Ever since the dawn of my existence, the world always seemed too much for me — too big, too noisy, too everything. Sad books and movies wouldn’t just render me in tears for days, they would debilitate me for weeks. It was harder to concentrate if the light bulb was burning a bit too brightly, if the room was a touch too hot or cold or if anything in my environment was slightly awry.

I didn’t just get nervous, I vomited. Anger for me was rage. Sadness was despair. My thoughts drove me mad, as well as the external stimuli. Growing up, I’d always thought it some sort of kink in my brain. Weak, emotional, sensitive and dramatic. Those were the words that I was force fed by my family and friends. I was a raw bundle of nerves exposed to too much sensory. There was something wrong with me, I believed, and I hated it.

Until I stumbled across Quiet by Susan Cain, and I realized who I was: A highly sensitive person, or an HSP. (Disclaimer: I did not get this confirmed by a licensed professional) The textbook term is sensory-processing sensitivity (SNS) and people are born with it. High sensitivity can’t be caused by any outside force. 

An HSP’s brain differs from non-HSP’s because the nervous system is extra sensitive, contributing to a decreased threshold for reaction. That amplified state leads to higher emotional activity and an intense awareness of the surroundings.

A highly sensitive person usually has a profound inner life and gets affected enormously by art and music, however, this also means they are overwhelmed and startled more often. Additionally, high sensitivity is universal and not just limited to introverts. In fact, it is estimated that thirty percent of extroverts are HSPs.

HSPs have been found to be linked to the 5-HTLPR gene, which is associated with psychological states such as depression. Of course, there are other neurological facts pertaining to high sensitivity, but I won’t bore you with jargon.

HSPs may seem like sponges, but they can no more control their nature than you can control your own. And although HSPs seem to have a stronger affinity for breakdowns, they also carry an overwhelming amount of empathy, compassion and creativity.

HSPs may seem like sponges, but they can no more control their nature than you can control your own. Although HSP’s seem to have a stronger affinity for breakdowns, they also carry an overwhelming amount of empathy, compassion and creativity. Their unique ways of processing the environment are essential in this world because of the capacities of their hearts and minds. They can sense nuances that many others can’t.

Furthermore, HSP is not the same as the autism spectrum. High sensitivity is not a disorder, and simply a variation of the mind — twenty percent of the population are HSPs. There are also disparities between how these two types interact with the world. Autistic people do react very negatively to certain stimuli, but they may also be unaffected by other kinds such as social cues. Sensitive people, on the other hand, can handle high levels of stimuli without becoming overly distressed. As they grow and develop, they eventually can learn how to manage their responses to stimuli. Autism fosters behavioral traits that a non-autistic HSP would not come close to displaying. The sensitivity related to the autism spectrum is caused by a problem in registering sensory, instead of just taking it in at a deeper magnitude like HSPs do. At first glance, it seems high sensitivity could connect to the much more serious autism spectrum, but there are a great number of differences between these two.

However, it’s important to note that HSPs aren’t necessarily better than non-HSPs, they’re simply different. High sensitivity has its pitfalls as well as its benefits.

If you know someone who exhibits highly sensitive traits, don’t break them down or belittle them. Nurture their potential, accept them as you would anyone else and they will become monumental individuals.

Photo Credit: GoDaddy

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