In 1991, Dr. Elaine Aron, a psychologist and a sensitive, began studying the trait known as Sensory-Processing Sensitivity (SPS). To her surprise it turned out that this is an innate trait and occurs not just in humans but in over 100 species! It is normal. It has been mislabeled as introversion or shyness, but is neither of these. About thirty percent of sensitives are extroverts, and sensitives are not necessarily shy (nor are introverts, by the way).
Individuals with this sensitivity trait are easily overwhelmed by bright lights, strong odors, large crowds, and loud noises. They may monitor their activities to avoid potentially overwhelming situations. They tend to be intuitive, creative, and compassionate with a rich, imaginative inner life. Among them? Abraham Lincoln, Carl Jung, Steve Jobs, and Princess Diana.
I was often told I was too emotional and too sensitive as a child. My mother told me more than once that I was too dramatic. As a young adult, I was ridiculed for avoiding violent movies. At one workplace, I was told my sensitive nature was not desirable and perhaps I should look for a new job. It took me a long time—decades—to become a highly functioning sensitive. When I discovered the concept of the highly sensitive person, my understanding of who I was as a human being changed forever. The initial stuffing-down-to-fit-in gave way to a strong commitment to emotional healing work and to walking a spiritual path. The good in being sensitive continues to reveal itself to me.
I recently came across these powerful, healing stories by two other sensitives whose insights I greatly appreciate:
Daisy Gumin » from something’s wrong to everything’s okay
When a remarkable 17-year old, Daisy Gumin, discovered—as she read Dr. Aron’s book, The Highly Sensitive Person—that what felt “very, very wrong” with her, was a highly valuable trait, she cried with recognition and relief. Today Daisy is “a mostly grateful, highly sensitive introvert” and I invite you to read her poignant essay on life as a sensitive found on Susan Cain’s wonderful web site for introverts, Quiet Revolution.
Sonia Sommer » from curse to superpower
Sonia Sommer, a sensitive and master healer from Australia, wrote a brilliant, no-nonsense post for the Totally Unique Thoughts/Mike Dooley web blog. She says “our Western culture has no framework for understanding and utilizing the gifts of extremely sensitive people.” I invite you read Sonia’s advice on “turning the curse of sensitivity into a superpower.” I appreciate her unique perspective because no two sensitives are alike. It’s a trait among many traits that a sensitive personality carries.
If you are interested in knowing more about this trait, here are some resources:
- Next month in San Francisco is the premiere of a movie called, Sensitive: The Untold Story that includes insights from sensitives from all over the world, including singer/songwriter Alanis Morissette. I’m sure it will make its way to showings across the country and abroad. It will be interesting to follow the unfolding of this topic as more people become aware of it through educational articles, films, and presentations.
- Don’t miss Dr. Ted Zeff if you are a sensitive male or have a son who may be a sensitive. Dr. Ted’s study includes interviews with highly sensitive males from five countries. This is where the cultural differences begin to stand out. You can read about his research on the Highly Sensitive and Creative web site.
- The author of this article, Ten Tips for Highly Sensitive People, on the World of Psychology web site, starts by revealing that she checked 24 of the 27 statements as true on Dr. Aron’s Highly Sensitive Person Self-Test.
- Huffington Post chimes in with 16 habits of Highly Sensitive People that includes some traits I’ve not seen anywhere else. Interesting read.
“There has never been, and never will be, anyone who sees, thinks, or responds exactly the way you do. Whether you’re revolutionizing physics or making a quilt, you must display your differences to make a difference.”