“Cry baby,” “drama queen,” “you better toughen up,” “don’t take it so personal,” “why do yo get so easily offended?” are some
of the phrases a highly sensitive person might hear during his/her lifetime.
We live in a culture where kids are raised to “toughen up” and hearing “big kids don’t cry.”
As all emotions, sadness and anger are equally important as joy. That is why many in the western culture don’t really know how to handle or express their “tougher” emotions.
However, in some cultures like in Thailand and India, sensitive people are rarely teased.
A common first reaction many people have when they hear the phrase ‘highly sensitive person,’ is a negative reaction. That’s probably because the word “sensitive” can seem charged. But what does “sensitive” even mean?
One who is sensitive is very quick to absorb signals, slight changes, and influences. A sensitive person is observant.
Pernilla G. Jonsson, 44, believes she’s always known that she’s HSP, a highly sensitive person, but did not know the actual term for it.
When she first heard and learned about the term HSP, she thought, “that’s me!”
A few years ago her mother gave her a book titled “Drunkna inte i dina känslor,” which means “Don’t drown in your emotions.” Reading a book that stated the obvious was the last piece to Jonsson’s personal puzzle.
“I have always been very emotional,” Jonsson said. As a child, she was mostly a happy-go-lucky kid, but in her teens and when entering adulthood she noticed that many people around her did not really know how to deal with her other emotions.
“Happiness was easy of course, but anger and sadness were feelings that some people found hard to tackle,” Jonsson described. “I was told things like, ‘you’re so emotional,’ ‘when you’re angry you are so angry,’ and ‘when you’re sad you are so sad.’”
These comments often left Jonsson with a feeling of shame and not being good enough, having stupid flaws, and being difficult to be around. It has affected her self-esteem in many ways.
She often felt that she had to take a step back in order to fit in. Being emotional and sensitive was a negative thing for her for many years and she tried to hold back her own personality. “I only felt good enough when being happy,” Jonsson confessed.
However, somewhere deep inside of her, she felt the need to be true to herself. “I cannot be anybody else but me.”
Her friends and family have always accepted her as she is. Jonsson’s husband probably fell for her happy side. Nobody knows her as well as he does and they’ve now been together for 21 years and married for 15 years.
When Jonsson got the knowledge of being an HSP, she felt relieved. “Understanding oneself is such a gift!”
As Jonsson started accepting herself, her personality traits, and the good things about them, she became more confident.
The positive things about being HSP dawned upon her and she realized she was strong and entitled to being just herself, sensitive and all.
“Until I found out about HSP it was more like a curse, but now I see it as a blessing,” Jonsson confined.
Jonsson’s HSP has been a gift in her profession as a teacher, as well. Quite often she gets credit from her students for being open-minded, a good listener, trustworthy, inspirational and understanding.
“To all the people with HSP out there, and everybody else for that matter, just be yourself. Always see the good and strong sides with being HSP. Learn how to deal with ‘the fragile,’ but never hold back. I believe HSP is a gift,” Jonsson argued.
Celine Östevik, 19, learned that she’s HSP about a year ago through a link her mother found on the Internet.
Östevik could see herself in a lot of what she read about, to then realize she’s a highly sensitive person.
She has always felt she was different, but in a special way. “Why don’t people care as much as I do?” is a question Östevik has often asked herself.
Often, it made her feel that people were careless, but “it’s probably because I felt a lot more,” she said.
“I’ve also noticed that I can more easily sense the vibe in a room, or how an individual feels, which gives me a heads-up of how to react and act towards them. It’s like a sixth sense.”
Getting an explanation of why she have always felt she was “extra,” gave her a sense of relief. “Now I don’t need to wonder anymore,” she remarked.
By learning more about HSP, Östevik knows that she sometimes need to isolate herself from people in order to recharge and feel well.
As an HSP, you absorb a lot more energy, both positive and negative from those around you. Östevik has learned how to manage negative energy by not letting it affect her. One thing that Östevik thinks is important for other people with HSP, is to use their big hearts to change the world, and never let the world change their hearts.
Christina Holmström, 48, got a tip from a friend to attend a lecture about HSP almost four years ago.
Like many other who are HSP, Holmström understands herself better when learning about this personality trait.
“It’s now easier to turn negative energy into something positive,” she said.
Holmström also learned that there are many types of HSP. For some, HSP can be challenging, and for others, it’s easier to deal with. Personally, she finds herself somewhere in between.
Being married to her husband Patrik Holmström for 24 years, she has gotten love and support with her highly sensitivity. Exactly what an HSP needs.
“My wife is my everything. She has taught me to be a better person through her ways of being empathic. Our wonderful kids have grown up to who they are today just because of that,” Patrik expressed.
As a highly sensitive person, she feels the need to protect herself from things that drains her energy, which is something many have to deal with.
“I don’t have energy to follow the news flow around the world, because I feel really bad seeing others suffering,” Holmström mused.
She takes upon others’ emotions, both good and bad. When something good happens in someone’s life she gets excited for that person, and if something tragic happens, she feels really sad. It comes naturally for Holmström to help someone in need, even if she doesn’t feel too well herself.
Sometimes, it gets overwhelming as she finds herself stuck in a mess trying to unravel it, but something that also comes naturally is the fact that she never gives up.“I know that being an HSP is a gift, that’s why I use it to do good,” Holmström said.
Helena Bergström, 33, and her daughter Angelina Bergström, 16, heard about HSP a few years ago.
Helena has attended a few personality, leadership, and education lectures where HSP has been one of the subjects. That’s when she decided to do some research.
Since Angelina was about 10-years-old, she realized herself that she was more sensitive than others in her age, and that her mood was changing more rapidly. At first, she thought she had a condition of some sort, since she felt she was different.
Helena can relate to Angelina’s point about being different, but also to the feeling of being an outsider and misunderstood as a young child.
She often felt that she had to hide her emotions, not only among her friends, but also within her own family.
Angelina’s moodiness has sometimes been difficult to manage for Helena, and she wish she would’ve known about HSP when Angelina was younger so she could’ve been more supportive.
When Angelina learned that she was a highly sensitive person, it didn’t change a lot for her.
However, she felt it was interesting to read and even watch video clips about it. She stopped focusing on trying to find a diagnosis that would fit to her.
Angelina has realized that HSP is something she’s had good use off in some situations, without even knowing it at the time.
For Helena, it’s been a relief to get an explanation, but she can’t stop thinking, “what if I knew this before?”
HSP has taught her to be more understanding of herself, not be afraid of making mistakes, and to not feel the pressure of “fitting in” and pleasing everyone else. She’s now happy to be herself, which has increased her self-esteem and made her a stronger person.
What makes HSP special for Angelina is that she can absorb more impressions and see the tiny details around her, making her feel unique. Her reactions can get more intense, which can be both good and bad. When Angelina is sad, she sometimes feel that she’s overreacting, and those situations makes her dislike being highly sensitive.
On the other hand, “my happy emotions and reactions are greater too, and that’s nice,” Angelina explained. Both Helena and Angelina are happy that they can support and share the experience of HSP.
Grace Simonsson, 38, shared her thoughts about one of her sons, Felix Magnusson, 8, who she believes is HSP.
When her and her husband Nicklas Magnusson, 38, had their second child, Julius Magnusson, 7, they realized that Felix was highly sensitive.
As parents, they try to see situations in Felix’s perspective. Simonsson is always open with her emotions so that Felix doesn’t feel alone in having them.
To show respect towards his feelings, they try to motivate Felix by including him in decisions that concerns him, to the extent that he can grasp.
Throughout the years, Simonsson and her husband have become more pedagogic and self-reflecting, which have helped their daily lives to become more harmonic.
For instance, they’re more flexible with their daily schedule and are understanding to make changes depending on each family member’s mood.
Simonsson sees herself in Felix in many ways. As a child, she was often told she was sensitive, and had an easier time communicating with adults or children younger than her, rather than people in her own age.
She sees those same traits in Felix. “He has a strong aura which can affect the mood in the room,” Simonsson described.
Simonsson talked about how their two children are each other’s opposites. Felix is more introverted, while Julius is extroverted.
For Felix, who has a higher self-esteem but lower self-confidence, they try to set tiny goals, but it’s also important for Simonsson to let Felix know that it’s okay to not succeed at the first try.
Julius however, they encourage to dare to ask about things he doesn’t know, and to also stand for what he believes in.
Together with Nicklas, they have raised both of their sons with the NVC method (nonviolent communication).
It builds on avoiding misunderstanding and to make it easier to communicate with others, as well as being able to identify and express your own needs, and to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.
“Like all parents, or human beings rather, both my husband and I lose our temper occasionally, which is of course okay. But it’s important to know the difference between feelings and actions; they are not the same.”
They’re open with their emotions, and listens with empathy.
”We hug a lot too,” Simonsson said with a smile.
Short about HSP
• The term HSP was coined by Dr. Elaine Aron,
who started researching about it in the 90s.
• Between 15-20 percent of the world’s population
is HSP, both males and females equally.
• Many are introverted HSP, whilst
30 percent are extroverted HSP.
• HSP is a biological trait.
• HSP is not a diagnoses
such as ADHD, ADD, or
autism spectrum disorder.
Characteristics of HSP
• Ability to feel more deeply – Connecting their thoughts and
emotions in different levels.
• More emotionally reactive – More empathic and can put
themselves in others’ situation emotionally.
• Need for alone time – Since an HSP’s senses are more sensitive,
they can easily get overstimulated.
• More aware of smells, tastes, sounds, and touch.
• Often reacts stronger to its environment than others – Their senses
picks up on things which those without the trait would not.
• Relate situations to past experiences – Often good at putting things
in context and doing deep analysis.
• It takes longer for them to make decisions – Because they’re more
aware of subtleties and details.
• Very observant – An HSP notices the details in a room, in a
person, or in the weather faster than “non-HSP.”
• Have above-average manners – An HSP is also very conscientious,
and will more likely notice when someone else isn’t being
• Highly sensitive people have reactions to criticism that are more
intense than less sensitive people.
Like all human beings, HSP or not, everyone is unique in their way. It’s about embracing yourself and finding your way to do good in this world.
James Ojano-Simonsson can be reached at [email protected]