Is there a difference between high sensitivity and high sensitivity? Do HSPs have different brains? Are they floating types? The most important questions and answers at a glance.
About one in five people is highly sensitive. This means that they have an innate sensitivity to environmental stimuli. They experience more and they experience more intensely than others, and they also process all this information more thoroughly and accurately: they need more time to process and recover from stimuli.
Are you highly sensitive?
High sensitivity seems to be a new phenomenon, but it is not. The term is indeed relatively new: the American psychology couple Elaine and Art Aron published it twenty years ago first scientific article about HSP. But people who are more sensitive than average always existed; they only received other labels, such as hypersensitive, shy, withdrawn or neurotic.
Little further scientific research followed in the years following the publication of the Arons; meanwhile the terms high sensitivity and Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) is a huge flight in the popular media and on the self-help market. Apparently many people recognized themselves in the description of HSPs and there was an enormous need for recognition, a more positive approach to sensitivity and advice with problems. The drawback of the proliferation of popular books and websites, however, is that there are also many misunderstandings about high sensitivity.
Now, twenty years later, research into high sensitivity is still in its infancy. Fortunately, much more studies have been done in recent years. It is now much better known what it is and what it is not.
The most important questions about high sensitivity - and the answers.
Are you born highly sensitive?
HSP is not something you can become; you are born with it and it has been your entire life. Also many animals have discovered that about one in five is more vigilant and more careful than the rest. A sensitive nature could have an important evolutionary function: if you notice danger earlier, you can not only bring yourself to safety on time, but also others.
There is a gene that has been proven to be vulnerable but also has benefits. It is the short version of the 5-HTTLPR gene, popularly also known as the 'depression gene'. Danish researchers discovered in 2011 that this gene is more common in HSPs; proof that they have an innate sensitivity to positive and negative environmental influences.
What influence does the environment have?
Although high sensitivity is congenital, the environment largely determines how an HSP feels and functions. Research shows that HSPs do that growing up in a negative environment become more sensitive to stress and rejection, and that HSPs that feel supported and grow up in a quiet, warm environment can function better than non-HSPs. Differential susceptibility this is referred to in the professional literature, or high sensitivity works in both directions. That is exactly what the 5-HTTLPR gene does: it makes people vulnerable to depression and anxiety under negative circumstances, but makes them extra talented under positive circumstances.
Is high sensitivity a disorder?
If you are highly sensitive, then you have no disorder. You are HSP, you cannot 'have' it. It doesn't even have to be a problem if you know how to handle it. Yet many HSPs have complaints. Because of their sensitivity to environmental stimuli, stimulation is always lurking in our busy and demanding society. HSPs are more sensitive to stress than others and are more at risk burn-out and other mental and physical symptoms if they do not receive or take sufficient recovery time. However, anyone who knows how to take sufficient recovery time can also benefit from this sensitivity.
Researcher Michael Pluess of the Queen Mary University in London calls high sensitivity a personality trait 'of the higher order', a trait that coexists with other traits and covers them. Someone can therefore be highly sensitive and extrovert, or highly sensitive and narcissistic. Not every HSP is sweet and shy.
Do HSPs have different brains from non-HSPs?
It seems that HSPs process information differently in the brain. Researcher Jadzia Jagielowicz in 2011 presented a kind of find-the-difference pictures to HSPs in a brain scanner. It turned out that brain areas responsible for complex visual processing showed more activity with HSPs than with non-HSPs. Moreover, HSPs were indeed better and faster at finding subtle differences between two images.
In 2014, American researcher Bianca Acevedo had test subjects look at pictures of smiling and gloomy faces; she discovered that in highly sensitive subjects the brain areas involved in empathy were more active than those in non-HSPs.
Are women more often highly sensitive than men?
As far as known, there are just as many highly sensitive men as women. Sensitivity and sensitivity are more often associated with femininity and perhaps more easily accepted by women; but HSP men are just as perceptive, vigilant and sensitive as HSP women.
Are high sensitivity and high sensitivity the same?
The terms high sensitivity, high sensitivity and HSP are often used interchangeably. Recently HSP experts have agreed that high sensitivity and high sensitivity (at least in the Netherlands) are the same after all.
Are HSPs Spiritual?
Many people - HSP and non-HSP - do not feel attracted by the term high sensitivity because it has a somewhat floating image. On the internet and in some self-help books on high sensitivity, it is mentioned in the same breath with clairvoyance, new age children and alternative medicines such as Bach Flower Remedies.
High sensitivity, however, has nothing to do with supernatural matters. Elaine Aron said about this in an earlier interview: "It may be that people who think they have paranormal gifts are HSP. But it is certainly not the case that all sensitive people are very spiritual. HSPs also include sober, deep thinkers and atheists. " The fact that highly sensitive people are often good at reading atmospheres and other people's feelings is not due to supernatural gifts, but simply because they perceive more subtleties.
What are the pros and cons of being highly sensitive?
High sensitivity causes you to notice many things earlier than others. This has advantages; for example, you can take good care of others, you notice details and mistakes that nobody else had seen, you can intensely enjoy music and art, you see through social processes (for example in the workplace) and you are alert to danger. It goes without saying that these skills can be an asset in various (work) situations. But there is also a downside.
Research by the German psychologist Friederike Gerstenberg showed that HSPs are faster and make fewer mistakes during a task, but that after the task they experience more stimulation and more stress-related complaints than non-HSPs. Psychologist Elke van Hoof from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel showed that HSPs who feel good at work are also the people who show 'extra role behavior'. That means that they often do a little more for an organization, feel quickly where extra help is needed and make extra efforts to ensure that everything runs smoothly. At the same time, people who are highly sensitive are the first to drop out if there are conflicts and tensions at work. They are more likely to suffer burnout, depression and anxiety when they are in a nasty (work) environment.
many HSPs therefore experience the two sides of the coin: Enjoying music intensely is great, but you are 'crazy' about a rattling radio that for others is just background noise. Empathy is beautiful, but being constantly dragged into the emotions of others is exhausting. Those who have not learned to deal with their sensitivity can mainly experience the burden and become chronically over-stimulated.
What can you do to experience high sensitivity as a strength?
The trick is therefore to optimize the circumstances as much as possible and to build in many recovery moments. The most important thing is to recover from over-stimulation, or even better: to prevent over-stimulation altogether. HSPs fall faster than others when confronted with negativity, but positive influences also have more effect on them than on others.
Are you highly sensitive, so surround yourself with people and things that make you happy; take enough time to charge each day; and where possible change things in your work or home situation so that you can function as optimally as possible. Then you can high sensitivity really as talent experience.
Recognizable? Discover if you are highly sensitive yourself
One in five people is born with a sensitive nervous system that reacts more strongly than others to stimuli. Light, sound, but also emotions from others come in much louder. Society dominated by non-highly sensitive people quickly calls them 'shy', 'introverted', and 'hypersensitive'. Do you recognize this? Do the test 'Are you highly sensitive?'