When I was in my early twenties, my dear, gentle dad (an introvert) referred me to a book he’d just read called The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World by Marti Olsen Laney. After I read it, it was like the sky parted and the angels began to sing.
There was nothing wrong with me! I wasn’t antisocial or weird, and I wasn’t a loser for needing time to recharge my batteries after stimulating interaction–I was just an introvert!
Hear me roar (but only if I’m well-fed, well-rested, I’ve had a lot of downtime by myself, and I’m totally comfortable in my surroundings)!
Later on, probably in first-year Psych, I took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test, and more of my complex and often puzzling (even to me!) personality became clear–I’m an INFJ, the rarest of all 16 types (approximately 1-3% of the world’s population!)
Discovering these things about myself has brought a lot of healing to my life. Although the cultural awareness of introverts has been on the rise in recent years, we still live in a society that largely celebrates brashness and boldness (just watch any reality TV show, with the possible exception of The Amazing Race Canada), outspokenness, toughness, and bulldozing, cocksure attitudes.
Which is why realizing I’m an HSP has deepened my understanding of myself, and other sensitive souls.
An HSP is a Highly Sensitive Person. The term was coined by Elaine Aron who began researching high sensitivity in the early 90s. Apparently, HSPs make up 15-20% of the population, which, according to Aron, means it’s “too many to be a disorder, but not enough to be well understood by the majority […]”
High sensitivity is a personality trait, not a disorder, and it means that we may process data more deeply and thoroughly than others due to a biological difference in our nervous system. HSPs can be introverts or extraverts, and any acronym on the MBTI.
To find out if you’re an HSP (you’re in good company!) you can take the test here.
According to Aron, it’s a good thing to be highly sensitive.
But it’s not without its pitfalls.
There are tons of illuminating articles out there on common HSP traits and it’s so refreshing to read traits you thought were unique to you aren’t quite so weird after all! It’s also been helpful to get tips on coping in an overwhelming world.
Here are some articles I’ve found to be particularly useful:
- 13 Awesome Characteristics of Highly Sensitive People
- 6 Sweet Survival Tips for Super Sensitive Souls
- 11 Powerful Ways to Protect Your Sensitivity
- 16 Habits of Highly Sensitive People
- 26 Signs You’re a Highly Sensitive Person
- 10 Ways to Find Out if You are Too Sensitive
Being an HSP can definitely be both a blessing and a curse. For me, it means the following traits:
- I notice everything, so a cluttered kitchen or workspace, specks of dirt, crumbs on the counter, dust on my work desk, etc. will get me really annoyed
- Not being able to perform, or performing poorly, when scrutinized (which is why I didn’t drive so well with my parents or an instructor, but once left to my own devices, I drove fine)
- Easily startled
- Agitated by loud and/or persistent noises (sirens, car alarms, chewing, incessant coughing, loud talkers)
- More sensitive to extreme cold or extreme heat than others
- Intensely moved by the arts; often “getting lost” in music, movies, a book, etc.
- Deep connection to animals and nature
- Strong intuition
- Picking up on the emotions of others and being affected by them
- Able to pick up on non-verbals and the “emotional climate” of situations and places
- Physical reactions to stress
- Feeling all the feels intensely, from elation to depression–quick to laugh; quick to cry
- Overwhelmed in cities or places with crowds
- Feeling sorry for inanimate objects. In her matron-of-honour speech at my wedding, my sister told the story of how, as a kid, I wanted to take all of my stuffies and dolls with me on our trip to Myrtle Beach because I didn’t want to hurt any of their feelings!
- Very vivid dreams
- Conscientiousness and high self-awareness. For example, when grocery shopping, an HSP will make sure her cart is not blocking anyone and will wait patiently for you to go through a crowded aisle rather than pushing through with an insistent, “Excuse me!” They will also become very annoyed when other people lack that same level of conscientiousness
- Deeply distressed by any form of conflict and will develop headaches/stomachaches when there’s tension or conflict
- People pleasing to avoid criticism, which is taken very personally
- Able to read people well and know what to do to make them comfortable (we do quite well in customer service!)
- Unable to stomach violent movies, TV shows, the news, books, etc., and not able to quickly forget them if I do. I have to be extremely careful what I watch, see, listen to, read, etc. I walked out of the movie Looper in theatres and then felt disturbed and physically ill all day
- Sensitivity to certain words or expressions
- Vivid imagination
As an HSP, and an introvert, and a Blue, and an INFJ, it’s been extremely important for me to continually self-care, to treat myself gently so that I will then treat others gently, and to remind myself that God made me this way for a reason, and everything He made is good.