The persistent toe tapping of your colleague, the smells wafting from the kitchen, the distant hum of a radio in the background. These are all familiar sensual experiences, but for the 20% of the overall population who are described as highly sensitive these experiences can be labelled as painful.
Dr. Elaine Aron defined this term in the 1990’s and Elena Herdieckerhoff in her TED talk accurately describes it as being in a permanent state of osmosis taking in sights, sounds, smells and emotions. Highly sensitive people (HSP’s) feel deeply and about 70% are introverted.
If you are the parent of a child with sensory processing issues you will be familiar with the challenges of getting hair cut, brushing teeth, uncomfortable clothes, overstimulation and meltdowns. It’s not just children feel like this we just learn to mask it as we grow up.
Intuition plays a large role in being highly sensitive and it can be confusing because, it means lots of voices in our head. These voices might want to send us in many different directions. Perhaps difficulty in narrowing down a career, making decisions or voicing opinions or just promoting negative self-talk.
Dr. Aron says, our original social organisations were divided into those that were impulsive and tough, (knights and warriors) and the more thoughtful and learned types (priests, royal advisors). The HSP’s of this world naturally gravitate towards the royal advisor roles, often preferring self-employment or individual contributor roles with a lot of autonomy.
To thrive at work Dr. Aron says we need to first be aware of some potential obstacles. Low self-confidence can present as we compare ourselves to others who seem to have it all together. We can lack an appreciation of our role, qualities and contributions. We can spend excess time searching for our true purpose, sometimes pursuing education at the cost of experience. We are often afraid to ask questions or rock the boat. Aron says as worry prone perfectionists we may be the hardest boss we ever worked for.
Like everything overuse of a strength can prevent us from moving forward. We need to balance listening to that inner voice with taking practical steps to move forward. But strengths are powerful because they are the sails on our sailboat, when we engage with them, they will help us move forward.
Use your skills of perception to make sense of complex situations, understand relationships or identify patterns that might be helpful to problem solve at work. Build presence through empathetic connections with other people. Use your sensitivity to identify opportunities of kindness.
The best way for you to show up is your way. If that seems easy great, it means you’re using your natural talents and strengths, if it’s hard then try listening to your inner voice to guide you on what you should be doing and in finding that voice you will speak your truth.
‘People who are gifted and intuitive, yet conscientious and determined not to make mistakes ought to be treasured employees. But we are less likely to fit into the business world when the metaphors for achievement are warfare, pioneering, and expansion’. Dr. Aron
Changing environments can bring out feelings of anxiety causing too much arousal of the nervous system and for HSP’s this can be magnified. You may not even realise it is happening until you hit shutdown point and then try to figure out why. As countries around the world open up and the movement towards return to workplaces happens this can create quite anxious situations for HSP’s who have possibly been able to manage their work environment better working from home.
Every society and organisation needs all types of people; those that are highly alert and those less cautious and willing to explore every new thing along with lots of individuals in the middle. Yet, in the Western world we have created an ideal that not everyone fits into. A study done between the University of Waterloo in Ontario and Shanghai Teachers University compared most popular traits of school age children. In China, those who were ‘shy’ or ‘sensitive’ were chosen most, but in Canada they were chosen least. This trend continues into our organisations with a 2009 study in the Journal of Industrial Psychiatry which says only 2% of CEO’s are introverted. What traits are we defining as ideal in our students and leaders?
Valuing your unique contributions will help promote your feelings of self-worth and help you extricate that worth from other outcomes such as career or financial. Elaine Aron suggests we make peace and befriend our inner function.
If you are wondering whether are you a highly sensitive person you can take the online test here. In my coaching practice I specialise in supporting introverts, gifted, and highly sensitive people. We work on promoting your strengths, managing your environment and finding effective ways of moving forward. Reach out for a free discovery call at 087 917 5785 or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org