People considered highly sensitive perceive their environment in a more profound way. It isn’t a disorder, but rather a personality trait.
María Andrea Ramírez, clinical psychologist
People sometimes hold back their emotions to avoid finger-pointing; parents often tell their children not to cry or shout out in enthusiasm, and it’s common to hear the overworn phrase ‘men don’t cry’. Due to numerous cultural factors, sensitivity has traditionally been stigmatized and understood as a synonym for weakness.
The clinical psychologist María Andrea Ramírez explains that a desire to portray an image of strength and security used to mean not revealing your emotions. “Traditionally, for example, women were associated with sensitivity and therefore weakness. This is a negative burden, and suppressing emotions can result in relationship problems, low self-esteem and anxiety. Emotions are human, adaptable and necessary in all individuals”, she comments.
What’s certain is that there are people who experience emotions much more intensely, and they have been recognized as highly sensitive (HSP). In her Talks at Google presentation entitled ‘Understanding the highly sensitive person’, Alane Freund, a counselor specializing in high sensitivity, states that it isn’t a disorder and neither does it involve inversion or neurosis. Instead, it’s a specific personality trait, a ‘highly reactive brain’. This enables them to perceive their environment easily and in great detail.
Ramírez mentions certain characteristics that are specific to highly sensitive people. Firstly, they reflect deeply on the information they receive from their surroundings and tend to saturate and overstimulate themselves, and as a consequence can get stressed easily. They also have strong emotions, making them extremely empathetic, and they exhibit acute sensory activity.
“Highly sensitive people connect with others and understand them well. The suffering of others causes them pain and they feel the need to help. They usually have a bond with art and nature, and tend to be intuitive, creative, observant and perceptive of sounds, scents and details. Unexpected noises and crowded spaces can cause them to get agitated easily, and when they are hurt by a decision or something else, they experience it very strongly and feel a great deal”, she adds.
It’s not the same as hypersensitivity
Although they sound similar, high sensitivity is different to hypersensitivity. While the former is a personality trait that is a response to a way of feeling and living, hypersensitivity is a reaction to one’s environment. It means becoming irritated easily, being vulnerable to what others say or do, taking things personally or acting defensively. This attitude stems from their personal history and different life experiences, and not from an innate factor in itself.
“Highly sensitive people are not necessarily hypersensitive, and vice versa. Someone who is highly sensitive may be hypersensitive in an adverse situation, such as during bereavement or in very stressful settings. This is also true of any other non-hypersensitive person, but certain situations bring it out in them. They are actions that can be identified and worked on”, Ramírez says.
Expressing yourself is the way forward
High sensitivity is a biological trait that will always be present. “The idea is to learn to manage your emotions in order to live with high sensitivity with more peace of mind, although you don’t stop being an HSP”, Ramírez emphasizes. For this reason, she reiterates the importance of expressing emotions healthily.
“Our emotions are constantly teaching us things, and they help us to adapt to different life situations. It’s about expressing them in the most positive way”. That’s why one recommendation for highly sensitive people is to learn to identify such emotions, and particularly those that occur most frequently. “Recognize what makes you happy, sad or angry, and which emotions you’re most sensitive to and how you usually react”, she comments.
It’s also legitimate to educate those closest to you about your high sensitivity, and explain to them that you’re trying to find a healthy outlet for your emotions without causing harm to anyone else. The answer, therefore, is not to avoid or ignore them. “Emotions occur for a reason, whether they are negative or positive depends on how we express them”, Ramírez concludes. •
As a result of their ability to connect with their emotions and those of others, highly sensitive people are characterized by empathy.
20% of the world’s population are highly sensitive people, according to the counselor Alane Freund.