Elaine Aron, Ph.D. first developed the term “The Highly Sensitive Person” (HSP) to describe the 15-20% of each population in every animal species whose senses are very finely tuned. The HSP is hyper-aware of other people’s moods, of sounds and smells, and of other subtle stimuli, and this ability to absorb information in both the environment and other individuals can often “overwhelm” the HSP with too much stimulation and other “sensory static.” However, being an HSP is not an abnormal trait or a disorder: this unique part of the population often becomes a valued resource who predict and warn others of trends and trouble: “For instance, the sensitive horse that intuits danger first and is able to warn the other horses of potential danger becomes the leader of his group” (Zeff 7).
Throughout history, HSPs have been spiritual leaders, teachers, musicians, historians, visionaries, writers, philosophers, dancers, judges, scholars, artists, and therapists. Aron identifies HSPs as the “royal advisor class” who create, explore, and protect; the “other 80%” of the population have been termed “warrior-kings” who have better boundaries and thicker skin. They have more impulsive energy and are empowered with a direct connection to their desires to claim what they want and need in each moment, without as much need for reflection and contemplation. The HSP, on the other hand, has very “open pores” that take in a wealth of vibrations, energy, and intuition because their “emotional skin” is constructed with less hearty protection. Both parts of our society are integral to survival and actually balance each other, much like the right and left side of the brain celebrated by Daniel Pink in his ground-breaking book, A Whole New Mind.
While both warrior-kings and the advisor class have valuable gifts, it is important to recognize that the HSP does encounter significant challenges in the world due to his or her “specialized wiring” which detects subtle nuances: often HSPs can feel as if they have a defect or “fatal flaw” that doesn’t fit into the rest of the world. The HSP processes information deeply and often needs time alone to regain balance after being immersed or exposed to crowds, noise, criticisms, visual clutter, odor, sudden changes, scratchy fabrics, caffeine, violent movies, and just daily events. HSPs can be both introverted and extroverted, but what we all share is the actual physiological “construction” that causes us to internalize information deeply and ponder it intensely. For example, Sandra is a gregarious, theatrical, extroverted-HSP who relates to her students on a very intuitive level and truly enjoys interacting with all kinds of individuals—but her experiences in the traditional classroom often assaulted her immune system and caused chronic fatigue because of the massive amounts of information she was processing during a “typical day” of teaching over 100 students.
If you feel either you or someone in your family is an HSP, it might be helpful to take the “Self Test” developed by Elaine Aron. The next step is to embrace this trait as a gift and strength. In order to do that, we often need coaching and support for this new awareness. As an HSP, Sandra understands what it means for the Highly Sensitive Student to be navigating through a school system that was literally designed for “the other 80%.” She helps families learn about this multi-faceted concept and supports students in an often overwhelming and frequently intense academic world. All students need encouragement in the journey of learning–but the Highly Sensitive Student has an especially unique path of negotiating the usual stresses and pressures of today’s educational demands.
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