Why Being Highly Sensitive Is a Gift
This goes out to every HSP who has trouble coming to terms with their sensitivity. Believe it or not, our Sensitive Minds and Bodies are a Gift — even if they provide for the one or other annoying ailment. We are blessed beyond imagination. It is time for us to understand why our ailments are also our triumphs.
Here is the thing: at every minute of every day, every cell of your body knows exactly how you are feeling. Our emotions trigger very real chemical reactions within our bodies. And this is true for absolutely everyone in possession of a brain and a heart and a nervous system and blood.
If you are grieving, your cells know. If you are in love, your cells know. If you are scared, or angry, or anxious, your body WILL know. Because whatever the state of your emotional wellbeing may be, it has a profound and real and physical and measurable impact on every single one of your cells, your immune system, your cognitive functions, your heart rate, your hormone production, which in turn influences literally everything from your sleep patterns to your menstrual cycle to your levels of assertiveness or aggression.
Whether we are currently feeling threatened by the sudden appearance of a growling tiger, or whether we are feeling threatened by potential job layoffs, however, does not matter to our bodies. Once our brain registers a threat, the chemical messengers produced signal our cells one thing and one thing only: THREAT. In other words, our bodies make no distinction between tigers and looming layoffs. Whether you are experiencing a physical or emotional threat ultimately translates into the same physical processes.
Depending on our character, our past, our traumata, our unique and learnt behavioral patterns, the emotional reaction will vary. To make matters more intricate: our reaction TO our emotions varies yet again, depending on how we are used to dealing with them. How do we approach anger, fear, or love? Depending on the degree of acceptance and ease with which we welcome these natural and, in a certain way, very physical reactions — our chemically transmitted emotions — they will either flare up and then burn out naturally, or they will start accumulating and intensifying. Scientists have determined the duration of an original emotion to take up the time frame of around 20 to 30 seconds. Everything that follows is in fact an emotional and cognitive reaction to our original emotion.
Ultimately, absolutely everything we notice and see and sense, our brain interprets for us. It says: harmless. No wait, totally harmful. Dangerous! Wonderful. Pleasant. Now, unpleasant. Code red! And whatever our brain interprets is followed by our very own, very personal emotional reaction to the interpretation. We become afraid and run. We become afraid and freeze. We become afraid and tense up. We shake. We faint. We laugh. We feel relief and relax. We feel shame and we blush. We are surprised and our hearts skip a beat.
It is beyond me how medicine could fall for the fallacy that mind and soul are separate entities. They are fused to build a whole, much like two atoms bind to form one new element.
This is how our bodies and minds and souls are seamlessly fused. And this is the same for every human on earth.
Biology and HSPs
As a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), however, I am genetically wired to perceive things with an intensity that arguably only 20% of humans can relate to. In other words, HSPs notice and see and sense A LOT of things, and we process them deeply.
I believe that, because I am highly sensitive, and because I feel a lot and very deeply, there must be about twenty gazillion more messengers crusing my blood than there are for instance in my non-sensitive husband’s blood. Indeed, because of the intensity of my emotions, they are bound to be translated into a myriad of chemical reactions that in turn produce palpable physical symptoms much more extremely than with non-sensitive individuals. Don’t get me wrong: the reactions happen with all of us. Whatever they mean by the term “psychosomatic,” this is a reality for all of us. But with some of us, they are simply more intense and thus more perceivable. And, also, more annoying.
It used to be inexplicable moments of fainting paired with chronic tonsilitis. When they removed the tonsils, my mind expressed itself through recurring UTIs and backaches triggered by stress-induced tension simmering below my surface. Understanding that I cannot remove my bladder, I decided to turn towards what I believed was the underlying cause: taking that mindfulness course and continuing the exercises and meditations still today have helped me stay entirely UTI- and backache-free for soon one year.
Undeniably, the state of my mind has an extreme influence on my physical wellbeing. But even though the threats that I perceive may be layoffs rather than tigers, that does not make me a psycho or a hypochondriac. Other people perceive the exact same threats, and they have the same emotional reactions sending out the same chemical messengers — but perhaps not as many. Tigers or layoffs — it does not matter. There is a biological reason for my physical reactions, and the only reason why others don’t have it is because they do not have a highly sensitive nervous system.
Why our sensitivity is a gift
I have a very wise friend to whom a few years ago, long before I knew that I am an HSP, I confessed that my heart often beats arrhythmically even though cardiologists say there is nothing wrong with me. My heart is beautiful and strong and absolutely flawless, they say. And yet make a hurtful remark and it will start limping. When my friend overheard me sigh about what on earth may be wrong with me, he cut me short:
“There is nothing wrong with you. This is how hearts should be, damnit! You feel things. You feel life. If only there were more of you!”
His words instilled something that I feel is a very important lesson to learn as a Highly Sensitive Soul in this world, in this society, in this culture:
I am not weird, or weak, or mentally unstable, or unfit for this world. In a very strange way, my sensitivity makes me strong and healthy and pragmatic.
Admittedly, it may be annoying. To me, and also to others. But on the other hand, my body is an extremely reliable indicator for what issues need to be tended to.
As opposed to others, I run little danger of suppressing painful issues for years and years and years. If I don’t face them, my body will face them for me. And believe me, that is not something you can take for too long. I try to ignore the fact that the completely undecided future of mine scares the hell of me, and five days later I am hooked up to a machine to determine whether I am in fact having a lung collapse or a panic attack. Basically, my body gave me a five day warning and then it said: girl, face it, you are shit-scared! And that is okay. Everything is better than pretending you aren’t!
Our ailments are annoying. And they are extremely creative. I “fix” one thing and the next one pops up. It is almost amusing.
But it is also beautiful. And a great help on your way to a life that is lived close to the heart. We have an immeasurably precious advantage over our non-sensitive friends: we are in possession of a warning system to help us follow our gut feelings, to motivate us to hold on to our beliefs, to chase our dreams, to create the lives for ourselves that truly feel right and good and healthy.
I have given up on the idea that one day, I will be done with all my issues and my body will just be completely fine all of the time. First of all, this is also not the case for non-sensitives. It’s called life. Things happen, and things change. And they do things to us. And secondly, I have the nervous system I have.
My sensitivity is not a problematic case to be solved. It is a gift to be lived with.