Have you ever heard things like- ‘you just need to toughen up,’ ‘you shouldn’t be crying,’ or ‘let it go?’ (And no, I don’t mean the Frozen song :P.) Most likely if you have, at some point your depth of feeling has been perceived as weakness (which by the way couldn’t be further from the truth.) It also means that it is incredibly likely that you are that rare unicorn type, also known as a Highly Sensitive Person. Hooray!
Being in the performing arts industry isn’t easy for anyone, but for a highly sensitive person, if you don’t know how to wield and function in your sensitivity, it can be particularly challenging. Contrary to the saying, I do not believe that people have to ‘toughen up’ to be successful or be seen as kick ass. You do however need to know how to move through the emotion and have the right tools in place, whilst embracing the fullness of those feelings. As Andre Solo puts it ‘highly sensitive people tend to have stronger emotional responses than others.’ This means that the actual feelings are more intense. Personally, this is definitely something I relate to. My emotions have always flown close to the surface, I cry a lot in situations that make me sad, or even watching sad films; but when I’m happy, laughter and joy bubble up just as easily. In my years as a teen and also early twenties, I’d see other people traversing situations with little more than a shrug and wonder- why can’t I be like that? If you feel this way, you may find yourself wondering: am I a highly sensitive person?
In case this all just sounds a lot like nurture over nature, being highly sensitive is actually scientifically proven. In 1996, Elaine Aaron’s book- The Highly Sensitive Person was published and is now a national bestseller. She explains that a good 15-20 percent of the population has a more finely tuned nervous system. The brain chemistry of a HSP is also a little different with more blood flow to the regions responsible for processing emotion, empathy and awareness. These people quite often are incredibly intelligent and extremely creative. If this is you, then you are in good company. Nicole Kidman, Scarlett Johansson, Elton John, Steven Spielberg, Winona Ryder, Mandy Moore, Albert Einstein and Martin Luther King Jr are just a few who are classed as being highly sensitive.
Not surprisingly, due to the high level of creativity, it is not uncommon for quite a few HSP’s to populate the performing arts industry, so if some of this sounds familiar, check out the traits below. If you’ve ever found yourself asking- am I a highly sensitive person- then this is for you. If you answer yes to most of these, then congrats, you’re probably highly sensitive!
1. You Feel All Of The Feels All Of The Time
You tend to feel things deeply and for a long time. Your emotions run close to the surface, you cry when you’re sad (and this may be often) but laughter and fun and joy all live close to the surface as well. This is one of the main reasons people sometimes mistakenly see sensitivity as weakness. But it takes courage to not run away from deep feelings, especially if they’re painful, and bravery to express them and to choose to empathise with others rather than turning away their discomfort. It takes tenacity to take risks even though it may take you longer to bounce back from painful events and to put yourself in situations which might be more emotionally taxing for you than for people whose sensitivity isn’t as heightened.
2. You Find It Hard To Lie
A HSP tends not to like the inauthenticity that lying brings, so not only do you feel very hurt when other people lie, but you find it very hard to abandon yourself in this way. It feels disingenuous and downright stressful. So yeah, lying isn’t really a thing.
3. You Get Overwhelmed By Change (Even When That Change Is Positive)
Even if things are good and the changes are welcome, it will take a HSP longer to adapt. Change can be very uncomfortable and you will find yourself experiencing a lot of emotions for some time. Particularly if you don’t know what to expect from a day, structure and routine wise etc, this can make it a lot more daunting.
4. Conflict Hurts A LOT.
If things start getting heated, you may find yourself with the urge to start clawing the walls. To say it makes you uncomfortable is putting it mildly. The opposite to stirring the pot, you get super stressed out and stay stressed out and most likely anxious, even after conflict has subsided.
5. You Are Super Sensitive To Youre Environment
This includes light and sound. For HSP, they are more likely to get overwhelmed in a noisy chaotic environment more quickly, or want to call things a night earlier. It’s not that they haven’t enjoyed themselves, they just most likely are good after a few hours and want tea and toast, then bed. (That for me is the perfect end to a night out.)
6. You’re Very Empathetic
Empathy comes naturally and as such it can be exhausting. Most people enjoy talking to HSP because they come away with the feeling of ‘you get me.’ For HSP it’s very easy to think and infer or intuit what you are feeling.
7. You’re A Deep Thinker
You need time to reflect and seek it regularly. It takes you time to process information and because of this it may take you longer to arrive at and make decisions- I mean, there’s so many angles, right? You may find yourself overthinking regularly, much like a hamster on a wheel. Fun!
8. Your Pain Tolerance Is Lower
You are more aware of niggles, and pain signals tend to be amplified. If you have wondered- am I a highly sensitive person, this can be a very physical indicator.
9. Words Matter. A Lot.
Any criticism cuts deep, but positive words will be euphoric. Negative words will feel like a sledgehammer, praise and kind words will be balm to the soul. ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words could never hurt me’ could not apply less for this type of person. In fact, pretty much the worst thing you can tell a HSP is to toughen up. The reaction is visceral, and the emotions need to be acknowledged and moved through.
10. You Dislike Big Stakes And Don’t Perform Well Under Pressure
Yep, that’s right, if you want to get the best out of a HSP, then we perform best when we feel relaxed and comfortable. So don’t psyche out a HSP if you want them to give a good performance, unfortunately it doesn’t work.
11. You Connect To Creativity In A Very Emotionally Driven Way.
You are pulled towards it instinctually. Many HSP don’t see creativity as a ‘hobby’ but a necessity. It’s not something cute or quaint, it is a way of being, the essence of yourself that you put into what you do. So yeah, it’s definitely not optional.
12. You Tend To Avoid Any Fictional Violence And Sad Stories
For this reason HSP’s may avoid watching the news, or violent video games; horror movies may also be a no go. Any stories of cruelty eg adverts of TV of animals being maltreated, hit particularly hard. Real life documentaries are also often difficult to watch.
13. You Retreat
There comes a point when things become too much when you just need to withdraw and be less stimulated. Have quiet time, read a book, curl up with a cup of tea, cuddle your pet. This is also often true with conflict.
14. You Are Observant
You notice the little things, but also what they mean. Perception is a super power for many HSP’s!
15. Other People’s Moods Affect You A Lot
You find you are instantly affected by people’s mood, or the atmosphere in a room and sometimes it just feels too much. Highly sensitive people also tend to feel overwhelmed more often and easily.
16. You Experience A Lot Of Anxiety
Due to feeling so many emotions so much of the time, sometimes there is a need to shut it down and not feel it. Sometimes you don’t want feel it. If these emotions aren’t processed and moved through this can often feel like ongoing anxiety. Kind of like a TV channel, it can be there in the background a lot. Although the two aren’t mutually exclusive, if you question – am I a highly sensitive person- high anxiety can be a strong indicator.
Hopefully this article has helped you with answering the question: am I a highly sensitive person? If you would like to know for sure, then check out this questionnaire. It isn’t coincidence that the performing arts industry is populated by so many with a high sensitivity. It lends itself to the creative process; and almost every HSP needs a creative outlet. Both creativity and high sensitivity are incredibly intuitive, however being a performer is perhaps the most exposed and risky- you’re out there, cracked open, confident, brave, authentic but also with the risk of criticism or rejection. It’s important to know if you’re highly sensitive so you a) can move through life with less resistance and embrace it, without the pain or confusion, b) be able to use its advantages to full effect and c) look after yourself physically (as this type of persons nervous system is more sensitive, HSP’s are at greater risk of problems like burnout, adrenal fatigue and chronic fatigue syndrome.) My next post is on what tools you can use to handle your sensitivity in the industry so you can embrace all it has to offer without it tripping you up. Feel free to drop your comments and experiences below. I’d love to hear from you 🙂