High sensitivity: what is it?

Even though some research work has already been done, there is still a lot of ambiguity about the specific effects and causes of high sensitivity. This article explains what is known about high sensitivity according to the current state of science, how high sensitivity shows and which therapy is suitable for those affected.

What is high sensitivity?

In order to better classify the term high sensitivity, it is worth taking a brief excursion into the teachings of psychology. Over the centuries, many scientists, such as Freud, Adler or Jung, have developed various models to better describe a person’s personality and thus to cope with the challenges that arise in our daily life.

Every day we humans are exposed to an incredibly large amount of information. These can be visual, acoustic or of a completely different nature. Our brain classifies all these stimuli, interprets them and gives us an assessment of how we should behave in the respective situation.

Everyone is different and this also applies to their ability to perceive external impressions and to classify them. High sensitivity describes a personality trait that is characterized by the fact that the people concerned perceive environmental stimuli and emotions more intensely.

Using the test developed by Aron, further investigations into the frequency of high sensitivity were carried out. According to the results of these studies, it is currently assumed that around 20 percent of all people have the characteristics of an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person).

Is high sensitivity a disease?

This question can be answered clearly with no. High sensitivity is a personality trait. In contrast, an anxiety disorder would be a psychological illness that can be treated. In the case of anxiety disorder, those affected perceive environmental stimuli more and react to them hypersensitively.

Various diseases are summarized under the term anxiety disorder. An example would be social phobia. Affected people fear social interactions because they find them uncomfortable. To prevent this uncomfortable feeling, these people isolate themselves more and more.

Highly sensitive people can find social situations stressful. After a break in which they have time for themselves again, highly sensitive people can again participate in social life without any problems.

How does high sensitivity arise?

The exact causes for the development of high sensitivity are still unknown. In science one speaks of a multifactorial genesis, which, in more simple terms, means that many factors can play a role.

It is suspected, for example, that genetic causes could play a role in the development of high sensitivity. Currently, however, there is only one British study from 2019 that examined high sensitivity in children. With the help of questionnaires, the participating children were classified into different categories. These categories ranged from less sensitive to highly sensitive. However, the study results do not allow any concrete conclusions to be drawn as to whether high sensitivity is inheritable.

Rather, one assumes a predisposition that can also be proven in children. Children with a predisposition to high sensitivity are more likely to develop this trait when the right environmental conditions are encountered. That is why it is not yet possible to say with certainty whether babies are highly sensitive or not, even if they seem to be sensitive to environmental stimuli.

 

How does high sensitivity show?

Recognizing high sensitivity and correctly classifying the symptoms can sometimes be difficult, as there are other characteristics or diseases in psychology whose symptoms overlap with those of high sensitivity. For example, an anxiety disorder can produce similar behaviors. The following characteristics are typical for highly sensitive persons:

  • stronger reaction to and more intense perception of environmental stimuli (such as noises, smells, visual stimuli). Crowds can be found stressful by HSPs.
  • generally faster feeling of being overwhelmed
  • particularly sensitive to noise
  • great emotionality. HSPs can perceive positive and negative experiences more intensely.
  • slightly more cautious than average when it comes to new situations
  • stronger empathy
  • often introverted rather than extroverted behavior

These different characteristics do not have to be equally pronounced in every highly sensitive person – while some react more strongly to environmental stimuli, others, for example, perceive the emotions of others more strongly.

How can you recognize high sensitivity?

The characteristics for highly sensitive people are very different and unspecific. There are also no specific physical symptoms that allow a clear statement. This is probably due to the fact that high sensitivity cannot always be explained using the classic explanatory models of psychology.

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