On May 18, 2015, the article “Do You Cry Easily? You May Be a ‘Highly Sensitive Person’” was published by the Wall Street Journal. (The WSJ provides high quality articles about health, science and technology, with, as far as I can tell, a journalistic firewall between their political coverage and these issues). This article may be accessed at the WSJ website, but may require a subscription to their online digital edition. It also may be accessed via Facebook, but you need to click on the posting to be linked to the article.
The article describes people who may are likely to be very familiar to most behavioral therapists, people who just seem wired to respond to their experiences more intensely. Right away I thought of several of my long term patients who have daily struggles with “sensitivity” and emotional reactivity.
It turns out that there is a label for them, the Highly Sensitive Person, or HSP, and there are a lot of resources about, and for, HSPs on the Internet.
The article provides an overview about the research about HSPs – including studies that show about 20% of the population fits this category (seems a bit high to me) and the HSP traits are distributed about equally between men and women. Men with HSP traits obviously may have a harder time in our culture which is not exactly supportive of “sensitive men.” Also, the article notes that certain professions, including psychotherapy, tend to attract HSPs.
There even was an international conference about HSPs recently, which including presentations about what to learn from successful HSPs and how to help them, especially children with HSP traits, survive and hopefully thrive in a world with so many sharp edges.
The article also provide some tips, courtesy of therapist who specializes in HSP traits:
- Recognize that you experience events differently than your partner, who may not feel as intensely as you do.
Prepare your partner ahead of time that you may need to call a ‘timeout’ during a disagreement if you feel overwhelmed.
Get ample rest, eat healthily, and take downtime to decompress.
Recognize that being highly sensitive is a double-edged sword. Feeling emotions of pain and joy more acutely can be a good thing.
I gave the link to this article to several of my patients with HSP traits, and all of them seemed to find it to be very interesting, and it seemed to help them to know that what they “have” is known and understood by others.
My take: this article is an interesting summary of the science and thinking about a fairly common trait, or variety of temperament. It provides some basic resources, and links to more detailed resources, for behavioral professionals. It also could be passed on as resource for people struggling with their own sensitivities.