For those of you who haven’t heard of Highly Sensitive Persons or Sensory Processing Sensitivity let me quickly give you an idea about it. It’s a personality trait that about 20% of all human beings share, it’s the central nervous system that reacts in an hypersensitive way to external stimuli. Some typical aspects of it are;
- Stronger response to pain, caffeine, hunger & loud noises
- Increased reaction time as stimuli are cognitively deeper processed
- Being easily overwhelmed
- Very polite & strong aversity to injustice
- ‘People pleaser’
- Taking ages to make a decision and feeling horrible if you made a wrong one
- Crying easily
- Easily scared since you van vividly imagine things
- Very creative
- Struggle with taking care of yourself
Now let me be clear, I’m a pretty skeptic, down-to-earth human being so I’m not writing this because I want to be special in any way, I simply see many of these traits in my daily life and I believe it could help others to better cope with your own feelings or others around you who’re acting way too emotional to your opinion 😉
To start with a small story of how I got ‘recognised’ (as ‘diagnosed’ seems too weird) as an HSP. I have some innate back problems so at the age of 13 I was seeing all kinds of doctors & therapists. One day I had an appointment with a relaxation therapist who apparently was very much occupied with energy flows and all that (for me: a bit hippie and weird stuff) but at a particular moment when he put his hands on my hips to indicate how my natural posture should be something truly bizarre happened. I had to look straight forward but I somehow felt my arms were going up, exactly like that trick you do as a kid by pushing your arms against the door sides for a minute to then be amazed that your arms go up without you intentionally moving them. So I asked my mum and the therapist if this was really happening or if it were just me but indeed my arms were at shoulder height without my brains giving the order. Of course the hippie therapist was overwhelmed with joy while I had no idea what just happened, he asked to hold my hand at the level of his heart and immediately my hand started tingling, like when it’s asleep. The therapist eventually explained his assumptions, that I could feel the energy of others and that I was therefore definitely HSP. Not long after that my dad, who’s probably the most no-nonsense person I know, had read an article about HSP and said to me that he fully recognised me in it. And indeed, when you see those traits it’s hard not to laugh as countless examples pop up in your head immediately.
So, not that I’m now fully aware of how I can better deal with these things but definitely in these last months where my husband and I started travelling full-time many of these aspects come forward very prominently. (These are my own experiences so don’t shoot me if they aren’t all specifically related to HSP, it’s probably mixed with a hint of clumsiness and weirdo) A few examples though:
A trip to the supermarket has become my husband’s worst nightmare
Because yes I have to stand in front of the yoghurt section for 10 minutes before I can put something in our cart which I still won’t be too sure of. Back at home it was mostly me going to the store so it never bothered anyone that it always took me an hour or more. In addition my husband (not the biggest fan of shopping) says the one thing that we fear most: ,,Could you get on with it?” I mean my hubby is the greatest man I know and I absolutely acknowledge this reaction as very normal after doubting for an eternity about what toilet paper I should get. Unfortunately though as a result, I start panicking, make a hasty decision (to my opinion) which mostly ends up in another trait of an HSP; if our choice was wrong, we feel extremely bad about it. So if you do happen to be with someone who just can’t decide, help them, sum up some characteristics, pros & cons etc. Because if we feel we made the choice together we feel more at ease.
I honestly don’t want to socialize 90% of the time
Which is weird as I’m quite the social person, I worked abroad where I just left home for a couple of weeks or months without knowing anyone upon arrival. However here I feel like I’m in this happy bubble with my hubby and that’s where I would like to stay. I’m not saying I don’t enjoy talking to new people when it occurs but I’ll rarely be the conversation starter.
When I bump my head for the 99th time I loathe myself and at the same time I consider booking a hotel room for the night
Is this about giving up? I do admit I give up rather easily but that’s more of a personal characteristic I guess. When I do bump my head, stub my toe or drop something I hate myself and my enormous stupidity. I really love our van, we have everything we need, it’s super cosy but of course there are moments I wish I could actually fill my fridge without having to sit on my knees, bent over the toilet. The funniest thing is every time I manage to perform an act of clumsiness, I start to overthink everything. Am I as happy as I thought I would be? Do I need luxury to enjoy my vacation after all?Will I find something I’m passionate enough about to make a living out of it? Will we be able to realize our dreams of living in a foreign country?
As a backpacker you will be labeled, thus you will face injustice
Injustice is wrong of course for every living being however I have read in multiple articles that for HSP’s injustice is horrible multiplied by 100. As for myself I indeed experienced this many times, from small dishonesties to mass discriminations, I can get so worked up about them. And while I’m writing this, I suddenly realize why my husband calls me a feminist sometimes, my mind still can’t grasp why there should still be wage differences for example. However that aversion goes wider than that; why there should even be discussions about gay marriages, why men get only 10 days of paternal leave when their baby is born?! 10 days is what it takes to completely (but maybe for some not even fully) relax on an all-inclusive holiday by the pool, not to experience the first moments of parenthood! I think that’s also why I have seen tons of WWII movies and others like ‘Die Welle’ simply to try to understand how people can be so unjust to one another. I don’t know if it’s my generation or just me but honestly it doesn’t even pop into my head to consider people differently because of who they are.
I do wonder all the time what the future might bring
I love to travel and experience new things but on the other side new environments often scare me as they can get quite overwhelming. I regularly daydream about having a stable life but on the other hand I know that I hate routine. You will understand that it’s quite hard for me to find a balance between stability and doing what I love.
We have our dream of starting a business together, my husband and me. I believe that this could definitely be something that would suit us, to put all our passion and creativity in and share with others what we think is important in life. However one needs to be realistic, will we ever be able to pull this off? Should we have a plan B? Will that give us the stability and freedom we both need?
First days of school or work were and will always be horrifying for me
Starting a new job is always a terrifying event for me (as it was on my first day of school when I was younger), simply because it’s very overwhelming. You meet so many new people, who probably all expect great things of you and as we HSP’s will never be the most self-assured creatures this immediately creates pressure. The hardest thing is intimidating people, I usually connect pretty well with others and am even considered the fun-factor in the office, but when I encounter someone intimidating I completely shut down and start feeling like a stuttering child (what goes together with that “damn I should’ve said that” feeling immediately after you walk out of that situation) In my previous job I was extremely lucky to be surrounded by colleagues who shared the same sense of humor, interests and the need for chocolate on a daily basis. I met leaders in work-related dinners who were hilarious, smart & kind and thus so inspiring to me. But yes, even if such moment seems miles away now it terrifies me already that I will have to face that first day again someday, especially given it will be in a different country.
During our travels I absolutely love writing about our experiences as I can express myself with a sense of complete freedom. I certainly hope people enjoy reading my posts but even if not, I truly felt good writing it. Some of you might suggest to go pro and obviously I would love that however I’m just starting so it takes some time to learn about myself, my writing style and contents and how I can get my blogging to that next level. Feel free to share advice 😉
I’ll always avoid fights even if I know those are necessary when travelling together 24h a day for a year
This might a bit explain the ‘people pleaser’ part, or at least one aspect of it. Even if I’m 200% sure of something, I will give in to the other person because my fear of getting an argument is bigger than the satisfaction I get when I ‘won’. I can’t handle arguments as I shut down, I don’t know what to say anymore because I can not put my thoughts in order. Another thing that’s a bit related to this is that one of my worst fears is to make someone sad, cry or feeling bad, especially with loved ones. The first time I ever did this I think I was about 3 years old, I had waited super excited for the Christmas presents as I was expecting, I don’t know some tinker box I guess but instead I got this super cute kids-carry-on suitcase. I didn’t understand and felt unhappy because this was not at all what I expected, it made my mom cry. I was 3 years old so I didn’t understand what was going on. My dad explained it to me and afterwards I tried so hard to convince my sweet mom that I loved the gift and that I now saw what I could use it for. I was 3 years old but to this day I remember that awful feeling of seeing my mom cry because of me.
I can wander away in my memories thanks to scents
It is said that many HSP’s are very sensitive towards noises and while that is partly true to me. I also have a very vivid memory for scents. For example I could be in an office when suddenly a scent of sunscreen and fresh air bring me back to a ski holiday in the French alps. People usually look at me weirdly when I say: “Oh I smell the carpets of the cruise ship we made in the Caribbean” but those are short moments I deeply enjoy!
I’m a chameleon
I believe it relates a big to the being creative aspect, as I can be creative with my own behavior. I adapt very easily to different situations, usually I understand rather quickly what people would like to hear and what not. Thankfully I also learned to quickly grasp if I would like someone in my life or not. I’m a bit naive and seem to rely on the good in people first but in these past years I have learned to no longer put efforts in manipulative, dishonest and unkind people. I was lucky to always have a group of friends who praised each other instead of bringing them down with nasty comments. I need that positive vibe because it empowers your state of mind.
In a country on the other side of the world it’s harder of course but even then, you quite quickly realise whether people have a genuine interest in you or if they simply hope you’ll be beneficial for them in some way.
‘Hangry’ is a eufemism
As we feel things more deeply it is very hard to focus on anything else at that particular moment. When at work an awful noise is occurring, I’ll either find a way to stop it or seclude myself as there is no way I can focus on anything else but that noise. Same here while travelling, currently I’m having some not-so-nice encounters with sandflies and as I always react pretty heavily on insect bites their itch will be omnipresent with no room for anything else on my mind. Another example: I sincerely hate labels in clothes because I will literally (haha having a Chris Trager moment, sorry only funny for those Parks & Recreation viewers) scratch my skin off, when they can’t be fully removed I can’t wear that piece anymore, no matter how much I like it.. Too bad right!
Now if you sense a hint of negativity in this article please note that naturally I’ll doubt my future sometimes but don’t forget that I am extremely happy to have made this shift in our lives. Giving up everything and start to work on yourself, your dreams and your passions is more rewarding than I could ever hoped for. Even if we’re unsure about so many things, everyday I feel privileged to be able to experience this adventure with the man I love most. I always believed in the saying “Life is what you make of it” and I love everyday where we get to shape our ideas for the future, about visiting a national park tomorrow or starting a Bed&Breakfast in who knows how many years. Label me as ‘difficult’ or ‘picky’ but what is life if you don’t even try to build it in a manner where you can exert your passions on a daily basis.
And if on some point you felt like I was describing you somehow, simply google ‘HSP’ and you’ll find some self-tests that might give you some further insights. Good luck & enjoy!