Reading about ‘highly sensitive people‘ (HSP) is very calming for me — articles like this one seem to know me very well, and they tell me I am part of a normal variation within the human population. About 10-20% of all humans, fruitflies and salmons are like me: slower, more cautious, more careful, more sensitive.
I observe that my characteristics that I believe are associated with HSP often annoy people — typical reactions are ‘don’t be so oversensitive’, ‘you are always making such a drama’, ‘you take this way too seriously’. I am often embarrassed about it myself and think that it must be a question of willpower — only that it isn’t. It seems we are very different that what is thought ideal in our society — and perhaps even more in science — but I am really glad I am not alone in this.
Here are some aspects in which this shows itself to me:
1. I am very risk-averse and I am the opposite of a thrill-seeker. I find my life very stressful as it is and I have absolutely no wish to watch stressful movies or spend my free time by doing risky things like mountain climbing, or performing complicated holidays in faraway places. I find it hard to truly understand people who enjoy these things.
2. I need much more downtime than any other person I know. If I don’t get it, I easily get ill, either with a migraine, feeling nauseated or catching a cold, which can be quite limiting, especially socially. When I was younger, the usual effect was that I could not sleep, probably just to get the downtime at night. I still sometimes have problems to accept this. Why can I not go out on a weekday evening? Go to the cinema at least? Why can I not work more? My limit seems to be in a totally different place compared to most other people. I just need more time to process things.
3. I almost never enjoy conversations with several people at the same time. I have an unhealthy tendency to be hyper-attentive and trying to feel and understand the people around me. I am trying to get rid of this to some degree, since it is very bad for me if people around me are not sensitive or nice. I notice aggressive behaviour ‘between the lines’ and hierarchical behaviour extremely well, and I start to detest certain people for things that others apparently don’t even notice. I perceive many people as very rude, but of course I am aware that it is me who is different, so I needed to build up a huge amount of tolerance and empathy towards others to explain and accept their rudeness. But it wears me out. I also in general notice too many things about people, which makes social events very tiring.
4. I love deep conversations with one person at a time. I find people very interesting and I like to listen attentively to one other person, empathize with them and ask them questions, to find out how they see the world. I can remember things people tell me about themselves very easily. The majority of people seem to think that this makes me a doormat. They blabber along without ever bothering to ask a question back, enjoy the attention they get from me, and then move on. I on the other hand don’t like to talk if I don’t feel any real interest towards me, and so I often end up being very quiet, which is frustrating in the long run.
5. I am very slow with making decisions, and see things from many, and probably often too many angles. I have been criticized heavily for this all my life, so it makes me very happy to know that there are also fruitflies who take longer with deciding. Maybe this is the most basic trait of being highly sensitive — I think and observe before I act, and that is good in some situations, but not so good in many others.
6. If people start to argue, if there is even an undercurrent of tension and stress during a meal, or if I am a little afraid of some people at the table, my stomach starts hurting and I lose my appetite. This can be extremely difficult and embarrassing if I am at an important dinner invitation. Food loses its a significant fraction of is taste whenever I eat with other people that I do not know well.
7. Since I was a child, I have always had some creative outlet. If I try to suppress my creativity, I get depressed. It appears being creative is very normal for us and one of the advantages of being a HSPs. For me it is necessary because I need to give something back in order for my brain not to get overfilled and stuck, and because I cannot transmit my experiences and feelings very well in conversations. Enjoying deep and complex art and literature is one of the things that makes me happiest in the world, probably because in this way I can deeply empathize with other people at my own speed.
8. Other people’s expectations, whether imagined by me or real, influence me very strongly, even if I fight it. I often feel myself becoming transparent around others, all my antennas completely focussed outwards, which is troubling.
9. It seems to me that my way of working is very different from other people. I have these peaks of efficiency, in which I am faster than most people I know, but I also spend a lot of time not being able to work for some reason, either because I am ill, or because I just cannot concentrate.
10. I react to lack of sleep, hunger, stress, alcohol more strongly than others. I sometimes think it is because my basic stress level is just higher than that of other people. Both hunger and lack of sleep can make me crushingly sad and depressed, or very angry, and totally unable to function.
11. I am slow with some things. And I mean slow. In particular with changing clothes and packing stuff. I have recurrent nightmares about both of these things. Maybe it is because both of these things announce a change, and changes are always difficult to me. I’m even not sure if I can truly say that I like traveling to new places, which took me forever to admit to myself.