What is High Sensitivity?
Maybe you've been wondering what High Sensitivity is, and want to get an idea of the basics. In this post, I'll explain those basics, hopefully in a clear and simple way. This has been done by many others, but it's always useful to have a good explanation to hand. You can find similar information on the FAQ page, and the first post for this blog was about where to find reliable information about High Sensitivity, especially as it relates to the workplace.
High Sensitivity is a genetic temperament found in 15-20% of people and many animal species. That means about 1 in 5 people have this temperament - so you almost certainly know someone who is Highly Sensitive, if you're not yourself.
It was first researched, as a discrete phenomenon, by Elaine and Arthur Aron, psychologists at Stony Brook University in New York. Studies from the beginning of the history of psychology recognised some traits, but either misinterpreted them or attributed them to personality. Elaine's book, The Highly Sensitive Person, published in 1997, is the book which shared the results of their research for the general public, and is the perfect introduction to the temperament for anyone who is Highly Sensitive or has friends or family who are. It's also a great resource for managers and other workplace leaders who need to understand their team members so they can better harness their strengths.
Observing, considering, and reflecting
There are two basic elements to this temperament, out of which all the observable traits arise: observation/awareness, and deep processing.
Highly Sensitive people are what biologists call 'Responsive'. They are, first, highly aware (sensitive to the environment). They take in more information through their senses than those who are non-Sensitive ('Unresponsive'). Not only are they taking in more generally, they're very aware of subtleties. So, they won't just see that someone looks a bit upset, but will notice the set of their mouth, the expression in their eyes, what their hands are doing, the tone of their voice, and the speed at which they're talking.
Secondly, Highly Sensitive people process this information deeply. They're both taking in much more, and processing that increased input more deeply than the rest of the population. This makes sense, given that large amount of data their nervous system has absorbed - it needs more time and care to analyse. During this process, many connections are being formed, gradations of meaning and value are determined, and appropriate responses developed.
Here's how Elaine Aron describes these two basic aspects:
This trait is mainly about having an innate preference to process information more deeply, to compare the present situation as completely as possible to your knowledge of similar situations in the past. It's found in about twenty percent of humans, and it's also found in most other species, ... often in around that percentage.... [E]volution selects for it, not against it.
Definitely a needed ability in the world, wouldn't you say? This refined perception and propensity for thinking before acting is the main reason that High Sensitivity is such an important - essential - trait among humans and other species. Highly Sensitive individuals provide both the innovation and carefulness that societies need to progress in beneficial ways, while maintaining balance.
The Arons describe High Sensitivity's main characteristics with the acronym 'D.O.E.S.', which I'll explain here - I've listed them in the order I find most logical.
For a person to be Highly Sensitive, they must have all of these four characteristics:
If you'd like to see if you're Highly Sensitive, you can take this self-test, developed by Elaine Aron and colleagues: https://hsperson.com/ (this is a page explaining the temperament; you can reach the test from here. There's also a test for children). Another good article by Dr Aron helps you determine whether you are Highly Sensitive.
I have other posts dealing with the benefits which come from this temperament - and the importance of helping those who are Highly Sensitive to thrive at work - so keep browsing, or bookmark the main blog page for later. I'll also be writing more posts about each attribute, with their relevance to the workplace. If you subscribe to my newsletter (see main blog page), you won't miss them.
Tamara - Sensitive Thrive is my consulting business. I believe that the world needs Highly Sensitive people who are flourishing. We need their hope, insight, wisdom, and awareness of beauty and possibility. My vision is to help create a culture where this temperament is known, understood and valued; where organisations seek Highly Sensitive people to work for them, because they know what they can do. Where HS people feel like they fit in their workplaces, because those workplaces also fit them. A world where HS people belong, thrive, and flourish, and the world is better for it.