Recently while perusing the fantastic blog I stumbled across a website about HSP, or the Highly Sensitive Person. Shoutout to fellow HSP Nicole at Writes Like a Girl, where I found the link! It’s been a game changer for how I view myself and adjust to a more realistic way of relating to life. Lightbulbs went off as I scoured the website. Basically, the HSP makes up roughly a fifth of the population and is a trait described as being more sensitive to detail in surroundings as well as a way of processing sensory input on a deeper level. Check out the DOES acronym on the HSP website for more detail. Basically, HSPs are more likely to be overstimulated and stressed out by sensory input because of how their brains are wired.
At first I thought the author was talking about introversion, but apparently up to a third of HSPs are extroverted. It’s a different thing altogether. As an introvert, I’m now realizing it’s not just being around people that can drain me, it’s any repetitive, complex, or ‘big’ sensory stimulus that drains me as well.
For me, sound tends to be the biggest culprit. I’ve noticed for years how easily frustrated, overwhelmed, or claustrophobic I feel when in loud settings. I’m a quiet country girl. I hate listening to podcasts. I find it difficult to be around loud people for any length of time.
One of the biggest affirmations for me was discovering that one quality of being an HSP is that we process information more slowly because our brains are working at a deeper level. One of the most frustrating, oft-repeated experiences for me is what happens when listening to someone speak for long periods of time, hearing someone share novel or large portions of information in a short period of time, or trying to engage and interact with even a small group of people who are discussing ideas, particularly complex ideas or ones I feel strongly about. (HSPs tend to feel verrrrry strongly about lots of things. Check.) Without fail I would walk away from any of these encounters feeling overwhelmed, confused, and stupid. I was trying to process not just the information, but my reaction to it as well, and it was exhausting.
Some feature of most small group dynamics involves everyone’s limited ability to share fully, I think-it’s not the same as a one-on-one, and some personalities are naturally more dominating, commanding, or charismatic. Now I’m learning some helpful strategies for processing overwhelming settings as well as for gaining a healthy perspective of how I operate. I’ll share more of them later, but for now I’ll include a few here.
- Remember that rewiring my brain isn’t the goal. Brain scan studies have been done that found evidence of how HSPs’ brains operate differently than those without this trait. I am always going to have strong feelings about things, feel most at home in quiet places, and will probably never dominate conversations or whatever else those considered to have’strong personalities’ do. It absolutely does not mean that limited involvement in conversations is a sign of lessened intelligence or value. I need to remind myself of this often, stop comparing myself, and practice a healthy appreciation for the specific way I was created. (Thanks, God! You make good things.)
- Be smart about what I take in. I’m guilty of staring at Facebook or various websites for far too long. Not only can that be a waste of time, it’s a huge waste of energy. I used to think that I only had so much give a sh*t; now I understand better that that’s not true. I get so emotionally invested in things so quickly that I can feel wrung out in no time. Why waste myself on that? So I really need to be careful about what I give my energy to, even in small portions. Avoiding taxing subjects is often a sign that I need to reevaluate how I’m stewarding my energy to make sure I can invest it where it’s most needed. Sometimes, that’s a very limited field and that’s ok. This is especially true right now as a stay at home, homeschooling mom.
- Turn that understanding back around towards others. I can’t walk around demanding silence (I’ve tried. Didn’t work ;). That’s not realistic or considerate. I can enjoy the fact that there’s so much diversity in the way we’re created-the way we think and view the world, and many other ways. That’s a good thing!
This has all been shared with a lot of I’s and me’s. It’s still something I’m learning about and processing (no surprise there). But I’d love to hear from you. If you are an HSP, I’m waving at you across the web, and I hope you feel a bit of solidarity here. If you don’t identify with this trait, kudos for reading-chances are you know someone who is. So please chime in! How do you manage being an HSP? What do you wish others knew? If you aren’t an HSP, thank you for showing such consideration in learning about this trait that can be very puzzling and confusing from either side!