Highly Something

Two friends of mine, have both recently turned me onto a test of sorts to determine whether I am a Highly Sensitive Person. They both are, certainly.

I apparently am as well, according to the test results.

I have mixed feelings about new diagnoses/frames such as this. On the one hand, who wouldn't want to find out that the reasons they react so strongly to things is due to their high sensitivity. I mean, it sounds kind of special.

On the other hand, back in the day this might have been called histrionics. And back in the way back of the day, could it have been just simply "neurotic"? Does she just want to sell books? Possibly not. It seems like a lot of her research is actually focused on sensory processing and it's impact on mood, relational well being and so forth. She seems to be looking at the physiological processes that lead to the "feeling" rather than just the "feeling" itself.

Either way, it gave me food for thought because whether I am histrionic, neurotic, Highly Sensitive, or just plain wounded, I do tend to have pretty intense emotional/physical reactions to things, like food. Or sex. Or feelings. Or art, apparently.

I am often weirdly shy at times, even to the point of people (who don't know me) thinking I am standoffish.

I tend to feel group dynamics more than I should and take on the feelings (which are not always even my feelings or dynamics). This empathy business can be fucking awesome. I've actually had experiences where I had physical symptoms of other people without actually knowing they were ill. Also, it can be helpful. I have a good friend who says I'm the best non-licensed therapeest in town. That's all great, but when it gets all mangled in my head, which dynamic is actually yours or mine...well that's when it causes problems.

I hate hate hate hate! seeing others suffer. I hate shows like Real Housewives, because they are so horribly mean. I don't take very much pleasure in the misfortunes of others. I don't like watching movies that involve psychological torments. Dumb-ass blow-em-ups are fine, but fuck with people's heads? You'll lose me.

Power dynamics? I see them. I get them, but I hate them, hate myself when I engage in them. I've had a number of friends tell me they'd love to see me in some level of politics, but dear god, would I want to be able to deal with the hellish cutthroatery? I find no pleasure in hurting others, certainly not in being hurt.

I was the kid in Kindergarten who didn't leave the side of the new scared kid for days. That's an old dynamic so I figure it's a core piece of who I am.

I was also the kid who had part of her childhood cut short, and the rest of it mangled by an extremely emotionally anxious and occasionally f'd up family dynamic. Some of it was learned, this group reading, this need to understand what's going on, this blame of self.

Either way, what's important here is to use the frame to help myself get better at well, being not less sensitive per se, but better at being sensitive to the right things in the right way with the right result.


  1. I started taking the test, but ack!, I never trust something "professional" like that with typos, and this test had several in the first few lines...

  2. Perhaps she's overly sensitive to punctuation?

  3. I would posit that the frame is useful in understanding your triggers, and knowing that, in some situations, you are going to be deeply effected. It's not good, bad, or a sign of weakness. Just another way of knowing ourselves and soothing to know that, no, you are not crazy or wrong or damaged.

  4. I read that book a few years ago and it was enlightening. I too am very empathic and share many of the experiences you described, such as hating to see people suffer, not enjoying TV shows that trade on witnessing other people's humilation or downfall, and being easily overwhelmed in certain situations (to the point where sometimes I just have to leave and give myself a time out). I also have a hard time screening out the feelings of others around me and have been actively working on being able to note them but not feel responsible for doing something about them!

    I think the book is a good way to think about sensitivity as just another variation of biology and not as a problem. Reframing and understanding is helpful. Thanks for writing about this!

  5. I must comment, and my brain will not stop nagging me until this task is finished.

    A few years back a friend of mine sent me a link to the HSP site, and I was thrilled to see that indeed I was not a freak of nature, but something that had many syllables and some fairly good research to back it up. It sort-of explained why I could no longer watch any TV news at all, or why I avoided going to movie theaters, or why I always want to ask everyone I meet "When was the last time you bawled your eyes out?"

    Strangely enough, it seems that nobody ever does this except a few of us freaks. Over time and through trials that makes me think Job was a bit of a weenie, I've started to think that in fact, I am more normal, and the rest of the world is filling up with borderline sociopaths. The last time I made the mistake of hooking up the tv, the first thing I saw was a news report about a woman who *cut the heads off of her own children* - I started screaming practically, and then sobbed for hours and hours and *hours* (and it still deeply disturbs me and upsets me right now thinking about it)
    I've now lost most of what I consider to be my 'skin' and when I cry behind my sunglasses, no one can tell. Am I the freak? Or has everyone gotten so hard that they can consume this 'news' or whatever it is, without even so much as blinking? And, excuse me, but WTF is this 'emo kid' thing?

    I'm still debating this issue. On the one hand, there is tremendous power insofar as I am often the only person (that I know of...realizing, of course, that there are many, many more of us hiding out in the bushes out there...)within miles who isn't at all afraid of expressing emotions or god forbid, admitting that I have any feelings at all. It's not all about tears, when I'm happy, I can feel it in every cell, like an electric current. Do others feel this? I don't know.

    I think the big puke colored elephant in the living room is this viral erosion of empathy. I think this news/tv thing has lead to the imprisonment of a generation of children. And that spirals down the rabbit hole even deeper.

    Like you, I'm also f'd up and as wounded as they come - and often full of fear (the emotion that nobody is all that fond of, including me) my childhood was a complete illusion - excepting the bits that I managed to blank out, which is what I think kept me alive...

    As an artist it is always appropriate for you to feel everything with great depth - we have poetic licence for this don't we? Somebody has to keep the fire going, and if it is you, then let it rip.

    (and since google f'd up my previous and much better comment than this, I'm going to just post this and let it go now...)


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