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6 Decisions a Highly Sensitive Person MUST make (Part 3/3)

6 Decisions a Highly Sensitive Person MUST make (Part 3/3)

The greatest work of the Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) will be to fall back in love with his sensitivity. Or, to start the love in the first place if that is indeed the case.

This is assuming you are one of the many HSPs who are quite pissed off at the world for truly misunderstanding what it means to be sensitive. No, we’re not cry babies when people raise their voice at us. What we are is sensitive to the subtleties of this world. The things that 85% of the people miss, we don’t. It makes us more reflective and certainly more inward focused.

Another truth could be that we ourselves haven’t fully understood our own trait, so a part of us questions if we are to blame. Bottomline: We are highly aware, which can make us more creative. But we are also quick to getting highly stimulated, a frequently occurring state that often blocks out that creativity.

In parts 1 and 2, we explored the inward world of HSP. This article will elaborate on those ideas. Can we chart a plan that leads us to be at peace with ourselves? How should we get comfortable with who we are and eventually lead a life more in alignment with that?

We can. It starts with 6 Decisions.

1. Call it over stimulation, not fear

Are you always afraid and anxious? No. You’re sensitive and over-stimulated. It feels the same, but it’s not the same. And this is an essential reframe. If you label over-stimulation as fear, it will surely become fear. You know why? Because the mind is foolish. It can always conjure up something to be afraid of. And, once a state is labeled as fear, we rush into flight or fight and start scrambling for survival.

This takes us very far from what’s really true. We’re not fighting threats or dangers. All that’s happening is that we’re a little over-stimulated and in need of downtime to bring ourselves back to comfort. The best way to start is by actually removing the word “fear” from the picture. Don’t get me wrong. Fear is not a bad emotion, and in fact is a necessary one to keep our survival safe and intact. But over-stimulation is an overload on the nervous system asking us to slow down for a little bit. There’s nothing to be afraid of here.

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2. Don’t try to “overcome” over stimulation. You’ll just add more to it

If you try to overcome your trait, how do you think that’s going to go? You’re asking yourself to stop being you. Not only is that not going to happen, but it’s also giving you a very distasteful message about yourself.

Telling yourself not to get over-stimulated is a losing battle. It’s like asking yourself to not see a red car when you see a red car. It’ll never work, and you’ll just add more to your over-aroused state. Your trait, your high awareness, your sensitivity to nuance, your depth of processing are all innate. There are ways to get your life on board with your plans, but that cannot happen if you insist your inherent and intrinsic makeup has to change.

3. Let go of your need to be like the non-HSP.

It may seem unfair that we come with a trait that makes us so sensitive to the environment, when maybe instead we want to be happily ignorant of it. Like Sandy, the non-HSP, who escaped from noticing everything at the party except the missing piece of cake!

We have to try to remember that we also gain advantages because of the trait. If you’ll allow yourself, appreciate that HSPs actually have a big advantage with their inherent, intrinsically-handed-down, don’t-have-to-work-for-it, higher awareness of subtleties.

The higher awareness provides HSPs with greater opportunities to be more creative, perceptive, empathic and thoughtful. When you notice things that most others miss, that’s an opportunity to do something novel. It is no surprise then that many of the world’s most creative artists are highly sensitive people.

“HSPs are all creative by definition because we process things so thoroughly and notice so many subtleties and emotional meanings that we can easily put two unusual things together.” – Dr Elaine Aron, who discovered the HSP trait.”

Yes, it’s true. We feel things more intensely than others including difficult emotions like anger, fear, and pain. But, like Dr Andrea Wachter says “…you get to feel the sweet things in life very deeply too. While you may have to use more tools to weather the storms of life, when the storms subside and there are calm moments, you get to feel those more fully.”

4. Find ways to bring yourself back to your optimal range of stimulation

This is really what we are asking for.

Take a short walk. Leave the room. Mentally check out. Watch TV. Read a good book. Sleep. Meditate.

You need some mental space and it is critical you get it. How? This is a very individual matter, and the good news is that as an HSP, you will know best what activity helps achieve this.

For me, it’s going silent and politely asking people around me to excuse me. It is not always meditation although sometimes it is. Often, someone comes along who doesn’t understand. Sometimes, I offer him an invitation to read about HSPs, and other times if he doesn’t get it, I also offer him an invitation to go to hell (I don’t say it like that, but I sure as hell mean it like that).

The point I’m trying to make is that we should stop apologizing for our need to check out for a while. Look at it as nonnegotiable for yourself. We are taking in 80% more than others do. Your friends and family should understand exactly why you need private time to reboot.

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5. Introversion helps.

70% of HSPs are introverts. They get their energy from being inwardly oriented. The sooner you graciously accept that you prefer looking inward to recharge, the happier you’ll be.

But too many HSPs have kept their introversion a deep, dark, hidden secret. Society has given them the message that their desire to take time off for downtime and go off into their own private space makes them weird. And in the end, they’ve bought into it.

The majority suspects that we need to do this because we are “afraid of” or “shy of” people, and they show little hesitation in making this known to us. “Why are you so anti-social? Why would you want to leave the party already?”

If you don’t understand your trait holistically, you will forever be left feeling like there’s some flaw in you. It’s the reason why some HSPs are in ill-suited relationships, marriages, friendships, and professions primarily because they try to portray themselves as the opposite of who they are. As Extroverts.

Ironic and tragic at the same time, this has made HSPs more miserable than peaceful. And why wouldn’t it? You haven’t been able to wrap your head around why exactly you have been labeled as “flawed”, “shy”, “timid” when deep down inside you truly feel you are not.

There comes a time when you’ve had enough pretending. If you’re an introvert, accept it, own it. Choose your own ways of navigating your path. In the process, you will find your peace. If society gets in the way, train yourself how to say “Screw it. I’m doing it anyway. From now on, I’m being me.”

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Decision 6. Forgive your past by reframing it.

If while growing up your sensitivity was received by people, particularly by close family and friends, as a problem that needed fixing, then you are rightfully angry. We’re angry at them for asking us to change who we intrinsically are, and we’re also angry at us for believing their flawed verdicts about our value. And now, after we’ve understood our trait, we are angry at how much of our life got wasted in this whole, painful ordeal.

This anger can be toxic and can keep our healing from starting. This is where forgiveness can help us. Forgive the people who did not understand sensitivity as a trait. Isn’t it true that if we HSPs are just now understanding it, how could anyone else have known any better? Forgiveness doesn’t mean I like what happened, forgiveness means I no longer take it so personally. When we do this, the act of forgiveness is more in our favor than anyone else’s, because it empowers us to finally move on with our life. That has otherwise been put on hold.

“Don’t be so sensitive” can now be answered as “I will be. Thank you very much.”

***

Off we go into a life of our choosing without a flinch of disrespect for our sensitivity. Finally.

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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