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Why being a highly sensitive person is a gift, not a deficit

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"You cannot be too sensitive. It's like having eyes that are too blue," says psychologist Elena Herdieckerhoff.

“Be yourself” — it’s such simple advice. Lose your doubts and insecurities! But is “being yourself” about courage, bravado, and ignoring the world and your own insecurity, or could it be about something deeper and calmer?

Natalia de Barbaro, a psychologist, argues that being yourself means living consciously, knowing that you don’t have to become someone because you already are someone. And much depends on your internal dialogue, the way you “talk” to yourself in your interior.

The point is not to mindlessly say compliments in front of the mirror, but to appreciate yourself simply for who you are.

But what if “who you are” is a highly sensitive person? 

Highly sensitive people

“I am a highly sensitive person. What’s the first thing you think about when I tell you that?” asks Elena Herdieckerhoff, an ambassador for highly sensitive people (HSP), in her talk at a TEDx conference in Paris. She continues: “That I must be shy and introverted? Or perhaps very emotional? … The common assumption about highly sensitive people is that we are somehow weak and fragile creatures who picked a losing ticket in the genetic lottery of life.”

Ability to experience life deeply

Sensitivity definitely has a public relations problem. According to Merriam Webster, it means the “quality or state of being sensitive: such as the capacity of an organism or sense organ to respond to stimulation, the quality or state of being hypersensitive, the capacity for being easily hurt, awareness of the needs and emotions of others.” Sensitivity is above all the ability to experience life and to react.

It is through sensitivity that we experience our reality and our relationships, and that we are able to react to what we see.

Unfortunately, many people, including highly sensitive people, only pay attention to sensitivity as a lack of resilience. In their minds, every flaw, including lack of resilience, should be corrected.

Sensitivity is not a flaw; it is a personality trait

A lack of resilience suggests weakness, disability, and loss. We say, “You are too sensitive! Don’t take it so seriously!” Nothing could be more wrong. Sensitivity is not a defect; it is a personality trait, one not to be confused with being an introvert. Actually, Heredieckerhoff notes, as many as 30 percent of highly sensitive people are extroverts! They draw strength from being with people, and at the same time receive very strong external stimuli, because each of their senses is more keen than those of an average person.

So, when you tell someone that he or she is too sensitive, it’s like telling a person with blue eyes that his eyes are too blue, explains Elena Herdieckerhoff.

Benefits and drawbacks

High sensitivity does not only refer to emotions; it is a genetic trait regarding sensory processing that affects the entire human organism.

Herdieckerhoff explains that hypersensitive people often have excessively intense thoughts, which they cannot let go of and which cause insomnia. They cannot watch horror films or violent movies, and they are often uncomfortable in new places.

Sensitivity also has great advantages. Highly sensitive people easily enter into deep connections with other people, have very developed and pointed intuition, and are excellent analysts.

Sensitive … and happy?

Can you live a happy life with high sensitivity? I asked psychologist Maja Krzemien that question, and she argued that “it is important to be considerate and accepting of yourself, and to remember that it is not a weakness that needs to be worked on, but a trait that has its benefits and drawbacks.”

Sensitivity is useful not only in the humanities or in the arts, but in all our lives. It helps us delight in small things and fully experience big things. Most importantly, it helps us form true friendships and deep relationships, which are one of the most important keys to a truly happy and fulfilled life.

This article was originally published on the Polish edition of Aleteia, and has been translated and/or adapted here for English-speaking readers.

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