“Beauty of whatever kind, in its supreme development, invariably excites the sensitive soul to tears.” (Edgar Alan Poe)
A high appreciation of art, being deeply moved by music, becoming absorbed in nature and appreciating everything around you, noticing small details. These are types of sensitivity our culture tends to celebrate and to which we give positive meaning.
Taking things personally, being bothered by noise at levels others don’t think are overly loud or particularly chaotic, being overwhelmed easily by “too much” stimulation, having strong reactions to hearing about violence in the world. These are more the types of sensitivity our culture dings and criticizes, giving negative meanings to the person experiencing them. Dr. Elaine Aron explains high sensitivity to those who aren’t highly sensitive.
Generally speaking, both types of sensitivity will be found in the same person, it’s a matter of understanding there’s “good” and “bad” in everything. Some people will classify those individuals who are more sensitive as “orchids”: more rare, somewhat delicate and environment means the difference between wilting and dying or blooming and thriving.
Those same people might refer to the “normally sensitive” people as “dandelions”: they are everywhere, hardy and it takes a lot to really knock them down. Personally, I think people are often somewhat in between although a small percentage of the population (roughly 20%) fits the category of being more highly sensitive.
Psychologist Elaine Aron, Ph.D., began researching high levels of sensitivity in 1991. While the popular culture calls people who experience higher levels of sensitivity to their world, HSPs (or highly sensitive persons), Dr. Aron calls that tendency “Sensory Processing Sensitivity” or SPS. There are many elements to being highly sensitive and you can take the self-test here.
High Sensitivity in Love
One of the commonalities of an HSP is the tendency to notice very small details and to feel things (positive and negative) quite deeply. You can imagine how this might show up in relationships of all kinds. An HSP might more easily feel misunderstood and take that to a place of being emotionally reactive. If an HSP has been hurt in past relationships, he or she might be more hesitant than others to let go and trust a partner in a new relationship.
Another possible minefield in a love relationship pertains to a tendency for HSPs to be drawn toward deep connection and to become bored more easily in relationships that don’t have deep and meaningful conversations. On the plus side, Dr. Aron reports that lack of deep conversations in a relationship does not detract significantly from an HSPs satisfaction and appreciation of their relationships.
On a more positive note, HSPs tend to be intuitive and more empathic than other people in general. As a partner (or parent), an HSP may be more likely to be highly attuned to what’s going on with another person and also be more sensitive to another’s feelings. That HSP partner might be better able to notice when someone is having a hard day and be a gentler listener.
In addition, when someone has a stronger positive emotional reaction to a situation, he or she is more likely to remember it, talk about it more and repeat the success or positive experience. One of the more important elements of a successful love relationship is an ability to have positive regard and appreciation for one’s partner. HSPs who have a higher probability of noticing and appreciating those positive interactions are also more likely to “marinate” in that good feeling and find ways to repeat it in the relationship.
High Sensitivity in Parenting
As you might imagine, having an HSP as a parent can have many of the same positive circumstances. An HSP parent can be more tuned into a child’s world and be more sensitive to that child’s experiences, both positive and negative. That has the potential to mean that the HSP parent can celebrate the wins in a big way with great feeling, and isn’t likely to minimize the hurts. Those characteristics can help a child feel seen, valued and important.
The tendency for an HSP parent to notice small details can make for an excellent teacher for their children of all ages. Being open to the little things can also mean the HSP parent might have the ability to see with a child’s eyes, a beginner’s mind, and a willingness to stop and smell the roses.
An HSP parent might find, however, that the typical chaos of having a house full of small children……and let’s face it, even two can feel like a houseful……might lead them to be more easily overwhelmed. When children act up, as they will do, it’s possible that an HSP parent may take it more personally or feel more like a failure as a parent if he or she is not careful to think through a more realistic assessment of what’s “normal”. It will likely be more important for an HSP parent of small children to have more dedicated down time without much stimulation at the end of a busy day in order to feel re-charged. If you are an HSP parent, it really is ok to take a time-out yourself!
What about when the HSP is the child? There are also very great articles and much wonderful information about parenting a highly sensitive child. Here are a few: