Neurodiversity and the Highly Sensitive Person
“The best people possess a feeling for beauty, the courage to take risks, the discipline to tell the truth, the capacity for sacrifice. Ironically, their virtues make them vulnerable; they are often wounded, sometimes destroyed.”– Ernest Hemingway
What is Neurodiversity?
By Definition: (Wikipedia):
“Neurodiversity is an approach to learning and mental health that argues various neurological conditions are the result of normal variations in the human genome. “Neurodiversity” is a portmanteau of “neurological” and “diversity” that originated in the late 1990s as a challenge to prevailing views of certain neurological conditions as being inherently pathological, instead asserting that neurological differences should be recognized and respected as a social category on par with gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or disability status.”
I’ve noticed a HUGE trend in throwing around labels, even without correct understandings of true pathology and psychiatric diagnoses.
Feeling excited, happy, and ‘high’ for one moment only then to receive disappointing news and become sad and withdrawn = This person has mood swings and therefore must be ‘bipolar.’
Needs to withdraw and have quiet time = This person must be an ‘introvert.’
Feeling numb inside and struggling with empathy due to years of emotional shielding = This person cannot feel and therefore is a ‘narcissist’ (a very common label I see thrown around now).
Those labels, often just tossed about without professional diagnoses, help us to feel at peace when trying to understand human behavior. However, having a definitive label also places people in boxes. It can be diminishing, degrading, and isolating for the neurodiverse individual. What if they were just born neurologically different?
This brings me to the Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)…
Human brains are all wired differently. We all perceive, relate to, and understand the world in different ways. How we interpret our world is based on both our neurological wiring and our experiences (nature/nurture). However, what we consider to be the ‘norm’ might not be so normal. What we consider to be pathological may, in fact, just be a variation in genetics making the individual unique.
We like to give these terms and labels to everything so that we can feel a sense of peace, justification, and order. Whereas a better approach might be to create an awareness and understanding that some people are born processing the world very differently and therefore may have different needs. Recognizing and understanding these differences can bring about a greater sense of love and peace rather than holding judgments and expectations.
What is a Highly Sensitive Person?
Do you tear up when you hear a beautiful song? Do you get goosebumps and feel at awe when you look up to billowing clouds in the sky? Are you easily brought to laughter and tears? Do you have a vivid imagination and rich inner world? Do you perceive everything deeply and strongly and have a hard time organizing all these strong emotions?
Common HSP Traits
According to Psychology Today, about 15-20% of the population is described as being ‘highly sensitive’ and that is a significant amount of people! Highly Sensitive People share some of the following traits:
Typically, an HSP feels emotions very strongly- so little things have a massive impact on emotions-both positive and negative.
An HSP tends to feel the mood and energy of those around them very easily and can take on that mood (confusing other people’s feelings with their own). This typically happens when there is an absence of awareness. Thus, HSPs are prone to sudden mood changes.
HSPs typically have heightened senses and are easily overwhelmed because of these factors: loud noises, overstimulation, and crowds; all of which can be exhausting and feel like a “psychic attack.”
Whether the individual is typically extroverted or introverted (many HSP are extroverts!), There is a strong need to withdraw and recalibrate/get grounded.
They have a tendency to overthink and analyze which can lead to “over processing” information and thus creating unnecessary drama/anxiety in certain situations.
In addition, they also have the strong and fast ability to perceive people and situations and a “knowing” without truly knowing-aka having a very strong intuition.
With that in mind, they may have a more difficult time handling criticism, as it can feel like an attack (due to heightened sensitivity).
Often creative and in great awareness and awe of the natural world so that rich colors, sounds, music, and art can be very moving to them and even bring the person to goosebumps or tears.
They tend to be highly compassionate and empathetic; however…
Over time, some HSPs can appear “numb”, “distant”, or “shut down” as a defense from years of shielding or protecting oneself from negative energy. This can create a view that the person is unfeeling or insensitive. However, the feelings are present yet being shielded and numbed. With awareness and work (next piece), these feelings can still be accessed!
How An HSP Sees The World
A highly sensitive person (HSP) perceives the world differently than most, and are among the “neurologically diverse” in our population.
According to this research, HSPs are born with a sensory processing sensitivity. Highly sensitive people exhibit increased blood flow to the regions of the brain that process our emotions, our awareness, and empathy. Therefore, they are born with different wiring than most.
Being highly sensitive is not good, bad, right or wrong. It is not pathological. If you are highly sensitive, being aware of this “superpower” is important.
This way you can understand why you may be feeling a certain way, and take that important time needed to honor your feelings, recalibrate, get grounded, and be in nature.
The modern world with all the noise and high-stress jobs do not fair well for these people. Sometimes shutting down for periods of time is imperative. Animals (pets) can help tremendously in helping with maintaining empathy and a sense of comfort while shielding oneself from the strong negative vibrations of others.
It is my hope that this piece helps people to understand that although someone may be neurologically different than what we consider to be normal (neurodiverse), this doesn’t automatically make them pathological and therefore diminished, boxed and labeled. I believe everyone is born with a beautiful mind!
About The Author | Kathryn Kos
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