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The Biggest Fight of the Highly Sensitive Person (Part 2/3)

The Biggest Fight of the Highly Sensitive Person (Part 2/3)

A three-part series on how to thrive a highly sensitive person. This is Part 2.

Imagine you and your friend go to the gym for a week.

She does light walking on the treadmill 2 times this week for 30 minutes each time. You run 90 minutes for 5 days.

Whose muscles have worked more? Whose muscles need more rest to get ready for next week’s training?

You or your friend?

It’s the same situation between HSP and non-HSP.

In Part 1, we came to understand that HSPs come with an innate ability to notice more. More of what? More of the subtleties. The subtleties of what? I have to say..of everything.

If you’re an HSP, this will not require much explanation. You’ll get it right away.

You pick up details happening around you that 80% of people miss.

Tim looks pensive. He didn’t yesterday. Seems like he’s having trouble getting his words out. There’s a kind of heaviness in his voice. He also seems distracted, lost in his thoughts. Meanwhile, his wife Rita doesn’t seem to be looking at him. She’s addressing everyone else in the group, but she’s not looking at Tim. Something seems wrong. Maybe something has happened between them.

You tell your friend Sandy “Did you notice Tim and Rita both seemed different today,”

Sandy shrugs. “Nope. Should we get more cake?”

Classic case. Sandy doesn’t see these subtleties. You do.

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For HSPs, noticing the subtleties isn’t just restricted to noticing people. It could be anything in the environment. The room smells different, it smells like my childhood friend’s perfume. This song has few beats that sound like the song on the radio yesterday.

Do you make these things up? How come you pick up things that 80-85% of the people around you don’t see? Is this some disordered hyper vigilance? Is your awareness intentional? Something that you manufactured? Something that you consciously control?

Your higher awareness is part of a trait that you have and that others don’t. It’s biological. There are brain differences that make HSPs more attentive to stimuli.

“Most people walk into a room and perhaps notice the furniture, the people—that’s about it. HSPs can be instantly aware, whether they wish to be or not, of the mood, the friendships and enmities, the freshness or staleness of the air, the personality of the one who arranged the flowers.”Dr. Elaine Aron

What then happens with this higher awareness?

HSP’s Depth of Processing

Along with higher awareness, HSP brains also deeply process all the extra information coming in. HSP brains automatically start organizing this data and start to make sense of it.

Notice how you saw the subtleties of Tim, but then your brain automatically starts processes the information to organize it?

“Tim looks pensive” doesn’t stop there. The HSP brain automatically starts the deep processing. “He didn’t yesterday”…

In other words, HSP brains not just have a higher awareness, but also an innately greater ability to process that awareness inside of them.

All this means that HSP nervous systems have to work harder to process all the incoming data coming into them.

This is where the difference between you and your friend’s weekly gym routine is the correct comparison.

You worked harder in the gym, you need more rest. HSPs nervous systems work harder than non-HSPs (because of the extra awareness of subtleties). HSP’s nervous systems need more rest. As simple as that.

The HSP noticed Tim, compared him with the Tim from yesterday, noticed Rita, compared her with the Rita from yesterday, then noticed Rita with Tim, Rita with the others. Phew!

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Sandy bypassed this whole thing. All she noticed was the cake missing from her plate.

So of course, the HSP nervous system is more stimulated than Sandy’s.

What does stimulation feel like?

It’s a physical thing. It’s a bodily reaction.

First, it’s important to remember that stimulation happens for all human, and several non-human species. Sandy salivates when talking about cake. A dog’s tail wags when you talk to it with adoration. A baby smiles when you talk to it with love.

What is all this? It’s stimulation. It’s a reaction that shows up in your body in response to environmental stimulus.

When it’s within a trait’s comfortable range, stimulation is what drives us forward. Sandy makes a decision to walk over to the dessert table. A dog walks closer to you so you can pet it. A college student decides to major in architecture after being mesmerized from his trip to the Taj Mahal. A couple decides to adopt a foster child after their eye-opening trip to a foster home.

Without stimulation, there is no motivation to initiate action. If the image of a cake didn’t excite Sandy, she’s having little reason to want to fill her plate with it.

It’s really when stimulation is outside your optimal comfort zone, then it can feel like hell.

Your body feels a little zapped. Uncoordinated. It feels like you’re about to crash into a mental shut down. There’s an overload on your system, and you cannot think straight. Perhaps your heart pounds faster, brain starts working on overdrive, thinking becomes flustered, it’s a feeling of “feeling too much.”

HSP can reach this state faster and more often than 80-85% of the population.

Why does that happen?

My response is “Why should it not?”

You’re sensitive to nuance. Your trait makes you take in a lot of nuance. What else do you expect should happen other than the nervous system responding?

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You: Tim. Rita. Tim yesterday. Rita yesterday. Tim and Rita. Rita and Tim.

Sandy: Cake.

Now this sounds like a problem doesn’t it?

If over stimulation felt like a tender walk through a rose garden, then HSPs wouldn’t be so upset.

But overstimulation of the nervous system can feel like all hell broke loose. Particularly because most times, you haven’t asked for it. It all happens outside of your control. The awareness of the subtleties is automatic. The deep processing inside the brain is automatic. The over stimulated nervous system from doing all this extra work is automatic.

And what happens when we experience things that we don’t understand or have control over?

Fear.

The first step to thriving as an HSP is to understand over-stimulation and stop calling it fear.

Unless you know about your trait, chances are you will not understand how awareness and over-stimulation are working through your trait and into your life experiences.

All you know at a conscious level is that you are “feeling too much”, as represented by the physical symptoms you feel. Heart racing, breath shallow, palms sweating, foggy thinking, overwhelm etc.

Unfortunately, because over stimulation can have the same physical tone as anxiety and fear, the temptation to confuse the two happens quickly.

“It is important not to confuse arousal with fear. Fear creates arousal, but so do many other emotions, including joy, curiosity, or anger . But we can also be overaroused by semiconscious thoughts or low levels of excitement that create no obvious emotion. Often we are not aware of what is arousing us, such as the newness of a situation or noise or the many things our eyes are seeing.” — Dr. Elaine Aron.

When you label over-stimulation of the body as fear “I must be afraid if my heart is beating faster”, then what do you think happens?

Next step is that you will look for a trigger. Then you hypothesize. With an exceptional imagination of an HSP, most certainly you will find something to be afraid of. “I must be afraid of meeting new people socially.”

“Once we do notice arousal, we want to name it and know its source in order to recognize danger. And often we think that our arousal is due to fear. We do not realize that our heart may be pounding from the sheer effort of processing extra stimulation.” — Dr Elaine Aron.

If we misinterpret over-stimulation as fear, soon enough it becomes fear.

But unlike fearing an object outside of you, you start fearing whatever’s going on inside of you.

To a certain degree, you can avoid external stimuli like an airplane, large crowds or whatever it is that scares you outside. But how do you escape from your own self? You cannot. There is no way (or need) to change your inherited trait.

“Why is my heart pounding so fast?” is a scary position to be in when all you know about heart-pounding is that it’s something that happens when you watch a scary movie. Or when a dog barks up on you from behind. Or when your school principal yells at you.

You have come to relate heart pounding with fear.

“If my heart is pounding, I must be afraid of meeting these new people.”

But when you know your trait, you understand that your heart doesn’t just pound when you face obvious danger, but also when you are automatically aware of “too much” or “too new” sensory stimulus.

“Ok, so it’s the “newness” of everything that I am unconsciously picking up on that makes my heart pound. That woman seems cold and aloof: I don’t like the vibe. This man seems nervous: I wish I could help him relax. Meanwhile, I am uncomfortable with how long this event is: Wish I knew. I also feel that my heart is pounding, I can feel every single beat.”

There is a big difference between the two states.

With the first, you are faced with symptoms that you don’t understand. With the second, the understanding of the trait helps reduce the symptoms.

Without having much control over the symptoms (heart-pounding), the first situation leads you to anxiety. But the second allows you to understand your trait and hang in there without freaking out.

Big difference.

Once HSPs stop confusing over stimulation with fear, they’ve freed themselves up significantly. The fight to overcome fear is an honorable endeavor, but the fight to overcome a trait is hurtful one. The HSP trait doesn’t need to be fought. It needs to be understood. It asks you to make a good plan to optimize life using the strengths of your trait, not struggle with a life that rejects it.

In Part 3 of this HSP series, we’re going to do just that. We”ll take specific steps to stop the war against our sensitivity and start thriving from who we really are.

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Featured photo credit: Highly Sensitive Person via unsplash.com

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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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Published on November 23, 2020

How to Develop Big Picture Thinking And Think More Clearly

How to Develop Big Picture Thinking And Think More Clearly

Your neighbors downstairs are playing loud music. Again. How do they not get tired of partying? And why do they choose songs with such a heavy downbeat that the glass in your cupboard is vibrating every two seconds? What can you do to get some peace that you deserve? What should you?

Human mind tends to go in circles whenever faced with a problem without a clear solution. It becomes easy to forget the big picture and get lost in anger and self-pity, wasting our precious time, energy and enthusiasm.

Would it not be nice if we always remembered to put things in perspective?

Would it not be more efficient to face all kinds of problems, from tiny annoyances to life-changing emergencies, with a calm demeanor, sharp focus and fearless determination to promptly take the most efficient action possible?

Alas, humans are not like that. All too often we let anxiety or greed get the best of us and make a rushed or shortsighted decision that we quickly come to regret. Other times, we spend weeks or months at an impasse, rehashing the exact same arguments, unable to accept the compromise required to move forward with any of the available options.

Buddhists talk about getting lost in the “small self.” In this state of mind, we literally forget the big picture and focus on the small one. We start taking our daily problems too personally and, paradoxically, becomes less capable of solving them in an efficient manner. And this is the opposite of big picture thinking.

Let me share with you a story related to big picture thinking…

In 1812, the French army of Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Russia.[1] After a decisive Battle of Borodino, the capture of Moscow and therefore Napoleon’s victory in the war seemed inevitable.

Unexpectedly, the Russian Commander-in-Chief Mikhail Kutuzov made a highly controversial decision of retreating and allowing the French to capture Moscow. Much of the population had been evacuated taking supplies with them. The city itself was set on fire and large parts of it burned into the ground.

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After waiting in vain for Russia to capitulate, Napoleon had to retreat in the middle of a bitterly cold winter. He won the battle but lost the war. The campaign ended in a disaster and the near destruction of the French army.

What can we learn from this historical lesson?

1. Focus on the Consequences

Napoleon focused on the important part: capturing Moscow. Nobody could accuse him of thinking small. Yet he overlooked that the Russian army could still fight even after giving up the country’s most important city.

So was Moscow not an important target after all?

Success expert Brian Tracy has a litmus test: things are important to the extent that they have important consequences. Things are unimportant to the extent that they have no important consequences.[2]

When faced with a choice, ask yourself, what would be the consequences of each option?

  • Want to spend an hour studying or watching the new series on Netflix? What would be the consequences of each option? Netflix can sometimes be a better choice, but it helps to put things in perspective.
  • Want to maintain your apartment by yourself or to pay a cleaning service? Would would be the consequences of each option?
  • Want to meet up for coffee with this acquaintance of yours or catch up on your work instead? What would be the consequences of each option?

The choice can be different for different people. An aspiring filmmaker may have a legitimate reason for choosing Netflix. Personally, cleaning your own apartment can be relaxing and nourishing even if the economics of hiring a cleaner looks compelling because you are earning a high hourly rate.

This is where you will need a basic idea of who you are — what are your goals, values and aspirations.

2. Flip Defeat Into Victory

Kutuzov managed to turn Russia’s defeat into a historic victory by recasting the problem in a wider context: losing Moscow need not mean losing the war.

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Despite the symbolic meaning attached to the Kremlin, the churches, the priceless treasures that had been stored in the city for centuries, the outcome of the campaign was ultimately determined by the strength of the remaining armies.

If you can adopt this result-oriented perspective, many of your personal defeats may be flipped into victories as well. Few events in a human life are absolutely good or absolutely bad, and it usually takes many years to recognize in retrospect, what role a particular encounter did play in your story.

Therefore we have every reason to look for the good in the things that happen to us.

This is a very practical attitude, far from baseless “positive thinking.” After all, if something unfortunate has happened to you and you find good sides in this circumstance, you will then be better positioned to take advantage of those good sides.

Say your noisy neighbors are affecting your productivity. What if it is a blessing in disguise? How can you turn this defeat into a victory?

  • Perhaps you are too serious about life and could learn how to have more fun. Join your neighbors or go out for a walk instead of working;
  • Perhaps you only wanted to be productive while instead procrastinated on social media. Now that your procrastination has been interrupted, stop and acknowledge this much greater obstacle to your productivity;
  • Perhaps you are too sensitive to interference. Take this opportunity to practice ignoring the noise and doing your best anyway;
  • Perhaps you have a victim mentality and the feeling of unfairness drains you more than any actual nuisance your neighbors might have caused. Try accepting this lapse in your productivity the way you would accept bad weather.

Get used to finding opportunities in your problems. This is the quintessential big picture thinking.

3. Ask for Advice

Both Napoleon and Kutuzov had trusted advisers to discuss their affairs with. In general, getting a different perspective — or several — can only help inform your understanding and lead to better decisions. Just ensure that the people giving you advice are competent in the particular area where experience is needed.

Paying money for advice can also be a wise investment. Lawyers, tax accountants, medical doctors spend years learning how to assist people like yourself in living more successful, more fulfilling lives.

A quick legal consultation can save you a fortune down the line or even keep you out of big trouble. A medical check-up can uncover potential issues and help keep you healthy and active for years to come.

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Even big, complex dilemmas at your job or in your romantic relationship can be tackled more effectively by partnering up with a coach or a therapist or, of course, with the help of a wise friend.

4. Beware of Biased Advice

Many imperfect decisions occur in response to an imperfect piece of advice that you choose to act on. This advice often comes from a biased party.

For example, we are often encouraged to buy something that we supposedly need:

  • Protect your skin from harmful UV rays by using a special lotion.
  • Fortify your health by taking multivitamins.
  • Connect with your friends by sending them elaborate gifts.
  • Brighten your weekend by consuming a delicious pastry.
  • Become more productive by getting a faster computer.

However, most purchases are unnecessary.

Some, such as the sunscreen, do have legitimate benefits when used properly.[3] Others, such as multivitamins, only make a difference for a small group of people.[4]

Advertisers of those benefits inevitably want to narrow your focus in order to overstate the importance of their product. They frequently present it as the only solution to your problem, whether real or imaginary.

After all,

  • Skin can also be protected from the sun by wearing appropriate clothing.
  • Health can be better fortified by consuming a balanced diet and getting regular exercise.
  • Spending time or talking on the phone with your friends is the foremost way of connecting with them, and it is virtually free.
  • Your weekend can be brightened by doing something that you love.
  • You can become more productive by focusing on the tasks that have the most important consequences. A faster computer can, in fact, decrease productivity by making it easier to multitask and by enabling your favorite distractions.

There are other sources of imperfect advice. Politicians also frequently want us to focus on a particular “big picture,” to the exclusion of the alternatives.

Even loving parents can be guilty of the same. They can advise their children to pick a career path that is safe and respectable, based on their “big picture” that in life one has to make a living. A child may disagree, however, based on another “big picture” that one’s life has to have meaning and fulfillment.

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Bottom Line

It is human nature to make rushed, emotional decisions based on incomplete information, then regret those decisions later on.

You can protect yourself from poor judgment by striving to attain the big picture when careful consideration is called for.

Focus on the consequences of your decision before considering how you feel about it.

Play with the cards you’ve been dealt, but look for opportunities in each situation and you will find them.

Ask knowledgeable mentors for advice, but beware of biased people who have an opinion, but do not necessarily have your best interest in mind.

Yet remember, true big picture thinking comes from hard-won experience. Legendary military commanders Napoleon Bonaparte and Mikhail Kutuzov were both injured on the battlefield.

Clear thinking comes from putting your big picture to the test of reality.

More Tips on Thinking Clearly

Featured photo credit: Haneen Krimly via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Wikipedia: French invasion of Russia
[2] Brian Tracy: No Excuses!: The Power of Self-Discipline
[3] American Academy of Dermatology: Say Yes to Sun Protection
[4] Harvard Medical School: Do multivitamins make you healthier?

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