Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Highly Sensitive People

Yesterday, while researching one of the characters for my new book, I discovered something. I've always known that I am different. What I didn't know, is that I am not alone. Seems that about 20% of the world's population have what I have. Or are what I am.

Highly sensitive people. Or HSP, for short. Ha! They even have an acronym for me. Who knew.

In fact, research has shown that I (we) process sensory data much more deeply and thoroughly due to a biological difference in our nervous systems. It's biological!

As a child I couldn't be still. I was always fidgeting. Not much has changed in that category in the last 52 years.

I am one of those people who are so sensitive that scratchy clothing bothers me. Sock seams irritate me. Crooked seams drive me bonkers. I have a pair of thermal pants that I can't wear. After an hour, the seams start twisting around till I can't take it any more. I won't wear uncomfortable shoes. This includes most sneakers and hiking boots. They just don't fit my feet right. Either the foot pad is misplaced or a seam rubs, the instep's too tight. Always something. If there's a hair inside my shirt, I will peel it off to find it.

I can't wear wool. Two seconds against my bare skin and I'm squirming like a loon. After five seconds, I rip it off. Same with any kind of scratchy fabric; nylon, acrylic, even scratchy cotton. My bed sheets must be soft and high thread count.

I have always related to Hans Christian Andersen's Princess and the Pea. In case your grandmother never read you those stories, she was the one who slept on top of umpteen mattresses with one tiny pea under the bottom-most...and could still feel the pea. Yep, that's me. I fidget even in bed. The covers have to be just so. And do not lay on top of my covers and pin me down. I will fight you.

There are other 'manifestations' of this 'condition'. (I like to think of it as more a state of being.)

My senses are heightened in every way, not just touch; but also smell, hearing, taste, and sight. Strong smells irritate me, including most perfumes and colognes. If you sit next to me wearing Opium perfume or men's Polo, I will get up and run. Some irritate me, some I can't handle at all. Exhaust fumes gag me. Chicken houses...omg.

I love music. But if it's too loud, it hurts. Literally. That goes for televisions, movie theaters and loudspeakers. If I go to a concert, I take cotton to stuff in my ears. Loud voices, especially arguments, make me cringe, even cower. My friend Ivy recently described sitting in the bleachers at a NASCAR race, and just reading her description made me squirm. That fingernail on the blackboard screech? Through the roof. Now I know that these things ramp my nervous system to the point of explosion.

You would think with sensitive eyes, I could see better than normal. Not. But my eyes are very sensitive to light. I have to wear sunglasses, in fact, I don't understand people who don't. Coo coo, coo coo. Bright overhead lights are even too much. I recently had to don a baseball cap to be able to watch TV with the overhead light blaring. Seriously.

Think I'm a freak yet? Or pretending, to get my way? Some do.

There is another side to being a Highly Sensitive Person. My 'skin' is very thin, emotionally. Things that don't bother 80% of the people, bother me. Sometimes intensely. I feel deeply. And, I am very in tune with other's moods. When people I'm close to are having a bad day, I tend to have a bad day, too. I can't watch scary movies. Or violent ones. And these days, even heavy drama is too much.

I pick up on very subtle nuances. For instance, most people, especially men, aren't in touch with their feelings. I tend to know when something is wrong. Or different. Or whatever. Usually before they even know it themselves. Don't step out on me. I have radar.

Most of us HSP's are loners. Why? We find solace in quiet. In nature. Outdoors. Or alone in our rooms, playing quietly. As you know, there's not much silence when others are around. Plus, I'm compelled to make small talk.

There is an up side to being a Highly Sensitive Person. We're extremely intelligent. We tend to be creative geniuses. And we're very intuitive.

Of course, for a person whose heart's desire is to be loved truly, madly and deeply...and without condition...intelligence, creativity, intuition and genius are cold seconds. Even if they don't mind you fidgeting in bed.

For more information on Highly Sensitive People, or to find out if you may be one, or know one, or have one as a child, check out the first three links below. If you find (or know) you are an HSP, the last three links are for you.

http://www.hsperson.com/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Highly_sensitive_person
http://www.highlysensitivepeople.com/
http://highlysensitive.org/
http://www.sensitiveperson.com/

Excerpt taken from HighlySensitivePeople.com:
Pearl S. Buck, (1892-1973), recipient of the Pulitzer Prize in 1932 and of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1938, once said about highly sensitive people: Pearl S. Buck image
"The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this:
A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive.

To him...

a touch is a blow,
a sound is a noise,
a misfortune is a tragedy,
a joy is an ecstasy,
a friend is a lover,
a lover is a god,
and failure is death.

Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create —— so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, his very breath is cut off from him. He must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency he is not really alive unless he is creating."
—Pearl S. Buck


Photographs of famous HSPs in order from top:
http://physics.about.com/od/alberteinstein/ig/Albert-Einstein-photos/Einstein-on-a-bike.htm
http://childhoodreading.com/Edmund_Dulac_and_Gus/Princess_and_the_Pea.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_African_Queen_%28film%29
http://www.woodyallenmovies.com/
http://www.princess-diana.com/

12 comments:

Ivy Bliss said...

Okay, several thiings. I read this earlier when you first posted it. I couldn't even respond - there wasn't enough time at work!
Everything (except the noise thing) is me! In fact, until I got to that part, I was convinced I had accidently written something and posted it on your blog! But wait...I don't remember writing this...
The Princess and the Pea was my favorite story growing up. I could never really understand why I liked it. I just knew her.
Oh, Woody Allen. Just his picture makes me feel something. I once saw an interview with him where he describes something he calls the "anxiety of influence". Very much the HSP mentality. I cannot get enough of him. Ever.
The one area, as I said, that I do not relate to is the sound. Sound makes me feel like there is quiet. Maybe it's because I grew up with an active railroad next door? Or maybe it's because I grew up in a super small town with nothing going on? I don't know. But what I do know is that I definitely do everything better when there is a rythm behind me somewhere.
I love you! You are the best. I love your writing.

Ivy Bliss said...

Holy cow! I just checked my email and saw that you had posted a comment on my page! How funny is that! Were we commenting at the same time? :)

Me....bunny said...

Hey...this is me too! I just thought I was being difficult and that bothered me too. Anxiety...let's not go there...lol thanks for visiting me today...I will be back...

tootles,
bunny

jtuck2 said...

Dr. O, This is very interesting. Thanks for this. My fiance is so sensitive to sounds and he is in an area at work where he is bombarded by other's loud phone calls and inconsiderate talking all day long. It is unbearable to him and it's not an employee-friendly place. They won't help him get peace.

He is also very sensitive to light and has to have complete darkness when he sleeps. I didn't understand this until now.

What can be done to help sensitive people de-sensitize?

For instance, yogis are taught not to let the world affect their senses. I know people who swim in freezing water and do other things most of us can't do. They overcome their "attachment" to hot and cold. There must be some way to overcome this sensitivity.

Hard to believe 1 in 5 people are affected. Any studies on what causes it?

Cheers! Jan

That Rebel with a Blog said...

Jan, if you'll click on the first couple of links, there are studies and, yes, there's help out there. There are books and doctors, even support groups in L.A. There is a weekend support gathering in NC coming up in April. I didn't check for the west coast, but I think there was something coming to you, too.

Has he tried earplugs at work? I need it dark to sleep, too, and have an extra feather pillow that I put over my head when it's too light. Just enough to cover my eyes up good. Works like a charm.

Good luck and let me know how it turns out.

Star Child said...

Thank you for directing me here.

Yes, I relate completely to this post.

Birds of a feather, we are, dear Rebel.

Murr Brewster said...

I'm all over that, with the clothing tags and microscopic underwear splinters and sheets (I have not found that high thread count can be counted on for anything, and in fact my favorite sheets are polyester from the 70s with an execrable pattern on them). My ears are delicate, also.

But I'm a complete dunderhead about people. You have no idea how hard someone has to work to upset me. I never think they're really after me.

Anonymous said...

I would like to exchange links with your site www.blogger.com
Is this possible?

Olivia J. Herrell said...

Anonymous, it may be possible. What is your name and the address of your website? I'll be happy to visit and discuss link ups.

Thank you very much, Olivia

You can also email me through blogger.

Lorraina said...

Thank you so much for this; i am so glad to know there is a name for it and that other people have it too. I am not alone!

I am most of what you said and one of my childhood nicknames was baby because i was crying all the time...i loved the Princess and the Pea (maybe i recognised her)can't watch people being screamed at and ridiculed on tv shows like that chef show; most perfumes give me an instant headache; shoes and clothes are never quite designed right and the only fabric comfortable is 100%cotton; can't have scratchy labels, twisted seams or wrinkled sheets or the weight of my feet being smucked down by sheet or blankets and i can't do the cinema because it's too cold in there, can't go to Mexico because it's too hot.

Animal cruelty makes me physically sick but i can watch/hear of human cruelty in the news and i know when people are lying - Casey Anthony is lying.

I've cut people out of my life who i allowed to use me in various ways in the past. I was and still will be a good friend but now i know that lots people will take advantage of me. I sometimes find myself wondering if i have the wimp aura all around me as i'm either invisible, used or overlooked in the good scenerios.
I'm trying harder now to see these things before they happen.

Can't create if anyones watching; could never speak to a crowd, i like being alone in the greenhouse in silence although hubby insisted should have music on...i love music, but not in the gh!

I am most comfortable by the ocean, in it or on it i need to feel and/or hear it.

Love the Pearl S. Buck quote; i even put it on an old blog in 2007
I have super hearing and my eyes are very light sensitive, i've had enhanced smell and taste for over a year - the amino acids emitting from a half chicken breast kills me but chicken is ok if it's cut in tiny pieces, can't be near a tuna salad or sandwhich anymore because the smell is too strong, ditto beef either raw or cooked anymore.
eggs, no way;
omg, i am a highly sensitive person with more issues than that but with a bad memory.

Bill Collins said...

Yup, that's me; highly sensitive person. It's like being ugly or beautiful, it just is.
BTW, to my delight you site Pearl Buck. Just finished My Several Worlds. I post at sweetwilliamnow.blogsplot.com; visit if you don't care to.

Jen said...

I just found this article today. I'm an ISFJ and an HSP who was constantly verbally and sometimes physically abused growing up. At 36 years, I'm still struggling daily to appear normal and not let the damage show. Any advice for coping with deep-rooted and often-reinforced feelings of worthlessness?

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