“People who have more flexibility in their thinking are able to come to other conclusions of what other people might mean when they do or say certain things,” says Dr. Yip. A person who is highly sensitive, however, often believes that the motive behind another person’s actions and words is highly personal.
“People who are emotionally sensitive tend to personalize, blame, and be self-critical, and judgmental,” says Dr. Yip. “They can often have a lot of social anxiety about being perceived in a negative light.”
Because of this, she explains that highly-sensitive people often feel hurt emotionally. “It is a temperament, yes, but it's also due to environmental factors that have reinforced your sensitivity,” says Dr. Yip. Think: abusive relationships and neglectful parents, among other situations.
The benefits of being a highly sensitive person
The silver lining of being a highly sensitive person (HSP) is that it often translates to being highly empathic, Dr. Yip says. Likely due to being highly in tune with their own feelings and anxieties, highly-sensitive people can easily relate to people experiencing anxiety, depression, and loss, as well as happier, more light-hearted emotions. “Being a highly sensitive person means you're more aware of your emotions, which allows you to be more thoughtful and considerate of others' emotions,” says Dr. Yip.
How to manage your high sensitivity
Being a highly sensitive person can be difficult, as it often makes a person feel like a target—or, worse, an outcast. That’s because it’s easy to overanalyze each and every person’s thoughts, intentions, and actions in life. With that in mind, Dr. Yip says that the best way to manage being highly sensitive is to maintain perspective. “You have to be mindful that perspective is only 9/10ths of reality,” she says. “Your perspective is just one of many other possibilities for why someone else would say or do X, Y, or Z.”
There’s science to back this up, too. According to a study published in the peer-reviewed journal Personality and Individual Differences, researchers found that highly sensitive people experience higher levels of depression, anxiety, and stress. However, anxiety only came into the picture when mindfulness and acceptance were low. In layman’s terms, practicing gratitude and being aware of your sensitivities before acting on them, can make all the difference in the world when living as an HSP.
Not sure how to be mindful and keep perspective when you feel hurt, attacked, scared, or any other negative emotion? Dr. Yip says to start by looking inward and, if that doesn’t work, consider having an assertive conversation to help fizzle out any negative thoughts or feelings.
“Instead of jumping to your own conclusions, which may not be accurate of what the other person intended to say or do, give them the benefit of the doubt and think of what other reasons this person might be behaving or saying these things,” she suggests. “If you are still confused, perhaps have a conversation with the person about it to gain more clarity.”
Being highly sensitive isn’t a singular experience. According to Elaine Aron, PhD, author of The Highly Sensitive Person: How To Thrive When the World Overwhelms You, 15 to 20 percent of the population might be classified as highly sensitive. What’s more, Dr. Aron says that it’s not something that can be easily controlled (or avoided), as it’s innate. “This trait reflects a certain type of survival strategy, being observant before acting,” she says. “The brains of highly sensitive persons actually work a little differently than others’.”
Part of the way an HSP’s mind works differently is by picking up more, Dr. Aron says. So, while HSPs can, at times, overanalyze a situation for something it’s not, they can also pick up on subtleties that may, very well, hint that something is amiss. An HSP’s “brain processes information and reflects on it more deeply,” she says. “So even if you wear glasses, for example, you see more than others by noticing more.” While noticing more can undoubtedly lead to feelings of overstimulation at times, it can also open you up to more experiences, thoughts, and feelings, that could potentially make for a more memorable life.
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