About 15 to 20 percent of us have this trait of high sensitivity, which nurtures our creativity and social activism, but also brings challenges.
Psychologist Elaine Aron, PhD and others describe it as a more finely tuned nervous system. She explains, “It means you are aware of subtleties in your surroundings, a great advantage in many situations. It also means you are more easily overwhelmed…”
How does being a highly sensitive person impact our feelings and our lives?
Here is my short video on this topic [see notes about the content below] -
Actor Rachel McAdams said in a magazine interview, “I have major anxiety about crooked pictures. They just make me mental. I’m spatially sensitive. In the shower, I have to have the shampoo bottles setup right.
“I don’t want the writing facing. I want the label facing out. I’m learning to relax about bookshelves. I think the books look nicer if the heights are mixed up.” [usmagazine.com March 2007]
These may seem trivial “quirks” to people who aren’t sensitive, but those preferences can affect our feelings. One of the so-called Diva demands of stars like Jennifer Lopez is to have high thread count Egyptian cotton sheets in their hotel rooms. Well, maybe she just wants really soft bedding.
Director Luc Besson commented about Milla Jovovich in their film “The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc” (1999) that “She has the same kind of passion and excess [as Joan] and, you know, she can laugh and she can cry two seconds afterwards. She can cry for an ant on the street. She has, like, no skin. She feels everything. Even the wind can make her cry.”
[More quotes in post: Milla Jovovich: “Inspire yourself”]
“I’m very sensitive in real life. I cannot not cry if someone around me is crying…even if it’s not appropriate. I have that thing in me, a weakness or sensitivity.” Actor Jessica Chastain (“Zero Dark Thirty”)
Dr. Aron declares that HSPs (highly sensitive persons) “do cry more readily than others. It was a strong finding in our research.”
She also quotes Victor Hugo from “Les Miserables”: “Those who do not weep, do not see.”
Actor, writer, producer Amy Brenneman feels she is “too sensitive to watch most of the reality shows. It’s so painful for me.”
Actor and singer Mandy Moore says, “I’ll cry at anything, even a tissue commercial… I’m overly sensitive. It’s so easy to hurt my feelings.”
Many actors, musicians and other performers may be HSPs, and also HSS – High Sensation Seeking.
See article: An Insider View of the Extravert High Sensation Seeking HSP By Jacquelyn Strickland.
Experiencing strong feelings is a key part of being highly sensitive, and one of its pleasures, but also a challenge.
Elaine N. Aron, in an article of hers, quotes Carl Jung: “This excessive sensitiveness very often brings an enrichment of the personality… Only, when difficult and unusual situations arise, the advantage frequently turns into a very great disadvantage, since calm consideration is then disturbed by untimely feelings.”
High sensitivity may be especially challenging for men.
Biographer David Wallechinsky once commented that in the early 30′s MGM studio chief Louis B. Mayer recognized neophyte actor Clark Gable “as a sensitive man wary of his own sensitivity.”
Author Ted Zeff, PhD has found that sensitive boys who participated in team sports had higher self-esteem, and, regardless of physique, were “never” or “rarely” teased. The HSMs (highly sensitive males) from Thailand and India indicated that they “usually” or “always” had many friends growing up, while virtually all of the HSMs who grew up in North America indicated that they had few if any friends except those who participated in team sports.
[Click on photo for related post.]
Dr. Zeff and I did a podcast interview in which he covers a number of psychological and social aspects of this trait experienced by about 15 to 20 percent of the global population: you can listen to it here:
Peter Messerschmidt writes on his Inner Reflections site about being a Highly Sensitive Man, which he says “had a direct influence on the outcome of decisions and events… In college, I wanted to major in English and pursue a career as a writer — but ‘wiser voices’ persuaded me to do the ‘sensible’ thing and major in Business.
“I spent 15 years in a profession that was largely sales and marketing related (yuck!), feeling like a misfit– and stuck with it 10 years longer than I should have.”
I can relate. I’ve had a number of soul-deadening cubicle jobs, partly because they were relatively undemanding of direct social contact.
Energy psychiatrist Judith Orloff, MD talks and writes about another kind of high sensitivity – being an intuitive empath. She says, “I couldn’t go to shopping malls or crowded places because I’d get overwhelmed by the energy.
“I’d walk in feeling fine and walk out exhausted, anxious or with a new ache or pain. I told my mother who was a physician and she said, Oh, dear, you just don’t have a thick enough skin.
“So I thought there was something wrong with me. Only as an adult did I realize that I’m an empath and I was absorbing the energy of crowds.”
She talks about how to deal with this in her book – and in our interview: Judith Orloff, MD on Emotional Freedom.
We can enjoy and benefit from being sensitive, but we also need to respect how we grew up with the trait, and take care of our energy and emotions.
Author and coach Cheryl Richardson notes, “Sensitivity allows us to be touched by beauty, signs of grace, or intimate moments with others.”
She adds, it can also be “an internal warning signal when we’re in situations hazardous to our emotional, physical, or spiritual health.”
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About the video above: ‘Our High Sensitivity Personality’
Opening images: Josh Hutcherson in Bridge to Terabithia (2007); Don Cheadle; Nicole Kidman; image from The Mission of Art, by Alex Grey.
Photo: ‘For some of us, even a little Times Square is too much’ – by Nina Berman, from article Too Loud, Too Bright, Too Fast, by Jeffrey Kluger, TIME, Nov. 17, 2002 – which refers to the book Too Loud, Too Bright, Too Fast, Too Tight: What to Do If You Are Sensory Defensive in an Overstimulating World, by Sharon Heller.
Elaine N. Aron, PhD is author of The Highly Sensitive Person and related books. She quotes C.G. Jung in her journal article The Clinical Implications of Jungs Concept of Sensitiveness. [pdf]
Dr. Zeff also did a Shrink Rap Radio podcast: On The Highly Sensitive Person.
The typewriter keyboard image is from the Writer’s Mind CD.
Image from book Escape from Cubicle Nation: From Corporate Prisoner to Thriving Entrepreneur, by Pamela Slim.
Judith Orloff, MD is author of Emotional Freedom. Our audio interview (with transcript) is at Inner Talent Interviews.
The young girl is Jenna Forrest from her book Help Is On Its Way: A Memoir About Growing Up Sensitive. Hear our podcast interview at Inner Talent Interviews.