Ask The Psychologist: “Why Am I So Sensitive?”
This world can be a cruel place for sensitive souls. It seems to struggle with its ability to balance progress with presence. And those who suffer the most are often those with the innate gifts capable of giving meaning to progress. To feel, to process, to act upon the call of compassion take time. And progress, in its misguided rush for the profit of the day, too often dismisses anything that asks it to pause, feel, or change course.
The sensitive ones take the burden upon themselves to find a way and place to fit in. “Why am I so sensitive? Why do I not feel connected to this world? Does anyone understand me? Paradoxical as it will sound, if you recognize your own loneliness in this description, you are not alone.
You may be part of a small percentage of people described as Highly Sensitive.
Curious as to whether you might be a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)? Take this quiz to learn more.
Is it normal to be so sensitive?
High Sensitivity is a real thing. It’s a normal genetic trait found in 15-20% of people.
If you happen to have come into this world with your planets in the house of High Sensitivity, you will be sensitive your whole life. That’s just how you’re wired.
Even though HSPs are in a minority, being Highly Sensitive isn’t bad, wrong, or deviant.
High Sensitivity actually has many cool features, especially when you live in a way that honors it.
There are four components of being Highly Sensitive:
- Depth of processing: You pick up on things (including nuances that most people don’t even notice) easily and process information deeply.
- Overstimulation: Because you are constantly processing information, you are prone to anxiety and overwhelm. Regular time to yourself helps to replenish.
- Empathy and strong emotions: You easily pick up on social and emotional cues and have tremendous empathy.
- Sensory-specific sensitivity: You’re highly responsive to smells, flavors, sounds, fabric, and/or things you see.
The scientific name for the High Sensitivity trait is Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS).
SPS sounds like a bad thing. (Why else would they give it an acronym?)
Remember, High Sensitivity/SPS is not a bad thing. To the contrary….
Please hear this loud and clear. There is nothing wrong with you. You don’t have a diagnosis or condition due to being “so sensitive.” You’re not a “crybaby.” You’re not “too” anything.
(Reread that sentence as many times as you may need to!)
Of course, if you’ve been told over and over to “stop being so sensitive,” “lighten up,” or “you need to get a thick skin,” it makes sense that you would wonder why you are “so sensitive.”
The reason you’re “so sensitive” is that, as an HSP, you process information deeply, be it emotions, thoughts, or sensory stuff. This naturally makes you more physically sensitive and emotionally sensitive than people without the trait.
So, true, you may feel overstimulated in a noisy setting. (Why can’t anyone else hear the person snapping gum or tapping a pen on the desk?) Or irritated more often by things that don’t bug other people. And I bet you feel things deeply, including your feelings and those of others. (That’s why you can watch only so much of the news and can’t stomach horror movies or images of cruelty.)
At times life itself can feel “too much,” as if a black cloud is following you.
In our go-go-go culture, sensitivity is generally considered a weakness. That’s both an unfair and weighty judgment to live with. It’s also exhausting.
But here’s some good news: Being an HSP is not doom and gloom.
Sure, as with any personality trait, being “so sensitive” has challenges.
But it also has many strengths.
It’s even considered a superpower.
What’s good about being “so sensitive”?
What better way to answer a great question than to hear it directly from someone who is “so sensitive”?
“I used to dislike being sensitive. I thought it made me weak. But take away that single trait, and you take away the very essence of who I am. You take away my conscience, my ability to empathize, my intuition, my creativity, my deep appreciation of the little things, my vivid inner life, my keen awareness of others’ pain and my passion for it all.”
Doesn’t this sound like a beautiful human being? Someone who seems to be connected to what genuinely matters in life? Someone you would like to know and even emulate?
Who are these “HSPs”? What makes them so special?
HSPs tend to be:
aware of surroundings
healers, teachers, helpers
(All of this is true, as long as you’re not in a state of overstimulation.)
Want to see some of the great company HSPs are in? Click here to read about some of the great HSP contributors to our world.
Why are you “so sensitive”?
(If I had a nickel for every time I’ve been asked that….)
1. Brains of HSPS have more activity in areas responsible for empathy, emotion, and reading social cues. This translates to HSPs being extra alert and tuned into people around them, as well as to themselves.
2. HSP’s take things in easily, like a sponge – so much so that sounds, emotions, images, smells, and people’s vibes are easily “absorbed.” Because of how quickly and automatically this happens, overwhelm or “too much-ness” happens.
3. HSPs have more active mirror neurons than do non-HSPs, which allows them to feel a deep empathy for and understanding of other people.
4. Being Highly Sensitive is a personality trait, not a disorder, there is no diagnosis or treatment. It’s just how you’re made. Your nervous system is wired with Sensory Processing Sensitivity.
(Another consideration: How about the sensitivity level of those around you? It’s certainly possible that they are not sensitive enough.
“Majority” is not always the definition of “normal.” It may define “norms,” but it doesn’t necessarily define how things are supposed to be or how they would best exist.)
Understanding your sensitivity is key to managing overwhelm.
HSPs navigate life differently than people who are not “so sensitive.”
They generally like to take time to enjoy subtle experiences. They get more joy out of smelling the aroma of freshly baked bread than from listening to a loud concert.
HSPs take in a lot from the environment and are able to subconsciously evaluate what they take in. That means stronger intuition.
They process more information and process it more deeply than non-HSPs.
Why not lean into the pleasurable aspects of HSP superpowers? Instead of questioning yourself – “Why am I so sensitive? Why can’t I shut this off?” – why not embrace what only a small percentage of people have and can do?
(Cue poignant song lyrics, beautiful piano playing, a crocus popping up through the snow, or the smile of a child.)
Misunderstandings about why some people are “so sensitive” mean life can be challenging for HSPs.
Imagine as a child being told constantly to “put your big girl/boy panties on” or “just let it go!”
As an adult, you’d probably be filled with depression, anxiety, and low self-worth.
But if, as a child, you were raised in a supportive environment, your active nervous system would be respected rather than criticized. And, as an adult, you would likely feel content with yourself and your life.
For people who are “so sensitive,” I recommend the following:
Spend time by yourself each day to help manage overwhelm and anxiety. It’s crucial!
Also important is putting thought into how you will spend your time. Be choosy about how, with whom, and where you spend time.
Anytime you ask yourself “Why am I so sensitive?” remember that your High Sensitivity is a superpower. Like all traits, there are benefits and challenges that go along with it.
Once you understand your sensitivity, you’ll navigate your way to the land of thriving. Unapologetically.
Wearing the superhero cape is optional.
Dr Elayne Daniels is a psychologist specializing in eating disorders, body image, and High Sensitivity. Her passion is helping Highly Sensitive People embrace their sensitivity so they canTHRIVE! For more information, contact her here.