Reflections on Sensitivity

Since childhood I have journeyed through different ways of perceiving myself and my sensitivity.

I have thought of myself as disabled, fundamentally flawed, biochemically imbalanced and psychologically vulnerable. I have felt alienated because I would sense and experience things others didn’t and didn’t seem to understand or want to talk about.

Learning to live with my experiences is learning to embrace and celebrate my sensitivity.  Being highly sensitive is a challenge but I have found that when I care for my sensitivity, it is like opening doors to a different way of experiencing myself and the world. And then it can become useful and a blessing.

I find that sensitivity facilitates our ability to connect to the essentials in life; our emotions, our needs, our beliefs and our dreams. But more importantly sensitivity seems to facilitate the giving and receiving of love. Sensitivity is what enables us to take action in a creative and caring way that supports healing.

Our relationships, communities and societies are in desperate need of the awareness and delicacy in communication that being connected with our sensitivity can brings us. If we (the human race) want to move towards societies that embraces diversity within us and around us we need our sensitivity.

Sensitivity can help up find sustainable ways of living on this planet and create meaning in our lives beyond power, possessions and status.


HSP is a term I came across about 5 years ago and the first time I heard it I thought it sounded a bit too “out there” – like yet another spiritual semi-philosophical idea invented by someone who was looking for a way to sell old stuff in a new wrapping. Like so many other things these days. But I decided to put my prejudism aside and investigate further and as it turns out it ended up being a significant turning-point in my journey towards a more balanced and fullfilling life.

HSP stands for Highly Sensitive Person (in danish “særligt sensitiv” which doesn’t work as well as the english name. In danish it sounds even more dubious…) This is an explanation from wikipedia:

highly sensitive person (HSP) is a person having the innate trait of high psychological sensitivity (or innate sensitiveness as Carl Jung originally coined it). According to Elaine N. Aron and colleagues as well as other researchers, highly sensitive people, who comprise about a fifth of the population, may process sensory data much more deeply and thoroughly due to a biological difference in their nervous systems.

This is a specific trait with key consequences that in the past has often been confused with innate shyness, social anxiety problems, inhibitedness, or even social phobia and innate fearfulness, introversion, and so on. The existence of the trait of innate sensitivity was demonstrated using a test that was shown to have both internal and external validity. Although the term is primarily used to describe humans, the trait is present in nearly all higher animals.

Further reflections

Though I have found the concept of being Highly Sensitive immensely helpful I still think there is a danger when we start separating ourselves out as “a special group”. It can lead to thinking of oneself as superior or if you over-identify with the trait you may turn the down job-offers or social engagements thinking ” I am too sensitive for that” where as the reality is we often don’t know where we can thrive unless we try it out.

In Denmark where the concept has really taken off over the last ten years, there has been some interesting debates in news-papers and online, exploring the pro’s and con’s of this “new label”. One interesting concern is whether the sensitive-label may encourage parents to overprotect their children rather than support them in learning to cope with the realities of life. A highly regarded family counsellor has written about the issue of calling it “særligt sensitive” in Danish, as the word ‘særlig’ is closer to ‘special’ or even weird, than to ‘highly’. She agrees that some childreen are more affected by things than others  – and that children in general are more sensitive than adults – but would prefer that we focused less on them and more on what we subject children to as they grow up; in the families and in institutions. She thinks that there is an immense pressure on children to adapt, be socially acceptable and a lack of adults who are able to slow down and just be with them.

With myself I notice that I need to acknowledge that I am much more than my sensitivity. There are sides to me that are insensitive, aggressive and domineering. There are times when I need intensity or superficial excitement and I need to honour those needs and not repress them because they don’t fit with my sensitive perception of myself.

In the end it is all about balancing all aspects of our being and find ways to be honest with ourselves and others.

As Anais Nin puts it:

“How can I accept a limited definable self,

When I feel in me all possibilites?”

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