Are you, or is someone you love, highly sensitive?
It can happen without warning, or you might sense it coming. Suddenly you’re “over the edge.” You find yourself in Overstimulated mode or Crash mode. You’re out of control and neither body nor brain is functioning normally—they no longer respond to your will, wishes or commands. Every nerve in your body may feel like it’s standing on its side. Being touched can be irritating or even painful. Your thinking may be foggy. At the same time, your body is in overdrive and yet has also shut down.
Is this scenario familiar? A surge of adrenaline has gushed through your body, followed quickly by a drop in energy. What do you do now? How long does it take to get back to normal? What IS normal??? It depends who you ask! Sensitivity is one key characteristic of what I have come to call CASIGYs. what’snormal for a CASIGY (Creative/Curious, Alert/Aware, Super-Sensitive, Intense/likely Introverted, possibly Gifted YOU) and/or a highly sensitive person (HSP) is different than it is for most folks. It’s normal for an HSP’s and a CASIGY’s body and mind to respond to things that less sensitive people don’t even notice, much less react to in any way. After being overstimulated, it’s normal for HSPs and CASIGYs to take longer and require much more intervention than it does for ‘normals’ to return to a state of inner balance.
Do you love or live with someone whose sensitivity drives you nuts? Do you recognize them in these paragraphs? You may be reassured to know that YOU are not creating their sensitivity. This is how they are wired, like a high performance car is wired and differently and tuned to a higher frequency than a regular car. You can stop walking on eggshells around them, for fear of setting them off. You can breathe deeply, knowing that yes, opposites attract and that’s OK. You can both learn to understand each other more, stop trying to change the other one to be like you are, accept each other as you each are, and honor each of you in your uniqueness. You will find information here to help you understand them, and to help you know more about their inherent needs as a sensitive person.
As a Highly Sensitive Person, you may see things and notice things that others do not. You may see things out of place and it may bother you, when others do not see it at all. When you point this out, you may get the reputation for being picky and perfectionistic, when in fact you are working hard to let many things go without mentioning them. Your heightened awareness can include awareness of possibilities, both positive and negative. This may feed idealism, which when not fulfilled can slide into cynicism. As a result, others may consider you naive or negative.
It can be important to highly sensitive people, and especially to the super-sensitive, to be involved in some deeply meaningful pursuit. For some, this is satisfied in avocations; in others, they MUST have meaningful work. This can cause a lot of trouble. Meaningful work can also be demanding and stressful; many times something meaningful also carries a high level of risk. That risk might include personal or physical danger, financial insecurity, high stress levels, or other kinds of risk. In the light of the high reactivity that we have already mentioned, this means that involvement in deeply meaningful activities can extract a big personal price or sacrifice from the highly sensitive person or CASIGY. Balancing meaning or significance and stress levels can be tough for an HSP or a CASIGY. Finding work that’s not too stressful may also mean that it’s mundane, boring or unsatisfying.
As an HSP, you may need frequent time for solitude and reflection. It can take a lot of time to sort out all that you take in through your heightened awareness. It’s also important to give your busy mind some down time. You may also need daily physical activity. Exercise uses up the biochemicals released in the fight-or-flight response, which a sensitive person experiences more often than does a less sensitive person in the same circumstances. Without sufficient physical movement, an HSP or a CASIGY may also have pent up physical or psychic energy, and find yourself doodling, jiggling your hands, legs and/or feet or fidgeting in your chairs. Any or all of these may be misunderstood by others as boredom, rudeness or hyperactivity. When overstimulated, it can be especially hard for a highly sensitive person to relax enough to get to sleep at night. Without the solitude that you need for contemplation and reflection, you may get grumpy and easily irritated. You may also have racing thoughts, especially when these inner needs are ignored.
This leads to a discussion of anxiety, depression and stress-related illness and sensitivity. With what we’ve just been talking about, it would stand to reason that these three issues would be common in people with high sensitivity. And they are. Just HOW common, I don’t know. I haven’t seen any good studies on this that compare the ratios with ‘normals’. I do know that many sensitive people struggle with these three phenomenon, and that any resources for Sensitives need to address these concerns.
This can be BAD NEWS for highly sensitive and especially for super-sensitive people. Your biggest trouble may come when you ignore your sensitivity and to try to live like you are not sensitive. This can also be GOOD NEWS: your biggest trouble as a highly- or super-sensitive person can come when you ignore your sensitivity and to try to live like you are not sensitive. So living with sensitivity can be the thing you can do as a highly sensitive or super-sensitive person to make a powerful difference in your life.
Many highly sensitive people have told me that most of their life they have not understood that being sensitive is a legitimate way to be. They have forever been trying to change or hide their sensitivity or be less sensitive. This is like putting a race horse behind a plow and expecting it to plod along in a straight line, AND to do it happily and gracefully. A plow horse, AKA Draft horse, is completely content to pull a plow all day long, every day, up and down the furrows, keeping them straight. It doesn’t get distracted by noises, mice, rabbits or birds. It’s happy pulling wagons, carts, sleighs or plows. But a race horse needs to race, and race full out. A race horse needs a calm and gentle hand that gives firm guidance. A race horse also needs a quiet, peaceful pasture to chill in after the race. A race horse can also be jumpy and flighty, especially if or when these apparently conflicting needs are not met. Can you relate?
So the first thing that a highly or especially a super-sensitive person needs to do in order to live well, is to is to align your life with who you are and how you’re made, no matter whether anyone else understands, acknowledges or appreciates any of this or not. It doesn’t work any better to be highly sensitive and try to live as if you’re not that way, just as much as it doesn’t work to put a race horse behind a plow and expect good results. This is easy to say, but not so simple to do, you say. Quite true. That’s why getting the support and guidance from someone who knows what it’s like, who travels a similar path in life and gets what you’re going through can be crucial to your healing and thriving as a CASIGY.
Learning how you’re unique is crucial to aligning your life with who you are and what you need. People who are Highly Sensitive often have heightened senses and may be sensitive to light, sound, touch, or textures; you may cut labels out of your clothes, frequently use earplugs or noise-canceling head phones; you may wear dark glasses indoors, (or wish you could). You may also be emotionally sensitive, highly empathic, compassionate, or be more easily hurt emotionally than are others; unless you are very tired or out of balance in some other way─then you may not be able to see past your own nose, so to speak. Being emotionally hurt or wounded more easily than others can also quickly interfere with your compassion for others. Being sensitive may take the form of deeply feeling the wounds of injustice and human suffering—your own or others’. You may also frequently hear from others that you are TOO sensitive.
But if I stop trying to be less sensitive won’t it make me even more sensitive than I already am? Well, it can, but not necessarily. Continually over-stimulating your central nervous system can sensitize it to be even more reactive than it was already. On the other hand, protecting or distancing it from ALL stimulation can also make it more reactive than it was to start with. It’s finding a middle ground, choosing when, where and how to expose it to stimulating situations than can lead to finding a livable balance as a sensitive person. One thing that we’re talking about here is living consciously. Being aware of your physical, emotional, and spiritual sensitivities, how and when they are relevant, when they are likely to play a role and have an impact in your life and using this to inform the choices you make in your life.
But won’t acknowledging and accommodating my sensitivity require even more time and energy than it already does? I would respond that this is a common concern. Many Super-Sensitive people have told me that they already spend wa-a-a-ay too much of their time and energy dealing with their sensitivity and reactivity. The amount of time it takes to manage your sensitivity can leave you feeling like you have little time or energy for anything else. What I’ve found is that dealing with sensitivity up front is much easier than picking up the pieces and trying to put things back together after ignoring it. It’s much like caring for a black lab that we used to have. If we would come home from work, tired and stressed, and ignore her, she would be nothing but trouble all evening. But if we would take ten minutes at the beginning, and dedicate it to giving her face-to-face attention that included some physical activity for her, she would be a joy to have around. If you understand your needs as a sensitive person, and meet those needs, then your sensitivity no longer interferes in your life, but instead, enhances your life and brings you great satisfaction and joy.
Won’t it leave you getting lost in crash mode, carried way in overexcitement mode, or lost in your anxiety, frustration, anger, inferiority and guilt or hiding out, never leaving home? Well, it COULD, but it’s not necessary to take these approaches. Many have expressed these and other concerns. Fortunately, I’ve found that there are a number of things CASIGY’s can do about this, first, to reinstate inner balance, and then to reduce their reactivity. Not everything works the same for everybody, and nothing works the same every time for any given CASIGY. But there are many things that work much of the time for most HSPs. There are some basic principles that once learned and followed, can successfully guide your search for a way to thrive while being sensitive.