“It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them.” – ALDOUS HUXLEY
SO WHAT EXACTLY DOES IT MEAN TO BE A HIGHLY SENSITIVE PERSON?
“According to Elaine N. Aron, Highly Sensitive People, which would represent about a fifth of the population, process sensory data much more deeply and thoroughly due to a biological difference in their nervous systems. This is a specific trait with key consequences that in the past has often been confused with innate shyness, innate fearfulness, inhibitendness, introversion and so on.”
High sensitivity effects ALL facets of life. I’ve found the best overview of the trait to be Elaine Aaron’s four main indicators, summarized below:
DEPTH OF PROCESSING
Simply put, we are experiencing more than the average Joe. When we walk into a room of people, we are not just noticing who is in that room, we are noticing the moods of those people, the colors of the wallpaper, the sounds coming from the speakers and the overall energy of the environment.
Because we are processing on such a deep level, we are more susceptible to overwhelm and often need more time in solitude. Our bodies tend to be in a constant state of fight or flight which can lead to a host of physiological imbalances (digestive issues, auto-immune diseases and other chronic ‘mysterious symptoms’).
We feel, A LOT. We may have been labeled “too intense” or “too emotional” growing up. Getting lost in the vastness of what we feel is commonplace and repression and avoidance is also routine.
We have little to no tolerance for scratchy clothing tags, neon lights, crowded malls, loud chewers, caffeine, alcohol and sugar to name a few.
Curious if you meet the HSP criteria, take the quiz.
Note, I speak about the trait of High Sensitivity as it is most heavily written about and provides a general understanding of our disposition. That said, I am not one for labels and I do believe there is a spectrum. Those who are feelers, intuitives and empaths most likely fall on the continuum and I use these terms interchangeably in my musings.
WHY DOES SENSITIVITY MATTER?
Because there is a strong correlation between being sensitive + addiction.
I would argue that it is impossible to move beyond addiction without first untangling the knot that is our sensitive nature.
A friend of mine describes the untangling process as occurring in two distinct phases.
There is the logical understanding of our sensitivity and than there is the recognition of what our psychology does with that. In other words, sensitivity is the primary object, the clothes we wear in our lives (more accurately, our lack of clothes). But how we feel about what we are wearing is a whole different issue. It’s the conditioning we’ve had that makes us believe certain things about being sensitive.
The conditioning is the crux of it.
In a world that rewards the tough, stoic and outgoing, we have come to associate a rather negative connotation with the term “sensitive”.
For many, sensitive=weak.
What if I told you that the strongest people are the most sensitive?
Strength has nothing to do with will power despite what society may lead us to believe.
Strength has everything to do with the capacity to feel, wholly and completely, without stopping.
It’s on the level of feeling, or not wanting to feel where addiction enters, and thus the high correlation with HSP’s. We are sensing (both internally and externally) more than most. If we do not know how to ground all that we are sensing and/or don’t feel safe to show up with it, we will grasp for something tangible and solid to ground us. This can look like food, alcohol, drugs, relationships, exercise, thoughts or control.
HOW DOES THE SENSITIVE MOVE BEYOND ADDICTION?
Unfortunately mainstream addiction recovery misses the sensitive niche completely. The “system” works to fix the problem, medicate the symptoms and ultimately kill the addict.
I whole-heartedly agree with Ana Forrest when she says:
“We are not trying to kill the addict. Inside the addict is the super focused, passionate one.”
It’s the comprehension and acceptance of our sensitivity that allows us space to see our addictions from a softer vantage point. When we take the focus away from trying to squash our cravings and shatter our compulsions, something beautiful happens; we begin to understand our delicate and complex set of needs.
There is now space for us to re-emerge as the enthusiastic and radically creative creatures we were born to be.
We are artists, visionaries, creators, musicians and healers.
BEGIN HERE. I created an almanac for all things sensitive.
Curious about my own explorations of navigating the world in a sensitive body? Please stick around and saunter over to my blog.