Unmasking a High Sensation Seeking Highly Sensitive Person: Walking Through the Jungle
In this blog post we’re going to delve into first looking at how you relate to your HSP Trait. Then we’ll go into the why, if, when and how HSPs can and will benefit from describing their HSP Trait to others.
In the last blog post we talked about setting up a local HSP Meetup Group, and the title of that post was “Welcome to the Jungle”.
But now, we’re actually heading “into” the jungle. A place of great mystery and foreboding for some who’ve never been in a jungle before. And for most HSPs, describing their HSP Trait to others feels pretty much the same way – like heading into foreign territory without the proper gear, which will have unknown implications with likely negative consequences. You’re feeling me right?
But regardless, there are circumstances and relationships where sharing that you have the HSP Trait will benefit both you and others. The “others” who'd benefit from knowing about your HSP Trait could be family members, like a husband or a wife, or son or daughter, boyfriend or girlfriend, or it could be of a professional nature, like, clients, coworkers, employers, managers, supervisors. It can also include relationships like roommates or close friends, and any of the other multitude of relationships one can have.
But even thinking about telling any one of these people about your HSP Trait can make you feel like you’re getting ready to “Run Through the Jungle”. Not cool.
So we’re not doing that. We’re going to do the opposite. We’re going to calmly "Walk Through the Jungle". Very cool.
And we’re going to start with your current navigational position.
How You View Your HSP Trait
Firstly, if you’ve grown up in western culture you’ve already received an abundance of negative messaging (through media, as well as other people) about the benefits of your trait;
- your sense of spirituality,
- your ability to “feel” deeply,
- your ability to notice small details,
- your ability to “see” the bigger picture,
- your willingness to take time to gather information in order to make a well-informed decision,
- your creativity which includes creative problem-solving (which usually doesn’t fall in line with the “conformity” aspect of current western culture),
- your intuitiveness,
- your love of nature and peace,
- and, your love of your “alone time,” to name a few.
In western culture the current commonly accepted messaging in media and culture is to value;
- in-your-face drama,
- and, a “conquer or be conquered” mentality.
So it’s important to note what you’ve been dealing with, so you can begin to understand “why” you haven’t embraced your sensitivity and its gifts as much as you can. So far, you’ve been doing the best you possibly could under some very difficult conditions.
And it’s here I encourage you to be open to looking at yourself in new ways. Take the opportunity to recapture the innocence you had when you were a child and saw your first dragonfly - the wonder, the awe, the playfulness, the curiosity. Be willing to begin viewing yourself in this way. You came to this Life to learn, experience, and grow spiritually towards happiness and wisdom – they are there, waiting for you.
Now having said that, being exposed to the type of culture you’ve been exposed to means there will be hidden pockets of pain you’ll have or will discover, and will need to heal. These pockets of pain can be due to people who’ve betrayed you, ridiculed you, used you, whatever.
And I invite you to use the energy of this pain as a tool for healing, as a means to move beyond your ego. Avoid getting caught up in the “who” of the person, because that really isn’t what’s important. You are. And whatever lesson you’ve been given was just that, a spiritual lesson, and the pain was simply a means to an end. Because pain is only meant to help us, to show us the opportunities for spiritual growth available to us and propel us towards what does serve us, by showing us what doesn’t.
Feels like a setup right? Well, maybe it is and maybe it isn’t. To me if feels like this is one of the spiritual lessons HSPs came here to learn (in this lifetime). Learning and then demonstrating acceptance, forgiveness, and compassion towards themselves. Because the more you encourage this in yourself, the more you have to offer yourself, and therefore others.
This is a process that’ll take time and will require you to be open to growing and showing yourself acceptance, forgiveness and compassion. I highly recommend the exercises in Elaine Aron’s, “The Highly Sensitive Person’s Workbook”.
I also invite you to entertain creating your own HSP Discussion Group, where you'll experience connection, growth, new insights, and inspiration alongside other HSPs.
I say all this because it’s important you understand how you think and feel about having the HSP Trait before deciding on the why, if, when and how to describe your HSP Trait to others. Because it’ll guide how you communicate it to others, and therefore how others can and will relate to you. And remember, 80% of communication is body language.
If you feel like having the HSP trait is a ”bad” thing, as you’ve been conditioned to think it is, that’s the message others will receive when you talk about it. Not being able to explain your trait in a positive and intelligent way will only end up making you feel like an isolated “special snowflake”.
And you aren’t, 15-20% of the population on this planet have the HSP Trait. To give you some perspective on this, currently the total population is 7.6 billion, and 15% of 7.6 billion is 1.1 billion. So a conservative estimate shows us there are 1.1 billion HSPs in the world - so you see, you are very much not alone.
So let’s start at the beginning. Defining how your HSP Trait shows up for you. Because everyone is unique and the HSP trait operates on a continuum, some have it to a high degree and others not as high. So knowing how your trait works for you is the first thing you’ll want to discover.
Think about each one of these points by delving into your memory and see what comes up for you, noticing if, in the past, you’ve reacted strongly to;
- bright lights (fluorescent)
- sudden loud noises (or soft noises others don’t hear),
- loud environments,
- strong odors (perfume),
- the texture of objects,
- how food tastes,
- specific chemicals,
- food additives,
Some other questions you can ask yourself are:
- Can you feel the 'energy' in a room when you walk in, whether positive or negative, even if you missed the conversation that took place before you walked in?
- If you see someone is in pain, distress or suffering, do you have difficulties with taking on their emotional or even physical pain? And/or do you feel compelled to try to 'fix' the problem?
- Do you sometimes find yourself 'mirroring' body language or speech patterns of people you’re interacting with?
- Do you tend to be most in touch with your feelings when you’re alone?
- Do you feel stressed by crowded public places, like shopping centers, grocery stores, airports, or when you go to parties and nightclubs?
- Are you deeply moved by the arts, music, a compelling movie, a great book, or the theater?
- Do you feel overwhelmed when you’re expected to do too many things in a short period of time?
- Do you find, at times, you need to withdraw to a private room, to sleep, or to just be by yourself?
- Do strangers find it easy to talk to you about personal things?
- Do you have vivid dreams? Do you feel as though your dreams may be linked to your waking life?
- Do you have difficulty watching violence or cruelty on TV?
- Have you used alcohol, drugs, sex, or food as a form of self-protection or as a barrier to numb yourself from feeling too many emotions?
- Do you just somehow “know” what needs to be done in an emergency situation and are able to function well under this type of stress?
- Do you feel strongly connected to animals?
- Does spending time in nature rejuvenate you?
- Do you often like to stop and think more deeply about an experience or a conversation before deciding to take action?
- Are you drawn to creating art in some form? (writing, drawing, painting, cooking, singing, acting, etc.)?
- Have you been told by more than one person that you certainly have “an imagination”?
Asking yourself these questions will help you figure out how your trait shows up for you, and subsequently, how what you’ve noticed affects you. For example, some HSPs can’t drink coffee at all, it causes them to become anxious and jittery, while others can drink some. How your HSP Trait works for you will be different than how it works for someone else.
Take your time with delving into How You View and Relate To Your HSP Trait. You’ll notice that, like an onion there are many layers to your HSP Trait, and there will always be something beautiful to discover, regardless if you’ve known you have the trait for a long time or a relatively short period of time.
Why Tell Someone You Have the HSP Trait
Now here’s where it would be beneficial to understand the reason(s) why you would tell someone you have the HSP Trait. Because understanding what you want from a relationship will determine what would be beneficial information for the other person to know about you, with respect to your HSP Trait.
The main reason to tell someone about your trait is to increase the level of communication and beneficial “give and take” any healthy relationship requires.
So, for example, if I decide it’s important for me to receive the best medical advice possible, then it would be in my best interest to tell my family doctor I have the HSP Trait. So the doctor understands, for example, why I don’t require as strong of a dose of prescription drugs as a non-HSP.
(As an aside, most western family physicians aren’t familiar with the HSP Trait and I’ve found it easiest to refer them to the www.hsperson.com website for additional information so they can become familiar with the trait and then be able to talk with me about beneficial options available to me). And if they aren't willing to do this, I look for another doctor.
The “why” and benefits for telling someone you have the HSP Trait will vary, from a professional standpoint, like the one above with your doctor or your employer, to closer relationships (like a father, mother, brother, sister, best friend, close friend, boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife, son, daughter, niece, nephew, etc.).
How you describe your trait will vary according to;
- the level of “closeness” you feel in a relationship,
- the level of trust you have with the individual,
- and the reason(s) why you share what you choose to share with them.
In all cases, there has to be a benefit for you as well as the other person. Otherwise, why do it right?
Deciding “If” You Should Tell You Have the HSP Trait
Next we’ll move on to deciding “if” you should tell someone you have the HSP Trait.
In each case where you’re deciding who to tell you have the HSP Trait, it’s important to consider “if” you should, because deciding the “if” will also determine if this proves to be a positive or negative experience for you.
I’d like you to have a positive experience so let’s go into more detail here.
Let’s look at some examples ranging from a personal relationship, to an employee/employer relationship to a potential roommate relationship.
Let’s look at a close relationship with a sibling. We all have close relationships and how healthy that relationship is needs to be considered before you decide to initiate having a discussion about your HSP Trait.
When deciding if you should initiate a discussion about your HSP Trait with say, a sibling, first look at your history with them. If, in the past, your sibling has primarily ridiculed you and been emotionally unsupportive – should you tell them? Not really.
While they are your sibling and you do love them, that doesn’t mean you should trust them or believe that they’ll be able and willing to participate in a healthy relationship with you. It doesn’t really have anything to do with you, it’s simply being accepting of what the other person is able to give to the relationship at this time. Most likely they internally treat themselves the same way and have their own difficulties.
Perhaps one day in the future they’ll be able to have a healthy relationship with you, but using your energy in ways that benefit you and move you closer to living a healthy life with those who are and can be supportive of you and your gifts and talents; is all you need to focus on right now.
Now when looking at an employee/employer relationship it’s best to look at what the overall “culture” of the company is. Most of the time you can’t go by what the “mission statement” is, you have to observe how things “really” work by observing people, how they act, what’s said and not said. Sometimes you can be in a company that is quite hierarchical, but you find your supervisor or manager is ethical and open-minded. In this case, sitting down with your supervisor or manager and discussing your HSP Trait can be beneficial for both of you.
For a potential roommate (that you don’t know) it helps to ask questions about their lifestyle first and then be very clear on what you require. If they’re gregarious, outgoing, loud and frequently have friends over you may want to cross them off your list of potential roommates. You don’t need to disclose you have the HSP Trait , because after all, you don’t know this person - but you do need to communicate very clearly that it’s important that you have a quiet, calm space to live and need a lot of alone time in order to relax.
So you see, when deciding on the “if” you need to take into account the “other person” to a large extent, like;
- how they communicate,
- the way they live their life,
- what they value,
- how supportive they've been towards you in the past,
- and, the relative “health” of your relationship with them.
When to Tell Someone You Have the HSP Trait
Okay, so you’ve decided that you’re going to tell someone you have the HSP Trait and you’ve been working on how you view and relate to your HSP Trait.
Next make a list of the people in your life that you have contact with (either regularly, occasionally, or rarely), note if the relationship is personal or professional, and put a star behind the names of people you feel it would be important to have a discussion about your HSP Trait with (your employer, your doctor, your girlfriend, etc.)
Now, on this list note beside the name of the individual if you feel they’ll respond positively to this information – knowing that the added information will be beneficial for them to know as well. Rate how you feel with a “10” being very positive and a “1” being not positive at all. Keep an eye on what feeling immediately comes up for you when you think of this person. There's no right or wrong, the other person isn’t bad if you put a “1” beside their name. You’re actually doing both yourself and them a favour by getting clear about things.
If you put down a “1” for someone and then decided to have a discussion with them anyways, it may not be a positive experience for them either. So listen to your intuition, it’s one of the gifts of your HSP Trait.
After you’ve finished numbering your list then look at the personal relationships you put a number close to “10” for. Maybe you have a best friend you haven’t told about your trait, but they’re very supportive, positive and have always been there for you. You can work up to telling someone professional (manager, client, doctor, etc.) about your trait, but in order to make this a positive experience for you, first start with someone you have a close, positive relationship with.
How to Tell Someone You Have the HSP Trait
Okay, we’ve decided that the best way forward is to start by telling someone that you trust and have a positive, personal, close relationship with about your HSP Trait.
Next, ask them if you can talk to them about something. If you can practice something with them. Reassure them it isn’t a problem, but something you’re hoping they can help you work through by listening and giving you feedback. It shouldn’t take long, ideally it would be best if you can describe your trait and how it works for you in 3 minutes or less, if you have to take longer than this at first, that’s okay, at first the goal is to get comfortable talking about it.
One way I describe my trait is:
“Up to 20% of human beings are born with a trait where their brain and central nervous system is more finely tuned to its environment. This is called the Sensory Processing Sensitivity, otherwise known as the Highly Sensitive Person, or HSP Trait. Scientists believe it’s an inherited genetic trait.
What this means is that my Sensitivity causes me to notice things like:
- the energy of a space
- other people's emotions
- patterns in the way things happen
This sensitivity shows up for me like;
- taste - I can notice subtle ingredients in foods or may be sensitive to certain types of food,
- smell – I’m able to distinguish smells and strong smells may bother me,
- hearing – I pick up on and hear subtle noises, and at times loud music or noise may be too much for me,
- sight - I notice subtle details and fluorescent lighting can bother me,
- intuition - I can sense how things are going to happen, I can tell when something is right or wrong, but not always why.
I have what’s called a 'Pause to Check' system in my brain, which means that I like to stop and think more deeply about an experience or a conversation before I decide to take action.
And, I need a quiet, calm space to work and live and need to have alone time in order to relax. That doesn’t mean I don't like to be social, I just require time to regroup.”
Practice communicating how your trait works for you with your friend at least three times, and even set up a short schedule for yourself where you can practice a few times a week for a month. The goal here is for you to start feeling comfortable talking about your HSP Trait. Because basically all you’re doing is describing what the trait is and how it influences your life.
After the first time you describe it for your friend, ask your friend what they noticed about you when you were describing your trait. Did you look comfortable talking about it? Did some words just flow out of your mouth, while others didn’t? Maybe you need to re-write a few words? Maybe something occurred to you when you were talking that you want to write down and include?
Feel free to modify as you go, tailor it to the point that it feels right for you. And be aware that you'll probably feel uncomfortable talking about your trait at first. That’s okay. Lean into it and know that with practice you’ll get more comfortable.
Next ask your friend what they think and feel about what you’ve shared about yourself. Does it help them understand you better? Did they appreciate that you told them?
Feel free to practice in front of the mirror too. Look yourself in the eyes as you talk about your HSP Trait and use this exercise as a way to feel more comfortable talking about your trait, knowing you're also practicing acceptance and compassion towards yourself.
Hopefully you’ve had a positive first experience and can now move on to the other people on your list.
Here again, modify what you need to say by determining what’s important for the other person to know.
So for example, does your doctor need to know you pick up on the “energy of a space”? Probably not, unless you want them to hire you to Feng Shui their office space. But it would probably be more helpful for you if your doctor knows your High Sensitivity means your body reacts to chemicals, more so than someone who is a non-HSP, so you most likely won’t need a high dosage of antibiotics if they need to prescribe these for you. Less is more sometimes.
Or, does your manager need to know you can taste subtle ingredients in food? Probably not. But your manager would probably be interested in knowing;
- you’re inclined to pick up on the details of large patterns, as in processes ("how" things are done)
- you’re detail-oriented but you’re also good at seeing the bigger picture,
- you can sense someone’s mood and know intuitively how to move forward, or not, with a person,
- you work well with very little supervision or instruction (but you need to be able to ask questions when you need direction or support)
- you like thinking about and coming up with creative solutions to problems, and in fact you see “problems” as opportunities for creative problem-solving.
I guarantee any boss worth their weight will appreciate you disclosing this information, and will gladly want to work with your gifts so that they benefit everyone. Just be sure that with any added responsibility or job duties you’re given, because you had this talk with your manager, you’re compensated proportionately.
Life balance (meaning rest) is incredibly important for HSPs and ensuring you have a healthy life balance needs to be your number one priority.
So to summarize;
- how you view your HSP Trait will have a big impact on how you communicate it to others so take the time to delve into how your trait works for you,
- when deciding why you would tell someone about your HSP Trait be clear about why you’re doing this and why you’ll benefit from doing this,
- when deciding “if” you should tell someone about your HSP Trait first look at the relationship you’ve had with this person historically, as well as using your intuition to determine if telling this person will provide positive benefits for both of you,
- when deciding “when” to tell someone about your HSP Trait ensure for your first “telling” experience that you’re prepared, you’ve chosen the best person, and you’ve done your homework (see “how” you view your HSP Trait),
- and, practice talking about your HSP Trait and then modify how you’ll describe it based on the type of relationship you have with each person and what they need to know that will benefit the relationship (ie., your doctor, your best friend, your manager).
This is just what I've found has been working for me, you may have some ideas or ways you've found that help you, but either way I hope this brought up some helpful points for you and has given you some ideas. As always I invite you to comment below.
In the next blog post we’re going to be talking about a valuable tool for HSPs called “Reframing”. We’ll do this as we take a ferry ride out of the jungle and back to the City, because after being in the jungle we now have a different perspective, and reframing is all about gaining a different perspective. We’ll call this post “The Reframing Ferry Ride”.