In 1978 a certain group of people got labelled after the “sensitive plant,” Mimosa pudica. Compared to other plants (except for the carnivorous ones), mimosa exhibits a heightened sensitivity towards the slightest external stimuli such as gentle touch, wind and rain by closing up its fan-like leaves. This strategy enables the plant to “disappear” in the eyes of herbivores. From the evolutionary point of view it seems that the gene for sensitivity has paid off for mimosa as it has persevered as an individual species up until today. Much like this yellow-flowering plant, the group of the mimosa-like people bears traits of high sensitivity. They are commonly called the Highly Sensitive People (HSP).
Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)
If you yourself do not belong among them, be sure that every fifth person around you does. And that is a reason good enough to read these lines even though it may seem unrelated to why you came to this website in the first place. The intention of this text is the direct opposite of secrecy, silence and judgment. The intention is clarity, information, understanding and support for everyone involved. Not only people with HSP traits but also their family friends and colleagues. People with high sensitivity are carrying gifts that can brighten the lives of all of us and make the world a more beautiful place. Do not let ourselves overlook them because of unawareness.
People with traits of high sensitivity constitute 15-20% of our population, and the trait is distributed evenly 1:1 between women and men. A percentage too high to be treated as a disorder, and not significant enough to be commonly understood. High sensitivity is an inherited genetic predisposition and as any other quality it can be a gift or an obstacle depending on how we and our surroundings treat it. The key is understanding. In the contemporary information age the facts are being shared way faster than 30, 50 years ago. Please google the HSP shortcut, conduct your own research, fill in the online self-test of sensitivity, buy a book, watch a movie, search for scientific resources or therapeutical support that resonates. If not for yourself, do it for the HSPs in your life.
In the meanwhile I hereby present to you a brief list of facts that are true about me, my dog companion, most of my close friends, teachers, therapists, their children… and of course, every fifth person I meet:).
Highly sensitive persons (HSPs)
- Notice way more details and subtleties than others. Their brain stores all the information and processes it more deeply.
- The traits were found by the biologists not only in humans, but also in 100+ animal species, from fruit flies, birds, fish to dogs, cats, horses, and primates. The trait reflects a certain type of survival strategy: observing before acting. The brains of HSPs work a little differently than the remaining 80-85% of the population.
- High sensitivity is a genetically inherent trait, it is therefore more than likely that if you possess the traits, you will be able to find them in your ancestors too.
- Intense, chaotic, complex or new situations lasting for longer periods overly stimulate their nervous system and HSPs are therefore more prone to getting overwhelmed compared to the rest of the population.
- High sensitivity does not equal introversion. In fact, an entire 30% of HSPs are extroverts.
- Timidity, shyness and neuroticism may be an accompanying symptom of HSPs, but these traits are acquired – learned coping strategies, not an inherent trait. High sensitivity can be misunderstood and poorly diagnosed.
- Various cultures value high sensitivity differently. In cultures where high sensitivity is being undervalued, HSPs tend to have low self-esteem. Since childhood, they often hear messages as “you are not normal,” and subconsciously absorb them.
- Some potentially overwhelming stimuli: bright lights, intense smells, coarse fabrics, tight clothes, emotionally charged situations, time pressure, pressure on performance, violent TV scenes.
- In tense moments it might help them to withdraw to silence and privacy, e.g. a dark bedroom or a favourite place in nature.
- For a major part of HSPs, regular doses of solitude are a much needed opportunity to recharge energy and process their impressions.
- Their inner life is very rich and complex, deep processing of thoughts and feelings, intuition and vivid imagination.
- They appreciate delicate smells, tastes, sounds and art, aesthetics, harmony.
- Heightened empathy, reading of emotions, emotional intelligence: in the empathy test, the mirror neurons of HSPs generate more activity compared to the control group.
- Alanis Morrissette, Nicole Kidman, Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Buber have one in common: high sensitivity traits (the last four were not tested, but their words and actions suggest something about their traits).