"In the past, this trait was commonly confused with shyness, social anxiety, inhibition, social phobia and introversion."
Imagine an exquisite teacup shatter and then, cartoon-like, collect its pieces together, although the repair is never perfect and the heady aromatic liquid seeping through its cracks, spreads them wider apart until...the cup breaks.
For Highly Sensitive People (HSP), drinking a simple cup of tea can be an overwhelmingly sensitive experience, explains Natalie Duggin, who, as well as her children, is affected. This is because they process sensory data more deeply and thoroughly than usual thanks to a biological difference in their nervous systems.
In the past, this trait was commonly confused with shyness, social anxiety, inhibition, social phobia and introversion. HSPs are easily overwhelmed by stimuli, get stressed by loud noises and strong smells, are extremely perceptive, have rich and often intense internal lives, and need plenty of quiet and down time to maintain their equilibrium, according to the journal Psychology Today.
Recent research, notably by Elaine N. Aron who is a leader in this field, concludes that some twenty percent of the population is affected and the trait is often hereditary. It affects men and women in equal numbers and HSPs can be mistakenly diagnosed with ADHD or Aspergers Syndrome.
'Compared to others we are easily over aroused, sensitive to subtle stimuli, react emotionally, possess high empathy and have a depth of processing. And this seems to all happen at the same time. I feel I’m operating on all levels all the time which is exhausting,' says Duggin.
Research also indicates that HSPs tend to be gifted as they feel, see, hear, understand and process the world around them on a very profound level.
'The problem for most of us however, is how easily overwhelmed we become when processing the world around us, like handling a hurricane and a hail storm with an umbrella,' Duggin continues.
' We are consistently blown around, battered and bruised by our emotions and senses. For me retreating to a quiet, dark room has been my coping mechanism.'
Unsurprisingly HSPs tend to live carefully around the edges of life, observing but not quite able to interact. They may also be a little mystical.
'If you are Highly Sensitive then one of yours is most likely to be too and vice versa,' says Duggin. 'I want more than ever to encourage my children to recognise and accept their needs but first I must accept and learn mine. I know I am ‘different”. Now at 47, I consciously appease my instincts and intuitions. I am beginning to examine them and manage them acceptingly, to make the changes I need to be happy in order to live without fear and apprehension. These traits, these gifts have a purpose and where there is purpose there is true potential.'