Research shows that around 1 in 5 people are born into this world with the innate traits of High Sensitivity, something which is also found in over 100 other species. Highly Sensitive People (HSP) have significant activations in areas of the brain, which are associated with awareness, sensory integration, empathy and intuition - supporting the fact that there are neurobiological explanations for sensitivity.
At the same time, high sensitivity is not a 'disorder', and it's not a fixed set of traits. We all know just how powerful our environment is in shaping our identity. Our early life experiences determine the expression of these traits - studies have shown that approximately half of the expressed traits of Highly Sensitivity result from environmental factors.
The traits of sensitivity have many advantages – sensitive people notice a degree of subtleties in their environment that other people don't. An ability to empathize means HSP form deep connections with others and they are very intuitive.
HSP can also perceive threats before others have picked up on them – this is very helpful in terms of survival and when in positions of leadership. The gifts that come with sensitivity are invaluable for initiating change and transformation in self, others and the world. Research shows that when highly sensitive people are in nourishing environments, they are more likely to thrive.
However, the depth of processing that highly sensitive people experience means they can often become overstimulated. They are much more likely to struggle with mental, emotional or physical exhaustion - especially when in environments that are not conducive to their traits.
When overwhelmed HSP can struggle with regular and deep sleep, feel fatigued, or experience brain fog. Other physical symptoms can also manifest as a result of sensory or emotional overwhelm.
In more extreme cases, or if left unmanaged, this can lead to symptoms of anxiety, depression or other mental and emotional struggles.
It is estimated that 264 million adults around the globe experience anxiety. (World Health Organization, 2017) and unfortunately, the rates of depression are on the rise. A large proportion of Highly Sensitive People likely fall into these statistics. With the right coping strategies and resources in place, we don't need to keep struggling or get to the point of burnout. Instead, we can tap into our potential and the gifts of our traits.
My work as a Transpersonal Coach has led me to develop the Embodied Sensitive Integral Model, which encompasses eight domains for helping HSP thrive and step into their authentic gifts.
Mastery in the eight domains enables HSP to navigate emotional overwhelm with greater ease and utilize their strength in ways that are beneficial to our individual and collective well-being.
The Eight Domains
Mindfulness to Manage Emotional Overwhelm
Mindfulness is the most fundamental tool we can use to navigate emotional overwhelm. We learn to be present to each moment and observe our experiences without becoming consumed by them. The awareness we develop also enables us to create space between our thoughts and pause before we immediately respond to triggers. An embodied mindfulness practice can also anchor us in the body and ground us to the earth, so we are not lost in over-thinking, rumination or analyzing.
Setting Healthy Boundaries
Highly Sensitive People can struggle with feeling energetically and emotionally depleted; this is especially the case if you are an empath. You might find other people are drawn to you because of your ability to listen and be a compassionate ear to others. These are beautiful gifts, and it's essential to discern our boundaries so we know when we are doing too much and when we need to say no to commitments.
Reframing what it means to be Sensitive
When we believe that sensitivity is a weakness, that we are flawed or broken somehow, we are likely to remain stuck in this limited and false identity. It's important to let go of these old beliefs and embody new ones that recognize the gifts and potential of our sensitive traits. When we do this, we are already on the path to living a more empowered life. Reframing who we are as HSP is about embodying our core self's energy and state in the here and now.
Self-Compassion for reducing the over-arousal of our Nervous System
Paul Gilbert, a leading researcher in compassion, has highlighted the incredible benefits of compassion-focused practices for helping people manage stress, depression, anxiety, and other emotional challenges. Paul Gilbert proposes that there are three systems that motivate human behaviour: the threat, drive, and soothing system. Most psychological difficulties are caused by an over-arousal of the threat and drive system and an under-use of the soothing system. Self-compassion practices aim to reduce the activation of the threat and drive system and increase the activation of the soothing system – this means we increase the functioning of our immune system and reduce levels of anxiety and stress.
Authentic Communication and Expression for Healthier Relationships
Many Highly Sensitive People value the qualities of peace and harmony, so being in a situation that involves conflict can be challenging. We might struggle to speak up out of fear that we're going to disturb the equilibrium or fracture relationships! However, as Highly Sensitive People, we must connect with our voice and learn to express ourselves authentically. One of the tools I draw on is Nonviolent Communication (NVC), developed by Marshall Rosenberg. The 4-step process helps us to communicate compassionately and authentically with others. It also allows us to resolve conflicts because we honestly express our feelings and needs, whilst also empathetically listening to the feeling and needs of
Living in Alignment with your Values
Our values reflect the things which are meaningful to us, how we want to exist in the world and be remembered by others. Everyone's core values are different, and our values can change over time as we move through life. When we connect with our core values, we ask - what's really important to us? What drives us? Being aware of our core values and using them to guide us forward will help us live a more empowered and authentic life.
Expansive and Altered States of Awareness
When we enter expansive and altered states, we go beyond the limitation of our pre-programming and earlier life conditioning. We step beyond the ego and connect with greater universal consciousness. Opening the scope of our awareness is a crucial practice for regulating our nervous system, gaining greater perspective and feeling a connection to a more spiritual dimension of reality. We can understand the spiritual as awareness and connection to something greater than our individual self and this can be experienced in various ways. This connection is so powerful for our transformation because it helps us unlock our conditioning, our pre-programming and embody the knowing that we are so much more than our conditioning, limiting beliefs or wounded parts. We have innate soul qualities which are a part of this universal consciousness.
Shadow Work and Integration
Carl Jung first referred to the shadow as the part of ourselves that we have rejected, disowned or denied. We may not even know that certain emotions or behaviours exist or have the potential to exist within us because they are so deeply repressed. When we restrict our emotions in this way, we often project them onto others and the world around us. These qualities become external things we either judge, feel frightened of or are irritated by in others. Shadow work involves consciously engaging in practices to integrate and bring into consciousness the parts we might dislike or have disowned in the past. A huge part of our healing and transformation involves bringing awareness to the characteristics that we have suppressed or denied – and learning to be vulnerable enough to embrace these parts of ourselves – to bring them to light.
Before I discovered the mastery and implementation of these eight domains, I continued to face overwhelm, burnout and resistance to my traits of high sensitivity. I tried to suppress, repress and internalize my struggle; I believed something was wrong with me.
I wasted years of my life, disconnected from my innate gifts and suppressing my creative potential, and I wish I knew back then what I know now! Over the years, the journey I've been on has enabled me to develop and refine what I now mentor and coach to others through the online 8-week course for Highly Sensitive People. On this course, you will learn the specific of the eight domains, how to Live an Empowered Life & Thrive as a Highly Sensitive People.
The eight domains work with the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual levels of our being. Positive and radical transformation will occur when we integrate embodied awareness and apply these tools and practices into our lives. You'll feel confident to step into your traits and thrive as a Highly Sensitive Person.
About the Author
Jules De Vitto, MAEd, MSc Certified Transpersonal Coach and Educator
Jules De Vitto has a BSc in Psychology, MA in Education and MSc in Transpersonal Psychology, Consciousness and Spirituality. She is an accredited and certified Transpersonal Coach, Authentic-Self-Empowerment Facilitator, as well as an experienced teacher and educator.
She is the founder of Highly Sensitive Humans — an online community that offers courses, coaching, articles and a podcast for Highly Sensitive People. She helps those who identify with the traits of high sensitivity to navigate emotional overwhelm, step into their authentic power and align with their true purpose in life.
She is a published author who wrote ‘Resilience: Navigating Loss in a Time of Crisis’ which provides practical resources to cultivate greater resilience and find greater meaning and purpose through times of crisis. She has published her research in the peer-reviewed journal Consciousness, Spirituality & Transpersonal Psychology.