Last year, I made some important discoveries about myself as an introvert and an INFJ personality type. Although I tried to take my introversion into account when planning my days, something was off. I had grown more and more exhausted and deflated, and I felt like I was overwhelmed and bored at the same time — at times all in the same day. In fact, I honestly thought I was going crazy.
When I started feeling depressed about my daily existence, I knew it was time to dig deeper. There must have been something I had overlooked, some explanation to my inexplicable emotional rollercoaster. I had grown so tired of not fully understanding myself, tired of always ending up in a “wrong place,'” and burning myself out while doing things that were supposed to be fun.
High Sensitivity Can Take Many Forms
I had previously heard about the trait of high sensitivity (which you can read about here), but I didn’t think it applied to me. But this time, the more I read about being a highly sensitive person (HSP), the more I realized it was me! It explained my strong reaction to external stimuli (lights, sounds, and absorbing the moods of the people around me), and my preference to please everyone and carry the world on my shoulders (just to name a few).
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Every HSP is unique and no one mold fits all, but there were still aspects of me that I could not explain entirely with introversion or even with high sensitivity. One of my strongest tendencies is the need for change and excitement. From early on in life, if I did not have exciting things to look forward to, I would become lethargic and sad. And I am still the same way. I crave novelty and excitement, and tend to change my life around every so often by moving abroad or changing jobs. This confused me. Aren’t introverted HSPs suppose to crave security and regularity? What on earth was going on with me?
High Sensation Seekers
The skies cleared up when I read about HSPs who are also high sensations seekers (HSP/HSS). One of the researchers who identified the sensation seeker trait, Marvin Zuckerman, called it “being defined by the seeking of varied, novel, complex, and intense sensations and experiences, and the willingness to take physical, social, legal, and financial risks for the sake of such experience.”
This description does not really seem to match with being an HSP, but these two traits do collide in about 30 percent of the HSP population. Tracy M. Cooper has further researched this particular combination of traits, and in her book, Thrill: The High Sensation Seeking Highly Sensitive Person, she mentions four aspects that make up the sensation seeker:
- Thrill and adventure seeking
- Experience or novelty seeking
- Boredom susceptibility
Every sensation seeker is a unique combination of these characteristics, but in general, they tend to have a strong curiosity and openness to new experiences, as well as a willingness to step outside the box to experience new things. Also, they get bored easily.
The challenge with this combination is that the optimum arousal zone is extremely narrow. There is always the wild horse within pulling us towards new experiences and new activities, while the quiet-loving HSP craves solitude and rest. Both parts need to be satisfied in order for the sensitive sensation seeker to be optimally happy.
Managing Two Opposing Forces
Having these two traits in one person seems sometimes, at least to me, like having a split personality. Balance is a life-long journey, but I have noticed a few tactics that have been useful:
1. Realize what is going on, and plan for it. Before I knew I was a sensitive sensation seeker, I was always going from one extreme to another. It felt like I was social and outgoing on some days — almost manic — and then I would crash and burn, craving silence for days. I learned that optimum arousal is like optimum hydration, especially when it comes to the delicate HSP side. Just like how you’re already dehydrated by the time you feel thirsty, the same goes with quiet time for HSPs. If I feel like I desperately need time alone, I’ve already gone too far.
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Now I plan quiet time weekly. It’s like a deposit into the bank of quietness, and it has balanced me out. I have promised to honor myself and to choose myself first (also something challenging for HSPs), because if I don’t, I’m truly not a pleasant person to be around.
2. Listen to both traits equally. I realized that I have to listen to both traits equally. I have to hold back the energy of the HSS a little, and give a voice to the HSP side. In my case, if left to their own devices, the HSS would dominate until my body would simply give up. It goes a long way to recognize which side of you naturally leads, then to encourage the underdog a little bit more, whether it means letting your sensation seeker out to play more or scheduling quiet time.
3. Not doing everything is okay. Because creativity, imagination, and intuition are strongly present with HSP/HSS traits, I’m also continuously coming up with new ideas. During my years as an entrepreneur, I would try to turn every single idea into a brand or a side business, until I felt exhausted by my own ideas and had to take a step back.
Just because you have ideas doesn’t mean you are obligated to turn them all into reality. In fact, you cannot. I had to learn this the hard way, and it’s still challenging not to run off with every fun idea I get. Instead, I have to be realistic and consider my resources.
The Complimentary Beauty of HSP/HSS
Sure, there is a tug of war going on with these two sides, which may take conscious balancing. But there is also a beautiful partnership present. Without my brave sensation seeking trait, I would have never seen so many countries, learned how to scuba dive, rolled down a river on a raft, or felt the excitement of quitting a job and moving across the globe. And without my sensitivity, I would not have learned to savor solitude, to feel everything so deeply, to enjoy many facets of creativity, and to trust my intuition.
As with everything, there are two sides to every story. Although there can be a maddening conflict within every sensitive sensation seeker, there are also beautiful forces at play which let us experience life to the fullest.
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Read this: 12 Things a Highly Sensitive Person Needs