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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.

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    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.

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    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

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    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.

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    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

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    Last Updated on March 30, 2020

    How to Tap into Your Right Brain’s Potential

    How to Tap into Your Right Brain’s Potential

    You may have heard someone say they are “totally right brained” or that they’re “a left brained person.”

    There is a pervasive myth that’s been making its rounds for over a century: people have two hemispheres of their brains, and if they have a dominant left brain, they’re more analytical; and if they have a dominant right brain, they are more creative.

    Before we go debunking this theory and then giving some tips for how people can access their creative brain centers, let’s first take a look at where the left brain/right brain lateralization theory comes from.

    The Left Brain/Right Brain Lateralization Theory

    In the 1800s, scientists discovered that when patients injured one side of their brains, certain skills were lost.[1] Scientists linked those different skills to one side of the brain or the other. Thus began the left brain/right brain myth that continues to this day.

    Then, in the 1960s and 70s, Roger W. Sperry led 16 operations that cut the corpus callosum (the largest region that connects both brain hemispheres together) in order to try to treat patients’ epilepsy. Sperry wrote about the differences in the two hemispheres as a result of those surgeries.[2]

    Sperry’s work was popularized in 1973 with a New York Times article about his lateralization theory—that people were either right brained (read: logical) or left brained (read: creative). From here, Sperry won the Nobel Prize for his work and numerous other publications spread the right brain/left brain myth.

    Debunking the Right Brain/Left Brain Myth

    If anything, the lateralization theory of the brain is a gross exaggeration. It is true that people have two hemispheres of their brains. It is also true that there are differences in the composition of those two hemispheres.

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    However, the hemispheres are actually much more interconnected than Sperry’s work initially made it seem.

    In a 2013 study,[3] scientists scanned over 1000 people’s brains, checking for lateralization. They confirmed that certain brain functions occur predominately in one hemisphere or the other but that, in reality, the brain is actually much more interconnected and complex than the right brain/left brain lateralization theory makes it seem.[4][5]

    A New Metaphor for Right Brain/Left Brain

    How do we get past this right brain/left brain myth?

    First, let’s look at what contemporary cognitive science says about brain regions, and creative and logical modes of thinking.

    My background is as an improviser and improv researcher. I wrote Theatrical Improvisation, Consciousness, and Cognition and think looking at improvisation and the brain can shed light on a new model for talking about unlocking the brain’s creative potential.

    Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scans have shown that while trained improvisers improvise (musically on a keyboard, rapping, and comedic improvisation) an interesting shift happens in their brain activity. [6]

    A region called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex decreases in activity and creative language centers such as the medial prefrontal cortex increase in activity. The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is linked with conscious thoughts—that inner voice that tells you not to say something or criticizes you when you do.

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    The medial prefrontal cortex is among the brain regions linked with creativity. So, instead of thinking about right brain and left brain, perhaps it’s more current and correct to think about more specific brain regions instead of hemispheres. Perhaps, it’s more useful to think about which activities and strategies will allow us to inhibit our dorsolateral prefrontal cortexes and allow our medial prefrontal cortexes to flourish.

    How to Enhance Your “Right Brain” — Creativity

    Whether we’re talking about right brain versus left brain, creative versus logical, or medial prefrontal cortex versus dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, we still know enough to talk about strategies to tap into your creative brain’s full potential.

    So, now that we’ve dispelled the right brain/left brain myth and looked at a more contemporary, cognitive neuroscience theory of brain regions and creativity centers, let’s look at how to tap into the potential of your creative brain.

    1. Performing Arts

    One way to tap into your creative brain centers is to participate in the performing arts. Whether you improvise, act, or dance, the performing arts allow you an embodied experience that will help you snap out of your habitual, logical thoughts.

    Another benefit of the performing arts is that it changes your attention. Attention and creativity are inextricably linked. When we improvise, act, or dance, we have to focus intently on our fellow performers. This means we are forced to focus less on our conscious, logical thoughts. This frees us up for more creative thinking and expression.[7]

    One of the conclusions of my research on improvisation is that focusing intensely on fellow improvisers and the task at hand makes it more likely that we experience a flow state. Dr. Csikszentmihalyi,[8] a Professor of Psychology and Management defines flow as an optimal psychological state when our skills match the difficulty of the task at hand. Our perception of time is altered as we get into the zone and become more present and in the moment during our chosen activity.[9]

    A flow state is a creative state. It’s the opposite of crunching numbers and forcing ourselves to work out a problem with the conscious regions of our brain. So, get up, improvise, act, or dance to access your creativity.

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    2. Visual Art

    Art teacher Betty Edwards[10] wrote a book called Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. Here again, we see that a shift in our attention can lead us to an increase in our creative thinking.

    Edwards’ book gives art students tricks to shift the way they see the world. For example, one exercise encourages students to literally flip whatever it is they’re drawing upside down before they draw it. This forces budding artists to literally see the object in a new way. This shift allows them to focus more on the individual components and patterns of the object, which allows them to draw it better.

    Shifting how we see things is another way we can access our creative brain centers. Take an art class to shut off your conscious, critical thoughts and start seeing things from a new, more creative perspective.

    3. Zone Out

    If there’s one thing creativity doesn’t like, it’s being coerced.

    I think we’ve all felt that awful feeling of trying to force ourselves to be creative. When we force it, we’re really trying to force our logical brain regions to be creative. It’s like asking your gardener to perform your appendix surgery. It’s just not what she does.

    Instead, stop forcing it. Take a break. Take a long walk or a relaxing bath or shower. Let your mind wander.

    Whatever you do, stop forcing it. This break lets your creative centers rise to the surface of your attention and get heard.

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    4. Practice Mindfulness

    The final trick to start accessing your so-called right brain is to practice mindfulness.

    Now, there’s a lot of different ways to go about mindfulness. You can take a more physical approach with a yoga class. Or you can try meditating to become more aware and in tune with your thoughts and feelings: Meditation for Beginners: How to Meditate Deeply and Quickly

    You could also try to incorporate fun mindfulness exercises[11] into your everyday routine like forcing yourself to go on detours or pretending you’re a detective who needs to examine people and places closely.

    Any way you do it, mindfulness exercises and training can help you become better versed in how your brain works and what your normal thought process is like on a day-to-day basis. If we’re ever going to reach our optimal creativity, we have to become an expert in how our individual brain functions. Mindfulness is one way to become your very own brain expert.

    Mindfulness also has added benefits like calming us, slowing our breathing, and helping us become more observant, which are also great ways to start tapping into our creative potential.

    Final Thoughts

    So, it may not be correct to say that our right brain is our creative brain, but it is still a valid pursuit to try to optimize our creative brain centers.

    The key to do so is to relax, become observant, shift your perspective, move your body, try something new, and, whatever you do, don’t force it.

    Creativity can feel slippery. It can abandon us when we need it most, but by slowing down and looking at things from a new perspective, we can give ourselves a better chance of tapping into our ultimate creativity, even if that doesn’t exactly mean our “right brain.”

    More Tips on Boosting Creativity

    Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

    Reference

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