Is Sensitivity a Gift or a Curse by Amy Scholten, MPH – In the early 1970s, my parents took me to a rock music festival. I covered my ears. It was too loud. To this day, I’m overwhelmed by too much sensory input—noise, crowds, violent movies, bright lights, and busy lifestyles. I thrive on quiet time in nature, creative activities, and deep discussions with friends. Beauty, nature, music, emotions, and the human condition affect me profoundly. Tears of joy and sorrow come easy.
Research psychologist Elaine Aron, PhD would describe me as a highly sensitive person. High sensitivity isn’t a psychological diagnosis, but a neutral trait found in up to 20 percent of the population. It means having a nervous system that’s easily aroused. People who are highly sensitive are more acutely attuned to themselves, other people and their environment.
Aron’s research found that highly sensitive people share various traits. They tend to be conscientious and concerned about others’ welfare. They process information at a deep level –something that helps them consider the various angles of a situation and to make decisions carefully. They’re strongly attuned to their emotions and they tend to be compassionate, perceptive and thoughtful about life. Many of society’s thinkers, writers, artists, and social advocates are highly sensitive.
Unfortunately, there’s a downside to being highly sensitive in today’s society. We’re easily overwhelmed by constant change, sensory overload, and roles and situations that are contrary to our inner nature. We may have difficulty thinking, speaking or performing while being observed. We sometimes feel like misfits, especially in environments where our traits aren’t valued. Sensitive men in macho cultures and sub-cultures have an especially difficult time.
As a highly sensitive person I’ve found it helpful to understand and value all of my traits and sensitivities. I do my best to respect my limits and not compare myself with others. I value friendships with supportive, empathic people who share my interests. I also take extra good care of my health by eating well, getting lots of rest, and exercising.
Being highly sensitive is not a disorder that needs to be fixed, and it’s not a limitation to being happy or successful. This is an important reminder for parents and grandparents of a highly sensitive child. They are often typecast as overly introverted as if it’s a negative quality, but loved ones tend to have a more nuanced view. Adults can help a sensitive child by valuing all of their qualities. Afterall, a highly sensitive child has the potential to bring so much love into our world.
Amy Scholten is a writer, editor and memoir-writing coach living in Venice. Please call 941-445-7144.