This is one of the last blog posts I wrote on my old blog. I have decided to repost it here, as several people contacted me to say they found it very helpful. I hope you will, too – even if you’re not a Highly Sensitive Person yourself, chances are you will know one or more of us!
Remember all those tests doing the rounds on social media a while ago, encouraging you to find out whether you are a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) or not? I ignored them all. Then one day I got a magazine in the post from an organisation I belong to. They had funded the publication of a book about highly sensitive people, and the magazine contained a test developed by a renowned psychologist. I was bored, and took the test just to have something to do. I very nearly got the maximum score.
At first I was taken aback. I had never thought of myself as a particular sensitive person, so after a few minutes of thought, I brushed the whole thing aside. My personality wasn’t suddenly going to change just because of something I’d read in a magazine.
Now, I suffer from what I call ‘teflon brain’ (it really is totally non-stick). I forget things so quickly, it’s almost scary. This article (and my test result) stayed with me, though. And the more I thought about these things, the more they started to make sense.
There’s a reason why it upsets me so much when the kid next door wakes up crying and screaming for his parents in the night. There’s a reason why I can’t cope with the sounds of ticking clocks or buzzing lamps. There’s a reason why I get influenced by other people’s moods. There’s a reason why I cry so easily. There’s a reason why I can’t watch upsetting images. There’s a reason why I avoid all news that aren’t relevant to my local community. There’s a reason why I worry for days if I think there’s the slightest chance that something I’ve said (or written) might have been misconstrued. And yes – I can’t drink coffee, I’m sensitive to bright lights, loud noises make me jump, I’m overly conscientious, a bit of a perfectionist, I hear very well, my sense of smell is very good, and I get really, really nervous if I think a confrontation is about to take place. And sudden weather changes give me headaches!
These are all things I knew from before, of course – but I never considered that they might be the pieces of a puzzle. Nothing has really changed, but it is very helpful to me to understand why I sometimes overreact to things. It seems I’m just genuinely a bit more bothered by certain things than others. That said, 1 out of 5 people are thought to be highly sensitive, so I’m not exactly a rarity. Most highly sensitive people are introverts, but roughly 30% are thought to be extroverts. I’m not sure which category I fall into – in fact, I think I am both at different times. Sometimes I’m the life and soul of the party. At other times, I’m the one who makes up some feeble excuse and quietly sneaks out the back door.
A few years ago, a friend invited me to a party at her house. I had a great time, met lots of new people, and was being flirted with (albeit very poorly) by a not wholly unattractive man. And then, in the middle of it all, I found myself heading upstairs to spend some time alone with my friend’s dog. I must admit I got a bit worried about what I was doing at that point. I mean, my friend’s dog is utterly lovely, no disrespect, but I stayed up there for quite a while. Then I went back downstairs and continued to have a great time. If this had happened now, I would have understood my own behaviour. I would have just taken the time to relax a little, limit the assault on my senses and get some quality doggie cuddles at the same time. And I would not have worried about the whys and the wherefores, or of what my friend must have thought of my sudden anti-social behaviour.
In August, my sister and her family came to visit. One day we went to a nearby fun park, and we all had a great time exploring it and going on all the rides. Then it started raining, so we went inside a food hall that was made from corrugated metal. There were fast food counters and a huge play area for young children in the middle. The noise reverberated from wall to wall and I found the din deafening. But this time, I knew that the noise would soon become too much for me. So I explained to my sister and her husband that I just had to get out of there for a bit, and that I would meet up with them again when my nieces had finished eating and playing. Then I found a sheltered spot outside, pulled my Kindle out of my bag, and disappeared into another world for about 15 minutes or so. It was nice to have the necessary self-insight to take myself out of a situation that eventually would have really bothered me, and to be able to understand my reaction to the noise, the need to get away from it, and to be able to explain my reaction to myself and others. I now understand my internal processes and coping mechanisms.
When I took that test a year ago, I never imagined any of it would apply to me. I certainly never imagined that it would end up being such a great help to me in certain situations. If you can relate to any of this, or even if you can’t, but are bored and just want to take a test because you haven’t got anything else to do, then you can try this one. Like me, you might be surprised by your results. If you’d like to read more about this topic, I believe The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine N. Aron is a good choice. I haven’t read it myself, but several people have recommended it to me.
Funnily enough, when I told one of my closest friends about the test and the result I got, she just replied “Duhhh!!”. I guess what’s obvious to others might not always be quite as obvious to ourselves…
Love, Neens xx