Have you ever felt like a turtle without a shell?
Do things that other people take in stride feel enormous to you? Are you always aware of what others are feeling and what the energy of a room is? If not you, is it your child that’s like this?
15 to 20 percent of children are believed to be highly sensitive, and despite the gifts that high sensitivity can afford a person, it can lead to a lot of personal trouble, especially in today’s world.
Here’s how to know if you or your child is highly sensitive, and how you should address it:
The Qualities of Highly Sensitive Persons
1. HIGH DEGREE OF EMPATHY
HSPs are strongly aware of other people’s feelings, and this gives them a high degree of emotional intelligence. Moods and judgments tend to affect HSPs deeply, especially when coming from a parent.
This can make HSPs excellent at understanding people’s problems, and the relationships they form tend to be rich and deep. People around them are their prime concern, and HSPs tend to put others’ needs before their own.
2. SELF AWARENESS
HSPs tend to show a high degree of self-awareness. Looking into their inner world you would find a constellation of intuitions, thoughts, feelings, and perceptions. They are most often introverted, but HSPs can also be extroverts.
HSPs love speaking with other people about their pasts and feelings, finding these tender subjects to be more meaningful than anything.
HSPs base the majority of their decisions on gut feelings rather than rigorous analysis. These gut feelings are thought to be the result of feeling the whole of a situation and picking up on patterns.
4. HIGH DEGREE OF CREATIVITY
Because of the emotional nature of HSPs and their ability to see things in nuanced ways, many express their complex feelings through art and creative pursuits.
This is not to say that HSPs are the only ones capable of being creative, but their disposition makes artistic expression a perfect fit.
The Difficulties of Highly Sensitive Persons
There are many great potentials for highly sensitive (HS) children, but if left unacknowledged, HS children can run into serious problems long before these potentials can be nurtured.
1. THEY FEEL EVERYTHING
In addition to shouldering the pains and emotions of others, HSPs are affected by everything in their environments; loud noises, bright colors, violent media, crowds, etc. It’s easy for them to become overwhelmed.
Seeing as how children now have unlimited information at their fingertips from an early age, this gives HS children endless opportunities to become upset.
HS adults have to contend with constant negative news headlines, and they might come to believe that separating themselves from the problems of the world makes them bad people, even if it’s best for their mental health.
2. CRITICISM AFFECTS THEM DEEPLY
HS children are often perfectionists who have trouble dealing with negative criticism.
But in addition to that, high sensitivity often opens a child up to being picked on. Other kids may notice their sensitivity and provoke it, looking to see them react strongly.
HS children might have trouble understanding why others would treat them poorly when all they want to do is connect and understand. Being bullied can lead them to reject their sensitivity.
3. THEY HIDE PARTS OF THEMSELVES
In an environment where sensitivity is equated with weakness, an HSP might shut off parts of their authentic self in an attempt to fit in and feel the connections they crave from others.
If you cut off your authenticity in an attempt to make others happy, you’re not only betraying your own needs, but you’re creating that type of shallow, superficial connection that highly sensitive persons cannot tolerate.
4. THEY ARE OFTEN SELF DENYING
HSPs put other people’s needs before their own, but often to the point of self-denial.
They might limit their potential or success to not make others feel bad, or they might encourage other people to be their best and completely forget themselves in the process.
Instead of embracing their right to shine, they think other people always matter more than they do, instead of just as much.
5. THEY ARE MORE PRONE TO NEGATIVE OUTBURSTS
HSPs feel like they carry the weight of the world with all of the input they take in from their environments.
This can make them more fearful of unfamiliar situations.
HSPs are also more likely to suffer from negative emotional outbursts. Small stresses build up in their heads and result in outbursts, or tantrums in the case of HS children. These can come in the form of extreme panic, frustration, or tears.
Treating and Parenting Highly Sensitive Children
If you think your child might be highly sensitive, here are some core principles for working with their sensitivity. (Note: High sensitivity is not a mental condition or a disorder, it’s a personality trait that can lead to great things).
See Sensitivity as a Strength — If your child has trouble with new situations or becomes easily upset, you need to see their sensitivity as something that, if cultivated properly, can lead to immense emotional intelligence and creative potential.
Partnering Over Harsh Discipline — Implementing structure into a child’s life is necessary for their health, but HS kids function better when you collaborate with them. For example, you talk to your child about what triggers their anxiety and you provide them with tools to work through it (like mindfulness exercises).
Connection Over Everything — This means trying to understand your child’s unique needs, wants, and tendencies without dismissing them. If you’re setting up a playdate, it might be worthwhile to find kids you think would click with them, and not just kids from the neighborhood.
What Sensitive People Should Know
Sensitivity is not the same as weakness.
Being sensitive does not mean you’re going to run away, not be resilient, or not be present when you’re needed. Some of the greatest thinkers, artists, and leaders in history were thought to be highly sensitive.
HS children should not be disparaged for their ability to feel deeply. Learning how to adapt to and work with their sensitivity will give them enormous strength as they grow and develop.
The turtle who gets by without a shell has to be the toughest turtle in the pond. Your sensitivity, while often a great challenge, affords you the opportunity for great insights, great creativity, and great connections.