HSP - Highly Sensitive Persons

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HSP - Highly Sensitive Persons

Post  counselor on Thu Dec 18, 2014 7:35 pm

Is anyone familiar with HSP? I've been diagnosed with a few personality and anxiety disorders in the past by various therapists, but HSP was something I found out about on my own through research. I think this general classification describes me better than any other condition or disorder that I've been grouped in so far. It seems an obscure topic of research in the field, even though this personality type has probably been around for ages. I'm not sure if this is because it's regarded as a more generalized term consisting of many types of people, or because it's not yet recognized formally by professionals. While there is limited empirical or conclusive data available on the subject, there are a lot of people who share similar stories and observations of the defining characteristics.

First, I should of course mention that High Sensitivity is not exactly a disorder (though may be considered a condition or personality type that accompanies disorders) but I didn't know where else to post this. It is common for those with HS to develop anxiety, depression, and other conditions due to the high stress of being HSP. They are believed to have biological differences in the nervous system allowing them to process sensory data more deeply than normal. They tend to analyze a lot, are very emotional, and often introspective. Intuition and extra-sensory perception are sometimes considered to be related, but it's open to debate.

So technically high sensitivity is a strength, though it's pretty obvious how this personality type is also a severe weakness in the context of our modern society. There is a strong societal bias against sensitive people, and it's often a stigma for males to show high sensitivity and emotion, because it is seen as a weakness. Strong, outgoing, and charismatic personalities are the dominant majority in our society, so the introspective personality is sometimes ignored or seen as inferior. Each different personality type has its advantages and disadvantages, and can be thought of as equal in objective terms - though sensitive personalities are in the minority (15%) and are sometimes targeted for discrimination just as ethnic minorities are targeted by bigotry. In other cases, these individuals are respected for their unique character aspects.. it all depends on the social groups one associates with.

High-sensitivity as a genetic condition is largely misunderstood by the mainstream population. The assumption is that these people just need to "toughen up" or "get with the program" because it is thought that everyone can adjust in the same ways. Of course this is impossible to some extent for those with genetic differences (genes can't magically mutate Razz) People are often taught to overcome fear by exposing themselves to the situations they are uncomfortable in. This can work in the cases of some phobias, but this doesn't necessarily help HSPs because they will still feel an underlying tension..(in different degrees depending on the level of sensitivity of the individual) whereas many types of anxieties developed via non-genetic, temporary psych. conditions can be lessened greatly and overcome with treatment of the underlying issues through therapy.

For those severe HSPs, therapy must encourage them to embrace their emotions, and develop ways of coping with a society that is designed for the norm. These methods will greatly differ depending on the specific situations of each patient. A hallmark HSP trait is empathy, they will naturally be more cautious around others because they tend to understand and strongly "absorb" the emotions of those who they associate with. It is very important for these people to be respected by their peers and feel loved by significant others to feel comfortable in personal relationships. The partner must either be very supportive of their feelings, or be another HSP so that there is balanced reciprocation. Bad relationships (such as association with dominant and aggressive friends or lovers) can be very damaging as the victims are prone to manipulation and exploitation.

However, HSPs are not always recognized as such by the public - they may learn how to hide their feelings around others as a means of defense, but it's all an act.. they often seek time alone to relax and recuperate from the stresses of every day life. Strict daily work routines may trigger intense emotional states, while a more relaxed working environment with long-term projects and more personal control over time management will usually heighten their productivity and creativity. Therefore, completing large projects on a weekly basis would be preferable over taking on smaller work loads on a daily basis. They do tend to be idealistic, but can accomplish a lot when they are passionate about their work.

HSPs require control and freedom, they will not excel in an authoritarian system. They think more clearly on their own, and get inspired and excited very easily - the act of creation relieves stress; art, music, writing, philosophy, sciences, and any other academic subjects involving creativity are often hobbies. For this reason, they may learn to become independent early on and can be very meditative and relaxed in thought, rather than feeling the need for constant conversation with others. (However, they will talk a lot about topics they're truly interested in, and they can become extroverted in the right state of mind.) It is common to seek a smaller group of close friends (often like-minded people) rather than attempting to conform to larger social groups and cliques. So it can be said that they don't need a lot of attention from others, but they do rely on close friends and partners for emotional purposes. These people love and protect their friends for life, and will feel spiritually complete in a relationship with the right partner. They feel the ultimate highs and ultimate lows in life, and must develop a sense of balance to moderate these extremes.

Also, while the stereotype might favor introversion, it should be noted that some are extroverts, and most all have a great sense of humor inside them even if they don't show it immediately. I've found (from having friends of this type) that everyone will open up and become a good friend if proper communication and comfort are established. If you treat everyone as equally important, and genuinely show interest, people will acknowledge this and respect you in return.

A lot of this is theory, though the genetic differences in the nervous system have at least been proven. There is also some speculation about differences in brain activity. It's been suggested that the increased stress results from overload of sensory information, and in some cases confusion due to perception of information on an unconscious level that we are unable to properly process. This could be thought of as a 'mental muscle' that is untrained, but twitches or feels receptive at times. I can't draw any conclusions, as relatively little is known. I can say that a lot of others' stories and situations resonated with my own experiences, and I absolutely support continued research and increased education and awareness of the issues to the public. Education, psychology, mental & physical health should all be priorities for government funding, and I will be looking for political role models who support these movements in coming elections, rather than opting for continued spending in foreign affairs. Public health includes building healthier social environments for children, helping families learn proper parenting, designing schools to cater to the individual, and releasing higher education and more information as free privileges to all the public.
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