Along with finding out I was introverted, I also discovered that I am highly sensitive (HSP). Basically, this refers to people who are usually more sensitive to loud noises, strong smells, bright lights, etc. The scientific term is “high sensory processing sensitivity”. Research suggests that 15-20% of the population are highly sensitive. And both introverts and extroverts can be HSPs. Since I’ve always been both introverted and highly sensitive, I’m not sure where one ends and the other begins. So some of my experiences are probably a mixture of both.
I wanted to share a few things I notice physically as a highly sensitive person. I’ll probably write more on the subject of emotions another day, as that’s a pretty large topic as well.
HSPs tend to be easily overwhelmed by lights, smells, loud noises and more. They tend to be more affected by violent movies and television. They may arrange their schedule carefully to avoid upsetting or overwhelming situations. They often enjoy delicate or fine scents, tastes, sounds or artwork. They have a rich and complex inner life (also a trait of introverts). They may have been seen as sensitive and shy by parents or teachers. All this information came from Elaine Aron’s website here if you are interested.
Here’s one example of how stimulus affects me. When I was in college, we were encouraged to go out and support the intramural basketball teams by watching the games and cheering for the teams. I hated going to basketball games, but because everyone else seemed to enjoy it, I would go too. It only took five to ten minutes before I was completely overwhelmed by everything going on. The bright fluorescent lights hurt my eyes and the noise of everyone cheering overwhelmed me. The players would race up and down the court, shouting to their team mates. I was often sandwiched between two people who were shouting, cheering, clapping, or stomping their feet. But all I could do was look blankly at the game. I couldn’t focus on anything that was happening. I couldn’t even keep track of where the ball was because I would zone out. This would happen every time and it got to the point where I would dread going to these basketball games. Not realizing why I felt this way, I would take a trip to the bathroom or wander the halls, and it would make me feel so much better. But as soon as I went back into the gym, that overwhelming feeling would begin again. I didn’t want to go back in there. But I did because I thought I had to be like everyone else. I didn’t understand why other people didn’t seem to be affected the same way I did. They seemed to be enjoying themselves, a notion that made no sense to me. This is the kind of thing that both introverts and highly sensitive people often experience.
I’m also a very easy person to startle and loud noises make me jump. Strong perfume or cologne gives me a headache and tends to make me feel sick to my stomach. Even strong food smells can make me feel ill. I wear sunglasses all the time outside, because the sunlight makes my eyes hurt and I end up squinting all the time. And fluorescent lights hurt my eyes.
Being highly sensitive isn’t easy, but it also has its positives. I really appreciate silence and quiet. I appreciate the beauty around me, especially in nature. And I’m very in tune with my emotions and how I’m feeling. There’s an insightful website here written by an HSP. You can check it out if you’d like.
Do you see yourself as highly sensitive, or know someone who is?