I’ve spent most of my life thinking that something was wrong with me. The way I experienced… well, everything seemed different from those around me. In western cultures, “sensitive” is considered a bad word. If I had a quarter for every time I’d been told not to be so “sensitive,” I’d have a butt ton of quarters.
Very recently I’ve discovered the concept of the “Highly Sensitive Person.” I was reading an article about HSP and all I did was sit there and nod along. Many of the traits of an HSP I could relate to my own experiences. It felt like the pivotal “Aha!” moment.
Being Highly Sensitive is a trait found in 15–20% of people and is a biological difference in sensory processing. HSPs are more aware of subtle changes and process information more deeply. The trait is not very well understood or widely researched because the percentage of people who have it is quite low, but it is a completely normal thing (not considered a disorder or a disease).
While I’m still learning and processing my own experiences as a Highly Sensitive Person, this is what I’ve learned so far...
A few months ago, I was tidying my closet and from my room, I could hear the radio, my mom singing in the bathroom, and the hairdryer she was using. With those three different “sounds” going on at once, I basically shut down because there was too much audible input. My brain was a short-circuiting computer, and I had to stop what I was doing until things quieted down.
Now that was a more extreme moment for me. Most of the time I can continue functioning even when I’m feeling overwhelmed, but there have been so many similar moments that have left me feeling drained. I find it hard to think when I’m in a crowded space and there are tons of people all talking at once.
Sometimes I have what I refer to as “eagle ears,” where I can hear quite quiet sounds that others can’t. This isn’t something I can do all the time, so I wouldn’t really call it a superpower. For example, I can hear an electronic device beeping in the basement while I’m all the way upstairs. It comes in handy when trying to locate those beepy devices.
The number of times I’ve also accidentally eavesdropped on conversations is a bit nuts, just because I can hear people whispering quite clearly even from far away.
On top of this, I’ve also been blessed with misophonia (an intense emotional reaction to certain sounds), which means that the sound of chewing makes me want to set myself on fire. I can hear everything, especially the guy chewing gum behind me in line.
People & Energy
I wouldn’t call myself an empath really, but I can pick up on the energies of people and places, and it can affect my mood to some extent.
A couple of years ago, I took a job as a housekeeper at my local hospital. I had to quit after a month and a half because (on top of basically being on call for shifts) I couldn’t handle the energy. In general, hospitals are not happy places filled with positive energy. I’d come home after each shift feeling frazzled and drained. I greatly admire those who work at hospitals and do so much for people, but it’s not for me.
I read what I call “vibes” from places or even people, and I can sometimes feel shifts in energy… such as when my mom gets stressed out about something. I find I can feel nervous energy the most, and if I spend too much time with someone who is anxious or nervous it makes me tired.
Being in large groups of people and in large social situations is exhausting. I used to think it was just because I’m an introvert, but now I’m starting to understand it’s a combination of being highly sensitive. All the sensory input from large crowds, on top of all their energy. I’m getting tired just thinking about it.
When I was a small child, I refused to wear woolen fabrics, turtle necks, fleece, and a couple of other things. I just couldn’t stand how they felt on my skin or how the turtle necks felt against my neck.
To this day I can’t touch or even look at fleece, though I’ve come to a mutual understanding with the others. I quite like woolen fabrics, though they do still have to be of the softer variety and I tend to wear something light underneath as a barrier. But fleece is my fabric nemesis.
A little while ago, I bought a new set of cotton sheets. They lasted one night because they were much too scratchy.
Internalizing & Feeling
One aspect of my personality that I wish I could “turn off” is how much I internalize everything. Elsa’s mantra of “let it go” is lost on me.
Oh, how I long to let things roll off me, but any time I’m honked at while driving, corrected at work, given a sour look by a stranger on the street, I fret about it the rest of the day. I’ve gotten somewhat better in recent years, but I will still take things personally more often than I should.
Sudden little changes in my routine or scheduled plans cause a weird amount of anxiety and fretting.
I feel things deeply and intensely. Imagine an emotional scale 0–10 (where 0 is not feeling and 10 is all the feelings). I suspect on a regular daily basis (aka mundane things) most people feel things between a 4–6 — maybe even a 7 — but, I’m usually running at an 8 or 9. It’s the little things that can lift or drown my mood. Good weather can leave me feeling good all day, seeing a butterfly, standing under a tree, is enough to fill me with joy for hours.
One downside is I can’t compartmentalize. My emotions and moods (no matter how they came about) will stick with me for a long while. If something happens at work, it’s going to stay with me until it’s dealt with or I force myself to get over it… and I can! If I try hard.