Advertising
Advertising

How to Thrive, Not Hurt, as a Highly Sensitive Person (Part 1/3)

How to Thrive, Not Hurt, as a Highly Sensitive Person (Part 1/3)

The Highly Sensitive Person

    A three-part series on how to thrive as a Highly Sensitive Person. This is Part 1.

    At any given time, 1 in 5 people in the room is experiencing the moment with greater emotional intensity than the other four. And since moments make up life, in any given moment, 1 in 5 people is experiencing life itself more intensely than others.

    This person knows it. And he is pissed off.

    “Why do I take things so seriously? Why do I care when others don’t seem to? Why do I feel more intensely than others? Why am I so sensitive?”

    Up to 20% of the population come with a personality trait that makes them more sensitive: The Highly Sensitive Personality Trait.

    Among many  things, this trait makes you more aware and process stimuli more deeply than those who do not have the trait (80-85%).

    A large chunk of HSPs have come to equate this as a fatal flaw in their inherent makeup.

    And that is a very sad conclusion.

    The trait has so many benefits and advantages, but because it’s often misunderstood, many of those advantages never get a chance to come to the surface.

    Advertising

    We remain so locked up in trying to fight our sensitivity with a goal to get it to go away. Why? What has caused us to be so upset with the way we are that we actually want to be someone we’re not?

    I think because we don’t understand sensitivity holistically, we’ve made some serious errors in interpreting what it means to be a sensitive person.

    Can we try to clear out some misunderstandings?

    In this three-part HSP series, we’re digging deeper into what it means to be an HSP, what misunderstandings of the trait we’re caught up in and how we can become more at peace with ourselves.

    This is Part 1.

    ***

    You have an innate ability to see more. Are you happy about that?

    The Highly Sensitive Personality Trait is characterized by a high awareness, particularly of subtleties in the environment.

    We’re not just highly aware of our external environment (people, the world, what we take in through our senses), but we’re also highly aware of our internal environment (our own thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and memories).

    So you’re not just faster in noticing the more obvious things, such as how many people there are in room and the way the furniture is arranged, but also the subtleties happening among these things, such as the body language of people, their energies and shifts in moods.

    And it doesn’t stop there. While you’re aware of what’s outside of you, you’re also aware of what’s happening inside of you. “My heart is racing while talking to this standoffish woman.”

    This means that 80-85% of the people may not have seen Rita’s face slightly drop at the mention of Sharon’s job promotion, but you did. Why? Not because you’re a hyper vigilant, people obsessed maniac, but more because your brain is wired to pick up the subtleties.

    Advertising

    This is a good point to introduce the research that shows the HSP brain.

    Brain scans show how HSPs are more aware and attentive to subtle stimuli. 80-85% of the population doesn’t have this kind of awareness of subtleties. It has nothing to do with preference or intention, but just because their brain areas that respond to subtleties don’t fire up in the same way as HSPs.

    The first misunderstanding to drop right of the bat is that you cause your own awareness.

    No you don’t. You do not make yourself see the negative in life, such as Rita’s face dropping at the mention of Sharon’s promotion.

    Your high awareness is automatic and it comes with your trait. It’s your brain.

    The irony is that this should make us ecstatic about ourselves. Think about it. If you can pick up the subtleties that go missed by most of the people around you, doesn’t that provide you with more opportunities to be novel and creative?

    The well-adjusted HSPs of the world tend to think so. It’s not like they don’t have strong feelings arising from the awareness of all the subtleties they pick up . They just intentionally elect to not be ashamed of their intensity, but on the contrary, comfortable with it. They use their sensitivity to intentionally live in ways that give their life more meaning.

    The brain scan research also shows that compared to non-HSPs, HSPs are

    1. More reactive to both positive stimuli (love, empathy, music, arts, nature etc) and negative stimuli (fear, distress, pain, cruelty, injustices
    2. More empathetic (affected by and responsive) to other peoples’ emotions, feeling states and energies

    Is this a surprise?

    “You live with a lot of complicated emotions as an actor, and they whirl around you and create havoc at times. And yet, as an actor you’re consciously and unconsciously allowing that to happen… It’s my choice, and I would rather do it this way than live to be 100… Or rather than choosing not to exist within life’s extremities. I’m willing to fly close to the flame.”  – Nicole Kidman

    Advertising

    On the other hand, non-adjusted HSPs have experienced their awareness as a problem.

    Without the understanding that awareness is automatic and not within their control, many HSPs who pick up subtle social clues of their environment assume that they do so because of their own dirty, bad habit.

    “Karen is right. I always find the negative in a situation. Like Jessica had a frown on her face and looked upset.”

    Maybe you’re just noticing Jessica’s frown for what it is. And maybe Karen is one of those 80-85% non-HSPs who just doesn’t see it.

    So what are we supposed to do then? We come with a trait that makes us see more, but others don’t see it and tell us we make this shit up.

    And this is where the gift starts converting into a curse.

    When others don’t validate me? No.

    It’s when I assume that I need their validation of me, in order to experience me.

    More specifically, when I ask non-HSPs for validation.

    If we try to force non-HSPs to experience life as an HSP, we are surely going to fail. They are not going to see what you see. They are just not wired to. Think about it, can they force you to not be so aware? Can you not see Jessica’s frown when it showed up? No right? Your awareness is part of your innate trait. It’s automatic for you. Exactly in the same way, non-HSPs lack of awareness of subtleties is automatic for them. Their brains do not pick up the subtleties the way yours does.

    It’s time we stop taking this so personally and try to drop the anger.

    Advertising

    The non-HSPs are the majority. They are 80-85% of the population. So for every one person who sees something, there may be four others who don’t.

    The best way to be happy about this is by stop asking for validation from the four others. Most likely, it doesn’t come the way we want it to come. And that makes us bitter and angry. How dare they tell me I’m too sensitive.

    Your awareness is a gift only when you start treating it as one.

    Here are eight ways to start.

    1. Accept that you are an HSP, and that makes you have a depth of awareness of subtleties that 80-85% of the people around you don’t have. If you’re unclear whether you’re and HSP, take the test.
    2. Accept that you don’t create your awareness. It comes to you. It’s your brain. It’s your trait.
    3. Try to trust that awareness. You don’t need non-HSPs to give you permission to experience your awareness.
    4. Don’t force your sensitivity on others and make it anyone else’s problem. There are 4 out of 5 people who don’t see what you see. Why would you assume they should?
    5. Try not to be so bitter at non-HSPs. Let them be. You can learn how to coexist together but you don’t have to get each other. Also, temperamental differences between people doesn’t mean one side is better than the other. The world needs both HSPs and non HSPs to be a fully functional place.
    6. Realize that you are still a minority, and the temptation to think something is wrong with you can indeed come up. A 4:1 ratio between non-HSPs and HSPs seems overwhelming, particularly if non-HSPs tell us our intensity is abnormal. No it’s not. The 1.4 billion or so HSPs in the world don’t think so.
    7. Try to find more HSPs who get what it means to be an HSP. These are people who will normalize sensitivity for us, giving us the validation we’ve been looking for. But minimize your interaction with bitter people – HSP or not.
    8. Experience your awareness as an advantage. There are HSPs who love their life because of what their sensitivity brings to them. Famous artists, actors, entrepreneurs share how none of their art would be possible without their sensitivity to nuance. This makes total sense, doesn’t it? How can creativity exist without sensitivity to nuance?

    We want to appreciate our awareness as a gift, so let’s learn to stop fighting it as a curse. The world needs your sensitivity, not you running away from it.

    Recommended Reading
    Book: The Highly Sensitive Person
    Comfort Zone: Dr Elaine Aron’s deep dives into the HSP trait, coming to your inbox as a monthly newsletter

    ***

    In Parts 2 and 3, I dig into more confusions HSPs have about their trait that prevent them from living more authentically. High awareness of subtleties makes you see more, but all this seeing overloads our nervous system. The overload can make us shut down or react in ways we don’t want and come to regret. The challenge is even harder when all of this happens to us mainly at a subconscious level. How should we enjoy our trait when the overstimulation from it leave us exhausted, tired and angry at ourselves and the world that doesn’t understand us? Stay tuned by signing up.

    Featured photo credit: Chan Y., unsplash.com via unsplash.com

    More by this author

    Namita Gujral

    Anxiety Coach

    HSP, Highly Sensitive Person 6 Decisions a Highly Sensitive Person MUST make (Part 3/3) The Biggest Fight of the Highly Sensitive Person (Part 2/3) How to Thrive, Not Hurt, as a Highly Sensitive Person (Part 1/3) 5 Reasons to Quit Intellectualizing Your Emotions How to Overcome Anxious Thoughts With Milk, a Hat, and a Post Office

    Trending in Brain

    1 Science Says Silence Is Much More Important To Our Brains Than We Think 2 How to Improve Your Memory: 7 Natural (And Highly Effective) Ways 3 What Causes Brain Fog? (7 Things You Can Do to Prevent and Stop It) 4 How to Improve Your Brain Memory Naturally: Foods to Eat And Skip 5 15 Ways Meditation Benefits Your Brain Power and Your Mood

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising
    Advertising

    Last Updated on June 6, 2019

    Science Says Silence Is Much More Important To Our Brains Than We Think

    Science Says Silence Is Much More Important To Our Brains Than We Think

    In 2011, the Finnish Tourist Board ran a campaign that used silence as a marketing ‘product’. They sought to entice people to visit Finland and experience the beauty of this silent land. They released a series of photographs of single figures in the nature and used the slogan “Silence, Please”. A tag line was added by Simon Anholt, an international country branding consultant, “No talking, but action.”

    Eva Kiviranta the manager of the social media for VisitFinland.com said: “We decided, instead of saying that it’s really empty and really quiet and nobody is talking about anything here, let’s embrace it and make it a good thing”.

    Finland may be on to something very big. You could be seeing the very beginnings of using silence as a selling point as silence may be becoming more and more attractive. As the world around becomes increasingly loud and cluttered you may find yourself seeking out the reprieve that silent places and silence have to offer. This may be a wise move as studies are showing that silence is much more important to your brains than you might think.

    Regenerated brain cells may be just a matter of silence.

    c021f7eaf726bd5dbe1d0771e21e9a8e

       A 2013 study on mice published in the journal Brain, Structure and Function used differed types of noise and silence and monitored the effect the sound and silence had on the brains of the mice.[1] The silence was intended to be the control in the study but what they found was surprising. The scientists discovered that when the mice were exposed to two hours of silence per day they developed new cells in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a region of the brain associated with memory, emotion and learning.

      Advertising

      The growth of new cells in the brain does not necessarily translate to tangible health benefits. However, in this instance, researcher Imke Kirste says that the cells appeared to become functioning neurons.

      “We saw that silence is really helping the new generated cells to differentiate into neurons, and integrate into the system.”

      In this sense silence can quite literally grow your brain.

      The brain is actively internalizing and evaluating information during silence

      066f12d4b43c32a9a66c692b52826153

        A 2001 study defined a “default mode” of brain function that showed that even when the brain was “resting” it was perpetually active internalizing and evaluating information.

        Advertising

        Follow-up research found that the default mode is also used during the process of self-reflection. In 2013, in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, Joseph Moran et al. wrote, the brain’s default mode network “is observed most closely during the psychological task of reflecting on one’s personalities and characteristics (self-reflection), rather than during self-recognition, thinking of the self-concept, or thinking about self-esteem, for example.

        “When the brain rests it is able to integrate internal and external information into “a conscious workspace,” said Moran and colleagues.

        When you are not distracted by noise or goal-orientated tasks, there appears to be a quiet time that allows your conscious workspace to process things. During these periods of silence, your brain has the freedom it needs to discover its place in your internal and external world.

        The default mode helps you think about profound things in an imaginative way.

        As Herman Melville once wrote,[2]

        Advertising

        “All profound things and emotions of things are preceded and attended by silence.”

        Silence relieves stress and tension.

        da47b0582836795829a5b6b716a314f1

          It has been found that noise can have a pronounced physical effect on our brains resulting in elevated levels of stress hormones. The sound waves reach the brain as electrical signals via the ear. The body reacts to these signals even if it is sleeping. It is thought that the amygdalae (located in the temporal lobes of the brain) which is associated with memory formation and emotion is activated and this causes a release of stress hormones. If you live in a consistently noisy environment that you are likely to experience chronically elevated levels of stress hormones.

          A study that was published in 2002 in Psychological Science (Vol. 13, No. 9) examined the effects that the relocation of Munich’s airport had on children’s health and cognition. Gary W. Evans, a professor of human ecology at Cornell University notes that children who are exposed to noise develop a stress response that causes them to ignore the noise. What is of interest is that these children not only ignored harmful stimuli they also ignored stimuli that they should be paying attention to such as speech. 

          “This study is among the strongest, probably the most definitive proof that noise – even at levels that do not produce any hearing damage – causes stress and is harmful to humans,” Evans says.[3]

          Silence seems to have the opposite effect of the brain to noise. While noise may cause stress and tension silence releases tension in the brain and body. A study published in the journal Heart discovered that two minutes of silence can prove to be even more relaxing than listening to “relaxing” music. They based these findings of changes they noticed in blood pressure and blood circulation in the brain.[4]

          Silence replenishes our cognitive resources.

          049da49ea55fb677185adba10795f01f

            The effect that noise pollution can have on cognitive task performance has been extensively studied. It has been found that noise harms task performance at work and school. It can also be the cause of decreased motivation and an increase in error making.  The cognitive functions most strongly affected by noise are reading attention, memory and problem solving.

            Studies have also concluded that children exposed to households or classrooms near airplane flight paths, railways or highways have lower reading scores and are slower in their development of cognitive and language skills.

            But it is not all bad news. It is possible for the brain to restore its finite cognitive resources. According to the attention restoration theory when you are in an environment with lower levels of sensory input the brain can ‘recover’ some of its cognitive abilities. In silence the brain is able to let down its sensory guard and restore some of what has been ‘lost’ through excess noise.[5]

            Advertising

            Summation

            Traveling to Finland may just well be on your list of things to do. There you may find the silence you need to help your brain. Or, if Finland is a bit out of reach for now, you could simply take a quiet walk in a peaceful place in your neighborhood. This might prove to do you and your brain a world of good.

            Featured photo credit: Angelina Litvin via unsplash.com

            Reference

            Read Next