Who are highly sensitive people?
It may sound obvious - and it is. If you recognise yourself as being easily over-stimulated by bright lights, noisy environments, strong smells, fluctuating temperatures or being touched by strangers then you might be a Highly Sensitive Person, or HSP. It may be something you have struggled with, believing yourself to be uniquely affected by levels of stimulation to your senses which cause real discomfort, but which for others seem to be perfectly normal.
What is happening? Recent research has indicated there is a recognisable group of people for whom a level of tolerance to stimulation is very quickly reached, so that their nervous and mental systems become over-loaded before they have a chance to flip the 'off' switch.
You might be amazed that other people can drink their coffee or tea straight from the kettle, or that they choose a fiery curry when you can only tolerate a mild recipe. Fluctuations in weather conditions, between hot and cold, getting too tired - even over-exercising - can all affect an HSP. You may recoil from a strong smell, which other people don't seem to even notice, or you may find that a persistently distant barking dog prevents you from focusing on anything else. Some reactions can be physical (pain, nausea, shakiness and sweating) and can contribute to emotional reactions (tearfulness, irritation, fear and anxiety), or you may just feel completely overwhelmed. These reactions can often be misunderstood by others and can lead to ridicule and criticism.
Unfortunately, the sense of isolation and of being uniquely affected, together with an intolerant reaction from others who are not so affected, has the potential to lead to depression. This is where psychotherapy can come in - although seeking help before this stage is reached can enable the sufferer to protect themselves through greater self-awareness and self-care.
Counselling might help in understanding the reactions of others, and in understanding that you are amongst a relatively rare group of people, but you are not alone, or strange, or wrong. By receiving non-judgemental and empathic support whilst you work to find your own resources with which to cope, you may find you have more ways to avoid being over-stimulated. It is not always possible to walk away, and if others are not able to understand your need to reduce the stimulation, counselling can also help to cope with those negative responses.
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