The Highly Sensitive Person

Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)I knew that sensitive people existed, but apparently they are far more common than I thought. And when I mean sensitive, I don’t mean emotionally. Not necessarily the type of person that is easily upset or is prone to spontaneous crying. At least not solely sensitive in that way. No, the HSP is hyper sensitive to light, sounds and smells. This is something I can directly relate to because I have certainly known a highly sensitive person all my life. Me.

I have always been able to tell when someone was upset. I’ve always had some kind of ability to comprehend what someone was trying to explain, or say. I have even finished sentences for complete strangers. It has probably been an annoying thing to a lot of my friends. And certainly to the men in my life as well. Who likes having their sentences “cut off” or finished when you weren’t finished speaking? Even if what I said was correct or pretty darn close. I always understood that, but couldn’t help it either. I just “knew” where people were going with their train of thought, or what they were about to say. Though I do admit that in some cases I just wanted to move the conversation along. Some people tend to be too wordy, if you get my meaning? lol and ok, sometimes I get impatient because I already understand what is being said and want the next bit of information. Yes, it is an ability that has frustrated me as well.

The Emotional Vampire

Over the years, and especially in the last decade or so, I have also found that I’m a human sponge for emotion. Maybe when I was younger it just didn’t phase me. Or maybe I didn’t care as much? I don’t know. But in the last decade, I simply cannot be around certain types of people for too long. I call them Emotional Vampires (EV). These people are often completely unaware that they are Emotional Vampires, but they sure drain me and my energy nevertheless. An EV can be an overly angry or negative person who is constantly judging others or pointing out flaws. Or maybe everything and everyone under the sun is wrong or not up to their expectation in some way – Judith Orloff MD calls this type The Controller.

An EV can also be that very needy friend you have that clings to you and calls you all the time to tell you about their latest worst fear, catastrophe or what their kids/husband did this time. How nothing ever goes right for them. With rarely a word for you to get in edgewise and certainly not a thought of how your day is going either – Judith Orloff MD calls this type, The Victim. And then there is that arrogant, bossy, know it all type that struts around like Top Dog. The attention whore who always must be in the limelight. To me, this is the worst kind of all. I either want to do physical damage or run screaming in the other direction – Judith Orloff MD calls this type The Narcissit. You can read more about her take on Emotional Vampires here.

So if I’m in a crowd of people, or have to go to the mall, it’s going to be a very short trip. If I can’t avoid situations like that altogether! Even a total stranger crying or obviously miserable, or overly angry can pass their emotions easily to me or set me off. I’ve been known to tell a person exactly what the entire line of customers thinks of him/her while waiting for them to stop bitching at or berating the cashier, for example.

Partly because I sympathize, but mostly because I just can’t handle the noise or the emotion. Sometimes I have to make the noise STOP. I can’t help it, it just happens. I’m a sponge, and it’s no fun at all. I have finally become that older person who just wants to tell those rotten kids to turn that music DOWN lol.

Sight, Sound and Smell Sensitivities

What I didn’t know was that hypersensitivity to light, sound and smells was also part of being a highly sensitive person. I thought being hypersensitive was just part of this Fibromyalgia thing. Is it separate from FM, or are HSPs simply more likely to develop FM? That seems to be a discussion still up in the air. Though I can certainly say that nearly every person I have met online that has FM also has hypersensitivities of some kind. My personal experience of being a HSP is that I have *always* had a super sensitivity to sounds. Angry voices or arguing voices set me off for sure. But constant background noise can drive me up the wall just as easily.

Sound Sensitivity

I have worn ear plugs 24/7 for the last 15-20 years. It helps some. What is even weirder than that is that I can often hear people just fine despite the ear plugs (which are industrial grade). As for light, yes I prefer darkness for sure. I do better at night, seem more “awake” at night and sleep far better during daylight hours. This has been the case for me since the late 80’s. I always thought it was my working a midnight shift for a few years that threw my sleep patterns off. Apparently not!

Smell isn’t much of a sensitivity for me. At least not as a whole. There are certain things I cannot stand that make me gag or that I will simply avoid. These, too, have gotten worse over the years and the number of item smells that set me off have increased in the last few months. Like raw hamburger, which never bothered me before.

What happens when I’m overloaded with sounds? If I can’t avoid the sound, I will simply leave. If I can’t stop the sound, I have to leave. On the bad days, I have to have utter peace and quiet and prefer sleep. Sometimes I have to sleep even. As I’m at home all the time now, it’s my poor husband that gets the brunt of things. When hubby won’t turn his music or the tv down, then we inevitably have a “discussion” or I’m going to bed. I still don’t think he truly understands how awful it is for me with noise. I will try to explain it here though.

It’s kind of like being “hit” with the noise, like a physical blow. The sounds pound in my body, or in my head, or both at the same time. It’s like being startled by a sudden noise, but that feeling of startlement continues as long as the noise does. Depending on how sensitive I feel at the moment (and there are gradations), so too does my reaction vary. To really “get” what I mean. Imagine being suddenly scared, that feeling of fear and hyper-awareness. Now imagine being stuck in that state. Yeah, that’s what it is like.

Tactile Sensitivities

Sometimes when the hubby is walking around the living room (where our computers and desks are) I am in mortal fear of his touching me. If I’m in that overloaded state, I often think I will just burst right out of my own skin if someone touched me. This makes being in a crowd very difficult for me now. If I’m prepared, being touched is ok. Being bumped into, or bumping into something unexpectedly not only frightens me, but can be very painful.

Chemical Sensitivities

Many HSPs (and people with Fibromyalgia) have sensitivities to chemicals. Using harsh chemicals (such as cleaning products), wearing perfume or putting on make-up can be down right impossible for some people. I knew a woman who had severe burns from a car accident who could only use Dawn dish soap (it is so mild) to wash and shampoo, her skin was that sensitive. For some HSPs, it’s very similar. Unfortunately, this can also include medications. Some people with Fibromyalgia cannot take medication that may otherwise help alleviate debilitating symptoms simply because they cannot tolerate them due to chemical sensitivity.

For more information on the Highly Sensitive Person, read the following books:

The Highly Sensitive Person The Highly Sensitive Person Workbook The Highly Sensitive Person Survival Guide The Highly Sensitive Person's Companion Emotional Vampires

Take this HSP self test.

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