Hello, My Name Is Angela & I’m A Highly Sensitive Person.
About 10 years ago I read Elaine Aron’s groundbreaking book, The Highly Sensitive Person, and it changed my life.
I’m not a fan of labels, as I find them too narrow and confining. But when I read her fascinating book, it helped me to understand myself in a startlingly new and positive way. When I first read the list of characteristics that describe a Highly Sensitive Person, only half on the list seemed to apply to me.
The characteristics that did resonate, however, spoke very loud and clear to me about my innate nature. It was like finding the golden key that began to unlock parts of myself that I did not quite understand and deemed weak or unworthy. I felt enormous relief, comfort and deep gratitude.
And I learned to value this trait as a cherished part of myself, instead of something to be shunned or judged.
With age and a whisper of wisdom, I have learned to see the trait of sensitivity not as a defect, but as a gift that allows me to see and experience life with greater insight, heightened awareness and compassion. It has also taught me humility and empathy.
I see how I clearly struggle at times and it makes me more in tune with, and sensitive to, the more severe mental and emotional struggles that people endure and overcome on a daily basis. I have also learned strategies and skills that allow me to live a full, rich life while protecting my highly sensitive nervous system.
According to Aron, many HSPs are introverts. I’ve come to recognize that I’m an introvert who sometimes enjoys masquerading as a wild extrovert. I am not prone to having my feelings easily hurt by others. I am not overly delicate or fragile emotionally, and I don’t need or expect everyone to like me.
I have no problem with speaking my mind to the few or to the many.
My heart doesn’t bruise from the harsh words of others, but I do often feel the weight of the world with all its sadness, grief and loss — immensely and deeply.
The official definition of an introvert is someone who turns inward and is contemplative by nature. I’ve always been that way. I was a loner and dreamer as a child, and have been a daily meditator for almost 35 years. I thoroughly enjoy and thrive in my own company, and though that may come off as aloof to some folks, I am simply practicing radical self-care.
I am a living, breathing contradiction, and have grown to love and appreciate my many unnamed desires and subtle complexities. I choose not to live in the land of black and white absolutes, as life is infinitely more interesting and entertaining in the grey realm of ambiguity.
I love travel, but hate early mornings and try to avoid them as best as I can. I love the culture, excitement and stimulation of great cities, but crave the peace and comfort of nature.
My perfect vacation has both — a small cruise liner with fine food that stops at wonderful, intriguing ports of call, and has a large private balcony so I can gaze out at the ocean and stars for hours.
I enjoy dressing up, going out in the town and meeting interesting people — I just like them for a short time, and with an exit strategy if necessary.
“I love humanity, I just have a hard time with people.” ~ Albert Einstein
As a fashion model for most of my life, I love the freedom of expression in being in front of the camera and the fun of walking the runway.
Having to change clothes and be naked backstage or on a photo shoot was, and still is, no big deal to me. I am completely at ease with nudity, so shy is not a word that would typically be used to describe me. I feel no angst at all when I am being interviewed on TV to promote my book, and love speaking in front of large audiences or leading workshops.
Definitely not traits one would associate with an introvert.
I can comfortably feel and act like an extrovert for a short period of time and actually enjoy it — but once I pass my threshold, I can get seriously depleted and have to hibernate in order to recharge. I need a lot of quiet alone time to be well and sane.
When I overextend myself, I pay the price and my health suffers, so I am vigilant about looking after myself.
I make no apologies about that, and have no qualms about putting myself first. I have learned that self-care is a necessity, not a luxury, and that I don’t need permission from anyone to take care of myself. Being an HSP does not define me, but it does affect how I live my life and how I move through the world.
I know myself, what works for me, and what doesn’t. I challenge myself at times, but not at the expense of my health and wellness. I will happily not be bungee jumping, skydiving, or climbing Mount Everest anytime soon!
I plan my life, my socializing and travel as best I can around my HSP nature.
I used to criticize myself that I couldn’t match the energy level of others, especially my husband’s. He needs quiet also, but we’re just wired differently. His tolerance level is different from mine. Not better, just different.
I never watch violent movies — I am way too sensitive. He loves sci-fi and horror flicks. What can I say — we have different tastes and sensitivities.
Everyone has their gaps, and we have learned to help and support each other’s wiring. He’s good at working the room at social gatherings, and I need escape plans. He’s not good at multitasking and planning ahead, whereas this is second nature to me. We try and make it work for both of us.
With understanding and compromise we have learned to navigate our way to balance our different styles and nature.
I am very protective of my energy and space, but some people are energy vampires who suck the life right out of you. They blast into a room with the vibration and whirlwind of a frenzied tornado, and literally leave everyone gasping for air. You know the ones I’m talking about.
Then there are the well-meaning extroverts who like the sound of their own voice, or they have a chip missing in their brain and don’t know when to be quiet.
Frankly, I get quite exhausted around them — so I try to avoid them as best I can. Being stuck in a car with one of these generally good-natured, but oblivious, souls is excruciating when they just don’t stop talking. In my mind I count the minutes till I can escape as fast and as far as I can.
Having clear boundaries about what and who I allow in my life has been a necessary and integral part of my self-care and wellness practice.
I hate loud noises, florescent lights, big crowds and over-stimulation of the senses. I avoid shopping malls, stores and restaurants where I cannot hear myself speak.
Small talk and idle chatter drain me, and long-winded people who keep repeating themselves when they talk test my patience level. I have some virtues, but alas, patience is not one of them.
Very late nights and jet lag throw me off for days, though that doesn’t stop me from traveling.
It’s kind of like being in labor when you’re pregnant. You forget how horrendous the pain was, or else you wouldn’t do it again. It’s a bit like that with jet lag — no matter how loopy and ghastly I feel (jet lag really does make me feel sick), I know from experience that it always passes.
Sleep is my Number One health aid and beauty aid. I’m just not one of those people who can get by on five or six hours of sleep. I look and feel truly terrible. I need a solid eight or nine hours to function well.
I’ve read that the more enlightened one becomes, the less sleep one needs. Clearly I have a very, very long way to go towards achieving enlightenment.
I’m not big on group stuff, and prefer exercising in nature, though I do enjoy a power workout at the gym when the weather is poor. I also love to let loose on the dance floor for a solid hour or two, but then I’m done. Home to a soothing bath and bed.
I prefer a small intimate dinner party, with meaningful conversation, over superficial schmoozing at a big party. I have to constantly find the balance between how much socializing and solitude I need.
Sometimes I can do more, sometimes less. I’ve become a devoted loving master at attending to my health needs.
I also try to limit my time online. The relentless checking of emails, texts, FB, etc. can be draining and damaging to the psyche. I do not need or want to be in the know all the time. I know what I’m missing, and I’m glad to miss it.
In our modern world, it’s very hard to shut out the external din that’s going on all around us. 24 hours a day we are bombarded by constant noise and over-stimulation of our senses. I was staying at a swank hotel recently and there were TVs in the elevators — God forbid we should have a little quiet for a few moments on our way down to the lobby!
It’s environmental stress like this that really does a number on my nervous system.
Health-wise, I limit sugar and alcohol and have just one coffee in the morning. I always start the day with a soothing brew of hot water, fresh lemon, ginger, turmeric and a dash of cayenne powder. It’s great for the digestion, but also revs up my morning energy before I work out. For extra energy during the day, I drink Yerba Mate and green tea.
A Japanese study showed that most introverts have low blood pressure and mine is so low sometimes it’s a wonder I’m not dead! Many years of daily meditation is also part of why it’s low, so it’s a blessing, not a concern.
Many HSPs are artists and healers. We are intuitive and sensitive to those around us. We have rich inner lives, vivid dreams, and are drawn to animals, art, music and nature. We are protective of the underdog and stand up for justice and equality — some quietly, some of us with a roar.
This insane world of ours is filled with violence, cruelty and chaos. We needs more sensitive souls. We have enough warriors — we need the teachers, the poets and philosophers. We need the dreamers and the lovers. We need people like you and me.
“The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these qualities have little to do with success as we have defined it.” ~ David W. Orr, Ecological Literacy: Educating Our Children for a Sustainable World
Sometimes life as an HSP can be overwhelming and exhausting. The world can seem just too intense and excruciatingly raw. It can also be rich, rewarding and incredibly beautiful when you learn to take care of yourself, and value and protect your unique sensitivity instead of judging.
And really, I’m not anti-social, I’m just pro-solitude.
Angela Paul is an author, model, speaker and life coach whose main focus is on relationships, marriage, life transitions and graceful aging. Her most recent book, The Beauty of Aging: A Woman’s Guide to Joyful Living, inspires and empowers women of all ages to fearlessly embrace the wisdom and beauty of aging. Angela was born and raised in Yorkshire, England, lived in Tokyo for many years and currently resides in Los Angeles. She is a long time meditator of over 30 years, travels extensively and spends as much time as she can at the beach in Malibu. A lover of solitude and nature Angela considers herself to be a Highly Sensitive Person who also joyfully exhibits occasional shades of a wild extrovert. She rarely Tweets, but you can follow her on Facebook or check out her website.