Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

The Good News and Bad News About Being Highly Sensitive

Continuing the conversation from yesterday about being highly sensitive … Here’s an excerpt from Aron’s book, which helps to lay out the pros and cons of a being a person who should stay away from Disney World and Toys-R-Us (as usual my comments are in brackets…I rarely can keep my mouth shut anymore when offering an excerpt):

The Pros

What this difference in arousability [remember, we’re not talking sex–in that category I’m looking for things to fire me up, not calm me down] means is that you notice levels of stimulation that go unobserved by others. This is true whether we are talking about subtle sounds, sights, or physical sensations like pain. It is not that your hearing, vision, or other senses are more acute (plenty of HSPs wear glasses). The difference seems to lie somewhere on the way to the brain or in the brain, in a more careful processing of information. We reflect more on everything. And we sort things into finer distinctions [like analyzing where, exactly, whistling Elmo was made, and where he will end up once his batteries run out]. Like those machines that grade fruit by size–we sort into ten sizes while others sort into two or three.


This greater awareness of the subtle tends to make you more intuitive [don’t you love it when people tell you that?…you’re so intuitive….], which simply means picking up and working through information in a semiconscious or unconscious way. The result is that you often “just know” without realizing how. Furthermore, this deeper processing of subtle details causes you to consider the past or future more. You “just know” how things got to be the way they are or how they are going to turn out. This is that “sixth sense” people talk about. It can be wrong, of course, just as your eyes and ears can be wrong, but your intuition is right often enough that HSPs tend to be visionaries, high intuitive artists, or inventors, as well as more conscientious, cautious, and wise people [the same reason that cheating in school gave me stomach and head aches, whereas my sister could do it pretty naturally].


The Cons

The downside of the trait shows up at more intense levels of stimulation [like at Disney World or Toys-R-Us]. What is moderately arousing for most people is highly arousing for HSPs. What is highly arousing for most people [Chuck E. Cheese] causes an HSP to become very frazzled indeed [running to the restroom to have a panic attack], until they reach a shutdown point called “transmarginal inhibition” [lecturing a spouse about the crisis of consumerisim, global warming, and landfills in aisle five of Toys-R-Us]. Transmarginal inhibition was first discussed around the turn of the century by the Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov, who was convinced that the most basic inherited difference among people was how soon they reach this shutdown point and that the quick-to-shut-down have a fundamentally different type of nervous system.


The Package Deal

No one likes being overaroused [nonsexually], HSP or not. A person feels out of control, and the whole body warns that it is in trouble. Overarousal often means failing to perform at one’s best. Of course, it can also mean danger. An extra dread of overarousal may even be built into all of us. Since a newborn cannot run or fight or even recognize danger, it is best if it howls at anything new, anything arousing at all, so that grown-ups can come and rescue it.

Like the fire department, we HSPs mostly respond to false alarms. But if our sensitivity saves a life even once, it is a trait that has a genetic payoff. So, yes, when our trait leads to overarousal, it is a nuisance. But it is part of a package deal with many advantages.

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  • cathy walston

    no, help me to not let things get to me for example i invited my son’s child to go to the club swimmimg. they said they were going ou of town. the next day they were at the club. Out of anger I told the child we will never invite hin ever again. now his mother is calling yelling at me(don’t know what she is saying-i just hang up) now her hisband is calling and wanting to speak with my father (I’m divorce and live with them) no only that-what does my father ave anything to do with? I’m 48 able to handle my own problems! My father is 80 and not well-
    How can I stop all this ? I WILL NOT SAY I SORRY!! they have lied to us too many times. My son EVEN asked if his son could go the next day and they said they were going out of town for that day too, yet we have already received a call from Tony for my father to return.
    We have been nothing but kind to them-taking them to the club when they aren’t even a member and put everything on our tap.
    I really don’t think they have done anything wrong. I know Tammy is close with this other mother but she’s nothing to be desired-5 kids and husband no where to be found.
    Thnak you-

  • Donna

    I always thought I was malfunctioning when my ex-husband screamed at me and my mind couldn’t function anymore and I couldn’t think or speak, only sit and look pitiful. It has happened all my life in overly stressful situations I’d just shut down. I always felt it but didn’t understand it. Thank you for the article!
    I would like to offer some help. These things help me daily.
    1. Take a deep breath and think…RELAX, RELAX..over and over. This shouldn’t bother me this much. It’s just part of every day life. What’s the big deal? What will happen if you get upset? It won’t help. It will just stress you more and make you sick. Stay calm and deal with it.
    2. Don’t take it personally. Look at the situation as if you don’t care. It will help you to realize that you shouldn’t be taking it so hard. You will always care of course, but not to the point of making you crazy. Look at the big picture.
    3. Sometimes you have to let go and things will work themselves out. You can only do so much. Sometimes when people see that you have let them go to make their own mistakes, they see your wisdom more clearly and listen better. Give them the tools, but you can’t make them use them, short of imprisoning them.

  • Laura

    OH my goodness- so much information. I thought I only had a bad temper, now I’m a HSP. This is so uncontrollable sometimes, but I will take on all suggestions b/c I do not like myself sometimes. Losing your temper just plain stinks. It puts a strain on my marriage and makes my kids sad. I am better going to church. I find that very calming.
    Thank you.

  • Denise

    I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one who is hypersensitive! I figured this out about myself only within the past few years. In grad school my clinical supervisors would tell me, “You are very intuitive (with your clients).” I was always okay with that but recently I have struggled more and more with how to get my work done in the work place when EVERY LITTLE NOISE makes it impossible to concentrate on my paperwork! I get behind in my work which stresses me out even more – a distraction in itself! It may sound weird but I have found that if I can put on my iPod (usually with something soothing to listen to) I can concentrate and be more productive.

  • Renee’

    I always “felt” something ticking inside me. I would think a 100 light years ahead of my time about anything, any subject. Although I probably appear to be “spacing” to the public eye I knew what I was thinking. It is difficult when people don’t understand but yet it is neat when I do find my voice and watch their jaws drop open when I baffle them with insight.
    To calm myself I would picture myself someplace very peaceful, for me it is the lake in the forest.
    God Bless

  • Nancy

    You hit the nail right on when you referred to the need for water. I lived in the mountains for 17 years–I was not a happy person. Being an HSP to the extreme–an Empath, I was hyper, miserable, bouncing off walls and doing all sorts of weird things. We would go to the river on Sundays, to a lake and about once a year to this beautiful water fall. I also bagan taking bubble baths as much as possilbe. When we moved to our “dream house”–I live near the ocean now, my husband built me a meditation/prayer garden that I had designed for my calm space. It was beautiful, had a fountain, lots of flowers, a nice little bench to sit on. We live near a naval air station…so just when my garden was complete, they changed the jet path and they were turning right over top of my house! SO much for peace. Due to chronic illness, I had lost my 6th sense–I began driving to the Chesapeake Bay, or if having a bad day and it was warm–I would go to the ocean front, walk in the water–even in February! Stick my toes in the sand, breathe the fresh salt air. Amazingly healing. Then, I got sick and then sicker–my only conclusion was to buy a house with a pool which we leave uncovered all year round. some days, I don’t get around so well, but between the pool and the bubble baths, I have been mostly able to avoid meltdowns. Last week, my husband was gone, and I had a big one. Fortunately for me, a friend talked me down, and I went and sat by the pool. After about 15 to 30 minutes–I was ok. Not great, but ok. There is a cross at Fort Story where we got married. It’s supposed to be where the Jamestown settlers first landed. A couple of weeks ago, I was going through a bad time, so I drove there–after having my car thoroughly searched for ammo and bombs–which is by the way not real calming–there I was: two light houses, the cross and a large platform looking out towards the ocean. Awe-some peace. Then I drove home by the Chesapeake Bay. All that sucked the angst right out of me. I highly recommend water therapy any and every way you can get it–the more the better. It’s an unbelievable force.

  • Becky in Houston

    Hypersensitive does not even begin to describe me. I suffer with being HSP and having severe Fibromyalgia. Depression is a major part of it too. When I stand in what others would call soft, green grass… it feels like an ant bed and I’m being stung all over my feet. What some might call very slight indigestion feels like a burning, bleeding ulcer to me. Yes, I flip out often but removed myself from a failing marriage recently and my stress level has found a better balance. My 6th sense is in overdrive. Example… I wanted to go to my grandaughters dance dress rehearsal (3 yrs old) as I felt she would not make her actual performance as she would be throwing up. ??? Why would I think that of a healthy child with no signs of being sick? As it turned out she got sick just before rehearsal, went to rehearsal, came home and got sick again. The nite of the actual performance she was not sick at all. It was afterwards I shared with my family that I somehow knew she was going to get sick around her performance. Of course they looked at me wierd. I also knew recently that when I got a call from a high school girlfriend that she was going to tell me her brother had passed away. Somehow I already knew and it wasn’t a shock. I had already been sad about it for weeks as he had been my 1st husband and a good man. Why did I know this? I have no clue but I did. I keep a lot to myself. My real friends just laugh and say “really?” If I’m stuck with all this sensitivity I might as well develope it to help control some of it. Any ideas, suggestions or help offered is appreciated. Is anyone else out there this HSP driven? Previously, when I was able to work, I would tell my boss to put my desk on the end of the row so I would not be surrounded by as many people. I worked best when I had my own office and least interrupted. My clients loved me as “I got it” when it came to their needs for their business and I took great care of each of them. This meant long hours at work and working from home. Made great money but the stress took a toll on my health and now I am unable to work. It continues to be very hard for me to stay focused and remember things. Yes I write them down but then I search the house trying to find my note with the info on it. This is a real challenge for me. Please tell me I’m not alone and going crazy.
    Becky in Houston

  • Rhonda

    I did not know what HSP meant, but it describes me to a “T”.
    I am not hypersensitive with walking barefoot in the grass, but I am to smells, noise, lights and emotions (mine and those of others).
    I had to learn through counseling how not to feel the same feelings others I know are having. Especially when my good friend’s 2 year old daughter drowned. I spent 6 or 7 days in daytime in patient therapy and had to distance my self from my friend in her time of need because I could handle the amount of pain I was feeling.
    I have always loved the water, but did not realize why. I sunburn easily but love the beach at the ocean. I have only been once as I live in the Midwest, but am craving a return trip.
    My husband calls my intuition my “sickik” (psychic)abilities and I just laugh at him. My intuition has saved us (individually or together) many times. Like making him wait 5 or 10 minutes to leave and then seeing a wreck that is approx. 5 minutes old and could very well have been us. I have had feelings that one of my kids will get hurt or have something bad happen and usually within a day or so, one was injured or now it is more likely to be a minor wreck!
    Also, I have the thinking too far ahead thing; and I am always talking to myself. If I don’t say things out loud, they just keep going round and round in my head! People tell me “as long as your are not answering yourself you are okay.” But I do that too! I can’t reason things out without talking to myself from both sides of a problem or issue. The main problem is my voice is normally very loud and carries like crazy. Others can hear my whispers even when I try to be quiet!
    I notice odd things that others have never even thought of. Sometimes it is something funny, but mostly I just receive very odd looks when I mention them.
    I have a problem at work with all the noise and people around. There is no way to get completely away from it as we have short walled cubes. But having earphones or headphones and listening to music or something helps to eleviate the background noise.
    Never stop praying for what you need. Eventually you will receive an answer. I lost a crucifix from a chain 3 years ago and gave up on it. My husband bought me a beautiful replacement for it. This spring I was looking at my flower beds and saw something shiny……there was my crucifix from 3 yrs. back. The mulch in this bed had been removed and replaced 2 times in those 3 years and worked in at least twice a month!
    My concentration has recently gone to you know where in a hand basket. I too make lists and notes but then lose them. I sometimes forget where I am going or why and have to pull over to remember.
    My “Fibro Fog” seems to have taken over my life. I have to speak very slowly to get a complete sentence out without forgetting everything in my brain at the time. I can go from a board full of words (in my brain) to a completely clean slate in less than a second. It is like having amnesia all of a sudden!
    Faith and counseling normally help me to get thru the rough parts. Talking to a good counselor has taught me how to deal with my hyper-sensitivity and emotions somewhat. Only serious grief stills causes me problems.
    I am currently off work on temp disability due to these issues.

  • Becky in Houston

    To Rhonda – Thanks for letting me know I am not alone. My fibro fog is also very, very bad. The worst of it recently is I can’t stay focused on a task to see it to completion or even close to completion. Just wiping off a kitchen cabinet I might find myself cleaning a bathtub when I never finished wiping the kitchen. At the same time I might need to leave the house for an appt but can’t get myself together to leave. This is not from medication either. I am off of all meds right now and have been for going on 3 months. They weren’t helping anyway.
    I was part of a fibro study in Hou where they took in 10 people. The test meds worked on me some right at the end of the study. Phiezer (can’t spell it) is trying hard to come up with meds that work on fibromyalgia so keep watching for it.
    I am ultra sensitive to noise and bright lights too. A crumb in my bed feels like a huge jagged rock to me. I fully understand why they call it the princess and the pea disease. I too am unable to work and social security has approved my disability. I am bound to the house most of the time due to “bathroom issues” and only wish noise and bright lights were my only problems.
    I made the drive to Galveston today and spent the afternoon enjoying the water view. I am much more at peace tonight and my pain has lessened.
    Has anyone else experienced this psychic sensitivity that you know of? It’s bad enough being told your brain is misfiring but then to experience these…. I just know it or feel it situations. I have to laugh as crying didn’t help when I spent almost a full year in bed suffering severely from the pain of fibromyalgia. I wonder if most or all of the HSP others are experiencing are various degrees of fibromyalgia? Does anyone know? Becky in Houston

  • Becky

    One more HSP question… Is anyone else hyper sensitive to tastes? I find everything is highly seasoned when others say it’s not. Most everything seems too spicy hot for me. Thoughts or suggestions? Becky

  • Carrie

    This is fascinating. This is one of those puzzle pieces that you suddenly find and feel like things make so much more sense.I have always felt a lot of shame for being highly sensitive, like there was just something wrong wiht ME. It is nice to know that it is just part of my physical makeup and that maybe just knowing how to work with it will make for an easier life.
    I have fibromyalgia (although not too bad). I ALWAYS feel at least a little achy and am perpetually fatigued at least a litte. I just thought everyone was like that. I am very sensitive to pain, I can’t stand loud noises, I wake very easily at night and rarely ever wake up rested. I also have the princess and the pea syndrome and can’t ever sleep anywhere except a soft bed with a soft blanket & soft pillow.
    I tire easily, I get overwhelmed easily. I am extremely sensitive to others moods and have always been an empath. I am also extremely good at knowing how to make others comfortable. I am very intuitive and have had many premonitions that came true. I have always needed a certain amount of solitude and felt guilty about it or that something was wrong with me. I have a tendency towards fear of leaving my house (can’t think of the term – I have brain fog, too), so I make sure I don’t stay home all day more than one day at a time.
    I have always suffered from low energy and felt something was wrong with me. Intense conversations and stress just exhaust me. I seem to absorb stress. I also way overthink certain things, my mind doesn’t stop. This is why I walk around fatigued most of my life. I have also been depressed many times and suffered from severe anxiety for a time.
    One good aspect is that I cook intuitively. I am sure that this is a side effect of HS. I can make sauces & mix spices (and drinks) without measuring and come up with my own successful concoctions with just thinking about them and by smelling.
    I am on a break from life right now, which might as well be disability except that I’m getting unemployment insurance (thank goodness). I realize just how important this break is to me and I understand now, more than ever how and why I really need it. I was working an extremely stressful, demanding office job that completely burned me out. In December my mother died unexpectedly. The combination was too much and I became overwhelmed, depressed and had physical symptoms of it.
    I am just working on becoming a whole person and I am making a lot of progress. I rest, I exercise, I try to eat as healthily as possible, I read inspirational and self help books every day. I see a therapist, I do affirmations, I try to get out to nature whenever I begin to feel down. I also love clear water and I will make sure to find that as well. I started taking SAM-E, which has been very helpful to me so far. I try to create fun whenever I need it.
    It’s hard to explain my entire life here, but I just wanted to share a little bit of it. I wish all of you the best.

  • corey

    I am commenting not only because everything so accurately describes me- and my sisters, and their children- but also because one of the posting people, Nancy, lives in my area, I think, so maybe be could support each other. She referenced Chesapeake, and I live in Virginia Beach which is 5 minutes away.
    I thought it important to bring up the importance of how to recognize and set boundaries in trying to keep HSP more of an advantage than not. I suggest everyone find some source on the subject and learn it and practice it because it saved my sanity. This knowledge- if applied, is more precious than gold. It is kissing cousins to assertiveness concepts and skills. Using this, in combination with whatever spirituality you can muster, is a winning combination for peace and joy.

  • mary

    I’m an HSP and you’re right on target. I don’t feel so well.

  • Liz

    Thank you all for your thoughtful notes here. I realized I was HSP about two years ago following a stressful series of events and having recently gone through another series, came back to the web looking for insights. Take care of yourselves everyone. Much peace, do not isolate yourselves but stay away from the haters. I put up pictures of whales in my work space and played nature music (birds and waterfalls) for two days before gaining my balance again. Take care, much peace.

  • blanche

    Wow, thanks, Therese. The symptoms fit me to a tee. I am an HSP. No wonder I can also cook without measuring, and move a picture 1/16 ” to get it straight on the wall. But on a leave of absence due to job stress (bipolar). Hugs, b

  • Jordan

    I am a hsp too. I have been all my life. Just didn’t have a name for it until recently. I’m confused alot, racing thoughts, and don’t get enough sleep. For people that don’t understand it in my experience they make fun of it or just blow it off. It can make you a loner and isolate you. I know I don’t like overcrowding. If I go out I have a drink to relax me. Its nice to know i’m not alone.

  • marilyn

    thats th way iam crowds do me in but people just dont understand.thanks for the info.

  • paula

    Some of the people responting to this section on HSP sound a little like a bit of ADD might be a factor.

  • Your Name

    This sight is the most amazing, I have been a loner all my life, do not like crowds and when I was young was absolutely terrified of adults. I have always had a sense of things before they happen or at the time they were happening. It is the scariest feeling. And no one believes you or they think your crazy. I’m still pretty much a loner and still do not like being in crowds. I never knew their was a name for it. Thanks.

  • Mary

    I find It’s extremely difficult to maintain relationships as an HSP. My partner is very sociable, and loves her family. I am not/do not. I end up comparing myself to her all the time, believing that I am just crazy or inadequate or FU**ed up. When I have an argument with my partner, it feels like the end of the world. When I have a differnece of opinion with a frind/aquaintenace, I often let the relationship go. Compared to myh partner, I am a freak. Reading other people’s comments on this site helps a little. thanks

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