Has anyone ever pointed out that you are 'sensitive' or implied that you are fussy or high maintenance? It's generally not a complement in our society, but sensitivity is actually a really valuable trait! When you push through and try to ignore it, like we are so often asked to do, it can have serious impacts on our lives. This post is vital reading for more sensitive souls and the people that love them. A special shout-out to men, who will have been barraged with messages to hide sensitivity. You might not even realise you are!
For much of my life I tried hard to push through my sensitivity. I even made it through a few horror movies! Needless to say, I now treasure this trait because of all the wonderful parts of it, even if I do make a bee line for the exit at a high street festival early in the day!
About a decade ago, an old friend gave me a book 'The Highly Sensitive Person' and told me that it would change my life.
Are you sensitive?
- Are you easily overwhelmed by such things as bright lights, strong smells, coarse fabrics, or sirens nearby?
- Do you get rattled when you have a lot to do in a short amount of time?
- Do you make a point of avoiding violent movies and TV shows?
- Do you need to withdraw during busy days, into bed or a darkened room or some other place where you can have privacy and relief from the situation?
- Do you make it a high priority to arrange your life to avoid upsetting or overwhelming situations?
- Do you notice or enjoy delicate or fine scents, tastes, sounds, or works of art?
- Do you have a rich and complex inner life?
- When you were a child, did your parents or teachers see you as sensitive or shy?*These questions are from Elaine Aron, PhD.
When I looked at these questions, I could say yes to all of them.
Realising that I was highly sensitive was really interesting, validating and therapeutic! So many people I know have been discovering it lately, that it seemed time to share it's nuggets of awesomeness with the world!
How many people are sensitive?
First things first, sensitivity is a normal, common type of nervous system. Let's have a look at the rough breakdown of nervous systems in the population.
20% extremely or quite sensitive
22% moderately sensitive
16% low sensitivity
42% not at all sensitive
Dr Elaine Aaron, who is a pioneer of this research, highlights that having a sensitive nervous system 'means you are aware of subtleties in your surroundings' [an advantage!] and also that you are 'more easily overwhelmed when you have been in a highly stimulating environment for too long, bombarded by sights and sounds until you are exhausted'. You can see how having a highly sensitive person with an insensitive person creates some interesting challenges!
It's no wonder that sensitive people may be deeply moved by the world but also more quickly tired out than their less sensitive or insensitive peers and loved ones. A lot of sensitive folk are introverts, but there are some, like me, that are extroverted and sensitive! I love people and am drawn to them but need a lot of time meditating and being in peaceful surrounds to enjoy it and serve the world the way I am called to.
Elaine writes that compared with those that aren't highly sensitive, most highly sensitive people are:
- Better at spotting errors and avoiding making errors
- Highly conscientious
- Able to concentrate deeply (best without distractions!)
- Able to process material to deeper levels of what psychologists call 'semantic memory'
- Often able to think about our own thinking
- Able to learn without being aware we have learned
- Deeply affected by other people's moods and emotions
So why does it matter if you are sensitive?
It is CRITICAL to self-love and acceptance.
If you are sensitive, particularly highly sensitive, you might not have been brought up to appreciate or honour your needs. So the first reason it matters is that being sensitive may have impacted on your sense of self-worth and self-acceptance. If you think that sensitivity = weakness and less than, and if it's had a negative impact on your identity, reading the Highly Sensitive Person will help you rewrite those stories and come to accept that sensitivity is normal and has a range of beautiful, useful qualities that the world desperately needs.
It is CRITICAL to good self-care.
If you were fed a story that sensitive = annoying, than it is likely that you don't meet your own needs for self-care, as they may make you acutely aware of being different, being excluded or the possibility of 'putting people out'. This could manifest itself in many ways, including exhausting yourself, disassociating from your body that is overstimulated, drinking/smoking/eating too much in an effort to calm your system. Oh and eating/drinking things that don't agree with you for the sake of fitting in. That in turn, has a range of negative physical and mental health consequences. To be frank, if you're highly sensitive and don't honour it, it can (says Dr Elaine Aron) develop mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression.
It is CRITICAL to following intuition, finding joy and deep fulfilment.
If you are sensitive but in the longstanding habit of ignoring your own needs, wishes or desires, then you are doing yourself a huge disservice. By learning to honour your sensitivity, you can open up a whole, amazing world for yourself and give your poor body a break! You wont know yourself! Honouring your sensitivity is a huge part of developing your intuition and will lead you to joy and fulfilment.
Lastly, being sensitive matters because it is CRITICAL to you living your purpose.
Your sensitivity will probably alert you to your life's greater purpose. If you're tuned out of yourself, you might miss out that opportunity! To be blunt, you are less likely to see your part in saving the world if you are too overstimulated and overwhelmed to see the problem or to think of the plan.
So there you go, my lovelies! All nervous systems are valuable and awesome. We want the insensitive folk to cope easily with the most distressing and overstimulating things and the highly sensitive ones to feel things deeply and make things beautiful and comfortable for everyone (they're the ones adjusting the lights, with the really soft bedding).
If you'd like to check out your sensitivity levels, take sensitivity quiz here...
Self-love and care is the cornerstone of it all. Accept and love yourself, however you are, and your life may be the same on paper but it will feel divine.
P.S. If you've been looking for a chance to Revive your mind and body, join me and Chafia Brooks, dancer and dance therapist to help you work through fear and achieve your goals, as well as to get back in touch with your body! Workshops are in Melbourne - click here for more details. Places are limited, so book now. No dance skills needed and no solos ;)
Hi, I'm Dr Lara Corr, life coach and researcher in work and wellbeing. I coach successful 30 and 40 somethings who want more fulfilling or bigger careers but doubt themselves and their options. I help them get out of their own way, find direction and go for what they really want.