THREE ON THURSDAY
Today’s topic is on Highly Sensitive Persons (HSPs). Here are links to three articles on this topic:
The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D.
“If you find you are highly sensitive, or your child is, I’d like you to know the following: 1) Your trait is normal. It is found in 15 to 20% of the population — too many to be a disorder, but not enough to be well understood by the majority of those around you. 2) It is innate. In fact, biologists have found it in over 100 species . . . The brains of highly sensitive persons (HSPs) actually work a little differently than others’.”
21 Signs That You’re a Highly Sensitive Person by Jenn Granneman
“A highly sensitive person (HSP) experiences the world differently than others. Due to a biological difference that they’re born with, highly sensitive people are more aware of subtleties and process information deeply. This means they tend to be creative, insightful, and empathetic, but it also means they’re more prone than others to stress and overwhelm. Although being highly sensitive is completely normal — meaning, it’s not a disease or a disorder — it’s often misunderstood, because only 15 to 20 percent of the population are HSPs.”
The Secret Life of a Highly Sensitive Person by Melody Wilding, LMSW
“[I]t’s important to understand clearly that high sensitivity isn’t a disorder. It also isn’t the same as being introverted or shy. In fact, about 30 percent of HSPs are extroverts. . . . In general, HSPs are more aware of and affected by external stimuli than non-HSPs. . . . HSPs have rich inner worlds and, as a result, internalize everything more deeply — from social interactions to emotions to physical and visual sensations. (That pen you’re tapping during a meeting doesn’t go unnoticed by an HSP.)”
THE TRUTH ABOUT HIGHLY SENSITIVE PERSONS (HSPs)
In high school, I began studying the basic personality types, like the Myer’s-Briggs Types and the Keirsey-Bates Temperaments. As I grew older, I continued to absorb books that explore people’s strengths and preferences, like the Clifton Strengths-Finder, the Enneagram, the Five Love Languages, and so many more.
The ideas presented in these various frameworks provide a way to recognize and name common human experiences. They give us a shared language for better understanding ourselves and how we can relate to others around us.
Arguably, the most predominant feature of any known temperament assessment is the field of introversion and extroversion. An extrovert is often described as talkative, deriving energy by being around people. As natural people persons, they’re externally oriented to the world around them. By contrast, an introvert is often described as quiet, deriving energy through times of solitude. As natural listeners and observers, they’re internally oriented toward introspection and reflection.
I’m a true-blue introvert, an INTJ (Myers-Briggs), a 5w4 (Enneagram), and an HSP. My top five Signature Strengths are Learner, Strategic, Intellection, Input, and Ideation (Strengths Finder).*
If you put all that together, it basically means I’m happy when I’m deep in thought or lost in a good book. And yet, for as much as I have studied the various personality types and what it means to be an introvert, none of the frameworks could fully explain a significant factor in my life — until I read about Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS). If you’re not sure what that is, you’re not alone. It’s widely misunderstood.
A person with Sensory Processing Sensitivity is, well, more sensitive to things like:
- Bright lights
- Strong smells
- Itchy fabrics
- Loud noises
- Violent scenes in movies
A person with Sensory Processing Sensitivity also:
- Picks up on subtleties
- Notices nuances
- Is quick to “read the room”
- Feels things deeply
- Responds to others’ pain with great empathy
- Considers all angles before making a decision
- And much, much more!
Psychologist and researcher Dr. Elaine Aron has devoted her career to studying the field of sensory sensitivity, and for those who experience SPS, she has coined the term Highly Sensitive Person (HSP).
Personally, I have a strong aversion to labeling people as sensitive. There are so many misconceptions about that word. When most people hear “sensitive,” they automatically think “emotional” and “fragile.” But that kind of sensitivity has nothing to do with being an HSP.
An HSP is not an overly emotional person (although some may be). While most HSPs do feel things very deeply, there is a difference between an inward emotion and an outward expression. I tend to feel things deeply, but you wouldn’t know that by looking at me. I don’t burst into tears easily. Like many HSPs, I need time to process before I can aptly articulate my thoughts and feelings.
Much of the literature on Highly Sensitive Persons does two things:
- Provides a checklist or quiz to determine if you are an HSP
- Provides a list of ways you can mitigate an overly stimulating world
In other words, once you know you’re an HSP, most resources on being an HSP offer suggestions for how you can better care for your highly sensitive nature. End of story.
As a Christ-follower, though, I believe this two-part sequence fails to account for God’s call on our lives. Every person on this planet, whether an HSP or not, has an assignment from heaven, and it involves serving others. (See Ephesians 2:10.) Jesus summed it up best when he said that we are here to love God and love others (Matthew 22:37-39).
How we do this will look different for each of us, so if we’re going to talk about what it means to live as an HSP, we want to do so with the aim to better love and serve those in our respective spheres.
To this end, I joined forces with my friend Cheri Gregory, and we’ve written a book, Sensitive and Strong, to add a much needed third part to the discussions involving HSPs. We discuss what it means to be an HSP from a distinctly biblical worldview, and we explore what it means to harness our strengths so we can contribute to the world around us.
Certain sensitivities come with corresponding strengths! So, we wrote Sensitive and Strong to help HSPs…
- Discover you’re different, not defective
- Understand your genetic disposition to an over-abundance of stimuli
- See how your sensitivities correlate to key strengths
- Respond to stressful situations with confidence and calm
- Harness your strengths to serve others
This book is for HSPs and non-HSPs, because even if you’re not an HSP, you likely have family members and friends who are.
As much as I find the various frameworks on personalities and strengths fascinating, at the end of the day, true knowledge about self and the world can only come from God, the designer of this world and every person in it.
Being an introvert is not the sum total of my identity. Neither is being an INTJ or a 5w4 or an HSP. My identity comes from Christ alone.
The Bible will forever be the one true authority on who I am and why I am here. I am his beloved. And so are you. God made each of us a unique creation, and we are here to glorify him. And in his infinite grace, God invites us to explore and learn more about the beautiful diversity of his creation, which is our aim in Sensitive and Strong.
Are you or someone you love an HSP? Have you ever explored the Myers-Briggs Types or the Enneagram or the Strengths-Finder?
*I have taken the Strengths-Finder test more than once, and sometimes Ideation appears as one of my top five strengths, and other times Futuristic appears in its stead, which means both Ideation and Futuristic are in my top ten strengths.