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Do you have a rich, complex inner life? Are you deeply moved by the arts or music? Do you crave time alone? Do you get annoyed when people try to get you to do too many things at once?
Do you try hard to avoid making mistakes?
Do you avoid violent or scary movies?
Are you affected by other people’s moods? Very aware of subtleties in your environment?
Are you very sensitive to pain? Easily overwhelmed by bright lights, strong smells,or loud noises?
Do you have a strong need for time alone every day? Are you shaken up by change? When you were growing up, did adults tell you, “You’re too sensitive”?
If you answer yes to many of the questions above, you may be spending a fair amount of time worrying that they’re something wrong with you. In a high-speed culture where being outgoing and busy is highly valued, people who are easily aroused by sensory and emotional stimulation often feel weird or defective. Some of the most interesting and gifted people who come to see me say that they feel this way. “Everybody else was having a good time,” they say after a social event or a meeting, sounding puzzled and discouraged. “I was the only one who felt the way I did.”
In her landmark book The Highly Sensitive Person (from which the questions above are drawn) the Jungian-trained psychologist Elaine Aron estimates that 15 to 20 percent of the population falls into the HSP category. Aron, a researcher and clinician based in San Francisco, offers helpful suggestions on how to stop seeing yourself as strange and use your trait to create a fuller, richer life.
For over 20 years I’ve helped highly sensitive people (HSPs) discover confidence and strength in their deepest selves. I was one of the first in New York to complete Elaine Aron’s Highly Sensitive Person Therapist training program.
To find out more about how your creativity and relationships can flourish with the right kind of help, contact me here to ask questions or make an appointment for an introductory session.
Everyone feels and functions best when neither too bored nor too aroused, says Aron. The tricky thing for the HSP is that she or he is more easily aroused than others and may find it difficult to follow the body’s cues. By learning to recognize the gifts that your heightened sensitivity brings and to pinpoint your optimal level of arousal, live within it, and even discover rewarding ways to get out of your comfort zone, you can find more fulfillment in relationships and work — and contribute your natural wisdom to the world around you. You can even start thinking of your high sensitivity as a superpower, as I noted in this interview on the trait with PsychCentral.
Appropriate therapy can offer an opportunity to move beyond feeling weird and to reap the benefits of your valuable intuition and insight.
It’s essential to work with a practitioner who appreciates the challenges and gifts of highly sensitive people, rather than viewing their traits as “problems” and assuming that these are the product of childhood trauma or a dysfunctional family.
It’s also important to work with a therapist who is aware of and responsive to any tendency an HSP may have to be overwhelmed by the therapy process itself, so that the two of you can work together to create an emotionally safe space for your healing.
You may also benefit from exploring ways to get out of your comfort zone. Elaine Aron wisely points out that although highly sensitive people are often drawn to the inner life, they may often benefit from exploring ways to immerse themselves in the world, and the most helpful therapy will help you do that…connecting your rich inner life with your relationships and work.
Maybe you’re ready to begin to value your heightened sensitivity. With a therapist who maintains appropriate boundaries while being sensitive to the part of you that is as tender and full of wonder as a young child, you can learn to balance the demands and richness of your inner life with the challenges and opportunities of living with others.