Sensory Processing Sensitivity, A Primer

This is the first in a series of posts exploring Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS). In the series, we’ll discuss what SPS is, some common struggles for highly sensitive people, and some coping techniques. I work with the Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) in my practice and identify as a HSP too, so this topic feels very important to me. I hope it helps you (even just a little bit) to live well in a world which can feel overwhelming, as well as rich beyond words.

Our Senses Bring the World to Us, for Better or Worse
Our sensory systems are the gateway by which we experience the world. We experience the social world by hearing the voice of another and watch emotion revealed in the small motions they make, or in the glint of an eye. Smelling a scent can transport us away to another time. Hearing the sound of rain can have us sleeping sweetly. Sometimes, especially for the highly sensitive (those who experience SPS), the world can sometimes feel like too much. All the information flowing into our sensitive systems can simply be too much to process. For example, in a social situation, I’ll be aware of so many things: the banging beats of music in the background, the sound of another conversation nearby, the smells of food, and then someone speaking to me with all their feelings and intricacies, plus my desire to really, presently listen… it can feel like too much.
Feeling overwhelmed can be a clue that the way we are choosing to live our lives is exhausting us. Which is to say that, in order for the highly sensitive to thrive, sometimes things will need to change. Change requires a certain sort of environment: one in which we can rest and reflect in order to make decisions and take action. Rest can be hard to find, though, even if we have managed to prioritise the time. It can be difficult to decide how to do what’s good for you. I have found it hard, too.

What is A Highly Sensitive Person? Am I One?
If what I have said throughout this website, particularly on my home page, resonates with you, chances are you are highly sensitive. If people have told you that you are “too sensitive,” then it might be time to hear a different message: a message that your sensitivity is an innate trait, that you have been born in a way which allows you to take in more information than most and reflect deeply. If this sounds like you, you are not made wrongly, but are sensitive in a way that can (when in the right environment) nourish you and the world. However, if you’ve not heard about this term before, I would encourage you to explore more. You can take a look on my website, or further afield (there are links from my page).

Listening to Our Sensitivities
Our sensitivities can provide such wisdom and joy. My ability to empathise, to use my sensitivity with another and my deep reflection on what it means to live, opens the world up to me time and time again. Yet, we can be required to misuse our sensitivities too, whether that’s through societal or relational demands, we can end up not hearing what our body is telling us. This is by no means always the case, but some schools of psychotherapy, point to a link between our senses and some chronic issues we might have… if you have a headache which centres around your eyes, or a migraine which affects your sight, perhaps you have seen enough. If your shoulders ache, are you carrying too much? I like to ask myself these questions sometimes.

Our perspective of the world flows through our senses, this is the way it will always be. But we do, at least some of the time, get to choose when we allow, pause or turn away from the complexities that face us. It’s okay to find stuff difficult; you don’t have to keep doing it because you’ve been told you should. In my next post, I’ll focus on how you might find ways to find some rest and create a better relationship between your needs and your senses.