High Sensitivity. What is it?

High Sensitivity. What is it?

Author: Jutta Nebel
Category: Psychology
Issue no.: 54

Dies ist die englische Übersetzung eines ursprünglich auf Deutsch erschienenen Beitrags. Klick hier, um ihn auf Deutsch zu lesen!

On people who are more sensitive than others

High Sensitivity is a phenomenon that has been enjoying popularity in recent years. Education helps both “affected” and “non-affected” people to find better ways of dealing with this characteristic. The nervous system of a Highly Sensitive person does not have the same filters as “normally” sensitive people and is therefore more quickly over-stimulated. The author outlines the advantages and disadvantages of High Sensitivity.

The term Highly Sensitive Person is a term coined by the American psychologist Elaine Aron. It means a highly perceptive person. Highly Sensitive people perceive on all levels and with all their senses; externally the feelings and sensations of their fellow human beings and internally, their own. They experience these perceptions very strongly, very intensely. All these intense perceptions couple with the Highly Sensitive Person’s emotion and personality centers in the brain, where they trigger strong cascades of neurotransmitters. This creates highly intense experiences that go far beyond what less sensitive people experience:
Relaxing classical music becomes an inner journey into mysteriously flowing realms. Rushing through forests, you can smell the scent of the leaves you are passing. You can not only hear the rushing of the water, but also feel it as a cool stream and you can feel the flapping of birds‘ wings as a breeze in your ears.

Highly Sensitive people perceive on all levels and with all their senses; externally the feelings and sensations of their fellow human beings and internally, their own.

Of course not everyone is a fan of classical music and the same is true for Highly Sensitive people. I personally enjoy from time to time the rhythmically hammering sounds of the percussion group “STOMP” as though a video recording. The beating of the various everyday objects and the built-in dance and play scenes stimulate me. It involves me in a visceral way; I join in and my heart beats with the changing rhythms, goose bumps run over my body, feelings of happiness overflow and I feel incredibly alive.
As the reader can already see, the same senses do not manifest equally strongly in every Highly Sensitive person. Some Highly Sensitive people have absolute pitch! This means that they can hear a piece of music for the first time and immediately notice a false note. Others focus on visual perception, when looking at a visual image they can experience similarly altered states of consciousness as other do when listening to music. This can translate to wide mood swings just by looking at pictures.
In the same vein, a Highly Sensitive Person can react with an overexcited sense of touch to a label in his or her clothing, or in the case of other fabrics, with goose bumps. This heightened perceptiveness that can also become irritating. For example, in connection with clothing, an information label scratches the neck, or the fabric of pants feels unpleasantly cool, or a sweater constantly scratches, and these sensations are then transmitted in staccato to the brain.
A normally sensitive person longer perceives this after some time. They get used to it because the stimulus is eventually filtered out by the nervous system. With Highly Sensitive People this filtering system works less well and the stimuli add up.


The result is over-stimulation, which in the long run shows itself in nervous reactions, headaches, signs of fatigue, and situations where everything just becomes too much. Such situations usually lead to withdrawal. A person tries to recover and hopes that this will not happen again. As a Highly Sensitive Person, one will have often experienced such situations. If one knows about one’s sensitivity, one can learn to deal with it. If a person does not know, and have always felt less
resilient than others, then one can get caught up in a carousel of thoughts: “Why? Why can’t I do more? Others can do so much more than I can and still go to the cinema or bowling. I’m just a nuisance to others, I’m a spoilsport.”
Thoughts like these are the best indicator that sensitivity is intensified. The nervous system is coupled with the thalamus, hypothalamus and the limbic system in the brain, receiving and accumulating the stimuli and feelings because they are not filtered out. The nervous system supplies and controls all organs and thus the unconscious activities in the body, such as digestion, heartbeat, breathing. So if the nervous system is irritated too often and too much, it can lead to the body’s systems getting out of whack and causing psychosomatic disorders.

With Highly Sensitive people this filtering works less well and the stimuli compound rapidly.

Highly sensitive people are specialists in self-critical thoughts, because they often think of themselves as less functional than others. Unfortunately, they sometimes do not realize that they also have a wonderful talent, a gift. Their ability to experience at a level which many a less sensitive person would envy, allows them to feel and see what others cannot easily perceive.
Highly sensitive people often have a strong sense of how things connect, depending on their preferred area of life and work. Technicians see and recognize possibilities that others cannot imagine, because their brains combine individual factors and components into novel wholes, with completely new possibilities. Therapists perceive movement, appearance, smell, expression, vocal tone and breathing, and through these senses intuit the message behind someone’s words. Quickly using this information/intuition, the therapist can have rapid insight into a patient’s problems.
The salesperson senses with heightened sensitivity what his client wants and how he can best satisfy that client’s desires – and thus himself. […]

Read the complete article in TATTVA VIVEKA #54

[only available in German]

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Further reading on the subject: Tattva Viveka issue #75 is a complete issue on the subject of High Sensitivity. Have a look at an overview of all the articles now!

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