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The Challenges and Gifts of Being a Highly Sensitive Person

As a therapist I’ve worked with many highly sensitive clients, and tend to see similar struggles crop up amongst them. In my experience, highly sensitive clients in therapy discuss experiences that often include: a deep need to spend time alone, overwhelm from “big” feelings, difficulties with boundaries, decision-making and overthinking, a fear of disappointing others and the feeling of being invalidated and misunderstood by others. These struggles are not unique to Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) and overlap with other mental health challenges and diagnoses. When I hear people voice the concerns I listed above, I often consider the possibility that they are Highly Sensitive.


High sensitivity is not itself a diagnosis, or even a disorder, but a simple biological trait present in an estimated 15-20 percent of the population. High sensitivity is seen also in dozens of animals including horses, dogs, cats and chimpanzees. Psychologist Dr. Elaine Aron coined the term Highly Sensitive Person in the 1990s to describe people who experience heightened sensory sensitivities, a greater depth of environmental perceptiveness and internal processing, strong emotions and empathy and a greater tendency to experience overstimulation and overwhelm.


Dr. Aron coined the acronym DOES to specifically describe the traits of the highly sensitive individual. The letters stand for: Depth of Processing, Overstimulation, Emotional Reactivity and Empathy and Sensing the Subtle. Each of these offer clues into the variety of characteristics that make the HSP different from a non-HSP.


And while HSPs naturally experience many challenges in a world not built for neurodiverse people (high sensitivity is a form of neurodivergence), being highly sensitive comes with unique gifts and advantages. HSPs are observant, perceptive, intuitive and tend to feel emotions more strongly, both theirs and others’. Because of this, they are deeply enriched by beautiful art, music and strong positive sensory experiences. They also tend to pick up new skills and information more quickly than non-HSPs, as a result of noticing subtleties and their ability to make connections. HSPs are more highly empathic than non-HSPs and are very careful and thorough decision-makers. Because of their depth of processing and feeling, HSPs are typically motivated to seek and find a deep sense of meaning and purpose in their relationships, work and life in general.


More information on high sensitivity, including a self-test, various articles, FAQs and relevant research supporting the trait can be found on the website The Highly Sensitive Person.



In observance of Women's History Month, Looking Glass Counseling is proud to make a charitable donation to the Cambridge Women's Center. Cambridge Women's Center is non-profit organization that offers free and confidential support and services. They are open to anyone for whom woman is a meaningful identifier or lived experience. This includes trans women and gender nonconforming people who are comfortable in a gendered, women-centered space.



 

Amanda Jacobson, LMHC, is a licensed therapist in clinical practice since 2013. She has experience working in both inpatient and outpatient settings, with group and individual therapy and she has a passion for working with people recovering from addictions, as well as codependency, depression, anxiety, trauma, relationship challenges and major life transitions. She earned her master’s degree from Boston University.



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