I was blown away when I learned that this was possible. I know, combining these two traits sounds like a total oxymoron, right? How can a person both be sensitive to stimuli and their environment, feel emotions deeply, be thoroughly analytical and think-before-acting AND want MORE intensity, excitement, adventure, newness? Well, because we human beings are incredibly complex! I also knew as soon as I heard the high sensation seeker (HSS) term that that must be me, just like I knew the instant I heard of a highly sensitive person (HSP) that I too was one.
Luckily, there’s also research to back up each of these traits. (Because, you know how we HSPs can overanalyze to the point we completely doubt ourselves.) So, if you’ve never heard of being a high sensation seeker or are wondering about whether you are one, I invite you to take Elaine Aron’s quiz on HSS at http://hsperson.com/test/high-sensation-seeking-test/. It will give you a great starting point to identify if this trait fits for you.
Overall, a simplified definition of HSS is—people who are more curious than the average person and who seek out trying new things. They crave new sensations and new experiences and can feel invigorated by these. HSS may like extreme sports—like rock climbing, zip lining, skydiving—or may gravitate toward intense professions like being a firefighter or an ER nurse. While this sensation-seeking may sound like the complete opposite behavior to an HSP, HSPs who are also HSS tend to carefully weigh the risks when sensation-seeking, thus incorporating both of their traits. Elaine Aron mentions that one of her patients once described being a HSS HSP as having “one foot on the gas, one on the break.” For instance, while people who are only HSS may experiment with substance use, HSS HSPs may still want the new experiences provided by substances but are much more likely to use a safe and legal substance, like alcohol, coffee or now, even pot, as opposed to trying an illegal recreational drug (Aron, 2006).
Being an HSS and an HSP can feel like an ongoing inner tug-of-war with the HSS pulling ahead and the HSP pulling back. For me, my HSS part is my “antsy” part. It’s the part of me that can’t sit still for more than a couple of hours without being ready to “do something!” or move on to the “next” thing. It’s also the part of me that starts to feel completely stir crazy if I spend the better part of a day at home. Even more, it’s the part that tells me when it’s time to stop “relaxing” and go experience life. In hindsight, I realize that at different times in my life the HSS or HSP parts were more pronounced. I’ve gone through periods, especially in my twenties, in which the HSS part was pulling me around, and I often ignored my HSP self. Even though I would get tired, fortunately, I had the energy and stamina to keep up more with my HSS self. As a child, I was very curious but also very fearful of the unknown, likely because of strong traits of anxiety in my family, so my HSP part was more predominant. Then, as a teen, hellooooo HSS!
Now, as I’m settling more into my career and my practice as a therapist, I recognize more and more how much I need to listen to both parts. With the pain and beauty and intensity I witness by being a therapist, I need a lot more down time, including alone time and times of complete silence. I work well alone, whereas before I thrived on interacting with coworkers. Of course, I also need outlets and releases for the strong emotions I experience as part of my work. At the same time, I find it’s so important for me to feed my curiosity by reading, learning, traveling and trying new things. I need activities and events to look forward to so that I can give myself time to rest without FOMO (fear of missing out) taking over. And, even so, some days are much more of an inner battle with said FOMO—do I take it easy and watch a movie or get out and adventure because there’s so much world to see?!
Point being, we HSS HSPs live with this push and pull. So, how can we help ourselves manage?
- The key is to accept all of you. Your HSS part will want more excitement and thrill-seeking, and the HSP part will be often on the edge of being overwhelmed or overstimulated. This is all part of you, and it’s beautiful AND challenging. Acknowledge, allow and accept this duality.
- Then, find ways to satisfy both parts. This may mean taking turns between meeting the HSS and HSP, such as spending Friday night at home vegging peacefully with Netflix and on Saturday going to a festival or a concert. It may also mean integrating both parts, such as traveling to a new city but allowing for some quiet time to read or journal in a cute coffee shop or letting yourself go to bed early after spending all day exploring the sights.
- I also love Elaine Aron’s recommendation of YOU choosing your goal or vision (because remember we are all more than any HSP or HSS part of ourselves). You can allow the HSP part to assess, analyze and take aim. Then, the HSS part can jump into action, and your HSP self can help you savor and enjoy the experience. Teamwork! ;) (Aron, 2006)
As you can see, there may be no simple, straightforward answer to navigating this seesaw between HSP and HSS selves. But, I also think the best things in life aren’t simple. They’re complicated. And, I’m complicated. And, you’re complicated. And that’s what makes life interesting. It keeps me curious. It enthralls me to hear each new client’s story. It makes me want to learn and see and do and experience and rest and sleep and hibernate and analyze and connect as much as possible. It makes my life rich. It sure ain’t always easy, but I can’t imagine it any other way—I’d probably get too bored anyway.
If you want some support with your part that is HSP, HSS, both or either, just reach out today!
Take good care,
Ivy Griffin, LMFT # 51714, Director
Thrive Therapy & Counseling
1614 X St., Suite A
Sacramento, CA 95818
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*Now offering online therapy in CA*
Aron, Elaine. May 2006. Comfort Zone newsletter. “Personality and Temperament: The Highly Sensitive Person Who Is Also A High Sensation Seeker.” (http://www.hsperson.com/pages/1May0