Monday, 18 July 2011

I'm an HSP... are you?

My first subscription issue of She magazine arrived on my doormat on Saturday morning. Behold the humble magazine! Where else can you get sex tips, fashion advice, celebrity gossip and psychological analysis all in one place? Genius.

In this months issue, I got a peek into a day in the life of a freelance writer, found out how one female blogger blogged about her sex life for 52 weeks, discovered what I should be wearing and eating this week, read an in depth interview with Cameron Diaz and, in the space of one article, two small pages, single-handedly answered one of the biggest questions that has been plaguing me my entire life: Why do I think too much?

It turns out that after a brief self test I can confidently diagnose myself a “highly sensitive person”. While anyone who knows me or has read many of my blog posts will be saying “Well, hello? You’ve only just worked that out?” for me it was a real eye opener to discover why I lie in bed obsessing for two hours about whether or not I had offended the check out lady by asking if she had grandchildren, and what exactly did the man mean when he said I’m high maintenance?

American psychologist Elaine Aron has written many books on the subject of highly sensitive people (HSP’s), what it’s like to be the parent of a highly sensitive child (I might be making a purchase of that one as son number one is displaying HSP tendencies), or the partner of an HSP (that’ll be on the man’s crimbo list) and has a pretty in depth website for anyone wishing to know more.

I took the self test on the website and answered 24 out of the 26 questions in the affirmative. I’d say that was pretty conclusive. Innately anxious (check), susceptible to caffeine (check), nervous when performing in front of people, rich complex inner life, constantly obsessing about offending other people, check, check and check. It didn’t say often described as neurotic, obsession with self help books or taking time-wasting yet seemingly helpful self tests online, but I’d say that goes without saying.

Being highly sensitive is very common according to Aron, who believes up to a fifth of the population might be HSP’s. So of my 200 facebook friends, 40 of them are probably HSP’s as well. And it’s not something that we can do anything about, it’s actually something that has been found in our genetic makeup. So despite us trying to change our behaviour and “grow a pair” (as I’m often told to do), it’s like using coloured contact lenses, I can have blue eyes on the outside, but I know on the inside my eyes are still hazel.

But before you start feeling sorry for our affliction (please don’t, we’ll only obsess about it), there are some upsides to being an HSP. Apparently we are also unusually creative people, attentive and thoughtful partners (the man take note, my ‘high maintenance’ is good for you) and intellectually gifted (yes it’s official, I am a genius, despite my A-level results saying otherwise).

So what do we do with this new found knowledge of ourselves? Well for a start we can stop obsessing about the fact there is something ‘wrong’ and see it as the gift it is. OK life might be just a little more hard work for us than people who are not HSP’s (and admittedly more hard work for those around us, the man regularly has to spend hours placating me when I think I might have inadvertently hurt someone’s feelings or said the wrong thing: “Just chill OUT babe, it’s perfectly acceptable to say “you’re looking well” to a pregnant woman”). We might find it impossible to quieten the chatter in our brains, I am always jealous of the man when I ask him what he’s thinking about “What do you mean what am I thinking about? I’m eating my breakfast, I’m thinking about my breakfast”. Sometimes it feels like my brain never sleeps, in those rare times when I’m supposed to be sleeping in, my eyes are closed but my head is going a mile a minute with plans for the day, the week, the month ahead, I seriously need to deflea and worm the cats and did I say the wrong thing in that situation that happened fifteen years ago and doesn’t matter now anyway?

But I am also lucky enough to have found an outlet for my creativity (and neuroses) in my writing, and obsessing about offending people means that hopefully I won’t do it, and if I do, I will be aware of it and apologise (probably a little too profusely).

The best part of my new discovery is finally feeling that I’m not alone. I’m actually part of a rather exclusive club. There must be millions of people all over the country who are right now obsessing over whether or not the flippant use of “you’re looking well” actually meant they looked as if they were piling on the pounds.

See, that is why I love magazines. I’ve found all this out without having to spend a fortune on expensive therapy sessions or spending two hours in a germy doctor’s waiting room. Now I’m going to go and discover how Cameron Diaz gets her flat stomach.


  1. Yes! I also have at least one highly sensitive child which was how I first found out about it when i stumbled accross the book 'the highly sensitive child', amazing! finally i knew what was 'wrong' with him (and with me!) it helps me to parent in a slightly different way when taking it into account :)

  2. Ah that's great Lucy, was it Aron's book? So would you say it was worth buying? I nearly bought it but my bookshelf is already groaning under the weight of my self help books and wasn't sure if I could justify getting another one! But if you recommend it then I'm sure I could squeeze another one in! x

  3. Yes def worth a read from what i remember, lent it to a friend a long time ago and it never returned! :)

  4. The website I went to after reading your article has been amazingly helpful & I am considerin getting a couple of her books as it is extremely interesting & will be of great help! Thank you for writing this article as I wouldnt know about this had I not read it :)

  5. That's great Claire, I'm glad you found it helpful :-)