Always Well Within

Calm Your Mind, Ease Your Heart, Embrace Your Inner Wisdom

Are You A Highly Sensitive Person?

Love yourself!

“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” -Aristotle

Do you find yourself highly sensitive to the physical circumstances and/or the people around you?

A few days ago, a small bird smacked into the glass panel of the sliding door in my bedroom.  This happened at another residence about eight months ago.  The first time, I was probably more traumatized than the bird.  The suffering of others has affected me so strongly all my life; it seemed to penetrate far into my being.  In both cases, the bird look stunned and paralyzed, not moving a micro-millimeter, but clearly still alive.

The first time, my husband assured me that the best approach would be to leave the bird alone and let it reorient itself.  It was an hour of pure torment for me.  The bird did indeed recalibrate itself in about an hour’s time and flew off into the wild blue yonder.  Happily, the second bird did the same.  Animals intuitively know how best to cope with trauma.  This is explained exceptionally well in the book, Waking the Tiger, Healing Trauma, The Innate Capacity to Transform Overwhelming Experiences, which elucidates how these same principles apply to the human experience of trauma.

Suffering and overcaring

The second time around, I was naturally concerned about the bird’s suffering, but, interestingly, I didn’t let it get under my skin in the same way.  This is due, in part, simply to knowing from experience that the bird would likely recover and fly off as before.  At the same time, I feel this is also due to a gradual process of inner change that is taking place as I more firmly secure myself through Amygdala Retraining and other means of self exploration and personal development.  Let me be clear that this doesn’t mean becoming indifferent, uncaring, or cold-hearted.   I still feel emphatic to the suffering of others, but I understand more fully than ever before how allowing it to jar me so strongly is neither necessary or useful.

Indeed, overcaring may actually be harmful.

“Is your care producing or reducing stress?”  This is a key question in the Heartmath approach, which also says:  “Excessive care, or overcare related to an issue or situation can create stress and negative emotions, so it is important for your care to be balanced.”

If you are stuck in the habit of perpetual giving, this might be a crucial question to ask:  “Is your care producing or reducing stress?”

Suffering is an inevitable part of life for all of us.  When you know and accept the reality that suffering will occur, it’s not such a shock when it actually does.  With this understanding, you can have more acceptance and clarity when suffering arises. I’ve been fortunate to meet many great spiritual masters in my lifetime.  All of them have been deeply compassionate.  Indeed, their love and compassion have no limit:  the whole purpose of their existence is to relieve the suffering of this world.  But they are not bowled over by suffering.  They don’t go into a state of personal angst if a bird flies into a pane of glass.  They are compassionate warriors—courageous, confident, determined, yet also relaxed, open, and spacious.

Are you a highly sensitive person?

I’ve been super sensitive as far back as I can recall.  According to Elaine Aron, 15-20% of the population is highly sensitive, possessing an uncommonly sensitive nervous system.  She says that being a highly sensitive person means:

“…you are aware of subtleties in your surroundings, a great advantage in many situations. It also means you are more easily overwhelmed when you have been out in a highly stimulating environment for too long, bombarded by sights and sounds until you are exhausted.”

Aron defines this not as a flaw but as an asset that you can learn to use.  She says, “If we try to live by the same operating instructions that others use, we develop all kinds of chronic illnesses, as so many of you have learned the hard way. Yet if we overprotect ourselves, our assets go unexpressed, and that can also lead to stress and illness.”

1 in 5 people are highly sensitive – an eye opening statistic!

Sensitized Nervous System

The evidence is mounting that a sensitized nervous system is involved in a wide range of disorders.  Wikipedia explains:

“A third type is central sensitization, where nociceptive neurons in the dorsal horns of the spinal cord become sensitized by peripheral tissue damage or inflammation. This type of sensitization has been suggested as a possible causal mechanism for chronic pain conditions.”

“Sensitization has been implied as a causal or maintaining mechanism in a wide range of apparently unrelated pathologies including substance abuse and dependence, allergies, asthma, and some medically unexplained syndromes such as fibromyalgia and multiple chemical sensitivity. Sensitization has also been suggested in relation to psychological disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder, panic anxiety and mood disorders.”

In another view of sensitization, Ashok Gupta and Annie Hopper believe that a small structure in the brain thought to be responsible for triggering the adrenalin response, the amygdala, becomes sensitized in cases of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, Multiple Chemical Sensitivities, Chronic Pain Syndromes, and related disorders.  They respectively offer their own innovative brain retraining programs to assist people in recovering from these disorders based on the science of neuroplasticity.

Reducing overstimulation and retraining the brain

The first step foreword is recognizing that you are indeed a highly sensitive person.  If this is the case, it’s important to take on board that trying to live a highly stimulated, stress filled lifestyle may very well have negative ramifications for you.  From there, you can explore options for reducing over-stimulation. Elaine Aron’s books are one resource for this purpose.

It’s far better to do this early on so you can lead a sane, healthy, and happy life instead of developing chronic illness down the road.  However, if you do develop certain chronic illnesses, Dynamic Neural Retraining and Amygdala Retraining are wonderful programs to help you feel better. There are no magic pills.  You must faithfully apply the techniques offered in these programs on a regular basis to effectively retrain the brain and improve.  You need to change your fundamental way of being.  Loving yourself enough to make the commitment is part of the equation.  This is a huge step, but there’s tremendous support for accomplishing this. Be heartened!  Breakthroughs are happening in the realm of these previously unexplained illnesses.

Are you a highly sensitive person?  What steps do you take to reduce stimulation in your life?

You might also like this related articles:  Retraining the brain for CFS, FMS, MCS, PTSD, & GWS

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  1. This is fascinating. I consider myself overly sensitive to noise, lights, commotion, too many people, chemicals. This seemed at times to be a negative personality trait, so it is somewhat gratifying to read that Aron defines this trait as an asset.

    My husband is a musician, but because of this sensitivity, I can’t stay long to listen to his band play at clubs. The decibel level, loud conversation and cigarette smoke eventually force me back home early in the evening.

    I modify my activities so that I participate in only those where I feel comfortable. I may be viewed as an odd person by others, but I know better than anyone else what my limitations are. Really, I don’t see these preferences as being limitations, but rather the ability to put myself in only healthy situations.

    Thank you for discussing this topic.


    • Kathleen, thank you so much for sharing your experience. By sharing our experiences we can encourage others who might be struggling. I think it really helps to know that we are not alone! I’m inspired by your clarity and how well you are able to manage your life so it is a healthy one for you, and I’m sure others will be too. It’s really great to see your confidence on the topic. I’m amazed to see how many people I’m bumping into that are also sensitive, so I fully believe the statistics are correct. When I started writing this post, I didn’t know where it would go eventually, but I’m very happy with the meandering path it took.

      On another topic, I’m looking forward to getting some cauliflower today so I can try your latest recipe!

  2. Eeps, I got a 23 on the test, but I knew I’d score high, alas. Sometimes watching something on tv is enough to make me go into an almost physical reaction.

    • Welcome Lisa, I was just reading your blog the other night, which I found on Invisible Mikey. You are a good writer and have a good sense of humor. I hope your blog is part of your path to becoming the writer you wish to be. I’m sure your words will indeed help others with similar struggles. Now about our hypersensitivity, in my eyes, knowledge is power. So knowing about the extra sensitivity gives me the info I need to take care of myself well. Plus, we are in good company, at least 20% of the world, and you and me! Thanks for dropping bye and commenting.

  3. “I may be viewed as an odd person by others, but I know better than anyone else what my limitations are.”
    (qoute from Cooking in Mexico)

    Aren’t we all a little weird? 🙂 I think it’s healthy to set your boundaries, and know what is good for you. I appreciate it when people let me know who they are and what their needs are. It makes life easier for all of us.

    Meditation is a great to find some self understanding. It can help one understand their own specific needs and through delving into self-exploration we can learn how to get those needs met.

    I am a sensitive person and have found that spending some time each day in silence allows me to fine tune my needs and gives my body a space to just relax, breath, and let out any feelings/thoughts that need to be released. Simplicity is easy, some time for quiet really helps the simplification process.

    • Luis, I too find a period of daily meditation a tremendous help in taking care of my body, mind, and spirit. Cheers.

  4. I think that it may be higher than 1 in 5 people, it’s just most of us don’t tune in as much (or we learn to tune out more). That doesn’t mean we are not affected though.
    (you may add this comment to the above comment if you like).

  5. Yes, I am the 1 our of 5 that is an amazing statistic. The way I cope is a lot of quiet time. Also I small amounts of time in highly stimulated circumstances. Ive found that I am more sensitive to caring for myself and not so hard on myself for being sensitive. I also recharge my battery often which is very helpful. Living in the country also helps when I feel like being out and about in big crowds it’s by choice. There is pluses to this I believe being very creative and intuitive. It’s a bit of a mixed bag good post!

    • Hi Starla, Thanks so much for sharing your experience and coping strategies with us. It helps to discover that we are not alone, doesn’t it! These are very useful tips. I also enjoy the quiet of living in the country. I’m glad you have come to the place of no longer being hard on yourself for being sensitive. That’s terrific! Best wishes to you.

  6. I’ll never forget reading Elaine Aron’s book for the first time – it provided me both insight and comfort. OMG – that’s me! And my sister. And my friend Laura and so on. I remember telling so many people about this book and then discussing our HSP-ness.

    I was lucky to catch Elaine in San Francisco at a book signing – 10-12 years ago. She was lovely, admittedly uncomfortable in her role as speaker, but sensitively guiding the audience in the truth that we were not so different after all.

    Thanks for reminding me about this great author.

    • Welcome, Pat! Thanks for sharing your “ah-ha” moment reading the Elaine Aron’s book. Just knowing about being an HSP makes all the difference in the world! I see from your beautiful blog that you enjoy working at home and living in the quiet of a semi-rural area. I find it helps so much to know yourself and not try to fit into the standard mold. Your blog is so nice ~ I love the idea of “dreaming big, planning smart, and living well.” Hope your book sells like hotcakes!

  7. Sandra, I think I am a somewhat-highly sensitive person. I’m very sensitive to other people’s moods and body language as well as my physical surrounding. I would say I am more emotionally sensitive than physically, as I can tolerate bright lights and loud noises. But I generally avoid commotion. I am very introverted also, so socializing wears me out pretty quickly. I try to be aware of my mood fluxes, and that helps me realize where my boundaries are. Good to know I am not the only ‘odd’ one =P But yes, we are all weird and fickle.

    • Sandra Lee

      Hi Lynn, You are definitely not alone. 🙂 It’s reassuring just to read the responses to this post. As it turns out, we are not ‘odd’ at all and in fact have some special and wonderful qualities. I’m impressed by your self-awareness and your recognition and respect for your boundaries. That’s definitely the key to living well with higher sensitivity! Oh, I just coined a new phrase “higher sensitivity.” I think I even like that better than “high sensitivity.” Thanks for your comment. I appreciate it very much, especially since it helps us all to hear from others with this trait.

  8. Hi Sandra

    Thanks for bringing this article to my attention.

    I have been ‘highly sensitive’ person all my life. I don’t react well to criticism most times and can get rather down about it. I’m working at overcoming this step by step. Articles like this help. I’m not, however, sensitive to loud noises, or birds whacking into windows, or things like that. I guess I’m a contradiction in motion!?

    I dig your writing and love the quote at the beginning.

    Thanks for sharing.


    • Hi Michael, I’ve always been sensitive to criticism too. Like you, this has improved for me with some gradual, concerted effort. Thanks for sharing your experience. I think we help each other so much by sharing openly.

      Thanks for complimenting my writing. I am honored!!!!

  9. I just found this post on your reader favorites, and I’m glad I did. My spouse presented me with a copy of this book a few years ago, which I would never have picked up on my own (not caring for the adjective sensitive or its shelving location in self help). It was helpful in offering an explanation for some of the differences I had noticed between myself and friends and family — my need for copious solitude, the level of detail I noticed, the speed with which a mildly unpleasant environment with loud music, crowds, or harsh lighting affected my mood. At the same time, perhaps due to my existing connotations of the word sensitive, I still don’t care for the label.

    • Hi Jennifer,

      I’m really glad you found this post because I love hearing from other “sensitive” people. You have a good sense of humor —- “not caring for the adjective or its shelving location in self help.” The term “highly sensitive” perhaps does carry a bit of a derogatory flavor! Thanks for sharing your experience. It’s really validating to hear we are not alone. Maybe we can come up with another more fitting “label.” Let me know if any ideas come to your mind! Thanks.

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