High Sensitivity (HS) in a nutshell has to do with the amount of information a person has to process.
The highly sensitive individual has a cognitive style that allows more sensory information to come in and also processes this influx of information in more detail. While HS is often related in the public mind to sensitivity to sounds, smells, and light, it is also related to human interactions, such as being aware of other people’s emotional and physical responses and detailed processing of conversational or theoretical information.
For example, highly sensitive people (HSPs) often feel like they have to work harder than others to participate in fast-moving conversations. They might say that by the time they’ve thought to their satisfaction about what one person said, two others have already added more ideas to the mix. Sometimes it can seem impossible to keep up. To the highly sensitive, the world often seems to move very fast. Even a hundred years ago, in the days of Model T Fords and telegraph wires, a very sensitive person might have complained that the world was racing at an incomprehensible speed.
Environmental sensitivities and ADD… we’re all getting “too sensitive” But at some point in the last thirty years or so, our technology and speed of life has outpaced the ability to keep up with even the non-sentient among us. More and more, as a culture, we feel overwhelmed and stressed by the pace of life around us.
Call center workers are required to pick up the pace of their calls. The technology makes it unnecessary to spend even the few seconds it takes to enter a phone number manually. High-powered executives get up at 2 am to check on the opening of the stock market in Europe or take calls from subsidiaries in Asia. More and more children and adults are suffering from environmental sensitivities and sensory integration difficulties as the world moves faster than any of us can process. In fact, neurologist and George Washington University professor Richard Restak suggests: “As a result of the increasing demands on our attention and focus, our brains try to adapt by rapidly shifting attention from one activity to another, a strategy that is now almost a requirement. to survive. As a consequence, attention deficit disorder is becoming an epidemic in both children and adults.” It might even be more accurate to propose that our attention capacities are not “deficient” but rather overwhelmed.
Every weekend it seems that the local newspaper sends us a double message. “There are so many exciting, necessary, or possible things to do in your life.” At the same time, the health pages are full of other articles reflecting the damaging effects of fast-paced life on the family and in the workplace. Articles appear about overworked kids and pet stress. My neighbor is no longer just on the other side of the fence. I can Skype him in his hotel room in Beijing to ask if I should water her garden.
When the speed of life increases irrationally, our physical body suffers and we become aware of it. We can look to the environment for reasons for the way we feel, and we can try to eliminate “environmental hazards” that we feel we can control, like the chemicals in the photocopier, the additives in our food, and our neighbors’ perfume. While this may be a natural response, we can sometimes be barking up the wrong tree if other interpersonal, emotional, and arousal-related pressures are not also addressed.
A personal experience…
In New York City I dined at a table for 16 in a room with 250 other diners. The noise level was unbelievable. We continue with a “quiet” walk through the busy streets of New York and end at 11 pm in Times Square, surrounded by flashing lights, tall electronic billboards and thousands of people moving chaotically. The cumulative effect of that now “normal” stimulation was to leave me feeling overwhelmed, panicking, and wanting to escape to my hotel room to digest the experience. I had reached my “subjective limit” of overstimulation and wanted to outside!
The subjective experience of overstimulation is the same for everyone.
Highly sensitive or only ordinarily sensitive, we can everybody get to the point of being overstimulated and when we do the inner experience is exactly the same for all of us… aversion, irritation, guilt of self or others and a panicked desire to escape.
As our social and physical environment becomes increasingly complex and fast-paced, more and more of us are reaching times or levels of overstimulation that are difficult to tolerate.
As the world speeds up around us, we all start to respond as if we are “highly sensitive people” because we all constantly live too close to our personal limit of overstimulation.
Every time we reach our personal point of overstimulation, and when that experience becomes more and more frequent, our choices become identical to those of the highly sensitive person. We may melt down and expect others to take care of us, we may misbehave coercively in an attempt to change or control the situation, we may lash out in anger, run away, or isolate ourselves too rigidly.
Alternatively, we can respond by acting consciously and responsibly to reduce our immediately stimulation level or proactively working to reduce the overall level of stimulation to which we are exposed
The skills of the Highly Sensitive Person become relevant to all of us.
The idea that we might want or need to set voluntary limits on ourselves…the wisdom to follow our own responses, physical and emotional, the requirement to be responsible for our own personal care, our willingness to accept that we may not be able to to do everything, do it all the time or as fast or for as long as other people do it… it needs to be strengthened.
We need to be more in tune with our own nature and that of those around us. We need to learn to recognize the signs of overstimulation and stress in ourselves and those we love. We need to be willing to control and reduce our level of stimulation and that of those around us.
Reduce overstimulation, increase self-respect.
Reducing the stress caused by overstimulation requires a special kind of discipline, an inner willingness to “go against the grain” and set limits on ourselves. It may even mean having the personal strength to risk appearing “slow” compared to others at times. At the same time, being willing to respect one’s realistic limits is an act of great self-respect.
As a result, taking a stand and asking others to respect your individual limits in terms of stimulation increases feelings of control, efficacy, and leads directly to increased feelings of self-esteem.
Restak, R. (2003) The new brain, how the modern age is rewiring your mind, Emmaus, PA., p. Four. Five