Being a highly sensitive person can be a difficult thing in this turbulent world of ours. For years, I felt guilty and shameful about what I perceived to be a defect of personality, my innate sensitivity to loud noises, large crowds, and bright lights. I didn’t understand my tendency to become easily overstimulated by these and other things. I mistook the frazzled feeling of overstimulation to be stress and felt confused by my need to withdraw to a quiet, solo space.
Finally, after years of feeling bad about myself, I discovered research by Elaine Aron about high sensitivity. Reading her book was a revelation — there wasn’t anything wrong with me! My nervous system was simply more reactive than others’, more susceptible to getting overwhelmed by sensory stimulation.
With this new knowledge, I finally understood a part of myself that for years had confused me. I now was able to take care of myself and my needs in a way I couldn’t do before. I began to accept and even enjoy my high sensitivity. Though the challenges of being highly sensitive are still something I manage daily, I also feel lucky to be so receptive and finely attuned to the world around me. I have discovered that for every trial I endure due to my sensitivity, there is a rich gift that accompanies it. These gifts include:
1. The power of my imagination
I have always had a powerful imagination, one that swiftly whisks me away to other worlds. My mind can easily conjure up a wealth of details, creating a vivid picture, including all of my senses. It feels so natural to get lost in these imaginings that they easily become almost real to me, which, if I am not careful, can distort my vision of actual reality and have me floating amongst the clouds, spacing out. But usually, I can keep my feet on the ground and my head immersed in these luscious daydreams, enjoying the narratives my mind fashions. They provide rich fodder for my creative practices of song and story writing.
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2. A strong sense of empathy
I often feel just like a sponge, automatically absorbing the energies of people around me, even if I don’t want to. I have an inherent knowing of how people are feeling without knowing why. Their energy just seems to speak to my energy, informing me unconsciously of what’s going on with them. This can be a negative thing, for example, when those around me are not in the best of moods: I easily pick up anger, irritation, or grief. But it can also be of benefit, for I can truly empathize and understand someone. This allows for connection in a very deep and honest way, the type of connection I value most. When someone expresses their sadness to me, I can truly feel it emanating from them and drifting into my energy field. To understand and be understood in this way is a powerful thing.
3. The pleasure derived from my senses
Having a highly sensitive nervous system means that I am keenly attuned to sensory input. I feel all the information my senses give me so deeply that I often get lost in them. This can be overwhelmingly awful, such as when my senses are informing me of a repetitive car horn honking or the putrid scent emanating from a dumpster. But this can also be pure pleasure, especially when I am surrounded by beauty. I have always really loved food and the joy I derive from my taste buds is often ecstatic. The delight of a just-picked cherry tomato warm from the sun, or the reviving freshness of a sprig of mint – these tastes feed my soul deeply. My taste buds also are of aid in my work as a cook: Their ability to discern and tease apart flavors, to detect a note of citrus or a hint of cinnamon, to know just what a dish needs to complete it. Similar to my taste buds, my sense of smell is acute and brings me wild joy. The scent of fresh baked bread wafting from a bakery on a morning walk, the floral sweetness of lilacs in the spring, the salty freshness of the ocean breeze — these smells fill me with pleasure that obscures everything else.
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Despite the irritation that can come from living in such a noisy world, I am truly thankful for my sensitivity to sounds. It is with this awareness that I notice and enjoy the bird calls in the morning outside my window, the soft mewling of my cat outside my door wanting to be let in, the soothing lilt of Billie Holliday’s melodious voice. This sensitivity lends itself to an inherent need for musicality: singing and plucking the strings of my guitar soothe me and enliven me at the same time. Hearing my voice combine with another’s in a beautiful harmony raises my hair in delighted goose bumps.
4. Being easily entertained
Although being sensitive can mean that I am often overwhelmed by things others find entertaining, like violent movies, loud concerts, and raucous parties, the flip side is that I am very easily entertained. I hardly find myself afflicted with boredom, because the world itself provides more than enough for me to see, hear, smell, taste, and explore. One of my favorite activities is cloud watching. Just this simple practice of noticing the shapes the clouds make, allowing my imagination to run wild, and being present to the natural world is entertaining in a grounding, calming sort of way. I also love observing birds or other creatures and plants. These beings offer so much wisdom and knowledge just by their very existence. And it is so interesting to notice how they interact, feed themselves, play, or sway in the wind.
5. An awareness of comfort
Though I sometimes find myself easily irritated by my environment, I have an inherent knowledge of how to make a physical space more comfortable. Noticing the subtle details of a place helps me to know what needs to be done to make it more pleasant. Proof of this can be seen in my home, which is resplendent with draping fabrics, soft cushions, cozy blankets, and fuzzy cats to curl up with. A variety of lamps, lanterns, and candles provide gentle, indirect lighting, while plants soften the space and add enlivening greenery. I feel lucky to have a cozy nest to escape to when the harsh world overwhelms me.
Sensitivity Can Be a Gift
I used to see the world as filled with a series of annoyances deliberately placed by some spiteful universe to challenge and confound me. The world appeared random and chaotic. Whereas others can roll with the punches of life and walk away unruffled from the offensive noise of constant downtown traffic, the flurry of activity in a large crowd of people, or the overpowering smells of a perfume department, a sensitive soul will be left reeling with a migraine, nausea, or extreme anxiety, attempting to recover in a darkened, quiet room. Though this can feel unfair at times, I have learned that in order to receive the benefits of my sensitivity, I also have to accept the challenges it brings me. The benefits are truly the loveliest of gifts, gems to be polished and admired inwardly, but also displayed and offered to the outer world. For we highly sensitive people have hid guiltily in our rooms for far too long; let us share our gentle gifts with the world, standing tall and proud.
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Read this: 12 Things a Highly Sensitive Person Needs