Researchers such as Elaine Aron have long proposed that Sensory processing sensitivity (SPS) – the official name for Highly Sensitive people- is an innate trait associated with greater sensitivity (or responsivity) to environmental and social stimuli. This includes having more significant brain responses associated with awareness, memory, self-other processing and empathy. These neurobiological explanations for SPS are extremely valuable. However, it's also important to remember that the traits or behaviours we develop aren't completely pre-determined by our genes - we can't just explain the traits of sensitivity down to biology alone. As Elaine Aron suggested,
"... it is primarily parenting that decides whether the expression of sensitivity will be an advantage or a source of anxiety." —
From Victim to Creator
I am inspired by the work of Bruce Lipton, and in his book, The Biology of Belief, he suggests that beliefs influence human biology rather than DNA and inheritance. His research, based on epigenetics, takes us from the role of victim to creator; taking up away from the idea that we're simply biochemical machines to understand that we are very powerful in creating and unfolding the lives that we lead.
Epigenetics suggests that our behaviours and environment can change the way our genes work. For example, what we eat, where we live, who we interact with can impact our genes' expression and whether those genes turn on or off over time.
Our Genes are a Blueprint
Our genes are simply a blueprint – and this suggests that the traits of sensitivity will look different for everyone. It will depend on several different factors, including the environment we are born into and the beliefs we hold about our reality. Highly Sensitive people thrive in nourishing environments, and our gifts can lead to us into becoming successful leaders, change-makers, environmental activists, or writers. This all depends on our environment, whether society is willing to embrace our strengths and if we can step into our authenticity.
Various Expressions of Sensitivity
Sensitivity doesn't mean being weak, anxious or neurotic, nor does it means we're born fragile. Our sensitivity isn't an illness or a flaw. Sensitivity can manifest in a number of ways and look very different, depending on the experiences of the individual person. For someone who experienced a difficult childhood, it can look like anxiety or depression in later life (this is true for everyone, but even more so for those who are pre-disposed to being highly sensitive). However, an HSP can also be highly successful, extremely creative and deeply passionate because of their sensitivity. What is crucial is that we find a lifestyle that aligns who we are, and learn tools to navigate our sensitivity in a world that is always supportive of this.
Remember, being a highly sensitive person doesn't put you into a distinct or separate category from others – like many things it exists on a spectrum. More and more, the scientific community acknowledges 'neurodiversity'— we are all wired differently. Rather than there being something wrong with us or it being a weakness, neurodiversity states that there isn't a 'normal'. We are all unique, and it's essential that we celebrate the struggles and strengths that come with our diversity.
A Soul's Purpose
I also believe high levels of sensitivity are connected to a person's unique, soul purpose – our reason for being here on this planet at this particular point in time.
Many highly sensitive people are natural healers, intuitive, empaths and I believe that being a highly sensitive person is correlated to the archetype of the healer or magician, which symbolises the qualities of wisdom, insight, reflection, healing, contemplation, and transformation.
Highly Sensitive People have a natural ability to question and see what's directly in front of them. Often, driven by meaning and purpose and a wish to contribute towards an alternative narrative of the world, share knowledge, create, and manifest new things in this world.
Our intuitive, empathetic and insightful nature has been present for many highly sensitive people since we were very young. As far back as I remember, I have felt this way – always more introverted, reflective and asking big existential questions about the meaning of life. We are also, in some ways, like sponges. Our life experiences and the conditions of our childhood will have deeply impacted our ability to develop heightened intuition, empathy, and know the feelings of others.
The Wounded Healer
None of us are left untouched by difficulties in life, such as facing a traumatic childhood, chronic illness or the loss of loved ones. These are the events that leave us wounded but also propel us on a path of healing and a search for greater truth. I believe highly sensitive people are often more familiar or impacted by these profound, transformative life lessons and the highly sensitive person is akin to the wounded healer. The wounded healer is one that experiences a lot of painful or challenging experiences in life and feels the impact of these deeply. Eventually, we use the knowledge gained from these experiences to transform and go on to help or heal others. As highly sensitive people, as empaths and intuitive, we are driven by the quest to heal ourselves and heal others.
The Gifts of Sensitivity
Remember, we are more than our genetic make-up and our sensitivity is not 'fixed'. We are the creators of our reality, and by embracing our authentic selves, we can learn to channel our sensitivity into incredible gifts. If you're highly sensitive, you have so much to offer this world – and the world desperately needs the gifts of empathy, compassion and the ability to see beyond the surface right now. What gifts do you have to offer the world, and how can you take actions right now?
About the Author
Jules De Vitto is a transpersonal orientated coach and educator who is experienced at helping Highly Sensitive People overcome anxiety, stress and burnout. Jules is Highly Sensitive herself and is passionate about helping Highly Sensitive People to step into their authentic power. She lived in Asia for eleven years before moving to London and integrates Eastern practices and modern-day mindfulness into her work.
She has a degree in Psychology, an MA in Education and an MSc in Transpersonal Psychology, Consciousness and Spirituality. She’s a published author through Changemaker Books and John Hunt Publishers and wrote Resilience: Navigating Loss in a Time of Crisis to help people through the Covid-19 Pandemic available here.
You can stay connected with Jules through her... Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/highly.sensitive.humans/ Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/highlysensitivehumans Join the Highly Sensitive Hub - a growing community and Membership Area for Highly Sensitive People: https://www.highlysensitivehumans.com/plans-pricing