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High Sensitivity Are you highly sensitive? A few important things on high sensitivity High Sensitivity in combination with other personality traits Howdo you recognise highly sensitive people? What next? High Sensitivity and Coaching

High Sensitivity / Sensory Processing Sensitivity / High

Sensory Intelligence

High Sensitivity affects everybody. Because even if you are not yourself a highly sensitive person (HSP), you know several - in your private environment, at the workplace, in organisations and companies, anywhere in everyday life. High sensitivity as described here is understood as presented by the clinical psychologist and psychotherapist Dr. Elaine Aron in her classic 1996 book “The Highly Sensitive Person”. To be fair, in the counselling and therapeutical professions, high sensitivity has not yet been universally accepted as a stand-alone personality trait. High sensitivity is now better known under other denominations, like the more precise “Sensory Processing Sensitivity” and the newer “High Sensory Intelligence” (W. McIntosh).

Are you highly sensitive?

If you wish to find the answer to that question, please open your favourite search engine and look for “Elaine Aron Test”. Dr. Aron’s famous questionnaire can be found all over the Internet, usually in two versions, one for adults and one for children and adolescents. The following describes a few aspects. Obviously, none of the following characteristics apply to 100% of the HSP. HSP can be without some of them. And non-HSP may share a number of them.

A few important things on high sensitivity

1. High Sensitivity is not some disorder that needs to be healed, but a hard-wired component of a personality, from the first day to the last day of a human life, every day. Humans are highly sensitive to 15 to 20% of all individuals, men and women alike. High sensitivity also exists with many animal species. Since nature is well known to eliminate unnecessary functions by erasing them through evolution, we may conclude that nature considers high sensitivity as very useful, if it keeps being so widespread. For instance, highly sensitive individuals in the animal realm could have an early warning function for the herd, in that they perceive approaching threats earlier than others. When somebody has trouble with his or her high sensitivity, then the solution is not to get rid of it - because that would be like getting rid of breathing. The wiser approach is to start becoming aware of your own high sensitivity, know more about what it means, and then accept it. Then you can better see and enjoy the related strengths and abilities, value them more and make them a central part of your life. You thus build a self-care that helps you manage your sensitivity better. And when that is in place and you understand your own needs better, it becomes easier for you to affirm them in front of others instead of perhaps feeling weak or ashamed about them. Integrating your high sensitivity in your regular life may demand a few adjustments from yourself and your environment. Being accompanied by a coach during this process of realisation and change makes much sense. 2. Highs sensitivity describes not a behaviour, but specificities in the processing (and particularly the depth of processing) of incoming neurological stimuli How this depth of processing than modifies the subsequent behaviour is specific to each individual and can vary with time. A certain neurological stimulus does not necessarily hit an HSP harder than a non-HSP. But once the stimulus is in the neurological system, it dives deeper and is processed in more detail and with more intensity. This requires additional time and energy. For a better understanding, imagine that you are on holiday at the seaside and swim in the sea. Being a non-HSP is like staying the head over the surface and swimming plainly forward. Only occasionally, some high wave will cover your head and make you go underwater for a short moment. Being an HSP is as if you would involuntarily go underwater with almost every movement, and sometimes quite deep. You also keep swimming but need more time and energy for the same distance. But there also is an upside to this: you gather much more information on everything that is going on underneath the surface. You can see the deep currents and not only the waves at the surface. You have perceptions on several levels. 3. Too many or too strong impulses can cause overwhelm and sometimes lead to fight-or-flight reactions If the overwhelm threshold is reached, highly sensitive people can have very thin- skinned reactions. Bystanders can misunderstand these sudden reactions and take them personally. However they are rather a signal that the queue of not yet processed stimuli is saturated, nothing goes in any more, and the person needs a break - now. That makes it so important for HSP to have breaks and places for calm withdrawal. They ought to learn to feel the overwhelm threshold before it is reached and to take a break soon enough. One could say, using the traffic light analogy: they ought to learn to stop at yellow, not at red. At times when we charge the brain with no particular task that requires focussed attention, it then switches over to actively processing the queue of unprocessed stimuli and information and turn them into new connections between neurons. (This is the precious “default mode” of the brain, too often disturbed by the habit of grabbing some electronic device out of fear of boredom.) By the way, HSP can be more jumpy and easily scared than others. This first reaction can be misunderstood as a general anxiety, when in fact it is one of the effects of stimuli diving deeper into the system with HSP than with non-HSP.

High Sensitivity in combination with other personality

traits

High sensitivity can meet other traits in a human and sometimes be in tension or conflict with them. For instance, about 30% of HSP are also “High Sensation Seekers” (HSS), always in search of something new and the next thrill. HSS get bored quickly and have a need for renewal. This creates a flood of stimuli which then threatens to overwhelm their high sensitivity. HSP who are also HSS tend to use the metaphor of going through life with one foot on the gas pedal and one foot on the brake. However, they are different from High Sensation Seekers who are no highly sensitive persons in that they will usually take only calculated risks and sensible precautions. Some characteristics related to high sensitivity will be found in other parts of the population. For instance, introvert people generally have a need of silence and withdrawal from time to time. By the way, an estimated 70% of HSP are also introverts. Which means that 30% of HSP are extroverts, obviously. For HSP who also are high sensation seekers and/or extroverts, taking breaks and withdrawing from the noise from time to time is all the more important. Otherwise, the brain will not be able to cope with the saturation of neurological stimulation and information. It can sometimes be read that gifted people are more or less all HSP. But this has not been confirmed by research and should be taken with a serious pinch of salt. When a human has both giftedness and high sensitivity, that makes for an even more specific breed of personality. All these overlaps show that it is not simple to clearly tell high sensitivity from other personality traits.

How do you recognise highly sensitive people?

Childhood and youth The highly sensitive children often are the children adults worry about a bit, because they cry themselves into exhaustion as infants. They do not do that to bother their parents, but because they experience stimuli from the environment with an intensity they cannot yet manager at their small age. Later on they like to play alone - although parents would like to see them more in the company of children their age. Or they will stand by the limits of the playground or schoolyard and observe it for a while instead of throwing themselves into the turmoil and building a circle of friends. Highly sensitive boys will not show much interest in the hefty competition games of boys of their age and may even prefer the friendship of girls. Male friendships will come later on. With highly sensitive children, mistakes, failure or criticism often go deep. It can hurt them deepliy. Parents therefore should praise them not only for their achievements and successes, but also for the achievement of having honestly tried and done their best, whatever the outcome. Otherwise they can link their sense of value to success only and enter adulthood with a paralysing perfectionism. WIth HSP, the first love relationships can come later than with non-HSP. The highly sensitive child is also likely to leave it’s parent’s home later than others. A dysfunctional or traumatic environment will take a bigger toll on HSP than on others. Inversely, they react particularly well to a caring and positive environment. This is called “Vantage Sensitivity”. For example, various studies show that highly sensitive young people react more positively to programmes about preventing depression (Pluess, Binwell, 2015) or bullying (Nocentini, Mesentini, Pluess, 2018). When a child is highly sensitive, it can make sense to look at parents and grandparents. There may be an undetected HSP there, tool. A study of 2022 (Assary, Zavos, Krapohl et al.) shows a 47% origin of high sensitivity in genetics. There is one thing I would like to tell to the heart of young HSP who find it difficult to find their place today: It becomes easier with time. During childhood and youth, groups still form very along superficial criteria or the programmes designed by evolutionary biology. But with time, people get to value the qualities of HSP more and more. Highly sensitive adults Some characteristics of people with high sensory processing / high sensitivity / high sensory intelligence: Detailed perception of numerous information sometimes barely perceptible like micro-expressions in faces or “vibes” in the room. HSP often require a moment of observation of what is going on in the room before they engage with other people. High empathy - sometimes leading to losing sight of their own needs and interests. High amenability - provided however that a trusting relationship has been established. Until that, HSP can appear to keep a cool distance. Good listeners - a quality that is sometimes abused by more talkative fellow humans. They listen best in one-on-one conversations, whereas larger groups cause them some difficulty. High responsiveness to the environment. The tone of interactions, the moods in the group, the room configuration can have considerabl influence on the performance of HSP and they have a hard time ignoring what surrounds them. Exam situations can paralyse them. Deep thinking and creativity - although they may keep that form themselves if the environment is not open to it. Taking risks spontaneously and change in general can be difficult for HSP. However, if they are given time to plan these changes, they can enter change as much as everybody else - and often prove good planners in the process. It is wise however to practice change in smaller steps instead of an all-at-once approach. Conflict avoidance. HSP do not like conflicts and may avoid contradicting others until they cannot stand the pressure any more and things burst out of them. When you sense that an HSP becomes suspiciously silent or stiff, it can be helpful to ask them what bothers them so that they can reduce their inner pressure before it spills over. (“I sense that you do not agree. What do you think about this?”) Conscientiousness in the tasks at hand or the cause, without seeking to put themselves into the middle of attention. This may cause a number of HSP to experience that they achieve something but others take the credit for it. A certain perfectionism that can have paralysing effects. HSP often put common interests of the collective over their individual interests. This is related to a certain sense of the greater picture. Many HSP have a hard time ruthlessly pursuing only their own individual interests. It may even be difficult for them to pursue their own interests at all. A strong sense of balance or equalisation, often called a “sense of justice”. But justice is something very local in space and time and laws change all the time. So this is more about a perception of deeper imbalances that cause HSP to have an urge to equalise them. A strong bond with nature. Nature has a particularly intense healing effect on HSP. All these intense perceptions and sensations often come together with a lack of self- assurance and self-esteem. One consequence thereof can be that HSP avoid a growing number of situations because of the inner turmoil and overwhelm they expect there. This growing accumulation of avoidance behaviours leads to unexpressed potential and a “smaller” life. This in turn depresses self-esteem. A change of perspective on your high sensitivity is required to get out of this vicious circle. After that, you can start recovering the treasures within high sensitivity. The higher meanings in humans and nature HSP often have an interest for art forms, spirituality and beauty. This is related to their sense of being part of a greater good beyond themselves - and the flow of stimuli to which they are exposed form a constant link to the bigger picture from which they can not insulate themselves any way. This is also why walking through nature has a good healing effect on them and they should connect with nature especially in challenging times.

What next? High Sensitivity and Coaching

Having intense perceptions may be tiring. But why should it be a weakness? If you are of those who think that the solutions for the world do not consist of more screaming and polarising and grabbing for attention at any cost, you may start looking for the solutions HSP have to propose. Because they intuitively know how to contribute to holding a human collective together, and they do not even want to be in the centre of attention and prefer to listen. Learning to make the best of your high sensitivity can follow these steps: 1. Become aware of your own high sensitivity. 2. Learn what high sensitivity means - and what not. Understand the related strengths and abilities and value them. But also develop an honest and realistic vision of the challenges in order to develop adequate response strategies. 3. Accept and embrace your high sensitivity and start seeing and ceasing avoidance behaviours so that your life can become “bigger” again. 4. Integrate high sensitivity into your everyday life. Check your life and habits and beliefs and see what needs to change to improve quality of life. 5. Stand in for your high sensitivity in front of the environment instead of over-adapting and hiding. Advocate your strengths instead of being ashamed of your so-called weaknesses. Dare to be seen. Those who are one with their true nature can show themselves to the world with more trust and more courage. A coach is a useful companion if you want to clarify your inner compass to have something steady to hold on to in unsteady times, if you do not want to live away from your own life because of strong and sometimes overwhelming sensations, if you feel ready to uncover the strengths and competences associated with high sensitivity / high sensory processing sensitivity / high sensory intelligence. Please note: a coach is not a therapist. Tom Falkenstein, a psychotherapist from Berlin, recommends consult a therapist if you are highly sensitive but also have doubts that this is the only source of your strong sensations. A therapist can assess whether there may be a disorder of any kind involved, or not. A coach cannot neither diagnose psychological disorder, nor offer therapy for them. But a coach can help you manage your high sensitivity much better - especially if he or she is himself highly sentisitive.

Alexander Hohmann

Life Coach & Business Coach in Freiburg (Germany) & near Paris (France)

Coaching für Hochsensible Ruhige Achtsamkeit im Park von Versailles

Alexander Hohmann

Life & Business Coach in

Freiburg or online

Certified Systemic Coach

(EN / DE / FR)

High Sensitivity Are you highly sensitive? A few important things on high sensitivity High Sensitivity in combination with other personality traits Howdo you recognise highly sensitive people? What next? High Sensitivity and Coaching

High Sensitivity / Sensory

Processing Sensitivity / High

Sensory Intelligence

High Sensitivity affects everybody. Because even if you are not yourself a highly sensitive person (HSP), you know several - in your private environment, at the workplace, in organisations and companies, anywhere in everyday life. High sensitivity as described here is understood as presented by the clinical psychologist and psychotherapist Dr. Elaine Aron in her classic 1996 book “The Highly Sensitive Person”. To be fair, in the counselling and therapeutical professions, high sensitivity has not yet been universally accepted as a stand-alone personality trait. High sensitivity is now better known under other denominations, like the more precise “Sensory Processing Sensitivity” and the newer “High Sensory Intelligence” (W. McIntosh).

Are you highly sensitive?

If you wish to find the answer to that question, please open your favourite search engine and look for “Elaine Aron Test”. Dr. Aron’s famous questionnaire can be found all over the Internet, usually in two versions, one for adults and one for children and adolescents. The following describes a few aspects. Obviously, none of the following characteristics apply to 100% of the HSP. HSP can be without some of them. And non-HSP may share a number of them.

A few important things on high

sensitivity

1. High Sensitivity is not some disorder that needs to be healed, but a hard-wired component of a personality, from the first day to the last day of a human life, every day. Humans are highly sensitive to 15 to 20% of all individuals, men and women alike. High sensitivity also exists with many animal species. Since nature is well known to eliminate unnecessary functions by erasing them through evolution, we may conclude that nature considers high sensitivity as very useful, if it keeps being so widespread. For instance, highly sensitive individuals in the animal realm could have an early warning function for the herd, in that they perceive approaching threats earlier than others. When somebody has trouble with his or her high sensitivity, then the solution is not to get rid of it - because that would be like getting rid of breathing. The wiser approach is to start becoming aware of your own high sensitivity, know more about what it means, and then accept it. Then you can better see and enjoy the related strengths and abilities, value them more and make them a central part of your life. You thus build a self-care that helps you manage your sensitivity better. And when that is in place and you understand your own needs better, it becomes easier for you to affirm them in front of others instead of perhaps feeling weak or ashamed about them. Integrating your high sensitivity in your regular life may demand a few adjustments from yourself and your environment. Being accompanied by a coach during this process of realisation and change makes much sense. 2. Highs sensitivity describes not a behaviour, but specificities in the processing (and particularly the depth of processing) of incoming neurological stimuli How this depth of processing than modifies the subsequent behaviour is specific to each individual and can vary with time. A certain neurological stimulus does not necessarily hit an HSP harder than a non-HSP. But once the stimulus is in the neurological system, it dives deeper and is processed in more detail and with more intensity. This requires additional time and energy. For a better understanding, imagine that you are on holiday at the seaside and swim in the sea. Being a non-HSP is like staying the head over the surface and swimming plainly forward. Only occasionally, some high wave will cover your head and make you go underwater for a short moment. Being an HSP is as if you would involuntarily go underwater with almost every movement, and sometimes quite deep. You also keep swimming but need more time and energy for the same distance. But there also is an upside to this: you gather much more information on everything that is going on underneath the surface. You can see the deep currents and not only the waves at the surface. You have perceptions on several levels. 3. Too many or too strong impulses can cause overwhelm and sometimes lead to fight-or-flight reactions If the overwhelm threshold is reached, highly sensitive people can have very thin-skinned reactions. Bystanders can misunderstand these sudden reactions and take them personally. However they are rather a signal that the queue of not yet processed stimuli is saturated, nothing goes in any more, and the person needs a break - now. That makes it so important for HSP to have breaks and places for calm withdrawal. They ought to learn to feel the overwhelm threshold before it is reached and to take a break soon enough. One could say, using the traffic light analogy: they ought to learn to stop at yellow, not at red. At times when we charge the brain with no particular task that requires focussed attention, it then switches over to actively processing the queue of unprocessed stimuli and information and turn them into new connections between neurons. (This is the precious “default mode” of the brain, too often disturbed by the habit of grabbing some electronic device out of fear of boredom.) By the way, HSP can be more jumpy and easily scared than others. This first reaction can be misunderstood as a general anxiety, when in fact it is one of the effects of stimuli diving deeper into the system with HSP than with non- HSP.

High Sensitivity in combination

with other personality traits

High sensitivity can meet other traits in a human and sometimes be in tension or conflict with them. For instance, about 30% of HSP are also “High Sensation Seekers” (HSS), always in search of something new and the next thrill. HSS get bored quickly and have a need for renewal. This creates a flood of stimuli which then threatens to overwhelm their high sensitivity. HSP who are also HSS tend to use the metaphor of going through life with one foot on the gas pedal and one foot on the brake. However, they are different from High Sensation Seekers who are no highly sensitive persons in that they will usually take only calculated risks and sensible precautions. Some characteristics related to high sensitivity will be found in other parts of the population. For instance, introvert people generally have a need of silence and withdrawal from time to time. By the way, an estimated 70% of HSP are also introverts. Which means that 30% of HSP are extroverts, obviously. For HSP who also are high sensation seekers and/or extroverts, taking breaks and withdrawing from the noise from time to time is all the more important. Otherwise, the brain will not be able to cope with the saturation of neurological stimulation and information. It can sometimes be read that gifted people are more or less all HSP. But this has not been confirmed by research and should be taken with a serious pinch of salt. When a human has both giftedness and high sensitivity, that makes for an even more specific breed of personality. All these overlaps show that it is not simple to clearly tell high sensitivity from other personality traits.

How do you recognise highly

sensitive people?

Childhood and youth The highly sensitive children often are the children adults worry about a bit, because they cry themselves into exhaustion as infants. They do not do that to bother their parents, but because they experience stimuli from the environment with an intensity they cannot yet manager at their small age. Later on they like to play alone - although parents would like to see them more in the company of children their age. Or they will stand by the limits of the playground or schoolyard and observe it for a while instead of throwing themselves into the turmoil and building a circle of friends. Highly sensitive boys will not show much interest in the hefty competition games of boys of their age and may even prefer the friendship of girls. Male friendships will come later on. With highly sensitive children, mistakes, failure or criticism often go deep. It can hurt them deepliy. Parents therefore should praise them not only for their achievements and successes, but also for the achievement of having honestly tried and done their best, whatever the outcome. Otherwise they can link their sense of value to success only and enter adulthood with a paralysing perfectionism. WIth HSP, the first love relationships can come later than with non-HSP. The highly sensitive child is also likely to leave it’s parent’s home later than others. A dysfunctional or traumatic environment will take a bigger toll on HSP than on others. Inversely, they react particularly well to a caring and positive environment. This is called “Vantage Sensitivity”. For example, various studies show that highly sensitive young people react more positively to programmes about preventing depression (Pluess, Binwell, 2015) or bullying (Nocentini, Mesentini, Pluess, 2018). When a child is highly sensitive, it can make sense to look at parents and grandparents. There may be an undetected HSP there, tool. A study of 2022 (Assary, Zavos, Krapohl et al.) shows a 47% origin of high sensitivity in genetics. There is one thing I would like to tell to the heart of young HSP who find it difficult to find their place today: It becomes easier with time. During childhood and youth, groups still form very along superficial criteria or the programmes designed by evolutionary biology. But with time, people get to value the qualities of HSP more and more. Highly sensitive adults Some characteristics of people with high sensory processing / high sensitivity / high sensory intelligence: Detailed perception of numerous information sometimes barely perceptible like micro-expressions in faces or “vibes” in the room. HSP often require a moment of observation of what is going on in the room before they engage with other people. High empathy - sometimes leading to losing sight of their own needs and interests. High amenability - provided however that a trusting relationship has been established. Until that, HSP can appear to keep a cool distance. Good listeners - a quality that is sometimes abused by more talkative fellow humans. They listen best in one-on-one conversations, whereas larger groups cause them some difficulty. High responsiveness to the environment. The tone of interactions, the moods in the group, the room configuration can have considerabl influence on the performance of HSP and they have a hard time ignoring what surrounds them. Exam situations can paralyse them. Deep thinking and creativity - although they may keep that form themselves if the environment is not open to it. Taking risks spontaneously and change in general can be difficult for HSP. However, if they are given time to plan these changes, they can enter change as much as everybody else - and often prove good planners in the process. It is wise however to practice change in smaller steps instead of an all-at-once approach. Conflict avoidance. HSP do not like conflicts and may avoid contradicting others until they cannot stand the pressure any more and things burst out of them. When you sense that an HSP becomes suspiciously silent or stiff, it can be helpful to ask them what bothers them so that they can reduce their inner pressure before it spills over. (“I sense that you do not agree. What do you think about this?”) Conscientiousness in the tasks at hand or the cause, without seeking to put themselves into the middle of attention. This may cause a number of HSP to experience that they achieve something but others take the credit for it. A certain perfectionism that can have paralysing effects. HSP often put common interests of the collective over their individual interests. This is related to a certain sense of the greater picture. Many HSP have a hard time ruthlessly pursuing only their own individual interests. It may even be difficult for them to pursue their own interests at all. A strong sense of balance or equalisation, often called a “sense of justice”. But justice is something very local in space and time and laws change all the time. So this is more about a perception of deeper imbalances that cause HSP to have an urge to equalise them. A strong bond with nature. Nature has a particularly intense healing effect on HSP. All these intense perceptions and sensations often come together with a lack of self- assurance and self-esteem. One consequence thereof can be that HSP avoid a growing number of situations because of the inner turmoil and overwhelm they expect there. This growing accumulation of avoidance behaviours leads to unexpressed potential and a “smaller” life. This in turn depresses self-esteem. A change of perspective on your high sensitivity is required to get out of this vicious circle. After that, you can start recovering the treasures within high sensitivity. The higher meanings in humans and nature HSP often have an interest for art forms, spirituality and beauty. This is related to their sense of being part of a greater good beyond themselves - and the flow of stimuli to which they are exposed form a constant link to the bigger picture from which they can not insulate themselves any way. This is also why walking through nature has a good healing effect on them and they should connect with nature especially in challenging times.

What next? High Sensitivity and

Coaching

Having intense perceptions may be tiring. But why should it be a weakness? If you are of those who think that the solutions for the world do not consist of more screaming and polarising and grabbing for attention at any cost, you may start looking for the solutions HSP have to propose. Because they intuitively know how to contribute to holding a human collective together, and they do not even want to be in the centre of attention and prefer to listen. Learning to make the best of your high sensitivity can follow these steps: 1. Become aware of your own high sensitivity. 2. Learn what high sensitivity means - and what not. Understand the related strengths and abilities and value them. But also develop an honest and realistic vision of the challenges in order to develop adequate response strategies. 3. Accept and embrace your high sensitivity and start seeing and ceasing avoidance behaviours so that your life can become “bigger” again. 4. Integrate high sensitivity into your everyday life. Check your life and habits and beliefs and see what needs to change to improve quality of life. 5. Stand in for your high sensitivity in front of the environment instead of over-adapting and hiding. Advocate your strengths instead of being ashamed of your so-called weaknesses. Dare to be seen. Those who are one with their true nature can show themselves to the world with more trust and more courage. A coach is a useful companion if you want to clarify your inner compass to have something steady to hold on to in unsteady times, if you do not want to live away from your own life because of strong and sometimes overwhelming sensations, if you feel ready to uncover the strengths and competences associated with high sensitivity / high sensory processing sensitivity / high sensory intelligence. Please note: a coach is not a therapist. Tom Falkenstein, a psychotherapist from Berlin, recommends consult a therapist if you are highly sensitive but also have doubts that this is the only source of your strong sensations. A therapist can assess whether there may be a disorder of any kind involved, or not. A coach cannot neither diagnose psychological disorder, nor offer therapy for them. But a coach can help you manage your high sensitivity much better - especially if he or she is himself highly sentisitive.

Coaching for Highly

Sensitive Persons (HSP)