• What is sensory-processing sensitivity?

  • The highly sensitive person thrives in favorable conditions

    . . . and needs a lifestyle that provides for rest and reflection.

  • In the '90s information was being released about the highly sensitive person, the one person in five, men and women both, who were high in sensory-processing sensitivity (SPS). According to pre-eminent HSP researcher Elaine Aron, Ph.D., the HSP is more aware of the subtleties in their surroundings. 

    Because HSPs take in more, they need to design a lifestyle that permits more time for rest and refreshment. They benefit from choosing situations that favor their special gifts in a culture that often prefers the more aggressive and hard-driving.

  • One person in five is highly sensitive ... perhaps that person is you

    Are you highly sensitive? Do you have...

    • -Creativity or planning ability?
    • -A keen awareness of others, their moods and feelings?
    • -Empathy, compassion, and conscientiousness?
    • -The ability to notice details and see solutions others overlook?
    • -Greater alertness to risk than others? 
    • -A richness of sensory experience, appreciating music, the arts, or the world of nature? 

    These are typical of the HSP; they are wonderful qualities. I can help you claim them more fully. You can become a more authentic HSP. 

    At Authenticity Coaching our teleconference classes, small group and individual coaching opportunities provide you with evidence-based practices and experiential learning. This can help create a life that fits you better. This can benefit career, family, friendships, and bring greater overall life satisfaction.

  • What does it mean to be high in sensory-processing sensitivity?

    Aron identifies 20% of all people, men and women equally, as highly sensitive and another 22 - 27% as moderately sensitive. 

    The non-sensitive may also be perceptive, intelligent, alert, insightful, kindly and considerate. The difference is in the nervous system and the way it processes information from the environment.

    Dr. Aron uses the acronym DOES to describe key qualities of the HSP.

    D stands for depth of processingNeuro-imaging studies show the HSP observes more detail from an image. Then they process the input over larger areas in the brain, and will think longer about that experience. The HSP tends to reflect first and then act. They may observe before jumping in. They are often at their best in a situation where considering multiple options and weighing possible outcomes is important. Once they are familiar with a situation, they may act quickly. They have thought through what needs to be done, and are prepared to implement it.

    O is for over-stimulation, the natural outcome of a nervous system that works harder. We need to rest and regroup a bit sooner than the non-HSP, especially in a trying situation.

    E is, first, for emotions; HSPs feel them deeply. In a negative situation, they feel more negative emotion than the non-HSP. In a positive one, they feel more positive emotion.

    E is also for empathy; they can easily put themselves in an other's shoes. 

    S is for sensitivity to subtleties. This can show up in a variety of ways as they remember more of a past event or are more alert to the nuances of relationships. They may be quicker to see a problem others have overlooked and to develop a strategy to remedy it.

  • The understanding of sensitivity is relatively new

    Ideally, your parents and teachers would have been skilled at raising an HSP. But the information on sensory-processing sensitivity wasn't available until the 1990s. In fact, the culture may have biased them against the trait, even if they were HSPs themselves. 

    If you are flourishing in your work and feel fully valued by friends and family, that's ideal. Most HSPs have adopted the cultural norm and so minimize their own value. What they have to offer, however, is often what is most needed to create a balance in society.

  • Four important things the HSP needs to know

    These are key to your understanding and to your ability to validate your sensitivity: 

    -You’re normal; sensory-processing sensitivity is not a genetic mistake. You are not a genetic mistake. 20% of human beings and of all the higher animals are more sensitive to their surroundings, spend more time observing rather than acting immediately, and process input longer and more deeply. Being lower in SPS is also normal; 80% of the population is less sensitive. Nature doesn’t select against SPS; it selects for both in an 80-20 proportion in 100+ species.

    -You’re part of a minority, but something like 42 million other adults in the U.S. are also high in sensory-processing sensitivity. Another 46 million are moderately high. Being in the minority doesn’t make you wrong. In that one regard, it does make you different. That difference is not a flaw.

    -You’re probably under-informedresearch about the benefits of your trait, pioneered by social psychologist Dr. Elaine Aron, only began to appear in the 1990s but has since grown considerably. Having good information about sensitivity can help you avoid many missteps.

    -HSPs seem to benefit more than non-HSPs from a good environment and from improvements in it. Like orchids, they flourish in an environment friendly to them.

  • Sensitivity is not a flaw...so let's refine our definition

    Sensory-processing sensitivity is not shyness, neurosis, inhibitedness, histrionics, or being touchy and self-absorbed–-those are behaviors; they are learned. 

    If you are shy, someone trained you to feel unwelcome. Perhaps no one allowed you to be yourself, taking your time in acclimating to new situations without penalty. You needed time to observe before you approached and joined in.

    Probably only a quarter of the population has heard about the science of sensory processing sensitivity. It’s often mistakenly spoken of as if it were the same as being overly sensitive, thin-skinned, temperamental, immature or demanding. 

    The actual differences are physiological, not psychological, according to both the research in social psychology and in brain imaging studies.

    Taking in more and processing it more deeply means you are also more affected by other people’s moods and critical words as well as noisy, rushed environments and stressful settings.

    You will need to choose your surroundings with more care than others. You may need to work harder to design the right environment, one where you can be yourself, be valued, and flourish.

    At the same time, it's important not to take the HSP-as-orchid comparison too far. In a recent post I wrote that "the implication is that orchids need special care to blossom. But orchids are not, by definition, hothouse plants. They are tropical plants, moved out of their home range. They do well enough in their natural environment."