If you were looking to hire someone for your business and I told you that I knew someone who was extremely loyal, conscientious, has a high degree of justice, is good at problem solving, is creative and discerning, how long would it take to say, “Send them in for an interview!’? Yet, many individuals with these traits have been berated and scorned during their lives.
After years of working as a Medical Social Worker in the public health field, Patricia Young, opened a private practice. Clients came for various reasons, but Patricia found that there was a commonality among them. They were discerning, verbal processors, they needed to understand things thoroughly, were easily overwhelmed and were told that they needed to just stop being so sensitive, grow a thicker skin, stop mulling over things and be normal! Although they possessed very positive traits as described in the first paragraph, people, often parents among them, would make disparaging remarks regarding their personalities
In 1996, Dr. Elaine Aron wrote the book, The Highly Sensitive Person, describing individuals who had a great degree of sensory processing sensitivity. She explained the phenomenon of this personality which exists in between 15% and 30% of the population.
When Patricia came across this work she understood herself and her clients. As a child she was brought up by a single mother who didn’t have the ability to deal with Patricia’s emotions. She was told to go to her room if she cried, not to be so sensitive. Patricia learned not to express her emotions. Instead she developed her intellectual side in order to survive . Although she put up a tough front she was hurt inside.
What Patricia learned from studying the trait of being a Highly Sensitive Person, or HSP, is that those HSPs (including Patricia) who had “difficult” childhoods (as Dr. Elaine Aron’s research indicates) have higher rates of anxiety and depression. Patricia says, “When children have parents who don’t ‘get’ them, and can’t model how to embrace and honor their sensitivity, they experience that how they show up in the world is not ok. How can this NOT lead to depression and anxiety.”
“When we get messages that we’re not okay, wounding happens. The message I got was it’s not okay to have or talk about feelings. It wasn’t alright for me to be who I was. I find that when HSPs hate their sensitivity, it’s really about the wounding and the messages they received about their sensitivity. It’s the lack of acceptance of how the HSP shows up in the world (feeling deeply, thinking deeply and caring deeply. Ideally, a parent would be able to help the child who is experiencing intense emotions self-regulate (stay calm) by staying calm themselves and showing the child how to embrace the feeling(s), and ways to manage. This allows the child to own their traits. But, often the parents haven’t gotten what they needed, so now they aren’t capable of giving their children what they need to thrive as an HSP.
“A lot of the work that I do is identifying the person’s traits, seeing what negative messages they got about them and retraining the person to see that they are really all right, That these traits are their strengths.
“I learned a great deal about HSP from my clients who were beating themselves up for being perfectionists or deep thinkers. I needed to let them know they were fine the way they are.When I learned about the HSP, it was a huge AHA moment for me.
“Elaine Arons identified 4 core aspects of HSP. The acronym is DOES.
- D depth of processing
- O over stimulation, overarousal
- E emotional responsiveness or empathy
- S sensitive to subtleties
“As a deep thinker, we see the big picture, are problem solvers and come up with out of the box solutions. We try to look at things from all perspectives. We want to know what is the meaning of life; we worry about the quality of our relationships, are sensitive to social justice issues. Sometimes we take more time to come up with a solution because we really want to get the big picture.
“Because we notice more details, we are more impacted by social stimulation, more likely to get exhausted or stressed out. It’s one of the negative aspects of being an HSP. Our culture is about doing, and over stimulation can cause depression and anxiety.
“Brain scans show that we have more active mirror neurons, which means we have more feelings of empathy. We get more impacted by music, art, dance, and poetry. If an HSP is put into a poor environment we will do worse than non-HSPs. If we are put into a positive environment we will outdo non-HSPs.
“We notice details that others miss. Non verbal cues, changes in the environment, when the barometric pressure is dropping; some have perfect pitch; we are more sensitive to medications, caffeine, certain foods. We may notice the sound of dripping water, the ticking of a clock, bright lights, loud noises, or textures of clothing.
“Being an HSP is something a person is born with; it’s not a diagnosis. I, together with my colleague, Jen Perry, have developed a 10 week online course where we help HSPs to understand and appreciate their sensitivities. We deal with mindfulness and self compassion, identifying negative messages and turning them into super powers; perfectionism; embracing our emotions; self care; boundaries; communication; authenticity; vulnerability and creating a lifestyle that honors the HSP.”
I suffered for years thinking there was something wrong with me because of the way I experienced the world. I have been told numerous times to stop being so sensitive, to quit thinking things over, to stop worrying about what happens next. I owe Patricia a huge debt of gratitude in allowing me to accept myself and be proud of my sensitivities. I can walk into a room and feel if there are bad vibrations. I can meet a person and immediately pick up vibes about them. I feel for others in their pain and struggles.This is who I am and I can stop apologizing.
If you have an HS child (HSC), Patricia advises you to read up about it. Dr. Aron wrote a book, The Highly Sensitive Child, which can educate you as to what it means to be them. Teach your child to embrace their feelings and emotions. Work with your children. They usually are overly stimulated and will tend to have meltdowns because they don’t have the words to express what they are feeling. As a parent it is your job to figure out what they are experiencing and aren’t able to express verbally.
Patricia talks about her son Daniel. When he was young, she felt that he lived in the land of not enough. Whatever he got, it was never enough. One day Daniel said he wanted more candy. Patricia said, “Daniel, I see, you want to have more candy. Let’s go to Daniel’s World. In Daniel’s World he was the king and the boss of his desires. Patricia would ask what kind of candy he’d have, and how much he’d have. In this imaginary world, Daniel could fulfill his feelings of wanting more. After they were expressed through the fantasy, Daniel was able to return to reality with having his emotions and feelings calmed. It gave him a place to feel powerful, and to have his wants fulfilled.
Patricia can be found at her website, https:unapologeticallysensitive.com. Look her up and get yourself a new perspective on your life.
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