Recently, I’ve been studying the Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) and the traits associated. Dr. Elaine Aron, one of the pioneers and leading researchers of high sensitivity has labeled this Sensory Processing Sensitivity, and this is not to be confused with Sensory Processing Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Anxiety, Shyness, Depression, or any other clinical disorder. What Dr. Aron’s research highlights is that while there is definitely an emotional component to being highly sensitive, being an HSP is not an emotional disorder. Being highly sensitive doesn’t necessarily mean the you are an introvert either, as Aron’s research points out nearly 30% of HSPs would be considered extroverts. These traits are innate.
Currently, it’s believed that 15%-20% of the population fits the profile of being an HSP, and while we hear a lot today about sensitivity, it seems to be in relation to becoming easily offended in some way. This is not what being an HSP is all about. When I discuss sensitivity here, I’m talking about processing the environment so deeply and intensely that certain levels of sound, smells, or another person’s emotions emotionally and physically exhaust you. Its the stimuli within the environment that triggers a stress response. To aid in understanding the basic traits a little better, Dr. Aron developed an acronym: DOES. She highlights these traits in her 2012 author’s notes and edit of The Highly Sensitive Person.
D stands for Depth. As in depth of processing. HSPs process information more slowly (especially when making any major or long term decision). HSPs will also process information in a way that creates the highest likelihood they will remember it. This can be done by comparing the information with something already familiar, tying the two together. It can also be done by repeating the information, finding patterns within the information, or noticing subtleties within the information that can be retrieved easily from memory. And this isn’t just done with certain types of information, but with nearly every piece of information taken in.
O stands for Overstimulation. Noticing everything, and I mean everything, can be exhausting. Intense environments (lots of noise or required social interaction) or situations where a great deal of information will need to be shared and/or remembered (getting a mortgage or on the job training) may be stressful, and so much so that HSPs may avoid putting themselves in these situations frequently.
E stands for Emotional Reactivity & Empathy. Aron and Jagiellowicz discovered that HSPs experience stronger emotions. And again, these emotional experiences shouldn’t be confused with any emotional disorder or neuroses. HSPs experience the same level of intensity regarding their positive emotions as they do negative. They are also incredibly empathetic and may even experience or mirror the emotions felt by others.
S is for Sensing the Subtle. This is just as it sounds. HSPs notice all of the little things within their environment. They notice changes, modifications, and even when something doesn’t belong. E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G is sensed and taken in.
While being a Highly Sensitive Person does not mean there is anything wrong with you, it may explain some difficulties you may have in certain areas within your life. It may also mean that taking some extra time for self care is important. This will also help facilitate healthy emotional regulation practices. If you think you may be a Highly Sensitive Person, you can check out Dr. Aron’s 27 – item checklist here. You can also check out a great article by Jenn Granneman titled, 21 Signs You’re a Highly Sensitive Person.