Being highly sensitive has a lot of advantages, Susan Marletta Hart discovered. She uses her own sensitivity to help other people find out how to use theirs.
What are the downsides to being highly sensitive?
“Our education system focuses on cognitive abilities from a very early age. Using your emotional abilities is less of an item. That is why young children often get overstimulated. If the parents don’t understand that their highly sensitive child is different from others, the child will suffer. Highly sensitive children are often very obedient and sweet, but that doesn’t mean they don’t suffer inside – especially because they tend to adjust so much to what’s expected of them, while that collides with their own nature.
Highly sensitive persons (HSP’s) are much more sensitive to stress and tend to get burnt-out more easily than others. If they try to keep up with the hectic pace of society, they often get ill. For instance, inflammation is a typical reaction to being chronically overstimulated all the time; your immune system weakens.
And what are the advantages?
Highly sensitive people have always been the pioneers, the fortune-tellers, the clergymen and astrologists. Their role was to warn the group or the community for danger. In our day, they are still the people who point out to us that we need to stand still, to return to peace and quiet, to spirituality and nature. People are not machines, we are ingenious living organisms that connect to their environment.
When it comes down to it, there are only advantages to being a highly sensitive person. It’s just that circumstances and the environment have to be adjusted to it. In our fast, hurried society, that has gotten off balance. But it is actually a beautiful quality. If you put people back into their natural habitat, it comes in handy to be able to smell which flowers are poisonous, which turnips are healthy, to sense in which forests there’s a bear foraging around. This alertness is a gift, unless you are permanently stressed or overstimulated – then it’s a burden.
Highly sensitive people are very good at enjoying the little things, they are fond of human contact, touching. They love beauty and art and are often very gifted at it. Many famous researchers and artists are highly sensitive. It is also a great instrument to use if you work in health care: you sense what the other person needs. HSP’s have many more mirror neurons –that’s a proven fact – that help you to empathize with what another person thinks and feels.”
Can you name something a highly sensitive person shouldn’t do?
What they shouldn’t do is keep on racing, keep trying to keep up with society’s pace. And never adjust their own standards to the majority’s standards. Highly sensitive people are often very ambitious, they are perfectionists, so their own standard is already very high. If they stumble, get burnt-out, they should listen to their own body. And when talking to company doctors, they should take their words with a grain of salt. It isn’t easy on your own, so find other people who understand you, find fellow-sufferers.
And what should they do?
It’s important to find your own way, make your own choices, set your own boundaries. The latter is one of the most difficult things, especially to perfectionists. But sleep when you feel like sleeping, be idle! Contemplate, meditate, daydream – not just for fun, it is useful. Taking a walk in nature is also very salutary. And it is important for highly sensitive people’s partners to realize that their spouse really is different, that they shouldn’t rush them and that it’s vital for them to find peace and quiet regularly – at their own time. People around highly sensitive persons need to understand that they have different desires and needs.
Text: Lisette Thooft - Photo: Olly Joy