“You’re just too sensitive”
“Why do you let it bother you so much?”
“Don’t take it so personal.”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the above phrases or variations of those phrases throughout my life. Little things have always bothered me more than they should have. I am extremely in tune with the subtleties of social situations. If I am riding in the car, or out to dinner, with a group of people, I am acutely aware of each one of their feelings. If one person is feeling left out, or if I think I perceive tension between any of the group members, I become incredibly uncomfortable. I will always try to say something to smooth the situation or change the subject. I never want anyone I’m around to be anything less than content. When I am at home, if I am working out, or listening to music, or using loud appliances like a blender, I am extremely conscious about how loud it is for my neighbors.I used to think that the fact that I was so in tune to others’ feelings meant that I was just being overly compassionate.
I also get overwhelmed in social situations. If there are too many people, or too many things going on, I just want to go home. Parties are not my thing. Loud bars exhaust me. I hate feeling like people are looking at me. I don’t like drawing attention to myself. When we get busy at work, I get over stressed. Teaching in front of my classes that are loud and hard to control makes me physically sick to my stomach. I can’t handle long serious one-on-one conversations. All of these things make me want to lay on a bed in a dark room with my eyes closed. When there are too many things going on at once and I feel overstimulated, I want to snap.
I also hate loud noises. I can’t stand listening to music too loud in the car. I hate riding with the windows or sunroof open on the interstate because of how loud and crazy the wind is. Bright lights give me an instant headache. I hate violent movies. If a student is tapping their pencil or making an annoying noise or being overly obnoxious it bothers me more than it bothers most people. Some people can tune out annoying sounds – it’s impossible for me. Once I notice it, it seems deafening.
I am extremely sensitive to criticism. When I receive or even perceive what might be criticism – I instantly internalize it. I take things as criticism that really shouldn’t be. I used to think I was just being overly hard on myself, which I am, but there’s something more to it.The slightest thing can make me cry. When I am overwhelmed, or extremely mad, or stressed out, I can’t stop the tears from flowing. I used to think I was just overemotional.
This semester I am student teaching. It has been rough. Definitely an extreme learning experience. I have felt a whole gamut of emotions. One thing that I am extremely thankful for is my student teaching coordinator. This man has let me have multiple emotional breakdowns in our meetings and has been nothing but encouraging, understanding, and helpful. A few weeks ago, he asked me if I was a highly sensitive person. Not knowing it was an actual studied personality trait, I said yes I did feel that I was pretty sensitive. Then he began to describe some of the things I mentioned above. I was taken aback that he knew these things. I’d never realized other people might be the same way. He told me to google “highly sensitive person.” He said his wife was highly sensitive, and it had helped her to research the trait.
Since then, I have learning a lot about being a Highly Sensitive Person, or having Sensory Processing Sensitivity. Almost 1 in 5 people have this trait. Since it is so common, it isn’t considered a disorder. HSP’s are sensitive to all the things that bother me. Before I realized this was a thing, I was beginning to think I had an anxiety disorder. I didn’t understand why I always got so overwhelmed. I didn’t know why I cared so much how others were feeling. I thought I was just extremely introverted. Now that I know I am a Highly Sensitive Person, I understand why I feel this way in social situations. I understand why loud noises and bright lights and strong smells make me feel overstimulated. I know that that my sensitivities make me feel anxious, but I no longer feel like I have an anxiety disorder. Learning about this personality trait and the fact that others have it too has made me feel more in control of it.
I would never want to shame anyone who has actual anxiety or discount how they are feeling but, if you experience any of the same things that I do, you may not have anxiety, you may just be a Highly Sensitive Person. I encourage you to do some more research and read more about this trait. It has been eye-opening for me.
Now when someone asks me “Why do you take things so personal?” or tells me “You’re too sensitive” I now know that there is actual reason why I take things so personally and I am too sensitive. It has helped me to recognize when I am being overly sensitive. I am able to self-assess and try things to calm my sensitivities. I also know when I need to take some time alone to decompress.