Dr. Elaine Aron, a pioneer in creating the term HSP, describes Highly Sensitive People as individuals who have a more finely tuned nervous system, making them more susceptible to external stimuli and deeply affected by their surroundings. This heightened sensitivity extends to emotions, sensory experiences, and the subtleties of the world around them. Nothing is “wrong” with being a Highly Sensitive Person – in fact, HSPs tend to be more empathetic, observant, and attuned to subtle changes in their environment. If you are wondering whether you are highly sensitive, you can take a test on Dr. Aron's website https://hsperson.com/
Highly Sensitive People flourish with the right amount of emotional support from others. Many HSP’s spend their entire lives feeling misunderstood and that something is different about or wrong with them. That internalized message is why learning about the trait is so important, along with having someone validate your experiences. Therapy is a place where you can begin valuing yourself, learn to create a life that supports your strengths and change the narrative of ‘there’s something wrong with me’ to something more empowering like ‘my sensitivity allows me to experience life in a unique way and contribute to the world with passion’.
HSP’s seek out therapy for a variety of reasons:
Most people start therapy in a crisis, but you don’t have to wait until you are falling apart to get help. In fact, going to therapy when you are not at your breaking point can be a great opportunity to do some of the deeper work on yourself that might help you cope better with difficult experiences in the present and future.
Here are 6 ways HSP’s benefit with the right therapist:
1. Lower stress, anxiety and/or depression
Depression and anxiety push people away from living in the present moment. Individuals with anxiety are continuously worried about the future, while people with depression are often focused on what has happened in the past. Therapy can teach you how to live in the present mindfully and how to practice meditation.
Your therapist can teach you to change your negative thought patterns and replace them with healthy, productive ones which lowers stress levels and anxiety. When you learn how to relax and reframe your experiences, you can look at situations in new, less frightening ways; and develop better coping and problem-solving skills which allows mood and stress levels naturally improve.
2. Improve confidence and self esteem
The primary aim of psychotherapy for highly sensitive people is often to promote and support self-love. Many who are highly sensitive struggle with low self-esteem for which they try to compensate by setting extremely high standards for themselves. They get caught in vicious circles. These high standards mean that the highly sensitive person repeatedly experiences failing, which then has a negative effect on their sense of self.
The goal of therapy is to help you feel comfortable in your own skin and improve self-love. A good therapist would encourage you to know you are deserving, capable and good enough, which allows you to feel more confident, content, joyful, loved and connected. A skilled therapist can also work with you on creating small, incremental goals that help you to slowly build your confidence and your experience of mastery in the world.
3. Closer relationships and ability to handle conflict more effectively
Being in therapy can help improve communication skills, empower you to make healthier choices and develop coping strategies to manage distress. You will begin to see conflict as an opportunity to develop your character and improve your relationships. You'll learn to successfully manage stress, control emotions, and focus on resolving the issue at hand.
You will find that you are better able to actively listen to your friends and family with genuine interest and empathy, withholding judgment or criticism. You will also learn how to handle conflict in calm and healthy ways instead of reacting out of anger which leads to more tension.
4. More compassion towards self and others
Self-compassion is extending compassion to one's self in instances of perceived inadequacy, failure, or general suffering. Kristin Neff has defined self-compassion as being composed of three main elements – self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. Self-compassion entails being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism. When you are more compassionate with yourself, you naturally develop more compassion for others.
5. Heal trauma
Trauma is defined as a deeply distressing or disturbing experience.
If you feel shocked, saddened, anxious, or otherwise overwhelmed by an occurrence like one of the above, you're probably experiencing trauma. The trauma isn't the event or experience itself but rather your body and mind's response to it. With the right trauma therapist and learning the tools that are vital to overcoming trauma, those with trauma-related issues can make significant breakthroughs and are also able to create a strong foundation for recovery.
6. Resolve family of origin issues
People get stuck because they are often living out reactive patterns (rather than proactive ways) of thinking, feeling, doing, and relating which is largely developed in your family of origin. Our early experiences help shape the narratives we carry about ourselves, our “stories” or core beliefs about who we are and whether we can safely rely on others. When you gain an understanding of the impact of your family history, you can shift how you feel about yourself and others. Family of origin work is the process of removing the obstacles that block you emotionally and/or in your relationships.
Research shows that highly sensitive children thrive in supportive and nurturing environments and tend to feel and function much worse in a stressful environment. Therefore, HSP’s often need a reparative experience with a therapist where they feel nurtured and supported for who they are, especially if that was lacking as a child. Creating a secure attachment with a therapist can help HSP’s have better relationships with others and make better decisions with more confidence.
Finding the right therapist you connect with and feel confident can help you is the biggest predictor of success. You want to feel like the therapist ‘gets you’ and can provide hope and a path for healing. If you are wondering whether you need therapy, give it a try. Seeking out growth is beneficial and lays the foundation for a better quality of life. And it’s better to go sooner than later when things get worse. Take the time to find the right therapist for you. It will be worth it.