We’ve always known that we’re a quirky family; we like to think it’s part of what makes us so endearing. But until a few years ago, I didn’t realize that our seemingly unrelated foibles actually fall under the same umbrella.
Each of us becomes easily over-stimulated.
- I get a splitting headache if someone is smoking anywhere near me.
- Daniel can’t make it through the day without taking an afternoon nap
- One of our kids won’t eat crunchy peanut butter (or nuts, for that matter.)
- The other won’t wear clothes until the itchy sewn-in labels are all cut off.
According to Elaine Aron, author of The Highly Sensitive Person, “Most of us feel overstimulated every once in a while, but for the highly sensitive person, it’s a way of life.”
When I was reading the book last year, I had Daniel, Jonathon, and Annemarie each take Aron’s self-assessment. I read the questions aloud and tabulated the responses for each member of our family.
Turns out that each one of us is, by Aron’s definition, a “highly sensitive person.” Each one of us is an HSP meaning that we all become easily over-stimulated. But each of us has a unique combination of over stimulants.
Suddenly, our intense family loyalty–and hair-trigger ability to get on each other’s nerves!–made all sorts of sense.
I’ve shared what I’m learning about being a “highly-sensitive person” with every friend who will stand still long enough to listen. And their feedback sounds like:
- “My family told me I was imagining things when I got headaches from being in noisy crowds.”
- “Everyone tells me I am an extrovert, but I thought I was a ‘failed extrovert’ because I get to a point when I just have to leave, no matter how much fun the party is.”
- “I’ve always thought I was defective because I cry so easily.”
- “I don’t like being touched by strangers, which earned me the label ‘aloof’ from church members when I avoided the welcome hugs.”
- “My entire life makes sense now.”
None of my friends, or the women I’ve talked with at MOPS groups and women’s retreats, were ever taught that being a Highly Sensitive Person is even a thing, let alone how to work with her own unique mix of sensitivities.
Just the word “sensitive” has very different connotations to different people. When I asked survey participants to classify sensitive as positive, neutral, or negative when applied to a woman (as in “She is a sensitive woman”), ⅓ considered it positive, ⅓ saw it as neutral, and ⅓ felt it was negative.
In contrast, words like “perceptive,” “responsive,” and “tenderhearted” came in at 95%+ positive.
During the last five years that I’ve known I’m an HSP, I’ve found that women have one of two reactions to learning that they’re an HSP:
- Relief — Yay! There’s a name for this! I’m not crazy!
- Rejection — No way. Not me. I will not be an HSP!
How do you perceive the word “sensitive”? How do you feel about being an HSP?