Micael Widell

The Highly Sensitive Person

/ psychology

Since I was about 5 years old, I have felt distinctly different from everyone else. Something about the way I see the world, makes me feel incompatible with other people. My explanation to myself has mainly been that, yeah I am different. I haven't been bothered too much about it. Actually, I kind of enjoy being "one of a kind". It gives me identity. I've been scoffing at people who are anxious to fit the general mold.

So what do I mean by different? Some examples:

  • I've always been deeply affected by other people's moods. One of the most annoying things I know is if I am sitting on the subway, and someone close to me is nervous, for example. Then I cannot help but become nervous myself. The feelings other people have, not only radiate from them, but they affect me. In the same way I can notice that someone is sad or frustrated before anyone else picks it up. I seem to be very sensitive and attentive to other people's emotions, even if they think they are hiding them.

  • I often "just know" the right solution to a problem, or the right action to take in a difficult situation, by intuition. And most of the time I am right as well. But it can be hard for me explain my thinking. I seem do a lot of my thinking by collecting lots of experience and just shoving it down into my unconscious. Then when I have a problem I throw it down there as well. After some percolation the answer pops up from that black box, and I know it is right. Then I have to backtrack why it is right, afterwards, by analysis carried out in my conscious, rational mind.

  • I am much more affected by caffeine than other people. After my first cup of coffee in the morning I can almost go into a "high". I don't know any other people who are like this.

  • I prefer to invent my own original solutions to problems, often before even trying the conventional solutions. Conventional ways of doing things bore me, and I want to explore if stuff can be made in more efficient or interesting or elegant ways.

  • After too many meetings in one day, or after spending a few hours in town shopping, with all the impressions that go with it, I often feel the need to just retreat into a dimly lit room where I spend the rest of the day by myself. Most other people would be happy to continue on to a party or similar after having an eventful day. Not me. It is like I need to retreat to process all the stimuli and think through everything that has happened, and analyze it, before I am ready to take on new stimuli.

  • Mostly I am the only person in a room who can get really annoyed if something is designed in a bad way, incoherent or ugly. I have a deeply artistic angle on everything I do, even if it is classically left-brain activities such as math or business. I want to incorporate aesthetics into everything I do.

  • I've always hated "playing politics". I prefer to be honest and to be myself, even if I know on a rational plane it will sometimes hurt my standing among some people, or my chances of some business or career success. But to me it is so angst-inducing to not be "real" that I simply cannot do it. In the same way I loathe other people who are not "real". I have an especially hard time with sales people or politicians, who I can feel don't believe themselves in what they are selling. It makes me cringe.

  • I've always been dreading anger, confrontation and drama much more than other people. I also hate judging or shaming other people, or being judged or shamed myself. Sure, most people dread these things, but I dread them even more.

  • When I'm hungry I not only become a little bit annoyed, like normal people. I can get completely thrown off balance if I'm too hungry and my blood sugar starts dropping. For some reason I am much more dependent on regular eating habits than everyone else.

  • I have a strong core belief in creating value first, then getting noticed for it, rather than self-promoting aggressively to get valued by others.

  • I seem to be the first one (often the only one) noticing spelling errors, grammatical errors, and such in texts.

  • I seem to be much more conscentious than other people. Being loyal, doing what is expected, doing the right thing, never ever letting someone close to me down. I seem to be overtly anxious about not letting people down.

  • I spend an awful lot of time thinking about my own thinking.

  • I am able to perform quite complex tasks for long stretches of time without making and errors or mistakes. Ie. an ability to concentrate deeply that most other people are lacking.

So my most recent read was a pretty fascinating one. At least the first 50 pages or so. Before picking up The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine N Aron, I had of course heard about the concept. The concept is that around 15-20% of the population is much more sensitive than the rest, which causes us to have a bunch of traits that make us think and behave differently. I knew about the concept, and I knew that I was likely a member of the highly sensitive gang.

But I hadn't dug any deeper, because I didn't understand back then how deeply it affects you to be a HSP. How it can explain like 80% of who you are. I was blown away when reading the first chapters of this book, because it explained how all the ways I am different, listed above, stems from me being a highly sensitive person. Just that small genetic difference in me, which makes my nervous system more sensitive than what is normal, leads to all the psychological side-effects mentioned above. Wow.

When you are an HSP and read about these things, you kind of reframe your whole life in light of being a HSP. Everything you thought was weird or different about yourself gets a logical explanation. A lot of events and life choices all of a sudden seem natural. Which is quite a soothing feeling.

So are you an HSP as well? A quick and easy way to find out is to do this self-test if you want to know "for sure".

I recommend reading the book, although I am a bit torn. I like the descriptions in the book of what HSPs are like. These descriptions are invaluable. But the rest of the book, which is supposed to give advice on how to live the best life possible as an HSP, I think is pretty shitty. Most of the last 200 pages or so are paragraphs that I feel like commenting "no shit, sherlock." It is the kind of advice that is pretty obvious, strategies that I have worked out myself already. But if you feel that you might be a HSP, I recommend reading the book anyway, as it is the most known one about HSPs, and a great eye-opener that can encourage further studies and introspection.

One interesting thing is the advice the author gives about suitable occupations for HSPs. I think it fits pretty well with what I have discovered myself in the past year.

HSPs tend to fill that advisor role. We are the writers, historians, philosophers, judges, artists, researchers, theologians, therapists, teachers, parents, and plain conscientious citizens.

And finally, one of my favorite paragraphs from the book, as it describes what I feel I've gone through in the last couple of years in my own life:

Eventually, many, if not most, HSPs are probably forced into what I call “liberation,” even if it doesn’t happen until the second half of life. They tune in to the inner question and the inner voices rather than the questions others are asking them to answer.

So if you have read this far, and most of what I've written above resonates with you, start reading up on what is means to be a Highly Sensitive Person. It might change your life.

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