There has been quite the hype around being a ‘highly sensitive person’ in the last few years.
It’s a buzz created by an American psychologist Elaine Aron, who coined the phrase with her series of successful books.
Aron’s main research paper looks at animal studies. It then connects this to research done on human personality traits to suggest that ‘sensitivity’ might be a trait we can be born with. I
It’s an interesting hypothesis. But it’s actually only that, and based on other people’s research at that. There are far too many other factors to yet claim we are just ‘born sensitive’.
Aron admits this herself in her main research paper. Its says, “personality differences can be related to many factors, including of course the physical and social environment, development of specialised skills through experience using them, and as a side effect of other inherited traits such as growth rate in nonhuman animals and body size and strength in human extraverts.”
And the hypothesis of ‘I am just born highly sensitive’ has a dangerous side. It can mean someone does not take the time to look at other contributing factors that can actually be effectively treated.
What Can Cause Emotional Oversensitivity?
Before writing off your oversensitivity as just something you were born with and can’t change, consider other possible contributing factors.
Flawed parenting can also causes emotional oversensitivity.
Attachment theory suggests that you need at least one caregiver as a child who offers you unconditional love and is trustworthy. If your main caregiver was instead unreliable – if they only loved you when you were ‘good’, for example, of if they were mentally ill or emotionally unavailable – then you will grow up to have what is called ‘anxious attachment’. This leaves you overly attuned and responsive to other people’s actions.
The most important thing to note here is that both childhood trauma and unsuccessful parenting are issues that can be effectively treated with talk therapies.
If considering yourself as a ‘highly sensitive person’ (HSP) helps you understand yourself, and works to make your life easier and more fulfilled, wonderful. And if it means you focus your sensitivity in useful ways like being creative and empathetic, even better.
But if you find you are using being oversensitive as an excuse, then not so great. If you are opting out of relationships, for example, or not going after the career you want, because you are ‘too sensitive’, then that is not helpful.
And if you suspect you had childhood trauma or did not receive the love and care you needed when young, then it’s a very wise idea to reach out for support.
Difficult childhoods do not have to be life sentences. There are many types of therapy geared to help you. You can new ways of thinking and being that mean you are no longer controlled by your sensitivities, but can use them in ways that benefit you.