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highly sensitive person

What Does It Mean To Be a Highly Sensitive Person?

Do your friends and family often tell you that you’re overreacting? Are you extremely perceptive? Do small changes in your environment bother you? According to psychologists Elaine and Arthur Aron, these little quirks may mean that you are a highly sensitive person.

What is a Highly Sensitive Person?

Research on highly sensitive people dates back to the 1970s, but didn’t become popular until the 1990s. During this time, the Arons formally identified a personality trait called “sensory processing sensitivity,” or SPS. They explained that people with SPS have a temperamental predisposition towards increased sensitivity. Put simply, their central nervous systems respond to stimuli more strongly than others’ do.

This means that highly sensitive people might:

  • Be especially bothered by loud noises, bright lights, and coarse fabrics
  • Dislike multitasking or potentially overwhelming environments
  • Avoid change whenever possible
  • Get rattled when they have to do several things
  • Feel the need to hide away when they become stressed
  • Be labeled as “shy” in childhood
  • Become risk-averse in adulthood

The good news is that it’s not rare to feel this way. Elaine Aron estimates that 15 to 20% of the population is affected by SPS. Contemporary researchers have identified this innate characteristic in the animal kingdom, too—some birds, cats, horses, and primates have been confirmed as highly sensitive. However, it’s important to note that other conditions may be incorrectly labeled as SPS. Anxiety and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are frequently confused for sensory processing sensitivity.

Highly Sensitive Person Traits

Heightened awareness. A highly sensitive person is more aware of small subtleties than their friends or neighbors. They would be described as “noticers.”

Frequent feelings of overwhelm. Feeling things more strongly can have a downside. HSPs are more prone to becoming overstimulated in environments that are loud, visually cluttered, or novel. They might also be bothered by things others are not, like the sensation of a specific fabric, the sound of sirens, or strong odors.

Needing to hide away. Withdrawing from others is common among highly sensitive persons. They may retreat to dark rooms or into bed after experiencing a stressful event.

High levels of empathy. Highly sensitive persons are true empaths. They check in on their friends and family members regularly and are always on the lookout for signs of trouble.

Deeply affected by the arts. Someone who is highly sensitive may be strongly affected by movies, music, or works of art. For this reason, they tend to avoid violent video games or films.

Emotional Sensitivity After Addiction Treatment

While one person may label themselves as a lifelong highly sensitive person, the next may find themselves overreacting for different reasons. Strong emotions and high reactivity are very common among those who have recently completed addiction treatment programs.

When someone finishes a rehabilitation program, they must learn to process the world without the use of drugs or alcohol. In the past, they may have turned to substance use to:

  • Avoid painful emotions
  • Forget about traumatic events
  • Alleviate social anxiety
  • Escape emotional lows
  • Work long shifts
  • Relieve tension
  • Become less anxious at concerts or parties

In recovery, they are responsible for managing these situations without the use of alcohol or drugs. Many people who have gotten sober feel like they are experiencing their emotions and past trauma for the first time in months or years.

This is why ongoing support is a crucial part of lasting recovery. People who have recently completed programs should take advantage of any continuing care that is available to them. Working with professionals and engaging in group work can help individuals to navigate the emotional storm of early recovery.

How to Overcome Emotional Sensitivity

If you weren’t a highly sensitive person before addiction, but are struggling now, help is available. At Vista Taos, we offer a transformative extended care program that provides daily structure and guided life skills training. These gender-specific services are tailored to the needs of men and women, and facilitate the process of learning to live life on life’s terms.

Our extended care program includes exciting activities, real-world outings, 12-Step meetings, and individual and group therapies. We also include the entire family in each client’s recovery process. To learn more about lifelong healing from addiction, contact Vista Taos today.

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