As a small child, few experiences were as intense as watching movies. I went through an entire box of tissues as Elliot’s fragile friend clung to life in the film ET. I had to fast-forward as the red-headed heroine climbed the radio tower in her attempted escape from the criminals posing as her parents in the movie musical Annie. (Funny, but true.) Car chases and narrow escapes gave me a racing pulse, sweaty palms and an aching stomach. To this day, I can’t stomach horror movies, and The Walking Dead TV series still gives me nightmares. My husband must be so tired of waiting until I fall asleep to watch the latest thriller on Netflix. What is wrong with me?!
Spoiler alert: I am a highly sensitive person (HSP), but, I’m in good company. An an estimated 15-20% of the general population is wired like me. I am deeply affected by other people’s pain and suffering, whether real or imaginary. Loud noises, crowded rooms, strong smells and angry outbursts put me on edge. Flitting about at social gatherings is draining. Difficult moments that may be tough for others can be traumatic for me. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-30s that I learned to accept, and even embrace, this quirk.
How about you? Take an online quiz to see if you are highly sensitive here. The term was coined by psychologist Elaine Aron. HSPs are a segment of the population who have sensory-processing sensitivity, or SPS. According to Aron’s definition, SPS is not a mental health disorder. It’s just a personality trait with varying degrees of intensity.
Characteristics of the Highly Sensitive:
- Often described as introverted or shy
- Keen senses
- Low tolerance for crowds and loud, busy places
- Unusually strong emotions
- Easily moved by art and music
- Uncomfortable with emotional and violent shows and movies
- Highly empathetic
- Have a rich inner world
- Deeply connected to nature
- Spiritual and intuitive
- Need time alone to process information and recharge
At first glance, being wildly sensitive may seem like a character flaw to overcome, or worse, a stumbling block holding you back from reaching your full potential in life. We feel everything to the max, which can cause us to retreat and isolate when life becomes too much. Often, we face criticism for being overemotional when we are bogged down with our feelings and aloof when we try to set some boundaries to protect our delicate hearts. Because of this, we are often alienated for our perceived weaknesses, but I am here to tell your heightened senses can become a great source of strength.
When you embrace your sensitive nature and perceive it as a gift, you have the opportunity to reach a new level creativity, spirituality and transcendence. Because the highly sensitive are finely tuned to emotions and energy, they tend to be very empathetic. Having insight into other people’s actions, moods and motives makes the wildly sensitive talented artists, therapists, educators, healers and even writers. “Ding! Ding!”
HSPs hone in on details, which can be a very powerful skill in a writer’s toolbox. We feel everything intensely–from love, to bliss, heartache, fear and frustration–which creates a memory bank of lush experiences to draw from when we create our characters. We are always looking for meaning and pondering the greater themes of life. Those reflections can make their way into our work, through symbolism and overarching themes. Highly-sensitive writers may wade into the waters of the cosmic, mystical and supernatural without hesitation to bring back important messages from the collective subconscious and beyond.
Whether you’re spiritually-focused or not, as a sensitive you will have the hunger to live authentically and uncover your life’s purpose. Writing can give HSPs a way to channel their intensity, passion and insights while sharing their gifts with the world.
Writing my debut novel Song of a Sophomore—the story of a bullied 90s teen who transforms her wounds into wisdom for the ultimate victory, love—was truly a spiritual experience which helped me uncover my authentic self. Drawing on painful childhood experiences, I was able to relive the past with the power to rewrite it. Even if my novel never makes it onto someone’s bookshelf or iPad, it was incredibly therapeutic and healing to create.
If you find yourself nodding along as you read this blog post, I encourage you to embrace your sensitive nature and use it to your advantage. Chances are this personality trait has dealt you some blows through the years. Why not draw on those intense moments, misunderstandings and heartaches to create authentic characters and vivid sensory details in your stories?
- Highly Sensitive Person Resources – Psychology Today
- “19 Signs You’re a Highly Sensitive Person (+ How to Survive and Thrive)” by Alethia Luna for Loner Wolf
- “5 Reasons HSPs make the Greatest Writers” by Caroline Hurtut for Highly Sensitive Refuge, 2/15/2021
- “On Being Highly Sensitive” by Jenna Avery for Called to Write