About 20% of the population are highly sensitive people (HSP- Highly Sensitive Person), who are hypersensitive to external stimuli, have a greater depth of cognitive processing and high emotional reactivity.
I would like to share my take on this subject and why I feel they are an important group.
HSP’s automatically have a negative connotation and seem uniquely placed to have a miserable existence…. but they can also have an absolutely fantastic one as well.
If you are at work and have HSP colleagues, it is really important to create a culture where they can thrive because they have as much to give if not more than many others.
My contention is that HSP is a Superpower and that using it well can really enhance ones potential.
HSP’s have a greater awareness or sensitivity to their environment and to other people. They often have higher degrees of empathy because they seem to be able to read people more quickly and deeply. They can also suss themselves out too as they are more aware of themselves.
You may be able to see the issue here. If HSP are good at reading their environment and the people around them… they are also better at reading threat as their ‘startled response’ is more highly activated than others. This can be a challenge as they can be more moody, depressed or anxious.
If you look at facebook groups for HSP the conversations are often very negative and full of anxiety. This is not a great environment for HSP to be around. They are so good at feeding on the emotions of others, that they need positive people around them.
In the same way that HSP’s are good at reading the external environment for threat, they are also good at reading the external environment and others around them, to pick up on the good things as well. Those HSP’s who have positive thoughts and positive thinking strategies, are just as capable, just as positive and can maximise their potential as much as (if not more than) anybody else.
HSP’s tend to be more anxious, they worry about external threats and tend to be people pleasers as they are susceptible to the threat of others. They may agonise over detail which can be problematical when making decisions as they don’t want to upset people, again they are more susceptible to the risk and anxiety of others.
HSP’s tend to notice detail as they are more aware of the environment in which they live. They can be intimidated by people in more senior positions as they see the threat of any relationship. They can read peoples disapproval and approval more skillfully.
I think that it is the way that HSP deal with themselves that makes them more or less vulnerable in the workplace or in life in general.
If you are a leader in a business and have an HSP working for you – you need to think about their environment. HSP’s have a greater, deeper capacity to process information around them, they can be over or under stimulated, they have more emotional reactivity and empathy and their sensitive stimuli seem to be more acute than other people.
However, HSP can be thought of as Cultural Canary’s, they recognise other peoples discomfort so they are really handy to have around. They can be the early warning indicators if there are problems in a business or team. If there is conflict between people or someone is feeling pressured, the HSP will pick this up quicker than anyone else. So a good leader will be taking notice and talking to the HSP about what is going on at the moment.
Elaine Aron says that HSP people are seen to be less capable of being happy, because of their need to analyse and over analyse. But I think that HSP people pick up their own guilt, anxiety and emotional context, which then become magnified.
The HSP Superpower is about being able to magnify what is happening in the environment. It is like turning a search light on the external world to see what is going on. HSP’s can turn the search light on themselves or other people and really pick up on their vibe.
Whether the search light creates anxiety or the anxiety is highlighted by the search light is a moot point at this stage. But I have noticed that all of the strategies that work to help people sort out their anxieties or depression, work equally well with HSP. And the people who can turn around their thinking more quickly are the HSP’s because they are more aware of themselves in the first place.
The thing that makes HSP potentially vulnerable is in fact the same thing that can be their Superpower.
We often find HSP’s working in roles where empathy is needed such as psychologists, psychiatrists and therapists. They can thrive in highly analytical roles as they like to work on their own. They often appear in customer service roles as they just ‘get it’ when a customer complains. If they look after themselves and their own thinking, they get the customer, they build empathy and rapport really quickly. I have met great sales people and presenters who are HSP, because they can judge a room and pick out problem people who are not on board, and those who are with them.
If a HSP can use the normal strategies to be able to fix things like thinking errors around catastrophising, oversimplification or black and white thinking, HSP’s can be massively effective and offer a huge contribution.
HSP’s can be as resilient as anybody else, they may just need to work at it.
If you are HSP, you are not weak or vulnerable by default, but you have a Superpower that you may be failing to use for your own advantage.
HSP’s often have a high need for self development because they are so aware of themselves. The strategies around building personal assertiveness, personal brand to give a sense of personal self worth and to build self esteem is really important with a HSP. If they can conquer the anxiety and need to please everybody then they can be very important people to have in a business.
We need HSP’s to understand how to tap into their Superpower for themselves, and help the people around them. Being highly sensitive is a huge benefit as well as sometimes being a problem as it highlights or exacerbates natural abilities. Whilst often being accused of being high maintenance, high maintenance can often deliver high reward.
Once we realise that sensitivity is the search light and Superpower, we can use it for ourselves. So let us fix some of the underlying issues and use high sensitivity to build our potential quicker, rather than seeing high sensitivity itself as a problem.
Be Resilient! Dr Russell Thackeray
Listen to our podcast with Dr Michael Pluess, UK expert in the subject.
Look out for our resorts in 2018, where we will be giving HSP the ability to recognise their high sensitivity, celebrate it and build strategies to make the most of the workplace and everyday life.