How Therapy Can Help the Highly Sensitive Person

How Therapy Can Help the Highly Sensitive Person

Who is the Highly Sensitive Person?

High Sensitivity or High Sensory Processing Sensitivity involves “an increased sensitivity of the central nervous system and a deeper cognitive processing of physical, social, and emotional stimuli” (Boterberg et al., 2016)

Research undertaken in the last decade has shown how a higher activation of the brain and nervous system allow a highly sensitive person to notice and process stimuli more deeply. This has been observed in about 20% of individuals, and not only for humans, but for more than 100 different species. Researchers in this field have come to see it as an evolutionary advantage that also comes with its challenges.

Although every highly sensitive person (HSP) is different, some of the characteristics that are commonly found are:

  • high sensory sensitivity to light, sound, or touch (and low pain tolerance), etc.
  • heightened emotional reactivity, both positive and negative, as well as high empathy
  • a tendency to ‘pause to check’ in novel situations
  • deeper reflectivity often thinking about the meaning and ethical implications of a situation
  • sensitivity to subtle stimuli, noticing patterns or subtleties that others might not
  • feeling easily overstimulated (by the senses, emotions or social situations)

As a result, our capabilities but also our limitations, and needs can be quite different than what we see in other people. We need to consider our particular challenges and our strengths.


Common Challenges

High sensitivity is not a disorder, but rather a personality trait with advantages and disadvantages.

Adverse experiences in childhood and later in life can impact more severely on HSPs, and trauma compounds with this trait as the nervous system reaches a point of overstimulation that is hard to cope with long-term. This, especially is we have grown up in an environment in which this trait is not understood or valued and we have not been provided with the tools to understand it and self-regulate.

On top of this, if we feel that adverse situations impact us more than others, we may also feel a deep sense of isolation and shame, often wondering “What is wrong with me?”. Due to differences in processing life events and emotions, highly sensitive people also often internalise a negative self-image of being too much, being “the problem” or being too weak. These beliefs will then prevent people from engaging in effective self-care practices and approaches to support themselves through life.


The Role of Therapy in Supporting a Highly Sensitive Person

How therapy can help the highly sensitive person

HSPs can use their trait to care for themselves.

As a result, HSPs often contend with anxiety, anger issues, and depression, among other mental health issues, but it doesn’t have to be this way. With support, it is possible to better understand our way of functioning, our needs, and the best way to self

-regulate. Therapy can also help with unpicking our trauma responses and healing past wounds that exist because we have been harmed, hurt, or misunderstood. A skilled professional can help in this process to avoid any further trauma.

Is it also important to understand the strengths that our trait provides. Our emotional reactivity and depth of processing give us access to connecting deeply with joy and positive feelings. We also spend much of our time reflecting on life and searching for purpose and meaning which can lead us to experience what it is to live satisfying, meaningful lives.

Learning to understand and assert oneself, as well as developing a positive self-image is key. This includes finally living our lives in ways that are meaningful to us and knowing how to use our trait to connect to joy and to seek what is nurturing to us.

Being a highly sensitive person in our society is complex. Finding a therapist that knows what that is like and has in-depth knowledge of this trait is important. I am here to help. If you believe you might be a highly sensitive person, Contact me to discuss how I can support you.


For more information, as well as to read the latest research on the subject and take the HSP self-test head onto Elain Aaron’s website: HSPerson.

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