What it Means to be Highly Sensitive
High sensitivity is a normal trait found in roughly 20% of the population, so it’s quite common. The proper term for this trait is Sensory-Processing Sensitivity or SPS. The brains of those with SPS function a little differently than those without the trait. Nearly all animals have demonstrated this trait, including dogs, cats, fish, and horses. Even insects can have the SPS trait.
If you or someone you know is a highly sensitive person, understanding this trait can be helpful. There’s no known “cure,” and there’s no need for one. One out of five people have the SPS trait. It doesn’t require treatment, but learning how to manage it can be useful in certain situations.
Highly sensitive people often share a set of traits:
- Cry easily. You know the type. They cry at commercials. They cry when overstressed or uncertain. While crying is nothing to be ashamed of, highly sensitive people are often embarrassed by how easily they can be brought to tears.
- React more strongly. It’s common to “overreact” when you’re highly sensitive. Things that upset the average person upset a highly sensitive person a lot. All emotional reactions are stronger and can seem excessive.
- Make decisions more slowly. Highly sensitive people are committed to making the best possible decisions. They painstakingly go over every detail and consider all the possibilities. It can take a significant amount of time to get it right. Be patient when they’re making a decision.
- Are more self-critical. Highly sensitive people are highly self-critical. They know how to beat themselves up. Anything less than perfection can be a source of anxiety and embarrassment.
- Care about the details. The highly-sensitive notice everything. No detail is too small to make note of.
- Are more annoyed by stray stimuli. Whether it’s a squeaking noise in the car or a stray pebble in their shoe, highly sensitive people are less able to ignore annoying stimuli. Highly sensitive people are easily overstimulated and overwhelmed by things that barely register in the awareness of the average person.
- Take criticism poorly. Even mild criticism can elicit a strong emotional reaction in those that are highly sensitive. Make an effort not to over-react if you’re highly sensitive. Give yourself time for your emotions to return to normal before responding.
- They are easily overwhelmed by time pressure. When there’s a lot to get done in a short amount of time, they can become bogged down by their anxiety very easily.
Does any of this sound familiar? If so, do you feel relieved to have a better understanding of yourself or someone else in your life?
There are many things you can do to mitigate the potential negative effects of the SPS trait:
Get enough sleep.
- Avoid excessive amounts of caffeine. You don’t need additional stimulation.
- Spend time in relaxing environments each day. Create your own space.
- Avoid spending too much time in noisy, highly-stimulating environments.
- Give yourself enough time to complete tasks.
- Take the time you need before reacting to any emotional upset.
Be understanding of any highly sensitive people in your life. Remember that the condition is genetic. Asking someone with the SPS trait to be less sensitive is like asking a 25-year old to be taller.
A highly sensitive person might not be the person to take to a weekend rock music festival, but you’ll never find a more attentive listener.
There are advantages to being highly sensitive. Being observant and detail-oriented can be a valuable trait in the right setting. Make the most of what you have to work with and you’ll find life to be more fulfilling.
Angela Atkinson is a Certified Life Coach and the author of more than 20 books on narcissism, narcissistic abuse recovery and related topics. A recognized expert on narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder who has studied and written extensively on narcissistic relationships since 2006, Atkinson was inspired to begin her work as a result of having survived toxic relationships of her own.
Atkinson offers trauma-informed coaching and has certifications in life coaching, level 2 therapeutic model, CBT coaching, integrative wellness coaching, and NLP. She is a certified trauma support coach and certified family trauma professional. She also has a professional PTSD counseling certification. Her mission is to help those who have experienced the emotional and mental devastation that comes with narcissistic abuse in these incredibly toxic relationships to (re)discover their true selves, stop the gaslighting and manipulation and move forward into their genuine desires – into a life that is exactly what they choose for themselves.
Along with her solution-focused life coaching experience, Atkinson’s previous career in journalism and research helps her to offer both accurate and understandable information for survivors of abuse in a simple-to-understand way that helps to increase awareness in the narcissistic abuse recovery community. Atkinson founded QueenBeeing.com Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support, the SPANily Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support Groups and the Life Makeover Academy. In her life coaching practice, Atkinson’s clients enjoy her personalized approach that allows and encourages them to become the best possible versions of themselves and to succeed in doing what they love most. She offers individual and group coaching for victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse at NarcissisticAbuseRecovery.Online and NarcissismSupportCoach.com.