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Pass the Tissues Please, I’m a Highly Sensitive Person

There are many things that move me: the opening soundtrack to The Lion King, the mountains and landscape of my home in Wales, being by the ocean and a beautiful sunset. I feel emotions intensely and can be brought to tears by a seemingly ordinary sight, such as an elderly couple holding hands slowly crossing the road.

My reactions have, at times, caught me off guard with tears welling up unexpectedly. They have also been viewed negatively by others with comments such as “Oh, she’s off again!” or “you’re such a softy/wuss/lightweight!” The deep feelings I have can be visceral and sometimes too much for others to handle.

Films and music create soul stirring responses in many of us, especially when there is an emotional connection to the characters. I can remember being unable to leave the cinema after watching Titanic when (spoiler alert) Leonard Di Caprio’s character ‘Jack’ drowns in the icy waters. I was bereft, heaving sobs of “why did he have to die?” at my bewildered friends. And don’t get me started on the latest release of A Star is Born! This emotional reaction has been the case since early childhood, when I was traumatised by the 1980’s animation of Watership Down - I still cannot listen to the theme song without crying!

With regards to other emotions, I can also be hugely enthusiastic, impulsive at times, racing ahead with my thoughts and creative ideas. I will fall headlong in love with a new book, podcast or product; raving about how it is the best I have ever read, listened to or tried. I am all in! This, again, can be met with people rolling their eyes and a sigh of exasperation.

Feeling deeply and being highly sensitive has many positives. Yes, there are some down sides (usually in the form of other people’s reactions to me), however, I have found that being in touch with the full range of my emotions, however intensely I feel them, is what makes me fully human and that is a beautiful thing. It is not something to be afraid of or belittled, in fact, it is a wonderful resource that allows me to connect with others and show empathy and compassion.

In her brilliant book, The Highly Sensitive Person, Elaine Aron talks about how being a HSP made her feel different, as though she had a fatal flaw. However, through her research she has found that this trait can be found in 15-20 percent of the population. Aron says “it means you are aware of subtleties in your surroundings, a great advantage in many situations. It also means you are more easily overwhelmed when you have been in a highly stimulating environment…being sensitive has both advantages and disadvantages.” She outlines in the chapters how being a HSP enabled her to tap into her imagination, empathy, creativity and insight – all of which became her HSP superpowers.

There is a very interesting relationship between imagination, creativity, empathy, and I would include compassion here too, together with insight. Let’s take a closer look at these superpowers.

Imagination is the ability to bring to mind things that aren’t present; it is the act of thinking and conjuring up images, ideas and concepts. I do a lot of imagining: dreaming, scheming and wondering what if…? The strength of my imagination is influenced by my sensitivity to my surroundings, my imaginative power grows stronger the more I tune into the subtleties of the real world.

Creativity is the action of processing and producing original ideas that have value. It works in tandem with our imagination calling it to action and can be understood as putting our thoughts and dreaming to work, resulting in an idea, process or outcome. We are all born creative; however, we do not all fully develop this innate skill or act on it.

Empathy has been defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Brené Brown put it beautifully, “empathy is connecting with people, so we know we’re not alone when we’re in struggle. Empathy is a way to connect to the emotion another person is experiencing; it doesn’t require that we have experienced the same situation they are going through.” If you are a person who feels deeply and connects with their emotions, being an empath can be part of what we can offer to the world. Our sensitivity can bring connection through a heightened awareness to people’s moods, suffering and emotional states.

Compassion works hand in hand with empathy, and practicing both can lead to a greater awareness of what it means to be human, building stronger relationships and resulting in a kinder outlook on life. Compassion motivates people to go out of their way to help ease possible physical, mental, or emotional pains of another and themselves. Research has shown compassion to transform communities by bringing people together in support of each other, reducing loneliness, anxiety, depression, alleviating chronic illness and even reducing emergency hospital admissions.

Insight is the capacity to gain an accurate and deep understanding of something or someone. You can see how this comes more easily to those of us who listen, not only to what is happening around us, but to what our emotions and feelings are telling us. Insight allows us to recognise similarities or differences in a situation, it heightens our awareness, enabling us to put into practice empathy and compassion.

So, as you can see, heightened awareness as a highly sensitive person can result in a rich and beneficial offering of communication and connection with others. So, let’s embrace the emotions we feel, being kind to ourselves and others, and keep those tissues handy!

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this, please comment below or head over to my Instagram and post there @iamsarahalexcarter Also, if you share this with someone, you may be encouraging or helping them to connect with their feelings and emotions.

Image via Unsplash

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