If you are reading this, it is likely you are an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person), even though HSPs are only 15 – 20% of society. Why? Because some of the primary characteristics of the HSP are sensitivity to the moods of others, intuitive ability and a deep and complex inner life. The HSP is often on an active and highly personal quest for meaning, and may experience visions and voices pointing the way. Sound familiar?
When I read Elaine Aron’s book, The Highly Sensitive Person, How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You, I not only passed her quiz to identify myself as an HSP, but I was fascinated by the many mentions of things throughout the book that I thought were my personal weaknesses. It turns out that retreating to the restroom to hide or cry is not a great flaw, but instead is actually typical of this group of people! The inability to tolerate violence in movies, falling in love too hard, childhood shyness, conscientiousness and avoidance of making mistakes, sensitivity to hunger and pain, a dislike of gambling, all of these are mentioned as normal—if you are an HSP.
And there’s more: the HSP can be recognized even as an infant, because your sensitive nervous system is something you were born with. It is not a flaw or failing. For you, it is completely natural, even if people have told you otherwise for your entire life.
My mother told me that if she said “No!” to stop me from doing something, I would dissolve in tears. She had to gently say “uh uh” and I would immediately respond. The interesting thing I learned from Aron’s book, is that this sensitivity never goes away, we just learn to cope with it. We HSP’s are still startled and jolted by life, but as functioning adults we have learned how to stop, take a breath, and do what we need to do to get by and to accomplish what is important to us.
When I walk into a noisy room full of strangers, I recoil inside, then take a deep breath and keep going. Except sometimes, when I have to beat a fast retreat to the Ladies room to give myself a little longer to breathe and prepare myself for the onslaught to my senses. And now, how nice to learn that this is actually normal—if you are an HSP.
Aron sees the HSP as belonging to the priest/prophet/advisor class as opposed to the warrior/king class, and this seems exactly right. It is normal for us to avoid great risks and the field of battle. So let us give ourselves permission to be who we truly are, instead of paying thousands of dollars to learn to be someone else, someone who is good at risky investments, selling and schmoozing. Let’s leave all that to the people who truly enjoy it and turn instead to our own amazing gifts.
I loved this discussion of the spiritual life of HSPs from Aron’s book:
“There is a new breed of religious beings seeking direct experience, not the lessons of authorities. At the same time, they know that for some reason others have different experiences, so they do not try to proclaim their experience as Truth. They may be the first humans to have to live with a direct spiritual knowledge that is recognized as fundamentally uncertain.”
Or, as I might put it: Embrace the mystery! I find this quest for self-knowledge, coupled with a deep tolerance for the varying paths of other seekers, to be endlessly fascinating. And I fully expect it to be a continuing adventure, since every experience seems to simply lead to new levels of discovery.
I think this may also be one of the reasons that HSPs can struggle financially with their spiritual business ventures. Not only are we hesitant to proclaim ourselves as experts with the one and only answer, but we may also lack some consistency and continuity, not sticking with one thing long enough to develop a clientèle.
Instead we can be like an artist—and many of us are just that, of course—who embarks on a new style just as we are beginning to find success in the way we did it yesterday.
There is great strength and power in recognizing who we are, in ending the chase after being what our society says we should be and recognizing the gifts of being exactly this: Mystical, awed by wonder, deeply insightful, yearning for beauty and meaning, aching with love, reaching for true connection and clothed in grace.
Please visit me at my new website www.i-am-this.com to join a group of intrepid, yet highly sensitive, adventurers as we journey into… well, who knows what we may find?
Love & peace,