Self Esteem, Solutions, Support, Toolkit

Silencing Your Inner Critic

By request, this is the transcript from a video made almost 5 years ago. I hope you find it helpful 🙂

Silencing Your Inner Critic

Most of us have had the experience of negative self talk – criticizing yourself, beating yourself up over things you wish you could change or had done differently. What I have noticed as a therapist is that these little nasty voices in your head in no way help you change for the better. In fact, they more often get in the way of you being able to move forward in your life and feel good about yourself. This video is going to talk about negative self-talk, how and why so many of us experience this, and how to substitute the critical tape playing in your head, telling you you are not good enough, for more positive and realistic messages.

People typically judge and criticize themselves for their appearance, financial status, relationships, parenting skills, weight, and the list goes on and on. Where do these messages start? A variety of places. Sometimes we receive critical messages as children – from our parents, family members, even in the schoolyard. The media is quite often not self-esteem friendly, making you feel that if your skin is not flawless, you are not a size two, your earning potential is not what you want it to be, your relationship is not perfect – you are a failure. And finally, we make mistakes in life. We show poor judgment and we don’t always do the right thing. So guilt can linger from past mistakes, and we find we can’t let it go and forgive ourselves.

Let me ask you this. What type of language do you use with yourself when you notice a flaw or make a mistake? Do you insult yourself, beat yourself up, or do you take a more compassionate and understanding
tone? Many of us are our own worst critics, and our inner voice is unforgiving and harsh. Let’s say your inner voice is highly critical – does this help you feel better about yourself? Or does it tear you down, making you feel flawed and like a failure?

– When you notice something about yourself you don’t like, instead of feeling cut off from others, or do you feel connected with your fellow humans who are also imperfect? Do you tend to feel cut off from others when things go wrong, with the irrational feeling that everyone else is having a better time of it than you, or do you get in touch with the fact that all humans experience hardship in their lives?

– Ask yourself about the consequences of being so hard on yourself. Does it make you more motivated and happy, or discouraged and depressed? If being hard on yourself doesn’t make you a happier person, then clearly it’s not working. Time for a new perspective.

– Another question to ask yourself – how do you think you would feel if you could truly love and accept yourself exactly as you are? Does this possibility scare you, give you hope, or both? I have had clients tell me they felt self-acceptance was narcissistic or selfish. It’s neither.

– When you run into challenges in your life, do you tend to ignore your pain or struggle, and focus exclusively on fixing the problem, or do you stop to give yourself care and comfort?

– When you come up against problems or mistakes, do you make a bigger deal out of it than you need to, or do you tend to keep things in balanced perspective?

If you feel that you lack sufficient self-compassion, check in with yourself – are you criticizing yourself for this too? If so, stop right there. Try to feel compassion for how difficult it is to be an imperfect human being in this extremely competitive society of ours. Most of us live in cultures that do not emphasize self-compassion, quite the opposite. We’re told that we’re being self-indulgent if we don’t hold ourselves to harsh standards. We may feel that no matter how hard we try, our best just isn’t good enough. It’s time for something different. We can all benefit by learning to be more self-compassionate, and now is the perfect time to start.

Here is an exercise to not only help silence your inner critic, but to instead create your inner friend.

Create in your imagination a friend who is unconditionally loving, accepting, kind and
compassionate toward you. Imagine that this friend can see all your strengths and all your weaknesses, including any aspects you criticize yourself for. Think about what this friend feels about you, and how you are loved and accepted exactly as you are, with all your human imperfections. This friend recognizes the limits of human nature, and is kind and forgiving towards you. In his/her great wisdom this friend understands your life history and the thousands of things that have happened in your life to create you as you are right now. Any perceived faults are connected to so many things you didn’t choose: your genes, your family history, life circumstances – things that were outside of your control. Your friend sees through these human imperfections to the core of the real you, and accepts and loves you the way you are.

Now. I’d like you to sit down with a pen and paper, or in front of the computer. Write a letter from this friend to you. What would this friend say to you about your mistakes or flaws from the perspective of unlimited compassion? How would this friend convey the deep compassion he/she feels for you, especially for the pain you feel when you judge yourself so harshly? What would this friend write in order to remind you that you are only human, that all people have both strengths and weaknesses?

If your imaginary friend might suggest possible changes you could make, how would these suggestions express unconditional understanding and compassion? As you write to yourself from the perspective of this imaginary friend, try to infuse your letter with a strong sense of acceptance, kindness, caring, and desire for your health and happiness.

Once you have finished this exercise, sit quietly for a bit. Step away from what you have written, and come back to re-read the letter in a little while. Maybe an hour or so. As you return and read, allow the compassion expressed in the letter to flow into you. Become aware of how it feels to experience kindness, loving acceptance, and forgiveness.

This experience can become a part of your daily life, in the way you speak about and to yourself. Replace your inner critic with an inner friend. Your work will not fall apart, I promise you. You may find that holding positive feelings about yourself allows you to increase your motivation and lessen depression or internal criticism. If you’d like to, take a few of the positive sentences expressed in your letter, write them on a sticky note or a piece of paper, and put them up around your home so that you can see these positive words as you go through your daily life.

It’s not enough to silence your inner critic. You have to fill that void, with positive self talk and an idea of friendship toward yourself.

I hope this simple exercise will help you begin to let go of being your own worst critic and begin to become your own best friend.

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Anxiety, Communication, Dermatillomania, Family of Origin, Family Ties, Parenting, Relationships, San Diego Counseling, San Diego Therapist, Self Esteem, Solutions, Support, Therapy

Understanding Shame and Guilt

In this blog post we will be talking about the difference between shame and guilt, where shame comes from, and how you can begin to heal from feeling shame.

Guilt is generally a reaction to something you have done.  It may be something you have actually done, like telling a lie. Or it may be something you’ve done or thought of doing that really isn’t wrong, but you still feel guilt about it anyway. More about that a bit later. Guilt is an emotion that is experienced when you violate your own values.

Shame, on the other hand, is less about something you have done, and more about feeling a sense of disgrace about who you are. Let me go back to the example of lying. If you lie and you feel guilty, you may think, “Lying is wrong. I should not have told that lie. I feel bad about doing that.” Shame says “I told a lie, I am no good. Something is wrong with me for having done something like that. I feel bad about myself.”

Guilt is a message, sometimes justified, that notifies you that you are deviating from what you consider to be right.  Shame is a feeling that tells you that you may not be adequate or worthy. It’s far deeper than feeling bad about a behavior – the person experiencing shame can feel inadequate and unworthy. In fact, shame can be a part of a person’s everyday way of being in the world – a sense that they are not good enough.

Let me back up for a moment and talk about feeling guilt when you haven’t done anything wrong. Where does that come from? If you are in a situation and doing your best with the resources you have, why feel guilty about the outcome? One reason can be taking responsibility for the feelings of others. Maybe you have plans to go to a family gathering, when a friend asks you for a ride to work. You say no, but carry a lingering feeling of guilt throughout the family event. Or you take a test in school, and don’t get the grade you – and maybe your parents or peers – expected to see. In each case, you probably did the best you could, someone else may have felt disappointed, and your sense of guilt is partly connected with their emotions. Guilt is not necessarily a bad emotion. It can help us hone our own moral compass, signally us when we act in ways that don’t fit our values. In the previous example about telling a lie, guilt lets you know that lying is an uncomfortable behavior, and it can end up doing more harm than good. Guilt teaches you that lying is wrong, and that you don’t want to do it. You can learn from the experience, forgive yourself, and move on with new knowledge.

Shame, though, can have deeper roots. Sometimes we are wounded in childhood, whether by our parents or teachers or friends. A part of us believes that we are fundamentally not good enough, and when we don’t measure up to expectations (whether our own or someone else’s), we feel unworthy and ashamed. Shame tells us we are bad, or not worthy of love or acceptance.

How to deal with feelings of shame:

Be aware of your thoughts: The next time you face a situation that makes you feel ashamed, examine the thoughts that come up. Then, challenge them. Are they true, or are they just old tapes that tear you down and make you doubt yourself? What more realistic, positive messages can you replace them with? As you keep practicing this over and over it will become a normal part of your thinking pattern.

Examine where you first felt shame: Were you a child, unable to make a hit in softball? Did you develop slower than the other kids in your class? Do you lack the artistic talent that your sibling excels in? Was your family life dysfunctional, such as alcoholic, violent, or otherwise not as nurturing as all children need?

Reach out for support and healing: It’s never too late to find acceptance and nurturing, whether from friends, family, support groups, or even a professional counselor. Ultimately, your goal might be to be able to nurture and comfort yourself.

While guilt may have some uses in helping us correct behaviors that we want to change, shame is nearly always destructive. Take the time to explore feelings that distort your perception of yourself and the world you live in, and know that there is always hope to say goodbye to shame and feel better about yourself.

Anxiety, Mental Health, San Diego Counseling, San Diego Therapist, Self Esteem, Solutions, Stress, Support, Therapy, Toolkit

Social Anxiety Disorder

Social Anxiety Disorder

In this blog we will be revisiting the topic of Social Anxiety, including a couple of updates from the new DSM 5, or the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association.

Social Anxiety Disorder, which was formerly called Social Phobia, is an anxiety disorder in which a person has an excessive and unreasonable fear of social situations. Anxiety (intense nervousness) and self-consciousness arise from a fear of being closely watched, judged, and criticized by others.

A person with Social Anxiety Disorder basically feels fearful that he or she will make mistakes, look bad, and be embarrassed or humiliated in front of others. The anxiety can be severe enough to build into a panic attack. As a result of the fear, the person either tries their best to endure certain social situations even though they are in extreme distress, or may avoid them altogether. To receive a diagnosis of Social Anxiety Disorder, the anxiety must be “out of proportion” to the actual threat or danger the situation poses. Symptoms may include blushing, sweating, heart palpitations, trembling, dizziness, and nausea.

People with Social Anxiety Disorder often suffer “anticipatory” anxiety — the fear of a situation before it even happens — for days or weeks before the event. Most of us may feel nervous before a job interview or a public presentation. For the person with Social Anxiety Disorder, the way they feel is far beyond a simple case of nervousness. It can be crippling, and can prevent the person from fully participating in their own lives.

In many cases, adults tend to be aware that the fear is unreasonable, but they are unable to overcome it on their own. Children may not have the maturity yet to recognize that their anxiety is extreme.

People with Social Anxiety Disorder may be afraid of a specific situation, such as speaking in public. However, most people with Social Anxiety Disorder experience fear more than one social situation. Other situations that commonly provoke anxiety include:

  • Eating or drinking in front of others.
  • Writing or working in front of others.
  • Being the center of attention.
  • Interacting with people, including dating or going to parties.
  • Asking questions or giving reports in groups.

Although worries about some of these situations are common, people with Social Anxiety Disorder worry excessively about them before, during and after the event. They fear that they will do or say something that they think will be humiliating or embarrassing, or that those around them are judgmental or critical.

Social Anxiety Disorder can have a negative impact on a person’s functioning, disrupting normal life, interfering with social relationships and quality of life and impairing performance at work or school. People with Social Anxiety Disorder may misuse alcohol or drugs to try to reduce their anxiety, and in some cases, alleviate depression which can co-occur with anxiety.

Social Anxiety Disorder can sometimes be linked to other disorders, such as Panic Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and depression. Without treatment, Social Anxiety Disorder can negatively interfere with the person’s normal daily routine, including school, work, social activities, and relationships.

Treatment for Social Anxiety Disorder

As with most mental health disorders, there is no one answer for the best way to treat each individual case. Nor is every person with Social Anxiety Disorder the same. That said, I will do my best to give you an overview of the most common thinking about the disorder, and some links below where you can investigate and learn more.

People with Social Anxiety Disorder are thought to suffer from distorted thinking, including false beliefs about social situations and the negative opinions of others. I can give you a couple of examples to help this make sense. A faulty thought which can contribute to anxiety looks like “If I speak up in this meeting and ask my question, I will look like a fool.” Or “I am no good with making conversation. People at this party are going to hate me.”

That leads me to one of the most widely accepted therapies for Social Anxiety, which is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. If we can work with you to help clear up any distortions in your thought patterns, improve your self-concept, and develop a realistic perception of the likelihood that others are evaluating you in a negative way, it can help develop new ways of thinking that are more realistic and healthy.

We also sometimes include assertiveness and social skills training in helping people overcome Social Anxiety. There may be a genuine sense of not knowing what to say or do in social or work situations. Speaking up or meeting someone new can be stressful if you aren’t sure how to do it.

Relaxation training can be an enormous help in dealing with any type of anxiety. We work with clients to help them recognize the signs that they are becoming anxious, and then set up steps to relax and calm any fears.

Finally, there is medication available to help with anxiety, usually in conjunction with the therapies I have already mentioned. My suggestion in most cases is to try therapy first, and if we don’t see improvement within an agreed-upon period of time, we will discuss a referral to a physician who can prescribe medication.

As I mention often, I want to know what my client with anxiety is eating or drinking. If you feel anxious, and you are drinking coffee or soda with caffeine every day, your symptoms are likely to be worse. I would say the same for a diet with lots of sugar and processed food. There does seem to be a correlation between diet and mental health – be kind to your body, feed it nutritious food, and chances are your mental health will benefit as well.

Thank you for reading, and feel free to add your comments below about Social Anxiety Disorder.

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Mental Health, Relationships, San Diego Counseling, San Diego Therapist, Self Esteem, Stress, Support, Toolkit

Helping Yourself By Helping Others

Helping others can not only help you feel good, but it may also increase physical and emotional well-being. Several studies have indicated that being generous with your time and energy can have a positive effect on how a person thinks and feels. One such study from researchers at Cornell University uncovered that volunteering increases one’s energy, sense of mastery over life and self-esteem.

If you are in a place in your life where you are feeling down in the dumps or without purpose, helping others can bring a feeling of wellbeing to both you and the receiver of your efforts. When you make others’ lives better, you make the world a better place.

Research shows that people who reach out to help others enjoy higher levels of mental health. Creating a balanced lifestyle that includes service to others can help you feel less stress as well, as you feel more connected to your community, more grateful for what you have, and less caught up in the day to day grind and negativity that affects us all from time to time. Focusing on the positive in life, and creating more positive things in the world, can help you to maintain greater feelings of happiness and fulfillment.

People are generally more happy when they have meaning in their lives, and part of living a meaningful life is having a feeling of making a difference in the world. Whether you donate unneeded household items or volunteer your time, there are many ways to get involved with worthy causes, either as an individual, with your partner, or with your whole family. Getting involved with a cause that you believe in, whether you give a little or a lot, can be a great way to spread some joy this year, and create more joy for yourself while you’re at it! The following are some examples of simple ways to get involved:

Because there are many charities that collect donations and run resale shops, you can clear clutter and help a worthy cause at the same time. While many of us have cluttered homes because we can’t bear to toss something that can still be useful (though unnecessary for us), it can be easier to let go of these items knowing that they’ll help in two ways: they’ll provide someone else a chance to find use in them, and the money from their sale can further a cause you believe in! You’ll end up with increased satisfaction and a more streamlined living space, and others will benefit from your unneeded items.

The gift of your time, even an hour a week, can make a significant difference in the lives of others, or for a cause you support. This a great route for many people as it leads to the satisfaction of making a difference, provides an outlet to meet others who share your interest, and often allows you the opportunity to see the difference you make and the people you help.

Maybe you are feeling too stressed and busy to worry about helping others with their burdens, or plan to think about doing good deeds when you have more ‘spare’ time, energy. The truth is, altruism is its own reward, and can actually help you relieve stress. Altruistic acts can improve your quality of life in several ways, and are absolutely worth the effort. Here are some ways that helping others helps you:

Keeping Things In Perspective: Many people don’t realize the strong impact that their perspective of life has on their outlook. However, your way of seeing the world can make a real difference in your level of life satisfaction. Finding yourself in need of help is something that can happen to anyone – not just the downtrodden. Look at the devastation this week from hurricane Sandy. Natural disasters don’t discriminate. People from all walks of life are affected and can use any help we can give.

When you do something nice for someone else, often the positive effects go beyond just you and that other person, influencing your whole community. When you do nice things for others, you often enable them to do nice things for others, and the phenomenon grows. Maybe you have heard that called “paying it forward.” Your children and your friends may see your good example and behave in more altruistic ways as well. As Ghandi said, “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” You can contribute to a more positive community. Not only that, when we are depressed or anxious we may tend to isolate away from others. We may pull back into our shell, where our problems become our whole world. Volunteering some time or helping a cause can bring you back into connection with others.

When you feel stressed and overwhelmed, you may feel like you’re least able to give. However, acts of altruism can be a great form of stress relief. Studies have shown that the act of giving can activate the area of the brain associated with positive feelings, lifting your spirits, and making you feel better. Helping others can lead to emotional well-being, a more positive perspective, and can be a healthy means for relieving stress and increasing life satisfaction.

There are many ways to give back and experience these physical and psychological benefits, including:

* helping at a local school,

* volunteering at a hospital,

* assisting in relief efforts after a natural disaster

* donating blood

* donating unused items, like clothes or appliances

* reading to children at a library,

* helping to care for animals at shelters,

* volunteering at a hospice and comforting those at the end of their lives,

* becoming a companion to a senior citizen.

What might you be able to do right now to reach out and help someone in need? Feel free to share your thoughts below.

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Communication, Intimacy, Relationships, Self Esteem, Therapy

Overcoming Insecurity and Self-Doubt

Doubting is a natural human response to any unfamiliar situation. But self-doubt is about ourselves. Self-doubt is a fear of being judged, or making a mistake. Feeling insecure or not as good as others can negatively effect your relationships, your work, and your ability to enjoy your life to the fullest.

Self-doubt has its roots in our past experiences and what we have learned from them.  Infants don’t come with thoughts like: “I am not good enough to do this.”

As we grew up, making decisions, we receive information from the environment and those around us. We go through many experiences and have contact with friends, family, fellow students or co-workers, etc. Everyone we interact with leaves us with some type of imprint. Some of that imprint is supportive and encouraging. Some of it isn’t.

In addition, some people seem to be more able to shrug negative experiences and interactions off. They are affected by them, but they remain intact and grounded in who they are and their sense of self-worth. Others find themselves deeply affected by difficult people and situations, and they may find their sense of self and confidence suffers as a result.

This can be the place where self-doubt and fear of making mistakes begins, from other people’s expectations of us and sometimes even their criticism of us when we’ve made mistakes.

The information that was not encouraging and supportive in our learning is the root of our self-doubt. Many of us, in part because of the external responses we have received throughout our lives, may feel self doubt or insecurity. This type of negative self-perception tends to feed upon itself. We begin to see the world in terms of experiences that solidify that perception that we are not good enough. You may feel it becomes more and more difficult to assert yourself, feel confident, or roll with the punches of everyday life without allowing them to tear down your sense of self.

A negative self-image can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. In other words, a self-doubting mindset can set us up to fail. Most of the time the core emotion underneath self-doubt is fear.

However, there are some steps we can take to minimize, or even eliminate, this negative cycle.

1. The first decision we make is to acknowledge our self-doubt and fear. In doing this we must call it what it is.

For example, when you feel afraid about an experience or decision, don’t label the feeling as nervousness or anxiety. It’s fear. Once you have acknowledged it, you can set about to find practical methods to deal with it.

2. Secondly, once we have labeled the fear and self-doubt we will want to examine it more closely.

“How much self-doubt and fear am I actually experiencing? On a scale from one to ten, with ten being the highest possible fear, how would I rate this feeling?”

How does feeling this fear benefit you? I know that probably sounds like an odd question, but when we have a personality tendency or a belief that limits you, typically those start as a coping mechanism of some sort. How do insecurity or self doubt serve you? Do they keep you from taking risk and possibly being hurt or embarrassed? Acknowledging both the pros and cons of any behavior that you want to change will help you succeed in making healthy changes.

3. The other side of examining thoughts that feed self-doubt is challenging those thoughts. As I have mentioned in several videos – thoughts are just thoughts. Feelings are just feelings. They are not necessarily facts. Giving thoughts and feelings the power of fact can rob you of any sense of self control or efficacy. You become a victim of your thoughts and feelings, which may have no basis in fact. Examining thoughts and feelings for truth can help you dismantle ways of reacting which have not been helpful for you.

4. Next, ask yourself how your life would change if you no longer felt held back by insecurity or self doubt? What would you feel? What would you be able to do? Now – give one of those things a try. Let’s say you’d like to go back to school, but you have convinced yourself that you are not smart enough or that you can’t see it through. Realizing that this is a fear is the first step. Next, challenging the assumption that you are going to fail shows you that while you can probably imagine that scenario, there may be little if any truth in it.  Now that you have dismantled this assumption a bit, decide on a step you can take toward change. Sign up for a class, for example. Give yourself a chance to succeed, and practice positive thoughts that you can and will make it.

These are some ideas to help you confront negative perceptions and fear and take some healthy steps to deal with the possible outcomes. I welcome your comments below.

Medical Issues, Mental Health, Self Esteem, Therapy, Uncategorized

Emotional Eating

Our relationship with food and eating can be complicated. Today we’re going to talk about emotional eating – or eating in response to emotions, whether feeling upset, happy, or even bored. Food can be a mechanism for self-soothing. It differs from eating from hunger in a few ways.

When you are hungry, you may have a preference as to what you might want to eat, but it is less about craving a particular food and more about just nourishing your body. You eat to not feel hungry any more, not so much to ease, maintain, or elicit a feeling. Whether it is seeking out a particular comfort food after a tough day, or finding yourself unable to maintain moderation when it comes to emotional eating, this article will give you some ideas on how to use food in the healthiest way possible.

One note – I think we all have times when we have a craving for a certain favorite food, and this in itself is not a problem. It’s when cravings and emotional eating begin to cause a problem for you, either emotionally or physically or both, that you may want to consider some ways to moderate your eating. But enjoying food is not a pathological condition!

A few ways you may be able to differentiate emotional eating from hunger is that hunger builds up over a few hours (this can vary from person to person – some people need three meals a day, others prefer to graze with several small meals). Emotional eating seems to come up almost instantly, in response to a stimulus in the environment. Your boss yells at you, you go home, skip dinner, and lose yourself in a box of donuts. Your significant other lets you down, so even though you’re not really hungry you eat several servings of mashed potatoes until you feel calmer. Continuing to eat when you are not hungry can be a sign that something is out of whack.

So start by learning what triggers emotional eating for you. Make a list of some behaviors that you can substitute when you are feeling sad, overwhelmed, bored, or other emotional states that make you want to eat out of emotion, not hunger. You can call a friend, go for a walk, exercise, meditate, write in a journal, or any healthy activity that will support your emotional state.

Next, when you do eat, do it consciously. If you find that it’s way too easy to sit down and eat an entire half gallon of ice cream, you can decide in advance on portions that you feel are moderate. You might even portion your snacks into baggies so that you feel you can indulge a little but not overdo it. Deprivation is not the goal, moderation is.

A little more about conscious eating. Emotional eating tends to occur in kind of a zone….we may eat more rapidly, greater quantities, or without even really tasting what we are eating. Whether you are having a meal or a snack, slow down and really enjoy your food. Look at it, smell it, take small bites and chew them completely. By connecting with the experience of eating, you’ll not only enjoy your food more but you will probably feel more satisfied and even more in control by being conscious when you eat.

If you have it in the house, you’ll probably eat it. So when you shop, have a look around for healthy snacks. For example, I love Lay’s potato chips. Not the healthiest snack. A friend turned me on to homemade kale chips and I have never looked back. When I get home from the grocery store, I will wash and chop fresh veggies and store them in individual bags, bake some kale chips, and make a few other healthy options. When I want a snack, I have several things to choose from that I can enjoy guilt-free. I also started my own organic garden – that is not only a healthy way to eat, but it is a really fun stress-reducing activity. Get outside in the fresh air and grow a few things, even if your space is limited to pots.

Finally, if emotional issues are driving you to eat in ways that you feel are unhealthy for you, take a closer look at those issues. Make an emotional wellness plan which will address the core issues pushing you toward eating in ways that you’d like to change. See a counselor, talk with a friend, start an exercise program, take a class, make a change.

Food is a vital part of life. It can help keep us healthy and active, or literally weigh us down, sap our strength, and make us feel guilty or even sick. Get in touch with what food means to you, and what you need from it. I hope this video was helpful, and I welcome your comments below. Thanks for reading!

You can watch a high-definition version of this blog post on video here:

Mental Health, Relationships, Self Esteem, Therapy

The Highly Sensitive Person

You may or may not have heard the term “Highly Sensitive Person,” or “HSP.” If you have, maybe you wondered what it meant, or if it applied to you. This blog will talk about this personality type, which according to Dr. Elaine Aron, occurs in up to 20% of the population. Research estimates it affects as many as half of the clients who seek therapy.

20%? That’s quite a bit. But for people who fit the description of the traits attributed to a Highly Sensitive Person, or HSP, it can sometimes feel like being alone and misunderstood in a crowd of people who don’t feel things as acutely as you do, or perhaps even criticize you for your tendency to heightened awareness of your environment and those in it.

Let’s back up for a minute and talk about some common traits of Highly Sensitive People.

As I mentioned, HSPs tend to have a heightened awareness of subtleties in their environment, whether it’s sight, sound, touch, taste, or smell. Bright lights, loud noises, strong smells, rough fabrics, and things like that feel amplified and intrusive.  If you are an HSP, you can become stressed out when overwhelmed and may find it necessary to step away in order to regroup and recharge.

HSPs can be creative, conscientious, hard working, and meticulous. They are often their own worst critics, and may lean toward perfectionism.  They may have been considered quiet, introverted, or shy as a child.

Highly Sensitive People feel more comfortable when things are in organized and orderly, and they may become overwhelmed by change or chaos. Now, everyone can be overwhelmed by chaos – true. However, for the HSP, the threshold where overwhelm occurs can be lower than for others. Loud parties and crowds can range from annoying to almost painful.

Highly Sensitive People can also be affected by other people’s moods, emotions and problems. They are often described as intuitive and empathetic – it’s almost as if they feel the emotions of others. If something is wrong with a friend, or someone is not being truthful, the HSP may tune into it quicker than other people.

HSPs think or worry about many things, and may have been told “you take things too personally” or “don’t be so sensitive.” Believe me, if the HSP could help it, they probably would.

Highly Sensitive People may avoid extremes in the media, such as violence or even movies that are too sad. As far as interpersonal relationships go, they have a low tolerance for toxic people and may have had to step back from friends or family members – as far as cutting people out of their lives when they feel they have no choice.

An HSP typically has an appreciation of nature, music and art, and these may move them to deep emotional reactions. He or she may tend more toward cooperation than competition, even to the point of underperforming in competitive environments.

HSPs are not necessarily introverts. Highly Sensitive People may be extroverted, but with their love of people and lack of shyness, they still tend to be introspective, have rich inner lives, and need a lot of time alone.

Having heard all of this, do you think you might be a Highly Sensitive Person? I highly recommend getting Elaine Aron’s book as a next step. I have also included a link to a free test on her website for those of you who are curious to see where you fit. If you identify as an HSP, it’s actually a relief to know that you are not neurotic or socially hopeless. If up to 20% of the population is wired this way, you are most definitely not alone. Take the time to learn more about the Highly Sensitive personality type, and set a goal to love and accept yourself for exactly who you are.

Free Test from Dr. Aron’s website: