I think being a “highly sensitive personality” type is sadly misunderstood. We are not alone, in fact about 20% of the population are what psychologists now refer to as HSPs (highly sensitive people). Although the world likes to make fun of us for being “too sensitive” and for being “shy”, I actually think this personality is a great strength. We do, according to science, have more sensitive nervous systems that allow us to notice details others don’t, but also hate things like loud noises or overly spicy foods. We get overwhelmed easily.
As a highly sensitive person who is married to a highly sensitive person that also has highly sensitive children, I want to see more of our strengths shown for what they really are: strengths!
I don’t want to constantly apologize for my daughter being “shy”. She may cry at something seemingly stupid to you, she may take a long time to adjust to change or new surroundings, but my daughter is the first person to notice the subtle nuances in someone else’s emotional state. She is the first person to ask another child on the playground “What’s wrong? Are you okay?” That is a beautiful thing in a world like ours.
I cry at the news and avoid certain situations or crowds that make me uncomfortable. I avoid violent TV shows or movies because I literally cannot handle it. Am I weak? Absolutely not. I feel pain and suffering and empathy so acutely that sometimes for the sake of my own sanity, I have to protect myself. But at the same time, that sensitively is what allows me to sense what my students are feeling. It allows me to notice when a student I am teaching is having a really rough time at home or needs a little extra help on their math homework but they are too afraid to ask. I notice the suffering in the world that many others turn a blind eye to, and it deeply DEEPLY affects me.
Research shows that even animals have different personality types, some are better risk takers, some hang back in the bushes. I am a “hang back in the bushes” kind of deer, and sure, the other deer often gets food before me, but sometimes the other deer doesn’t notice the tiger waiting on the sidelines. Both are needed for the survival of a species.
In my book, I want a protagonist that is strong because of her empathy, because of her sensitivity. Not every hero needs to be “kickass” all the time, because sometimes it is brave to have the strength to feel what others are too afraid to let themselves feel. To listen to that voice inside of you and let it drive you forward no matter what the consequences.
Check out this great video by Mayim Bialik Too Sensitive?
or this awesome website of the psychologist credited with first bringing attention to people like me: The Highly Sensitive Person