Tilly O’Brien explores the impact of being a Highly Sensitive Person on everyday life.
I’ve always been told that I’m too sensitive or that I overthink too much. I’ve always cared more about people than they do me. I’ve always felt that I see the world through a different lens to everyone else. I’ve always felt like an outsider, or that I had been misplaced somehow, like it’s as though the world is one big jigsaw puzzle, and my piece just doesn’t fit. I’ve always wondered why I’m like this; why I’m so different, why I feel immense joy as though it’s fizzling through my body yet feel deep despair as though there’s a grey rain cloud permanently lingering over my head, why I don’t just see colour but feel it, and why that certain song, piece of art, or book impacts me physically and can cause me to relive past emotions and experiences connected with it. That is until two years ago when, after in-depth research and conversations delving deep into my psyche with a therapist, I found out that I am what psychologist Elaine Aron has coined, a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) or emotionally gifted. Being highly sensitive means that I feel more intensely than others and, as with most things, comes with a variety of positives and negatives such as being creatively gifted or constantly engaging in an internal battle with myself about who I am. I’m basically every psychologist’s wet dream, so here’s a list of HSP traits:
"Being highly sensitive means that I feel more intensely than others and, as with most things, comes with a variety of positives and negatives such as being creatively gifted or constantly engaging in an internal battle with myself about who I am."
Deeply Empathetic and Sensitivity
I’m a protagonist by nature and am motivated by my desire to help people in some way or another. I always put others first and have a literal fear of letting people down. Therefore, everybody knows that they can rely on me, but sometimes this means I end up in situations I don’t want to be in; “no” is a rarity in my vocabulary. This is because HSPs tend to deeply empathise with people and feel general remorse if they hurt anyone, thus developing strong connections. But often this empathy is so deep that we feel their pain as though it’s our own and that we’re carrying the weight of the world, and this isn’t just for real people, but can include characters from books, films, and programmes. Whilst we may seem overly sensitive and so be plagued with self-doubts and anxieties, we can appreciate sensual pleasures such as art, literature, and music more than others which means we’re easily pleased and highly creative people.
Emotional Depth and Complexity
I’ve often felt that my happiness comes in bursts and that these bursts are extreme. I feel giddy with joy in ways I sometimes feel I don’t deserve. Equally, I can feel immense sadness in rapid succession and used to question whether I had bipolar disorder, but this is not the case. As an HSP, it’s only natural that I feel these two emotions to the highest extremes. Because HSPs feel emotions so intensely, we can relive memories and the emotions we felt at the time as though they’re happening now which is just as much a positive as it is a negative. We are thus highly nostalgic, yet this can make it difficult for us to completely cut people from our lives even if we’re no longer in contact with those people. This personally makes me feel easily disposable when people remove me from their orbits.
We are powerfully perceptive, meaning that we can sense inauthenticity and incongruity from people and situations, care about social justice, and challenge conformity and traditions that are unfair and corrupt. This means that we cannot help pointing out when a person or situation is immoral or socially unjust. I do this frequently with my parents which has created rift in my relationship with them. But hey, someone needs to expose these things if we want to make the world a more positive and equal place even if it does affect my relationships.
Rich Inner World and Imagination
My uncle once told me that I’m always thinking and appear contemplative; he feels as though he can see the mechanics spinning in my brain like clockwork, and a friend asked me how my head doesn’t explode from the speed of my thoughts. This is due to HSPs having strong imaginations and rich inner worlds. My rich inner world can cause me to seek inner refuge by creating scenarios in my mind that I feel would make my life better and can often lead to me being overwhelmed with intrusive negative thoughts about myself. However, it’s my dream to be an author and my imagination enables me to create compelling stories.
"My rich inner world can cause me to seek inner refuge by creating scenarios in my mind that I feel would make my life better and can often lead to me being overwhelmed."
HSPs feel like they see the world differently from everyone else, making us feel isolated and as though we struggle to fit in. For me, this different lens is one where I feel the need to constantly be doing something purposeful to help others and feel like I’m running out of time if not and that I’m undeserving of help and love from others. This existential angst causes HSPs to feel responsible for everything, even for things that we’re not responsible for. Whenever I do anything I may consider bad, I experience imposter syndrome and feel like a fraud. But this angst has pushed my desire to make a positive impact in the world and forced me to get philosophical about life, asking the deeper questions.
According to Psychology Today, 15 to 20 percent of the world’s population are highly sensitive. Although it’s a small percentage, it’s comforting to know that I’m not alone or “fucked up”. Whilst there may be some inner negatives to being highly sensitive, HSPs are incredibly attentive, caring, and creative and are likely to bring about a positive change. Just by finding out why I am the way I am has been extremely helpful, so if you can relate to this blog post, I’d say focus on the positives and keep being you.