From Orchid Child to Drama Queen to Highly Sensitive Person: A lifetime of walking around feeling like my skin is inside out

by Charlotte on October 9, 2013 · 67 comments

 Um… what is a yob?? No seriously, I have no idea.

Photo Credit

“Nooooo!” Jelly Bean shrieked, ripping her sock off for the twentieth time that morning. As I watched her carefully select another sock and pull it on – only to be frustrated yet again when the seam in the toe didn’t line up exactly how she likes it to – it brought up some powerful emotions in me. Where others may see a typical toddler tantrum (and perhaps it is?), I saw myself reflected in her intense expression, tongue peeking out as she tried, again, to bend the sock to her will. A small thing becomes an enormous thing: The story of my life.

Have you ever paid attention to the toe seam in your sock? Some are flat, some are ridged, some make little puckers at the corners of the toe, some aren’t even a seam at all but just a color and a change in the direction of the weave. And the toe seam completely changes how and with what you can wear it. Confession: I very often change my clothes half a dozen times or more on any given day. I wish I were being hyperbolic. I am very particular. For instance, I own seven different white t-shirts – crew neck, scoop neck, cap sleeve, hip length, tight-fighting, loose… – because I can’t wear layers unless everything is perfectly lined up and flat. Part of this is vestigial eating disorder behavior (it’s very common for ED’d people to keep trying on outfits looking for the one that doesn’t make them “look fat”) but a lot of it is that if I have on a crew neck tee under a scoop neck sweater it will bother me all stinking day. (And yes, I realize I have just invited all my friends to ask my how many times I’ve changed my outfit that day every time they see me. I’ll save you the time: At least 3.)

I can’t remember the first time I realized that I feel things more strongly than most people. For as long as I can remember I have felt different – I have described it for years as “walking around with my skin on inside-out.” In 5th grade I was in the bathroom when a group of boys turned off the lights as a prank. While all the other girls giggled, I panicked. It’s not that I was afraid of the dark or even of the boys but rather that I deeply, intensely dislike surprises. By the time I made my way out of the bathroom I was shaking so hard I had to go to the nurse’s office – I felt like my teeth would rattle out of my head. It was a feeling I would grow to know very well.

In my teens I was known for being an angsty drama queen – not unusual for a teenage girl but I managed to take it to a high art. I can’t count how many times I heard, “Why are you making this such a big deal?!” or, my personal fave, “Stop being so SENSITIVE!”  By college I’d figured out that other people weren’t bothered as easily as I was and that I needed to tone it way down. So I learned how to channel my intense emotions into less annoying behaviors but there was a cost to keeping them inside, a cost to being socially acceptable. My feelings turned inward, I went through a horrible period of IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), eating disorders, anxiety, depression and really bad relationships.

As an adult I’ve come to a happier medium, finding friends that I can emote to and activities (like exercise!) that take off some of the psychic pressure. (Yes, what you see now is me at like 50% volume.) And yet. I still can’t be in a restaurant with background music without wanting to crawl out of my skin. I can’t focus on what people are saying to me if there are lyrics in the background. I hear every word. I see every picture on the wall. I notice the pattern in the carpet. People think I’m being spacey because I can’t remember what they told me 30 seconds ago but it’s because I simply cannot tune any of the noise out.

It’s not just restaurants either. I hate fans because I can’t stand the feel of the wind on my skin – it makes me prickle and feel nauseous. I can’t be in a room with a flickering light. I can’t sleep if the DVD player is turned on even if the TV is off because I can hear the whirring. I keep the radio on nearly 24/7 because the noise blocks all the other noises I can’t tune out on my own. And people think I’m just being precious when I say that I can’t handle horror movies but the truth is that I have a deeply visceral reaction to violence and I won’t be able to shake it for days, years even. (Always fun to explain around Halloween. I am the Halloween grinch.) The hardest part for me has been realizing that often I love people way more than they can love me back.

I can’t not feel any of it. It’s overwhelming. And it’s exhausting.

All of which makes me sound like an incredible pill to be around. I don’t think that’s true (although real-life friends, feel free to disillusion me) because I’ve learned ways to mitigate it. I’m good at keeping most of my thoughts inside and often I’ll take my social cues from others around me. If I feel upset and they’re not then I try and talk myself down. I know how to escape (hint: crossword puzzles in my dimly lit bedroom, I’m such a nerd) and how to use yogic breathing when I can’t escape. This doesn’t always work and I’m betting most of my friends and family would run out of fingers to count on before they ran out of experiences to which I have overreacted but here’s the thing: it’s not all bad.

It turns out that there is a whole segment of the population – 15-20% according to one researcher – who have their skin inside out like I do. (And it’s thought to be hereditary which makes perfect sense if you’ve ever met my dad. I love you Dad!) As kids we’re called “spirited” or “orchid children” (a reference to how persnickety orchids are about their conditions but once you get it right no flower is more beautiful). As adults we’re called, simply, “highly sensitive people.” This sensitivity that can be such a curse (see: first 18 years of my life) can also be an incredible gift.

HSPs have “wonderful imaginations, are often very intelligent, creative, curious, and are known for being very hard workers, great organizers and problem solvers. They are known for being extremely conscientious and meticulous. HSP are blessed with being exceptionally intuitive, caring, compassionate and spiritual. They are also blessed with an incredible aesthetic awareness and appreciation for nature, music and the arts. There is also a strong correlation between the trait of high sensitivity and being “Gifted.” (They are also apparently blessed with a love of the superlative!)

I have to say it was a huge relief to learn that I wasn’t the only person who feels like this. My sister – who has a daughter that is a HSP – told me to go look up the information about it and as I read through the list of characteristics it was like someone had peered into my brain.  (I love that they point out that being highly sensitive is not a disorder or an illness – it’s just a character trait that can be good and bad.) You can read the full list here but some of my personal faves:

“You feel compelled to file and organize things and thoughts, also enjoy simplicity and may become overwhelmed or even immobilized by chaos, clutter, or stress. ”

“You are very conscientious, hard working, and meticulous, but may become uncomfortable and less efficient or productive when being watched or scrutinized.”

“You are very uncomfortable when feeling things are getting out of your control.” (Control freak? Me??)

” You may experience mood swings, sometimes occurring almost instantly and can also be affected by other people’s moods, emotions and problems. ” (Dear friends, I’m sorry.)

“You get a sense of comfort and well being when around a lake, river, stream, the ocean, or even a fountain. ” (But only if my kids aren’t around because then I’m too busy freaking out about them drowning.)

“You have a deep, rich, inner life, are very spiritual, and may also have vivid dreams.” (I’ve always had very vivid dreams.)

Other things include being very sensitive to pain (holla!), startles easily (I will pee), avoids violent tv and movies (like the plague!), and has a deep appreciation of nature, the arts and music (well, thank you).

Honestly I’m not sure what to make of all this. Am I anxious because I am an HSP? Or am I an HSP because I’m anxious? (Or is this just me being a hypochondriac?) And what am I to do next? Or is it enough to just know this about myself? I’ve already requested Dr. Elaine Aron’s The Highly Sensitive Person from the library.

Are any of you highly sensitive people too? Have any advice for me? Or does this finally convince you that I am completely nuts?? And can someone please tell me what a yob is so I know if I can use it in polite conversation?

{ 65 comments… read them below or add one }

Terri October 10, 2013 at 1:57 am

I’m not an HSP – I’m probably a step or two too far in the opposite direction, but it does explain some people I know so thanks !

A Yob is short for Yobbo – a slang term for an uncouth or thuggish lower-class person. I think it’s probably close to what Americans would call “Trailer Trash” I think. Although Yobbo’s may or may not be employed. It’s used in the UK & Australia mostly.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yobbo

The meaning does also shift slightly depending on who it’s being directed to (ie between friends it’s not as harsh and more along the lines of “You twit”). However in this example it is probably not the friendlier version.

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Charlotte October 10, 2013 at 2:57 pm

Ah very cool! Thanks for the education Terri!

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Paula October 10, 2013 at 4:13 am

Thank you for this,
The book Highly Sensitive Persons from Elaine Aron is standing behind me on the bookshelf and it’s very recognizable. It feels nice to reed your story.
When I get overwhelmed I cry, I can’t help myself either, it’s annoying for the people around me and most of the time I can’t explain why. I just tell people that I’m overwhelmed, that I know there isn’t actually anything dramatic going on and that this moment will pass.
I do the breathing thing to and I try not to think to much and live the moment. Getting more in the now does help me.
But I also created a very quiet life for myself.
Problem is, I can’t handle to many people in my life, because of this loving thing which you talked about, I’m able to lose myself in that and become too tired.
Anyway, thanks again for the article, you’re absolutely not nuts and not alone (I actually think you’re wonderful). And my tactics to handle this would be: taking rest, breathe, live in the now and enjoy.
Do you know a way of having more people in your life (who you naturally love a lot) without it overwhelming you?

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Charlotte October 15, 2013 at 11:15 am

Oh the crying! Me too. It’s hard because some people see tears as manipulation but it’s not something I can control very well. I also love how you say you have created a quiet life for yourself! As for how to have lots of people in my life that I love, it’s definitely a balance – mostly of allocating resources. I can’t say I’ve got it all figured out but I will say that one of the things that helps me is to remember that when I say yes to one thing I’m automatically saying no to a lot of other things so I try to make sure that when I take on any new comittment that it isn’t taking away my limited energy from my loved ones. As for the overwhelming aspect of love, I’ve just had to accept that loving so much can sometimes also hurt a lot but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth loving in the first place;)

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Paula October 15, 2013 at 1:42 pm

Thank you so much for that.
love is the best feeling in the universe, I wouldn’t want to miss it for the world.

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Tuuli October 10, 2013 at 4:49 am

I read a couple of the lists of character traits and while it’s all relative and I have only my own experience to go by, yes, they match. Unfortunately, I haven’t found good ways to deal with most of them. We live in such an overstimulating world that it’s hard to find enough peace of mind to start thinking up strategies for finding peace of mind. Let us know how you like the book!

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Charlotte October 15, 2013 at 11:16 am

Well I read it! And I really enjoyed it. She’s got some other stuff – like a workbook I think that I’d also like to check out. And true story about living in such an overstimulating world!!

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Reid October 10, 2013 at 5:20 am

Thank you for this post- I’ve been sincerely frustrated with myself recently because I am so highly sensitive. I’ve really isolated myself from people because of it. So many of these things that you mentioned are things that I do (the layers of clothing!!! lol…) I’m a trans* guy- and there is a lot that I thought would go away when I transitioned to male- that hasn’t.
Thanks for reminding us that we are not alone – that it is real – and actually has some real benefits. :) I’ll be interested to hear how you like the book. It sounds like something I need to look into more.

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Charlotte October 15, 2013 at 11:18 am

((hugs)) Reid! I read the book and it’s definitely worth checking out! It’s nice to know that I’m not alone, especially with the clothing layering! People see my drawer of “layering items” and think I’m so so nuts haha.

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JLVerde October 10, 2013 at 6:43 am

You are not nuts. The toe seams on socks ARE EVIL. I will stop everything to adjust my toe seams if they get out of whack during the day (thankfully they stay put most of the time).

I’m also one of the rare people who still has to spend time analyzing white socks (all the same brand) because some are slightly larger or thicker than others and must be properly paired (having one sock thicker than the other would make me nuts).

You know what irks me about these kinds of lists, though? They only focus on all the happy fairy “oh, it’s so GREAT” aspects. Sensitive people can summon unicorns to eat chia seeds from their delicate hands!! They don’t mention how annoying it is to be a sensitive person (hello, I will cry if I just hear or see someone else cry, even a complete stranger!) OR how frustrating it can be to live/love a sensitive person (shout out to my long suffering husband, waiting for me to get my blankets all lined up just so before I can just go to sleep, for crying out loud!).

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Charlotte October 15, 2013 at 11:20 am

Oooh I totally get the sock analyzing! I have two batches of white sport socks that I bought at different times and even though they’re identical in brand/size/style I can only wear the the ones from the “age batch” together… sigh. And I do the blanket/sheet lining up thing too!!! Things gotta be flat, smooth and straight! PS. This: Sensitive people can summon unicorns to eat chia seeds from their delicate hands!! They don’t mention how annoying it is to be a sensitive person” Totally made me smile!

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Fritz October 10, 2013 at 6:59 am

This is funny–I’m definitely another HSP, and my mother often reminds me of that.

But I don’t know if HSPs is really a thing–or are we just learning to parent ourselves? I grew up in an alcoholic family and I struggle with addictions to food and people. As I work through my recovery, I realize that my coping skills, my separation anxiety, my fear, and my sensitivity are all part of the dance I learned early on. It’s like my emotional growth stagnated a little bit, and I’m learning to behave as an adult. But my melt-downs are coming fewer and farther between, and when they do occur, I’m quicker to process through them. My house right now is in a horrific state of disorder, and it is driving me crazy, but I’m realizing that is a part of the moving process. But my lifting–well. For the past week, I have not lifted. And for the week before, I only lifted once. And I’m scared and freaked out and think I may have ‘quit’ lifting for good, and that I’m a failure. And I go into my ‘HSP’ free-fall. Fear. Shame. Anxiety. Anger. Disappointment. And deep, deep sadness.

But, yes. This gift of recovery also helps me see that I do take time to sit and listen to the wind going through the trees, and my adoration of animals, and my love of the Great Lakes, and how I can think expansively about projects and moving pieces, and how I have a childlike love of silly jokes. Sometimes, our weaknesses are our greatest strengths.

Enjoying your blog–just discovered it, because I live in a hole, but thanks for writing!

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Charlotte October 15, 2013 at 11:23 am

Very interesting idea! It’s true that more children than adults seem to be HSP and some children grow out of it. I’ll have to think more on this self-parenting idea! P.S. I do the all-or-nothing thinking too! But no good comes of it – I’m sure that you will get back to lifting when your life settles down enough:)

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Jess October 10, 2013 at 7:33 am

So interesting! This describes a close family member to a T. Something I have to remind myself of when they over reaction is aimed at me. I definitely agree it is as much an asset as an annoyance.

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Charlotte October 15, 2013 at 11:25 am

I’m so glad you can see this in your family member! Sometimes the hardest part for me is trying to convince my husband/kids/friends that even though I’m overwhelmed it’s not their fault or anything they’ve done!

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Renée October 10, 2013 at 8:09 am

Well, welcome to my world! I’ve always referred to myself as the “younger or more sensitive viewer” they discuss at the start of violent movies, and I simply don’t watch. And I’ve been through the IBS, EDs, and multiple outfit changes; the whirring of the DVD player at night; the vivid dreams; the flickering lights (I had to call maintenance 2 weeks ago to come change a light bulb in my office because I couldn’t concentrate – oh, and I only have 1 bulb instead of six, otherwise it’s too bright!). Yeah, sometimes I’m high maintenance.

A yob, btw, is boy spelled backwards and is used in British press to describe young, destructive brats (yes, one of the papers I read in the morning is out of London. It’s nice to get news from outside sources, adds a different perspective).

And yes, Jelly Bean, sock seams are evil!

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Charlotte October 15, 2013 at 11:26 am

Hahah I’m going to have steal your phrase! I love it! And thanks for the yob explanation!

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alexa October 10, 2013 at 8:10 am

Thanks for this post…it really sounds like my daughter is an HSP. I’ll definitely be checking out the book. I have some of the traits and am sensitive in some areas…but this fits Liv to a tee.

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Charlotte October 15, 2013 at 11:28 am

There’s a “highly sensitive child” book too (different author though I think) that several other commenters recommeded as well! Seeing as one, maybe two of my kids are HSP I think you’re awesome for exploring this with your daughter. The sooner you help her figure out how to take care of herself, the sooner she’ll start to feel better in her own skin!

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Heather C October 10, 2013 at 8:35 am

First off, I hate fans too and convertibles.

My son was born with cerebral palsy and was also diagnosed at a young age with a sensory processing disorder which is similar in some ways to HSP. Basically those of us with typical sensory systems can filter the important sensory inputs from the unimportant ones. For example, when I sit on a chair to eat I am aware of my food and maybe some things going on around me but my son is aware of the feeling of the chair under his bum, the feel of the spoon in his hand, the feel of the tag in his shirt, and basically of every single input because his brain thinks ALL of them are equally important. So for him, clothes, shoes, crowded and noisy places, are all overwhelming because he is acutely aware of all of it. It all requires a fair bit of patience.

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Charlotte October 15, 2013 at 11:29 am

Oh wow – huge ((Hugs)) for you and your son. I know how hard it is dealing with just what I have coming in, I can’t imagine it on that level. He’s blessed to have such an understanding and loving mom:)

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Jill A. October 10, 2013 at 8:43 am

After reading this, I seriously think my 8 year old daughter is an HSP. Her clothes had to be snug, her socks had to be just right, her food had to be prepared a certain way…it was exasperating for me when she was younger. She seems to have relaxed a little about things, or maybe I’ve just learned not to get to so upset about it when she does. Anyway, thanks for sharing this – I will regard my daughter in a new way and hopefully I can help her instead of just getting frustrated. :)

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Charlotte October 15, 2013 at 11:41 am

That’s wonderful! Your daughter is so blessed to have such a loving, understanding mom!

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Aine October 10, 2013 at 10:14 am

I wore all my socks inside out until I was at least a teen, at which point I convinced my mom to buy the super-cushy athletic socks that come in a ten-pack from Hanes and don’t seem to have seams. I still cannot stand the feel of the seam pushing against my toes. I also couldn’t wear jeans because of the feeling of the stiff seams pushing against my legs and crotch (this was prior to the age of “stretchy” jean material I suppose). That made me real popular at school, let me tell you…

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Charlotte October 15, 2013 at 11:43 am

I hear you about the jeans. I can wear them now but when I was a kid, everyone thought I was just being uber girly because all I’d wear were dresses. It wasn’t the frills I loved, it was the non-binding legs! Nothing more comfy than a simple cotton dress;)

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Saskia October 10, 2013 at 10:55 am

I’m not quite as sensitive as you, but I recognize a lot of it. And it’s taken me years to accept my sensitive-ness and see the good parts of it as well–like being compassionate–instead of hating all the feelings and the need for control and all that fun stuff. I’ll have to go check that book out!

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Charlotte October 15, 2013 at 11:45 am

It’s definitely a spectrum for sure! I think the important part is to just take what you find helpful and leave the rest! P.S. I read the book and it’s fab!

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Dr. J October 10, 2013 at 12:48 pm

I’m definitely highly sensitive emotionally! Physically maybe not as much, but I am very sensitive to my environment. Are you a water sign in Astrology?

I’ve found it helpful when a close person in my life re-frames my perspective.

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Charlotte October 15, 2013 at 11:47 am

Good question! I have no idea! I’ve never thought much about astrology but I just googled it and wouldn’t you know it, I am! Hahah gotta go read the rest of the description now

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Sylvie October 10, 2013 at 1:00 pm

Holy cats a lot of this describes me too. I love EVERYONE. If I’ve met you (hey, and I have! but I don’t mean JUST you ;)) I very likely love you. I have a very easily breakable heart. I also CANNOT tolerate scary movies. Even last night my husband was trying to get me just to look at the cover of a widely known scary movie, and the cover was just a set of outdoor stairs (which I’ve even seen in person) and I refused to look. I still am haunted by a movie I saw ten years ago. Even watching scary commercials will haunt me for years. Ugh. It’s no fun, I know, but I’m glad to know there are other people like me. No one else gets the scary movie thing!

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Charlotte October 15, 2013 at 11:49 am

Oh I get the scary movie thing! True story: I walked out of the first Lord of the Rings movie because it was too intense for me. I thought my husband was going to disown me;)

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sara-hare October 10, 2013 at 1:18 pm

I think other people have already covered it, but “yob” is basically a term for “socially inept.” And I lean in the direction of being an HSP, but not to an extreme. I usually only wear one outfit a day! Though I remember being little and getting highly disturbed by sock toe seams. And even worse, if the sock heel worked around to the side of my heel.

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Charlotte October 15, 2013 at 11:51 am

I seriously shuddered reading “if the sock heel worked around to the side of my heel” yes I did.

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Tim October 10, 2013 at 2:15 pm

I am not excessively sensitive, but just nicely balanced, so I can go either way.
I would like to make a suggestion? This HSP thing sounds neurological. To that end, I think that magnesium would be a really good thing to try. A daily dose would be about 400 mg both morning and night. It’s totally harmless; George Eby’s website gives quite a few examples of how it has helped various people. Fish oil should be in there too, it’s vital for correct neurological processing, which in several cases here seems to have veered towards the excessively-tuned; you can always reduce the dose if you begin to miss the old symptoms !

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Charlotte October 15, 2013 at 11:54 am

Very interesting idea – I’ll have to look into it more! I already take 500mg of magnesium supps a day to help with my PMS stuff (and it really does help) but maybe I should up it? Yay for pooping all day;) I also do take fish oil daily. Thanks for the advice! I’ll check out his site too…

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Alice October 10, 2013 at 3:18 pm

I think you are great Charlotte.

I’m kind of wondering if my oldest is a HSP though. I think I may need to read that book too.

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Charlotte October 15, 2013 at 11:57 am

There’s an HSP book just for kids. Can’t remember it off thetop of my head (The highly sensitive child, I think?) but I’ve heard it ‘s really helpful!

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Amy @ Run Mom Run October 10, 2013 at 3:37 pm

Uncomfortable and less efficient while being scrutinized. Yes. Makes taking piano lessons very difficult (which yes, I still do, appreciate the arts, remember?)
Uncomfortable in situations out of your control. Yes.
Comfort around water. Yes. I’ve spent the last year trying to convince my husband that moving to the lake is worth the $8,000 a year property taxes (no, we can’t afford it)
Intuitive. Yes.
Cutting people out. Yes
Shy. Yes

I’ve never thought of myself as being uncomfortable in my own skin, however I am well known for overreacting to stuff, taking a strong stance and keeping it just for the comfort of having made a choice (even if it turns out to be wrong), and taking things too personally and stewing over them for weeks and finally coming out with it only to hear that the person who said it doesn’t even remember it happening.

Apparently I’m more sensitive than I thought.

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Charlotte October 15, 2013 at 11:58 am

LOL. Well I’m not trying to put a pathology on anyone! But it’s nice to have company all the same;)

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Azusmom October 10, 2013 at 4:24 pm

Yesterday, all day, I was down in the dumps because something I saw while watching a documentary the night before set me off. I spent the day day crying, tapping, and writing in my journal. I figured out what had been set loose, and worked my way through (I must say I’m feeling quite proud of myself today). The thing that sparked all this was a throwaway comment made by someone in the documentary that most people probably didn’t even register. But the ones who did, I’m guessing, reacted strongly to it, as well.
I, too, grew up with the whole “Why are you so sensitive?” bit. I finally realized, well, because i AM. And I’d rather be on this side of sensitive than the other. I’d rather have empathy than not. I’d rather be able to find common ground with others than keep my distance ALL the time. Does it make life harder? Yup! Is it exhausting? Often. But I think it serves me better than the alternative.

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Lisa October 12, 2013 at 11:21 pm

EFT Tapping?

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Azusmom October 12, 2013 at 11:53 pm

Yes.
Probably should have clarified that. Lest everyone think I was tap dancing…:)

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Lisa October 13, 2013 at 10:28 am

I figured you were referring to either EFT or T-Tapping..which could also be mistaken for tap dancing. lol EFT is good stuff!

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Charlotte October 15, 2013 at 12:01 pm

I seriously need to try EFT again. It didn’t do anything for me years ago when I tried it but then again I may not have been doing it right. PS. I’ve totally done that with TV shows!

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Cat October 10, 2013 at 5:03 pm

I think I used to be a HSP. Can you grow out of it??

When I was a child I had the exact same tantrums that Jelly Bean has now. I remember crying in frustration because I couldn’t find socks to wear, I was freezing cold (we lived in a house with a wood stove so it was either freezing or a balmy 80), and therefore in pain. I remember when I was a young teenager snapping harshly on a little boy I babysat because he pulled my hair (for but a moment) and I had a terrible headache for an hour, I have always been very sensitive to having my hair pulled, linings on clothes, etc. I no longer have sock problems, but I can’t have my hair up when driving unless it is on top of my head, it bothers me immensely to have to push my head even a few inches forward. I can’t stand any loud sounds, or violence (which is also noisy??) but I know that is because I have unique hearing loss in my right ear that causes me to actually experience heightened pain at certain decibels. But I am also an extrovert. I love crowds, although generally I prefer a crowded gallery or beach to a store or street.

I love that you brought this up, but what to do about it? Just bring a card along with you that has a disclaimer on it? “Warning: the person you are about to meet is strange and easily irritated, but probably is also big on forgiveness. Be kind, have patience.”
Actually, that is a great idea. I may go print some now.

On a side note, its not on the list, but I am also super sensitive to metals, and have a ridiculous number of food allergies. I think they are related.

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Charlotte October 15, 2013 at 12:03 pm

Oh you can totally outgrow it or at least get less sensitive. On the other hand, some people seem to get more sensitive as they age. Glad to hear you’re one of the former! And interesting connection with the allergies…

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Melissa October 10, 2013 at 5:17 pm

This explains how I’ve been feeling lately! Stressed and too many things to do at work in one day. I’ve never been able to put into words how it makes me feel. Stress, pressure, like the room is closing in on me because I don’t have control. Growing up and as an adult I’ve felt like my skin is on inside out or that I just don’t fit in. I have a hard timing letting go of things. Well I’m working on it, I don’t know that I’ll ever be like other people and that’s okay. This had been a bad week between work and personal relationships. I can’t shake the intense need to cry but the tears won’t come. Happy I’m not alone and I’m getting that book.

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Charlotte October 15, 2013 at 12:06 pm

You’re definitely not alone! ((hugs)) Melissa and I hope this week is going better for you!

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Jennifer October 10, 2013 at 6:22 pm

Up until about high school I wore my socks inside out because I couldn’t stand the feeling of seams

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Jody - Fit at 55 October 10, 2013 at 9:27 pm

Suchj an interesting read! Although you pointed out a lot of not great thing about this – there are some amazing aspects to it that I wish I had – that may have made me a more successful person or more creative & a host of other stuff – I guess good & bad to everything! :)

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Barefoot Rose October 11, 2013 at 9:09 am

I’m pretty familiar with SPD too. (Sensory Processing Disorder) Both my son and my nephew have it. Although not many in the family acknowledge it because the two are at opposite ends of the spectrum. You can be someone who is highly sensitive to your senses or you can be ultra unsensitive to your senses, in a nut shell. All of their senses can be affected but they are not always HS or UnS. For example, my nephew has a very limited number of things he is willing to eat. He can’t handle any spices. My son on the other hand doesn’t seem to taste a thing. He went from eating regular yogurt to eating greek yogurt without noticing a difference. (I like greek yogurt but there is a difference especially when tasting it your first time) On the other hand, my son is HS on noises and comotion while my nephew is US. My son struggles with staying focused in school because of background noises. My nephew is loud and hyper. His body seeks out input. SPD is a pretty common characteristic of those with autism (neither boy is autistic). Both my sister and I realize we have some SPD tendancies now that we are aware of it. SPD explains why I like to go barefoot. It gives me lots of input. It tells my brain where I am in the universe.

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Charlotte October 15, 2013 at 12:11 pm

Interesting! I’ve heard of SPD but I’ve never looked into it much – I’ll have to read up on this! Thanks!

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Tamber October 11, 2013 at 9:40 am

I’m so glad to read something like this! It makes me think that I’m not as crazy as I thought! I’m am overly sensitive and emotional to everything. I hate the way most clothing feels and if things aren’t just so, I’m a mess. Its a tough battle…and I also am addicted to exercise too so I understand! Thanks for writing!

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Charlotte October 15, 2013 at 12:13 pm

And thank you for helping me feel less alone:)

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Happier Heather October 11, 2013 at 3:55 pm

I think my poor mother might actually have two HSPs.

My sister was crazy about the sock seams and hated the feeling of jeans on her legs until she was almost in junior high. She’s still really picky about textures.

As for me, I match most of the traits on the list. I recently realized just how much of an introvert I am naturally, but adding the HSP traits to the introversion makes me wonder how I’ve functioned so “normally” all these years! Oh, and I have a weird thing about certain kinds of paper towels driving me crazy when I dry my hands on them. *shudder*

One positive, though, is that it has helped me understand the kids I work with who have sensory disorders and are on the Autism/Aspergers spectrum.

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Charlotte October 15, 2013 at 12:16 pm

I’m not the only HSP in my fam either;) I swear there’s a genetic link. And I’m so glad that you can use your experiences to help the kids who need you!!

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Mike Madigan October 12, 2013 at 6:37 am

I actually had to think, yes, I was HSP but as I grew older not so much. I never noticed the transition from sensitive to mellow to jaded (well not jaded but unreactive) until a close friend noticed a lot of changes. I guess I too internalized everything, and went through bouts of depression, anxiety to the point that I would forget what it was I was sensitive to.

In an twist of sorts, getting so worked up over what I thought was insensitive that I focused on the energy put in that I actually forgot what it was that triggered it. Usually its what people say to me in the situation where I’m the butt of a joke or the cause of a situation where no one can use a tool or machine again that I find myself being HSP.

That energy that I put into over reacting was some mojo… I mean, heck if I can work up that much steam, I should be able to put it to good use, right? One could say, since I had forgotten the triggers I could actually be observant and not interactive to the situation. It had the effect of making me a quick thinker and a smart arse. Guess its a blessing to have convenient amnesia. When it does hit me, what the triggers are, I usually ask that person when its said, what do they mean? By putting them on the spot, usually when they try to make me the butt of jokes, it back fires on them. They never expect the question. Thereby giving me the upper hand and control of the situation (allow me to maintain calm and inner peace) and turned a lot of awkward situations around by just asking a fair and simple question. Why and what do they mean by saying what they said. As far as noise, room full of people, crowds, pet peeves, etc, some days they don’t bother me and then there are days I cant deal. I go from extrovert to introvert quicker than you can say wha? Usually a good day spent indoors reset me, a favorite show or just talking to my brothers or sister. I always strive to see another perspective, which when I see it, I understand more. And understanding goes along ways.

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Charlotte October 15, 2013 at 12:17 pm

First – SO GOOD to hear from you Mike! Second – I think convenient amnesia can definitely be a gift! I like your strategy and will totally have to try that;)

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Joemama October 13, 2013 at 10:03 am

I had a revelation after your last article on HSP, Charlotte. For 3 years now my oldest son’s teachers have been pushing ADD testing for him, which I know he does not have. I read about Elaine Aaron’s work here, ordered “The Highly Sensitive Child” and literally wept as I read it because it explained SO MUCH about my son. He’s always been “high maintenance” and we worried ourselves sick that it was ADD or that we had just been too lenient with him or something. But after learning what it was, how to deal with it, and realizing that my husband and I are, to different extents, HSP as well, we’ve all come to a much happier place. And my son’s teacher this year is ‘old school’ with desks in rows, a quiet classroom in which to learn, not a lot of interaction between kids during study time, etc…and my oldest is OWNING third grade. His previous teachers subscribed to the newer trend of clusters or semi circles for the desks, group study, etc…, which for most kids is fine, but for my son was input overload. He just couldn’t focus on what was important when he had so many distractions going on right at his cluster of desks.
I really can’t thank you enough for writing about this information. My mind is so much calmer now, realizing that my son doesn’t have a “condition” or a “disorder”. He’s just very sensitive (which we already knew); we just didn’t know how to work WITH it instead of against it.
(Btw, I just am commenting now because I had my third son on Thurs.! Hooray for not being pregnant anymore! He was 9lbs. 8oz. and 22 inches. No wonder I’d been so miserable for so long. Welcome, baby Louie!)

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Charlotte October 15, 2013 at 12:19 pm

Aw I LOVE this comment!! I’m so glad you found that book. Your son is so fortunate to have you as his advocate! I wish all HSP kids could have such an understanding, loving person in their life who “gets it”. And HUGE CONGRATS on baby number 3! He’s a chunky lil’ monkey!! I’m so happy for you and your family:)

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nell October 14, 2013 at 1:35 am

Having a reactive nervous system =/= pathology (definitely read Elaine Aron’s book!). Given a secure, loving home environment, with caregivers and teachers that know when & how to challenge, and when to accommodate the feeling of overwhelm, sensitive kids can grow to be confident, normal-range-anxiety adults.

Anxiety disorders have other roots. Which, true, sometimes coincide with being constitutionally sensitive, if the early environment is a bad fit, or there’s tons of drama at home.

What to do about it? From Aron: practice excellent self-care — sleep, feed, order your environment, and rest as needed, without forgetting to seek appropriate challenge. And, try not to marry/cohab with a high sensation-seeker, unless it’s the world’s greatest love affair. Bad news bears (lifelong jitters.)

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Charlotte October 15, 2013 at 12:21 pm

Thanks Nell! I’ll def read that book! And this: “And, try not to marry/cohab with a high sensation-seeker, unless it’s the world’s greatest love affair. Bad news bears (lifelong jitters.)” made me laugh so hard. I think you’re right!

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Crista October 16, 2013 at 2:11 pm

oh my gosh I’m not alone? your post just made me well up and feel something deep. I’ve always said it feels like I was opened up and all the emotions of the world were poured inside me. It’s intense in here – I can’t sleep when the DVD player is on but the tv is off, or if I try to go to sleep without showering I will be up all night thinking of how dirty I am. I have been trying to watch Dexter with my husband but I’m left thinking about each and every detail for days, months…
for most of my life I thought I was broken and a mess up – I’m so sensitive even as an adult and it’s been hard to shake an eating disorder when I can feel every piece of clothing cling to my skin in a different and uncomfortable way, I feel and hear things other people don’t feel. but I love your blog and I’m so happy to know I’m not broken, I’m different and its not just me

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Darwin January 2, 2014 at 9:10 pm

My first thought is that all of these characteristics have the commonality of some form of self-preservation.

From the list in the link: “…you have a heightened awareness of subtleties in your environment, whether it’s sight, sound, touch, taste, or smell.”

Walking in the woods not long ago I became distinctly aware of something behind me and to my left. I turned, and about fifty yards back and to my left across a narrow ravine…a deer stepped out into the open…saw me…and ran off.

It dawned on me that a creature as skittish and sensitive as as deer…failed to sense ME …before I sensed it.

It works in the city too…even with all of the myriad of jarring sounds…while running across a bridge…I knew how many people were behind me…without looking…and I heard a guy on a bike across four lanes of traffic on the other side of the bridge before he appeared in my peripheral vision.

But I still heard the cars and the rotation of their tires, their music and the “thud-thump” as each crossed a joining section on the bridge.

But I could also tune it all out as I pleased….get lost in my own thoughts.

Of course there IS the argument that I can get lost in my thoughts because it is unfamiliar territory. *smiles*

So THIS statement has not applied since I was a child…”You can become stressed out and upset when overwhelmed and may find it necessary to get away, maybe into a darkened room, to seek solitude, relief and comfort.”

VERY helpful for self-preservation!

“You are very creative.” This is my career.

An outlet…an escape if you will…where one has some modicum of control. Again, self-preserving…comforting…healing…

“You are very conscientious, hard working, and meticulous, but may become uncomfortable and less efficient or productive when being watched or scrutinized.” Again. not since I was a kid. But also self-preserving.

“You feel compelled to file and organize things and thoughts, also enjoy simplicity and may become overwhelmed or even immobilized by chaos, clutter, or stress.” Never had this…but ALSO self-preserving.

“You are very uncomfortable when feeling things are getting out of your control. ” ALSO self-preserving. ( I never experienced this either…as I learned early that VERY little is actually ever IN my control.)

“You get a sense of comfort and well being when around a lake, river, stream, the ocean, or even a fountain. ” Soothing healing…self-preserving.

“You may experience mood swings, sometimes occurring almost instantly and can also be affected by other people’s moods, emotions and problems.” Defensive…also a form of self-preservation.

“You have a deep, rich, inner life, are very spiritual, and may also have vivid dreams.” ALL safe places. Self-preservation.

“You are very intuitive and you feel that you can usually sense if someone isn’t telling the truth or if something else is wrong. ” SELF-EXPLANATORY self-preservation!

“You get concerned and think or worry about many things, and have also been told “you take things too personally.” Self-preservation.

“You have had the experience of “cutting people out” of your life.” Self-preservation.

“You were considered quiet, introverted, timid, or shy as a child.” Self-preservation.

“Can be startled easily.” Self-preservation.

“Cautious in new situations.” Self-preservation.

“May have trouble sleeping.” Worry wakes you up? Self-preservation.

“Extra sensitive to pain”. Self-preservation.

“Don’t like crowds (unless they are kindred spirits).” Self-preservation.

“Avoids violent movies and TV shows” Self-preservation of psych y…avoiding scary.

” Has a deep respect and appreciation of nature, music and art.” This one is definitely me, and one has to be “sensitive” to truly appreciate such things.

The movies MOONSTRUCK and PRETTY WOMAN made a point of assessing the leading lady in each movie by her reaction to opera. Usually its guys that are insensitive to opera…I happen to love opera…even sang in a couple of operas.

No. I’m not gay.

My point, and I do have one…is that all of these things are just like the others as they connote efforts at self-preservation.

Irish philosopher Edmond Burke said: “No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear.”

I say…fear thrives in darkness. The best way to defeat a fear is to drag a fear kicking and screaming into the light…and see it for what it is.

Learn something about your fear…and the light of that knowledge will take away its power.

And the truth of that knowledge will take away its power.

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ranchnumber51 January 29, 2014 at 1:47 pm

I am also an HSP. I can totally relate to the sock seam thing, as well as the inside seams of pants (especially jeans, god forbid if they were irregular… I could tell big time!), uncomfortable fabrics, shirt tags, the tightness of my shoelaces and if there was any slip in the back of the shoes! I’m sure I drove my mom nuts with the fidgeting and refusal to wear certain things.

This is kinda gross, but when I was really young, I refused to blow my nose. I’d sniff and snort or pick my nose. Why? I didn’t like the feeling of snot all over my nose when an adult would hold up a tissue and say “blow”. As I got older, I figured out that relieving each nostril separately was quite satisfactory. I still have to do it this way, but never blow my nose around anyone because it seems so weird I’m sure.

I can feel the smallest crumb through my pajamas and try to keep anything that would cause them away from my bed (although you can’t controll other people or cats (litter). So I wipe off my spot every night.

I am also finniky about temperature and airflow, especially in the car. I NEED a breeze of some kind. The air being perfectly still makes me nauseous. I also hate being too warm.

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