Therapy for Highly Sensitive People (HSPs)
Have you ever been told “you’re too sensitive”?
It can be common for friends or family to tell a highly sensitive person that they need to “toughen up,” “let things go,” “grow a thicker skin,” “stop crying so much,” or to “stop being so sensitive.” You may feel frequently overwhelmed and struggle with situations that others seem to deal with easily. All these messages and experences can make Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) believe there’s something wrong with them that needs to be fixed.
What does it mean to be highly sensitive?
Being highly sensitive is not a diagnosis. You’ll find no mention of it in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual V (DSM-V), which is the professional resource for diagnosing mental health concerns. Sensitivity, instead, is becoming increasingly recognized as a personality trait and as part of a person’s innate temperament, much like being naturally outgoing, reliable or independent.
While this trait of sensitivity can look a little different for everyone, it includes some fundamental elements. People who are highly sensitive notice A LOT about the world around them, including:
The 5 senses—both enjoying/savoring and sometimes being overly stimulated by light, sound, smell, touch/texture and taste.
Strong emotions--A HSP may feel an abundance of joy or excitement and can be equally overcome by sadness or disappointment.
Other people--HSPs tend to be especially attuned to the mood in a room, others’ feelings or even noticing subtle changes in a friend or coworker, like recognizing their half-hearted smile or slumped shoulders indicating they’re having a rough day.
Themselves--HSPs can be perfectionists and may worry quite a bit about performance or about disappointing others. Interestingly, HSPs tend to perform more poorly when they are being closely observed due to their heightened sensitivity to such observation.
These characteristics can add so much richness and complexity to life, on the one hand, and on the other hand, they can create feelings of overwhelm and a desire to hide from the world. If you are tired of feeling overwhelmed and frustrated with yourself and are ready to find some peace, we'd love to support you and your growth in therapy.
A brief history of sensitivity
Historically, being highly sensitive may have been referred to as being neurotic or “hysterical.” Thankfully, we’ve gotten away from these words with so many negative connotations! Believe it or not, sensitivity can be a tremendous strength. While a lot of research on the trait of sensitivity is still emerging, we know that about 15-20% of the population has been identified as being highly sensitive. Evolution has even shown this trait to serve its purpose in the survival of the human species. Having people in a group who were especially observant about changes, whether it be a shift in weather or building tension among a group, could help prevent and resolve problems before they got out of hand. Likewise, in modern day, the trait of sensitivity can be incredibly beneficial to businesses, organizations, individuals and even one’s own family and friends.
Work with a therapist who understands Highly Sensitive People
While any personality trait comes with a downside, there is also incredible strength and advantage to be found in being highly sensitive. So, if you’d like to explore and deepen your understanding of this complex trait of sensitivity in yourself or in your child (See more about how I work with kids and teens.), call me today for a free 15 minute phone consultation!