapy because they thought something was wrong with them (or their children) and the only thing that was happening by them coming to therapy was their suspicions were confirmed when the therapist diagnosed them with an anxiety or mood disorder. More often than not, a diagnosis leads to getting on medication. Those that are truly highly sensitive react very different to those strong medications than those who aren’t. In my personal and professional experience I’ve discovered that quite often, the side effects are worse than the symptoms.
Part II: The Personal Part
It can be tough for sensitive people to thrive in this harsh world. More often than not we are just supposed to “suck it up” and move on with our lives. Since men in our culture are supposed to be rough and tough, admitting and accepting high sensitivity can be extra difficult for them as well.
I thought I’d put a list of the top things that I am most sensitive to in this post. If anything, you may feel validated and see how you aren’t as “crazy” as you thought. You may realize something about someone else. Maybe you’ll just be able to consider what the world feels like for a highly sensitive person. Maybe you’ll just think I’m nuts. That’s cool too.
1. Music. Music effects me more than anything else. I can be smiling or sobbing within seconds…depending on what’s playing. I’ve learned to be very careful what type of music I listen to, depending on my mood. This, kids, requires some self-awareness. (I will talk about self-awareness in another blog)
2. Sound. Especially loud ones. But even small ones. Sounds that others can’t hear or sounds other people have somehow managed to tone out. I hear them and if I am supposed to be focused they can really throw me for a loop. I can get confused very easily when it comes to noise.
3. Light. Bright light. Dull light. Soft light. Yellow light. White light. Blinking lights.
4. Sleep. I need a lot of it. 9 hours minimum but 10 is better.
5. Emotion. My own. Other people’s. Animals. Strangers.
6. Hot or Cold. Is there a true balance between hot and cold? Can’t someone build a temperature bubble (one that’s invisible, of course) so I can manage my own temp?
7. Medication. I have several allergies. (not on purpsose) If non HSP’s can take 2 pills for something I can take one and it can have the same affect for me. My dentist used to give me half the Novocain he usually gives to his patients.
8. Sugar. Because of this sensitivity I have to be careful about my sugar intake including that in breads, grains and pastas. I used to think I had a gluten allergy. Then I thought maybe I am diabetic. Then I read a book called Potatoes Not Prozac and I realized what my body is telling me IS true. I AM sensitive to sugar.
9. Caffeine. Oh my. Can you drink regular caffeine without really noticing the effects? I can’t even drink 1/2 a cup of DECAF tea or coffee without noticing some pretty severe effects which usually make me very anxious. I find myself taking deep breaths to try to calm myself. I recently went to see a movie (Cloud Atlas) with a friend and I snuck a bag of dark chocolate covered almonds into the theatre. I’m not sure how many I ate during the movie but when the movie was over and we walked to our cars I almost threw up because I felt so sick from the caffeine. Yuck!
10. Smells. This one is high on the list. I notice ALL smells. Several friends of mine say I have a nose like a wolf. Scents are almost as distracting as sounds. By distracting I mean…if I am out in public and a smell is overwhelming I will zone out while someone is talking to me. I can feel confused and disoriented. I can develop a headache instantly and sometimes that will turn into my version of a migraine. I can get nauseous. Glade Plug-ins are the worst. Can I get an “Amen”?
Part III: The Conclusion (ish)
One of the downsides of sensitivity is the stress of having to remain “tough” is internalized which, in turn, creates many physical symptoms for children and adults. Stomach pain, headaches, nausea, diarrhea, and unexplained illness can be signs of a body under duress and highly sensitive people are more prone to experience these symptoms if they haven’t yet found or been allowed an outlet. At worse this stress can lead to severe depression or anxiety, even suicide.
My goal here is to help others identify their own sensitivity or perhaps sensitivity in others close to them. If I would’ve know then what I know now my life would’ve had much less anxiety and I would’ve felt better about myself. Maybe I wouldn’t have felt so alone.
Knowledge is indeed power. Can anyone relate?