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The Highly Sensitive Person

by Mary Strueber

I felt spineless. I thought, "What’s wrong with me? I don’t have a center of my own. Where’s my singular self?—Other people seem to percolate through me... Where’s my own person?”

I didn’t know what to do with this kind of sensitivity. I didn’t even know that sensitivity was at the root of these experiences. All I knew is that I felt awful a lot of the time."

David Abram

Are you easily overwhelmed? Do you lack energy or a sense of belonging? Do you feel others engage with the world with an ease you lack? Does life feel unusually effortful at times? Does it feel especially difficult to try new things or go new places? Are you more aware of subtleties in other’s moods? If so, you might be a "Highly Sensitive Person.”

According to the Dr. Elaine Aron, researcher and author of The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You, about 20% of the population has this trait. In recent years, researchers have identified the Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) as a type of person who is emotionally and biologically more sensitive to all kinds of stimuli.

Highly Sensitive People have a style of awareness that is more expanded than most. They are more dramatically impacted by “subtle” environmental influences ranging from the effects of magnetic fields to psychic disturbances.

This heightened sensitivity can manifest as feeling overly stimulated by sounds, smells, sensations, someone’s mood, as well as chemical sensitivity and allergies. These influences tend to exist below the radar of most people. This increased awareness to environmental stimulus can create feelings of depression, confusion, anxiety, and low self-esteem.

If you do have HSP as a trait it’s important to identify it. When you recognize and identify your experiences as an HSP, you become a better advocate for your needs. With a way to understand your experience of the world, you can make the most of your heightened awareness.

With a vocabulary to describe your nature and your experience, you will be able to evaluate how and why the experiences of your daily life inhibit or nurture your authentic sense of being. Once you identify your sensory needs and your temperament and learning style, self criticism gives way to self acceptance. You become an advocate for yourself and can better understand:

  • Why certain career paths are preferable and others untenable
  • What the qualities are in experiences that bring you pleasure
  • What is challenging for you in intimate relationships (and why)
  • Why you prefer certain climates, communities and qualities in your living environment
  • Your preferences for socializing
  • Your limitations for absorbing specific types of information or for enjoying certain types of events

Having a way to understand and work with your experience as an HSP can be a real relief. At the same time you may experience a deep grief at a life spent under labels like: lazy, shy, rigid, defensive and sensitive. It’s extremely important that on the road to celebrating your true nature that you have support in digesting the meaning that all this has for you.

If you are an HSP, with education and support you can begin to put together a picture of the unique way that your mind, body and senses experience, absorb and process incoming information.

Gradually you will accumulate a repertoire of routines, skills and beliefs that facilitate the expression of, and support for, your internal reality. You become able to identify how the physical, mental and emotional environments nurture or inhibit your coming into your fullness and will be able to tailor your life in a manner that allows full expression of your true self.

Although it may seem amazing, most HSP’s have never identified their sensitivity. They have always assumed others had similar experiences, but believed that somehow other people just managed it better. They were never aware that the experiences of their sensing bodies, and of emotional empathy are highly unusual for the majority of the population.

In groups and private sessions I offer specific support and counseling for the Highly Sensitive Person. Please feel free to e-mail me directly for more information, or call 410.757.4720.

Click here, to take the online HSP Assessment to find out where you are on the Sensitivity Scale.

Suggested Reading

  • The Highly Sensitive Person, Elaine Aron
  • The Highly Sensitive Person In Love, Elaine Aron
  • The Spell of the Sensuous, David Abram
  • Sensory Integration and the Child, Jean Ayres
  • Hands of Light, Barbara Brennan
  • Are You Really Too Sensitive?, Marcy Calhoun

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