Sometimes being called sensitive in our society can be a source of ridicule and a sign of weakness. This is a prevalent programme that we need to release. In order to do so perhaps it is useful to explore some of the signs of high sensitivity...
Dear Sensitive Soul, I love you...
It is time for you and I, and all the highly sensitive souls amongst us to step up and step forward. To face the fear and do it anyway for we are living in crazy times that right now feel like a liminal space where just about anything could happen, depending on which narrative you choose to align with.
The saying, “we are the ones we are waiting for” has rarely felt more appropriate.
What I have noticed in working with people, either through social networks, coaching, counselling or generally with working with people young and old, is that there are far, far more highly sensitive people in our society than Dr Elaine Aron talks about in her books and on her website which is that around 15-20% of the human population are highly sensitive/have sensory processing sensitivities. Those were percentages based on her research in the 1990’s. From my perspective, these figures have changed. Indeed, my own research shows that the numbers of high sensitives could be as many as 73% of our population. That’s quite a jump and something that our prevailing systems (workplaces, education, health etc) appear to be blissfully unaware of… at least until those working for the systems start looking at the statistics around depression, stress, anxiety and the preponderance of “dis-orders” and “dis-ease”.
Do I hear you ask what are high sensitivities/sensory processing sensitivities? Well, I was curious when a friend of mine eight or so years ago, when we were chatting about life and things asked me “Julie, do you know if you are highly sensitive?”. “What’s that?” I said. She clearly had some sort of special detector system because she said she was picking up signs that I may secretly be a highly sensitive person. Sometimes being called sensitive in our society can be a source of ridicule and a sign of weakness. This is a prevalent programme and pattern that we need to release. In order to do so perhaps it is useful to explore what some of the signs of high sensitivity are (not, by any stretch of the imagination all) and later I offer some links and signposting elsewhere:
You feel other people’s feelings and energies, not just your own
This can sometimes be a tricky one to manage. Do you feel that there are some people who have a “leaky” energy? Do you pick up on their energies and feelings? Have you been told you are empathic? Over the years, I have learned to trust my intuition which has often told me things that the other person does not realise about themselves – until later. This can feel a little weird and I find it useful to have healthy boundaries and to know what’s mine and what isn’t. This is what can be described as being “an empath”. It is generally becoming more widely accepted that there are a wide range of empaths. Those I am referring to here are those who feel what other human beings are feeling and can tune in to the other person. It can, if we don’t have boundaries, become exhausting to find ourselves absorbing other people’s emotional states of being and I bet you’ve met people who are what we might call “energy vampires” or “drains” that seem to suck the life out of people. There’s one of these featured in the series “What we do in the Shadows” which is a tongue in cheek dark comedy about vampires.
You might need more sleep than you realise
I prefer not to make huge generalisations because my personal belief around sleep is that we are all unique and so have similarly unique needs for sleep. That said, because of the above and our tendency to absorb not just energies from people but from our environment, I’m guessing that it is likely that you will need more sleep than you realise and might feel grouchy if you are disturbed and don’t get sufficient time to rest. That is not to say that sleeping solidly for 8-10 hours is required. It is more about tuning in to the amount of sleep that feels right for you and maintaining that pattern so that you feel rested and rejuvenated from your day’s activities. A lot of healing and clearing can happen over-night. We can also resolve things in our dream time and sometimes are working even harder at night than during the day!
Talking of sleep - you have a rich dream life
You have good dream recall. This might not always have been the case though. You might have had periods in your life when you stopped remembering your dreams. Nevertheless, when you do, you recall vivid details and stories. You can find your dreams contain helpful guidance for what is happening for you in waking reality. Those who are sensitive have a rich inner life and often work things out in dreams. For me personally, I have found it useful to record or journal about my dreams noting any themes, symbolism, colours, messages and how I felt. My dreams have assisted in making some challenging decisions. I’ve found journalling helps me when I re-read my dream, sometimes months or years afterwards and also to have them mirrored by a friend and to look for any patterns that arise.
You have found that you need to trust your inner guidance/intuition and know you have a “sixth sense” about people, situations, things
This is like an inner compass. For me, I have spent a lot of times in my life over-riding my intuition. It often didn’t pan out in the way I’d hoped and clearly there was much learning to do. When I felt I was being pulled out of my integrity, in particular, were times when I stuffed my intuition into a box and forgot about it… often at my peril. It’s sometimes difficult to articulate quite why something “just feels off” and it’s easy to let others persuade you otherwise and you ignore or deny your own inner knowing. What I know now is that when it's “don’t know” it is a “no” and I am also much more tuned in when my intuition signals a whole body “yes”! As my inner wisdom has always been right, I know that I need to pay attention to nudges and particularly those that become emphatic messages.
You are sensitive to environments
Anyone can feel overwhelmed in noisy, dis-regulated and crowded places. For those who are sensitive, this may feel intolerable and we can easily feel overwhelmed. The lighting, the soundscape, the environment, other peoples emotions, energy, and stimuli can easily become too much for the highly sensitive nervous system. Repetitive natural sounds can feel like intrusions so whether it’s a cat mewing, a neighbour talking loudly, an engine revving, a TV turned up too loud, a siren, or a ticking clock in an otherwise quiet room, many types of “noises” may annoy us even though we may be aware that other people may not even notice them. It’s okay to be different. We all have different sensory sensitivities. Noticing how exposure to these noises feels in our bodies is a sign that our sensitivities have kicked into high gear, and we may find that we feel irritable, uncomfortable and that we can’t concentrate. I have also noticed that similarly strong smells can overstimulate my olfactory system so I need to be aware of the kinds of chemicals I use around the home. For this reason, I tend to use natural products, aromatherapy oils and incense, rather than chemicals. I have also learnt that I really need space to re-charge my internal “batteries” and can find situations and people’s energies very draining, at times, particularly if I haven’t eaten much, have a lot of competing priorities or lack sleep. For high sensitives, time spent reconnecting with the earth and grounding practices such as yoga, walking meditations and being in nature, are an important part of life and restore our sense of balance and wellbeing.
You have a profound connection with nature, music and the arts
Everyday enchantments tend to appeal to highly sensitive individuals. We are often the poets, the writers, the musicians, the artists and creatives. That isn’t saying, in any way, that less sensitive folk don’t have similar connections. Far from it. It is just that those who have these sensitivities are happy to go inward. Something we have all needed to do more of since the first lock down occurred. We get absorbed in the beauty of a rainbow, enchanted by the setting of the sun, the delicacy of a flower, the symbolic silhouette of a tree and connecting with nature in particular is calming, grounding and healing for high sensitives who delight in the simplicity of the little things in life. The extraordinary experience of the ordinary can create a deep soul connection and a temporary respite from a world that at times seems like it is not made for us.
So now you know... if you want to know more
I would love to hear from you about your experience as a highly sensitive human being. I am creating a circle for sensitives on the new Campfire Convention website which is currently in beta testing. There is a wealth of information about high sensitivity although I'm aware that fellow counsellors, coaches and psychotherapists may not necessarily know about them so I encourage you to share this with others if you get an opportunity. What I have also noticed is the numbers of gifted children and young highly sensitive people we have and Dr Aron has another book that you can find here Highly Sensitive Child.
Because our nervous systems are sensitive, I have found that the work of Irene Lyons in relation to healthy nervous system regulation, neuroplasticity and trauma can be very helpful. Here is her latest You Tube that talks about we Highly Sensitive people. She also offers lots of free resources to tune up your nervous system and more healthily self-regulate. Check out her website here.
This is another conversation worth listening to about high sensitivity, trauma and compassionate approaches to addiction featured here between highly sensitive musician Alanis Morissette and Dr Gabor Mate.