Full transparency, I’m a Highly Sensitive Person. And this has made life, well, really interesting. To be honest it wasn’t until a few years ago that the term HSP came into view. It took me a long time to put the pieces together between the dichotomy of my need for quiet, disinterest in parties, and general social fatigue with my attraction to chaos, love of excitement, and desire to talk to anyone about anything. Did you know you could be highly sensitive and a high sensation seeker? OMG that’s me!
I didn’t know these attributes could live happily side by side as an extrovert HSP. This discovery has rendered the characteristics placed upon me as a child as inaccurate at best. I’m not shy. I actually have a high tolerance for stress. I get anxious and depressed if I am not challenged enough, but when it comes to my interaction with others, my bucket fills really quickly. And that is because I feel all the things. I have spent the past few years slowly unraveling these false character traits and understanding what internal dials I need to turn to 11 and what ones I need to keep at a much lower intensity. It’s been interesting, enlightening, and also maddening.
So what is an HSP? A highly sensitive person, or an HSP is a term coined in the late 90’s by psychologist Elaine Aron referring to a subset of people who display high levels of sensory processing sensitivity. High levels of SPS appear as increased emotional sensitivity, a complex internal life and a strong reactivity to internal and external stimuli like pain, hunger, light and noise. Aron discovered the correlation between high levels of sensory processing sensitivity and HSP from the data provided by the HSP self test, a test created by Aron to indicate HSP traits. Side note, The test is quick and pretty interesting. Should you take it, yes! Here's the link.
Aron’s findings support that on average about 20% of the population identifies as HSP. And while having high levels of sensitivity can sound like a hindrance, Highly Sensitive People have higher levels of creativity, a higher capacity for empathy, deep and rich personal relationships, and a greater appreciation for beauty. If you are sensing similarities between HSP and high EQ or emotional Intelligence, you would be right. HSP’s generally have a pretty high EQ or emotional intelligence. And here’s the really cool thing, HSP’s come in a rainbow of varieties. Extroverts make up about 30% of HSP’s, while introverts consist of the majority at 70%. Biologists have found HSP traits in over 100 hundred species, from fruit flies, to fish, dogs and primates. Cool, right?
More specifically HSP’s are deliberate decision makers, detail oriented, and super kind problem solvers who excel at noticing details that others overlook. Is it possible to be an HSP and a kick ass leader? You better believe. Just don’t ask us to do it in a loud overly crowded environment with zero downtime and no food.
Identifying as HSP can be a game changer. It’s subtle, but makes a really big difference, especially if you were identified as shy, easily overwhelmed, too intense, overly emotional or overly sensitive. As someone who was tagged with all those identifiers, it made me second guess my capacity. Getting specific about what is overwhelming and what actually hinders my performance has made a huge difference. Being HSP doesn’t mean you are too this or not enough that. Sensitivity is an asset. Let’s be weary of those who see it as a hindrance.For more on HSP listen to JOY IS NOW Episode 62 with Kris Galmarini