Have you ever had an experience when you were going about your day happily and then someone with big feelings suddenly entered your environment, in one way or another, and it turned your sunny day and your own feelings upside down? This might feel confusing and leave you wondering why you couldn’t seem to let their feelings roll off your back.
If this experience seems familiar, you may not know there are others that also feel this way. Most people would just like this challenge of, “taking other people’s feelings on,” to take a hike and let them be. It can be an exhausting and distracting experience that feels like it is taking over your life in extreme cases. You do not have to suffer alone, thankfully there are more people that are speaking up about their experiences and as a result, there are more therapists that are starting to cater to this niche. As a result, there are more “tools” to be put in the empathic or HSP toolbox to help you find some balance.
One of the first places to explore when struggling with this issue is why this imbalance exists. Some good questions to ponder are “How come I even have an "inbox" for other people's feelings in the first place?” In other words, why are you registering and then taking on others' feelings to begin with? Another way to ponder this is, what happened in your life that made it necessary to develop an “inbox” to experience other people’s feelings?
Some might say “it is because I am Empathic” or “because I am an HSP” or just plain old “I seem to be sensitive” however, some people who are empathic and/or HSP seem to be able to turn the volume down and don't struggle with this so much, so what is the difference?
The truth is, the answer is different for each person; however, the trend seems to be that people who feel unbalanced in taking on others' feelings have had to monitor the feelings of caretakers, parents, teachers, or people who hold a position of power while they were young and developing, to get their needs met. This could look like experiencing but is not limited to neglect, bullying, abuse, racism, ableism, or poverty. Many people in these scenarios have had to over-develop their “empathy” muscle in order to figure out ways of interacting with people that are in a position of power to get their basic needs met. It is a muscle developed out of necessity and often under duress.
Unpacking how your particular empathy muscle got over-developed is an important step in dismantling an old program that you probably don’t want or need anymore. If you’d like to work with someone on discovering the root of your empathy imbalance, contact us here.
The Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) is a personality or brain trait coined by Psychologist and researcher, Elain Aron who is an HSP herself. The HSP trait is neither negative nor positive. Being HSP has some gifts and it has some considerations for living in a world that is typically not designed for people with this trait. About 15-20 percent of people are HSPs and this trait has even been found in over 100 species of animals. HSPs are sometimes confused with being introverted as HSPs often need time alone to recharge and reset, however about 30% of HSPs are extroverts and in most cases are also high sensation seeking (HSS). These HSP types like unique experiences. Some HSPs get just as anxious from being understimulated as they do from being overstimulated and finding the happy medium can be challenging.
The HSP brain type has been studied via Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI). In this case, this means taking 3D pictures of the brain while the HSP people and non HSP people are given a task to focus on. They discovered that people with the trait tend to have brains that pick up on more information and therefore have more information to process through. This led them to understanding why HSPs need more time to process information, they are actually processing more! fMRI studies have also been done where HSPs and non-HSPs are shown emotional images and researchers found that HSPs had increased brain activity compared to non-HSPs when processing the emotions of others .
Common HSP Traits:
Being HSP is normal and innate and is not often understood by the majority. There are many HSPs out there that don’t even know about the trait. Depending on whether the culture you grew up in valued sensitivity, you might feel valued and cherished or you might have low self esteem as a result of being judged about “being sensitive,” so you might not feel like it’s ok to be who you are.
The Highly Sensitive Person is not a formal diagnosis. It’s a trait that is a spectrum that some identify with and others do not. Knowing that you have particular HSP traits can help you better navigate the world knowing that it’s normal and you have specific needs and considerations in order to navigate life.
Would you like to learn more about being an HSP? Contact Empathic Heart Counselling here to book a complementary 15min consultation where you can ask questions and see if one of our counsellors would be a good fit for you!