This thing happens to me every once in a while. I take my children to the library and randomly pick a book for myself from the parenting section. I read it and learn something completely new but essential. This time I checked out a book called “The highly sensitive child” by Dr. Elaine Aron.Wow, what a revelation! According to her research approximately 20% of people have a personality trait that she has labeled HSP. Highly sensitive people process and respond to the world very differently than most of us.
What is a highly sensitive person?
When you hear the word sensitive, do you think of people who easily get their feelings hurt? I did. That is NOT what is meant by “highly sensitive person” at all. It means the brains of highly sensitive people process information from their 5 senses more deeply than others without the trait. This is evident from the trait’s scientific term, Sensory-Processing Sensitivity. Clearly this can make them more susceptible to feeling overwhelmed or anxious. On the other hand, this awareness can be a valuable asset. Often highly sensitive people are incredibly intuitive, tuned in to the smallest details of their environment. They also have a rich inner world that can translate into great creativity.
Dr. Aron wrote several books and spearheaded research into this unique field. I would hope that the more mental health professionals and members of the public alike learn about this trait, the more understood highly sensitive people will be. Some highly sensitive people are mislabeled as shy, when in fact they simply look a lot longer before leaping. Others are considered introverts, when in reality they just need quiet down time to allow their brains to catch up with processing all that sensory input.
Dr. Aron’s sensitivity self test is available here: http://hsperson.com/test/highly-sensitive-test/
If you suspect that you or your child may be highly sensitive, I seriously recommend reading her books.
Is your child highly sensitive?
Imagine the implications for parents. When you understand that even a seemingly gentle reprimand comes through to your child as loud as a bullhorn, that can drastically change your parenting style! When you understand that the minor discomfort you would feel over something itchy or loud is intensified because of this genetic inheritance, it changes your whole perspective!
- Your highly sensitive child is not being a diva! She truly cannot focus on anything else unless her discomfort is addressed first.
- Your highly sensitive child may need more attention than he is getting. He may be so sensitive to your unspoken cues of impatience or annoyance, that he doesn’t speak up when he could use a hug or some one-on-one time.
- Your highly sensitive child may not seem so predisposed to anxiety once you learn to simply acknowledge and address the things in his world that he notices so acutely.
My new understanding has helped me use parenting methods that truly work. Instead of a sledgehammer, I can “use my words”, and teach my children to do the same. Instead of waiting to fill needs until the meltdown, I can think ahead to what may cause overwhelm and address it before that happens.
Are you highly sensitive?
You have a unique opportunity to understand yourself and your place in this world much more clearly, now that the highly sensitive trait has been identified and studied. Research has revealed that people carrying this trait can be deeply affected by difficulties, traumas, and setbacks. The good news is they also seem to be extraordinarily resilient!
How this helps real people
Highly sensitive people are not somehow insulated from the realities of life. If they are, it probably doesn’t serve them well. Here are some real life situations that the highly sensitive people I know have to face.
One is an elementary student who is acutely aware of any disapproval from people in authority such as teachers and parents. She held back from participating in group discussions for fear of being laughed at. She dislikes being the last person to enter the room because everyone will be watching her. Her sensitivity has led to some anxiety. But understanding her better has helped the adults in her life give her the tools she needs to succeed.
Another is an adult victim of childhood trauma, attempting to put back the pieces and overcome the resulting post traumatic stress. Sensitivity in a non-sensitive cultural norm has multiplied the pressure on her now as an adult to face and conquer the pain of trauma. Her sensitivity makes her excellent at finding the words to describe to others what she is combating.
At school I found myself assigned to keep a young boy on task while the classroom teacher taught language arts. He seemed to be paying attention to everything in the room but the teacher; from a tissue blowing in the air by the heater to a pencil with a nice eraser. Then when it came time to sum up the lesson he raised his hand and explained every detail of the story they had just read. He may have seemed distracted and inattentive, but perhaps his brain was busy processing every detail he had noticed.
I found this information so helpful to understanding and hopefully supporting these loved ones that I had to share it with all of you, my readers. With knowledge comes understanding. With understanding comes wisdom.
Now that I know about highly sensitive people, I hope to avoid causing needless pain to my sensitive friends and family. I hope to help them heal from any pain this world puts on them.
Most of all, I look forward to continually learning more about the beauties and complexities of human nature.