highly sensitive person
Therapy for highly sensitive people (HSPs)
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Has anyone ever told you that you were “too sensitive” or “too shy?”? In the moment, you might have felt hurt or ashamed, but in truth, being highly sensitive isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In some situations, it can be an advantage, in others, not so much — just like many other personality traits.
Roughly 15 to 20% of the population can be classified as highly sensitive people, or HSPs. An HSP is someone that tends to process experiences and emotions more deeply. This may be because of increased sensitivity in the central nervous system, which leads to a stronger reaction to emotional, physical, or social stimuli. Sometimes, this is referred to as sensory processing sensitivity, or SPS.
A variety of factors, including early childhood experiences, genetics, environment, and evolution may contribute to someone being highly sensitive.
If you experienced a lack of parental affection as a child or other negative early childhood experiences, you might develop high sensitivity and carry it well into adulthood. Experiencing trauma during your childhood may also make you more likely to become an HSP as an adult.
If others in your family are also HSPs and it “runs in the family,” it increases your chances of also being an HSP. Other parts affected by your genetics, such as the dopamine system (which can, in turn, affect your personality), can also make you more prone to having high sensitivity.
High sensitivity has been observed in at least 100 species other than humans and research suggests that it may be an evolutionary trait. Highly sensitive individuals were more likely to survive as they were always on the lookout for dangerous situations or possible predators. On the flip slip, however, constantly being on edge despite the lack of immediate threat can result in anxiety.
What Does Being a Highly Sensitive Person Feel Like?
Unsure if you identify as an HSP? While high sensitivity isn’t an official mental health condition and thus doesn’t have strict criteria for diagnosis, there are still some common signs that highly sensitive people share:
Being easily overwhelmed by sensory stimuli (e.g. coarse fabrics, strong smells, bright lights, noisy crowds, etc.).
Being deeply moved by beauty, be it displayed in works of art, nature, the human spirit, or some other medium (e.g. food, music, TV shows, etc.).
Being highly observant of your surroundings and capable of picking up subtle cues that others don’t notice.
Being rattled or nervous when you have a lot to do in a small window of time.
Being described as shy or sensitive as a child by your parents or teachers.
Consciously avoiding violent movies and TV shows as they tend to overwhelm you with their intensity and leave you deeply unsettled.
Consciously avoiding potentially overwhelming or upsetting situations.
A need for downtime during or after a busy day, where you retreat to a darkened, quiet room or another area where you can have privacy and peace.
A rich and complex inner life, with strong feelings and deep thoughts to complement it.
If you’re still unsure, explore the questionnaire developed by the psychologists Elaine Aron and Arthur Aron, who first coined the term Highly Sensitive Person in 1996.
Being highly sensitive has its ups and downs. While increased sensitivity can indeed enrich your experiences, it can just as easily make them overwhelming. Being an HSP isn’t necessarily something you have to “fix,” but if you’re feeling overwhelmed or having difficulty coping, therapy may be an option.
What Does Therapy for Highly Sensitive People Look Like?
How Therapy Can Help Highly Sensitive People
As an HSP, you may have experienced unpleasant situations that have left you doubting yourself, your perceptions, and your abilities. Hearing statements like “You’re being too sensitive”, “Just toughen up”, “It isn’t a big deal”, “Why can’t you let things go?”, or “Stop crying so much” can leave you feeling flawed and weak, heightening the fear of rejection or betrayal.
Asking for help can be intimidating, but finding a compassionate therapist can help ease your struggle. Therapy can help you develop coping mechanisms for overwhelming situations, allowing you to keep better control over your emotions. Therapy can also help you explore how you came to be an HSP and its effect on your life — and how to accept yourself as you are.
THERAPISTS WHO CAN HELP
Therapists Who Specialize in Therapy for Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) in NYC
Connecting with the right therapist is the most important factor in your search. We’re here to help you find a great match.
What if I’m Not Ready To Start Therapy?
Professional help isn’t a step that everyone’s ready to take and that’s perfectly fine. Even if you’re not ready for therapy, there are still some small steps you can take to feel better:
Learn more about HSPs — Websites like The Highly Sensitive Person (run by the psychologists who first identified the trait) and Expansive Heart offer a rich library of resources that can help you learn more about HSPs, including blogs, research, books, tools, and more.
Practice mindfulness — Mindfulness emphasizes being in the present moment, rather than worrying over past experiences and future problems, and can be a good tool to help you when you feel overwhelmed. Activities like yoga, meditation, gardening, and even listening to music can be an opportunity to practice mindfulness.
Connect with other Highly Sensitive People — Explore online forums and meetups in your area. You may also consider exploring groups that are likely to attract introverts and HSPs that align with your interests. For example book clubs, meditation, and gardening groups.
Interested in Therapy for Highly Sensitive People?
We can help.
We can help you develop a deeper understanding of your personality and explore your strengths, so you feel more comfortable in your own skin and ready to enjoy life to the fullest. Reach out to us today for a free consultation with one of our therapists who specialize in therapy for highly sensitive people (HSPs) in NYC.