Endings, Changes and New Beginnings

Update from Barbara Allen

It’s been a while since I have updated everyone on the National Centre for High Sensitivity. I have been recovering from exhaustion the last couple of years and therefore had to take steps to limit my workload. We had been working for some time on finding funding that might help expand and underpin the work of the National Centre, however, in combination with other stresses, it became too long a haul in the end for me to be able to see it through. So I made the decision in 2019 to close the National Centre and this has now happened. The website will close shortly in the next couple of weeks, its been left up for a while in case people want to copy any information or resources. We have transferred the HSP Support Directory to this blog, you will find it at: https://nchsnews.wordpress.com/hsp-support-directory/

Even though the National Centre is closing, I think the work involved so far has ensured that high sensitivity has a higher profile than it used to. Ildiko Davis has stepped up to continue the Meetup.com site that we used to promote some of our UK HSP events and she is planning to continue to write for you the HSP News (the ex. newsletter of the NCHS). The Growing Unlimited HSP Hampshire Meetup that I run is still continuing and I will add events to the calendar as and when I am able to. I’m currently offering a fortnightly one-hour opportunity for HSPs to commune online. Most events are happening online now as you know. There are also now many HSP colleagues who are offering HSP events and opportunities for growth and development throughout the UK, for which I am grateful, so do continue to google for these events and join in when you get a chance

In the background in recent months, I have been part of a founding group of experienced HSP professionals, the International Consultants on High Sensitivity, (members of this group are listed on Dr Aron’s website as speakers). This has developed out of a group who attended training in the USA with Dr Elaine Aron. Now that I am recovered, I am still practicing as an HSP Mentor, offering 1-1 support and also support to parents of HSCs. I am still training professionals, although I have tried to keep my practice part-time where possible. If you want to contact me, you can find me on my longstanding personal website at www.growingunlimited.co.uk. I am also still involved with various HSPs who are promoting and leading awareness of our trait ‘out there’ in the UK, Europe and USA. Sadly, due to Covid-19, the HSP Weekend Retreat Jacquelyn Strickland and I planned in Colorado, USA had to be cancelled, but we hope that one day we will be able to recommence this plan and also start planning for a joint event in the UK.

If any of you are interested in research and the science behind Sensory Processing Sensitivity, there is a new website called http://www.sensitivityresearch.com where leading researchers and scientists are listing projects and scientific articles and papers. This website has been created by Michael Pluess and his colleagues, a team of people in the UK who have been doing some important research around high sensitivity. If you are a practitioner or a researcher, you can become a member on the site, take a look, I’m sure there will be something of interest for everyone.

Do keep me updated on what you are doing and if you need any input, let me know – I’ve met hundreds of HSPs through my work in recent years and often wonder how you are doing . The best email for contacting me is hspsensitive@icloud.com.

barbara_allen-wI’m currently taking my own advice and staying in, in a little bolt-hole in Cornwall that I obtained as part of my recovery plans. It has been amazing how much difference this has made to my wellbeing and has underlined once again, just how much quiet-time and contact with nature has the power to revive, re-focus and empower. I will leave you with couple of photos of my restful space above and send you all my warmest wishes for the future. In the meantime, I do wish you all the best in pursuing an authentic work and domestic life as highly sensitive people.

Warmest wishes, Barbara

Barbara Allen
Founder, Growing Unlimited Consultancy
& National Centre for High Sensitivity CIC
Article written by Barbara Allen (e-mail: accounts@hspsensitive.com)

HSP therapist research – would you like to participate?

Dear therapist(s),

Would you like to take part in research about the highly sensitive person (HSP)?!

I am a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Canterbury Christ Church University (CCCU) undertaking research on the highly sensitive person (HSP), otherwise termed Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS). I am looking for individuals who self-identify as being HSP who are also therapists (e.g. counsellors, psychotherapists) to take part in an interview. I am interested in how being HSP impacts on your work with clients, particularly in terms of empathy and the therapeutic relationship. I identify with being HSP and I am also a qualified counsellor. The research has received ethical approval from the Faculty of Social and Applied Sciences at CCCU and adheres to General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). If you are interested in taking part and/or would like further information please do get in touch with me elizabeth.roxburgh@canterbury.ac.uk and I can send you a copy of the participant information sheet/answer any queries you may have. Your insights on this fascinating topic would be much appreciated!

Best wishes,
Liz

Dr. Elizabeth Roxburgh
Senior Lecturer in Psychology

School of Psychology, Politics, and Sociology
Faculty of Social and Applied Sciences
Canterbury Christ Church University

New Book by Dr. Elaine Aron: THE HIGHLY SENSITIVE PARENT

Be Brilliant in Your Role, Even When the World Overwhelms You

I am delighted to report about the publication of Dr. Elaine Aron’s new book for highly sensitive parents, as I am certain that it will be a valued resource for HSPs who are raising children. Highly sensitive parents are parents who have a highly sensitive nervous system, an innate trait that is found in about 20% of the population, in equal numbers of men and women. There are four key characteristics of HSPs:

  • First is that they process all of the information that comes to them more thoroughly than the other 80% do.
  • Second, they are more emotionally responsive and have higher empathy.
  • Third, HSPs notice subtleties that others miss.
  • Finally, because of the other three aspects, they are taking in a lot and become overstimulated more quickly than others.

Because of these characteristics, highly sensitive parents are uniquely attuned to their children, think deeply about every issue affecting their kids, and have strong emotions, both positive and negative, in response to parenting. Because of all of this, they also find parenting far more stressful than parents who are not highly sensitive. The Highly Sensitive Parent is a unique book that offers these parents strategies for handling stressors, as well as relationship issues that arise especially for this group.

It is important to point out that  THE HIGHLY SENSITIVE PARENT is not a parenting book. It is written more for highly sensitive people who are parents to better respond and manage the demands of parenting as well as their own high sensitivity. In short, to become the best possible parent by reducing the overstimulation you are experiencing as an HSP and fitting in more self-care and down time.

Topics covered in The Highly Sensitive Parent include:

  • Coping with Overstimulation – Managing breaks, boundaries, and how to react when it gets overwhelming;
  • Getting Help – Whether it’s from parents, in-laws, teachers, neighbors, or day-care, the idea of help is to be the best parent you can be;
  • Enjoying and Regulating Your Responsiveness – From toddler tantrums to teenage angst, how manage your methods, examine your emotions, and get your rest;
  • Navigating Intensive Social Contact – Teachers, babysitters, doctors, in-laws, your parents, other parents – how to balance setting limits on the types and frequency of your social interactions without putting a damper on your child’s social life or development;
  • Sensitive Parents and Their Partners – Weathering new stressors, from parenting styles and workloads and conflict do’s-and-don’ts (and conflict skills for HSPs);
  • 8 Ways to Make Strengthen the Foundation of Your Parenting Partnership – Don’t miss the chance to repair, grow, and deepen the relationship with your co-parent.

Being a parent is one of the hardest and most valuable job you probably will ever do. As a Highly Sensitive Parent, you have a different set of challenges but also rewards and, the author hopes, an emotionally fulfilling and enriching experience. Not only can your child thrive, but so can you.

See reader reviews and buy this book.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D.Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D., a clinical and research psychologist, is the internationally bestselling author of The Highly Sensitive Person (translated into 22 languages) and its companion books: The Highly Sensitive Parent, The Highly Sensitive Person in Love, The Highly Sensitive Child, and Psychotherapy and the Highly Sensitive Person. Credited for first recognizing high sensitivity as an innate trait and pioneering the study of HSPs since 1990, she has established the Foundation for the Study of Highly Sensitive Persons, maintains the website and online resource http://www.HSPerson.com, and has published numerous scientific articles on sensitivity in the leading journals in her field.

This book review is based on excerpts from the Press Release by the Kensington Publishing Corp. provided by Anne Pryor (apryor@kensingtonbooks.com).

When I will have a chance to read the book myself, I will update this review.

Ildiko Davis
HSP Mentor, Counsellor and Focusing Practitioner
Article written by Ildiko Davis (e-mail: ildiko.davis@yahoo.co.uk)

The Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) Instruction Manual

A lighthearted way to communicate about your needs as an HSP

Model No. BF270786

FUNCTIONAL DESCRIPTION

The BF270786 HSP contains a highly sensitive central nervous system. With
great care you can ensure optimal functioning and longevity, and enjoy the
benefits.

FEATURES

Enhanced sensitivity to sensory stimuli
Automatic pause-to-check mode
Built-in intuition and empathy
Increased intensity of emotional experience
Automatic reflective processing mode

To ensure maximal operation of your HSP adhere to the following instructions:

• DO NOT rush your HSP. Allow time and give advance notice of future
plans.
• DO NOT overload your HSP with multiple tasks. Your HSP will attempt to
cope with tasks but will become more easily over-stimulated.
• DO NOT expose to strong smells, bright lights or unexpected loud noise.
Provide extra care during trips to supermarket or in crowded areas.
Reduce overexposure to television or computer activities.
• Acknowledge and respect differences in emotional reactivity and reflective
processing.

OVER-STIMULATION

In cases of heightened emotional experience your HSP is likely to burnout. Be
aware of how you express negative energy, as your HSP is very sensitive in
this aspect. Provide calming environment and soothing voices.
In the event of coldness or tiredness, which will increase sensitivity to
coldness, provide your HSP with blankets/bedding/warmth.
In the event of overheating, remove your HSP to a cool area. Hydrate and
leave to rest until your HSP returns to normal temperature.

You are perfect exactly as you are

 

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TO RESET YOUR HSP

Give your HSP space and time, herbal tea, regular healthy food, natural environments, relaxing music and plenty of rest.

ENJOY BEING WITH YOUR HSP!

Additional information at http://hsperson.com

Barbara Allen

Founder and Director
National Centre for High Sensitivity CIC
Article written by Barbara Allen (e-mail: accounts@hspsensitive.com)

The Normal Needs of Highly Sensitive Children at School

Advice for parents of highly sensitive children who have concerns about their child’s behaviour at school.

 

Many parents of highly sensitive children have concerns about their child’s enjoyment of school. For some of these children, attending school can be extremely challenging and stressful. Parents who are not aware of their child’s sensitive trait may begin to wonder if something is dreadfully wrong. However, once parents have the information they need, there are all kinds of things they can do to give attuned and positive support to a child for whom everything matters and potential is unlimited.

Highly Sensitive ChildOver the years, my practice has become more and more busy with work related to parenting of highly sensitive children. Two types of parents are most common:

(a) parents who are really worried there is something the matter with their children and are worried the child is about to get labelled autistic, ADD or similar and at all costs want to avoid a ‘diagnosis’,

and

(b) parents who already think that their child is highly sensitive (has sensory processing sensitivity) and want to support them. All of these parents are caring and want the best for their children, some might secretly hope that I will find a way to make their child ‘fit in’ with expectations, particularly of their school and also of the larger family group and culture.

Four out of five sensitive children presenting in my practice are boys, which is an interesting statistic when you think that sensory processing sensitivity is distributed equally between the sexes. Children mostly arrive between the ages of 7 and 10, with some as young as 5 and some in their teens. Every single one of these children is causing concern to parents because of their levels of anxiety, exhaustion and distress around their schooling. At home they are calm and happy, the distress being when they start to think about school.

So what’s going on? Well, let’s start with what sensory processing sensitivity actually is. As Dr Elaine Aron describes it, it is a genetically inherited trait, it is normal, and found in up to 20% of the population in varying degrees. Not only is it found in humans in this ratio, but also animals, fruit flies, fish and so on. A characteristic of all beings with sensory processing sensitivity is the ‘pause to check’ trait. In other words, rather than move immediately towards something new, the person or animal with SPS will hang back a little, observe and reflect before entering the new situation. Having a number of any tribe, family, or species born with this trait has a direct effect on survival strategies and success. Some situations demand a quick and direct response, but a minority of situations require thought and consideration before going ahead. If everyone responded the same, then a dangerous choice could wipe out an entire clan. The hanging back, is not shyness or hesitation, it is a positive strategy.

All highly sensitive children have the following four things in common, without exception: depth of processing, a propensity for over-stimulation or over-arousal, emotional intensity and sensory sensitivity. Apart from those things, sensitive children have just as much individuality and variety of traits within them as anyone else. These four factors of the sensitivity trait do however, affect how they respond to the world around them.

Let’s have a look at school from a sensitive child’s perspective. Most of the children I see tell me that school is ‘very loud’, ‘children hurt each other’, ‘teachers shout’ and they are not allowed to ‘be quiet’. They also complain that the days are long, school clothing can be itchy, the floor is hard, the classroom smells funny and people expect them to say things before they are ready. They also dislike people looking at them or making them the centre of attention (even the extravert HSCs) and get very concerned if another child is upset. The walls are full of overstimulating colours and people talk through all the lessons. Considering the four traits of HSCs, school has the potential to be a nightmare, with relentless noise, social interaction, lack of space for quiet reflection and numerous situations that trigger the HSC’s intense emotions. It is no wonder that these children often withdraw at school and have meltdowns when they get home.

So what can parents do to help their child’s school to offer a more HSC-friendly environment? Information is the key, and if necessary some training for teachers on managing sensitive children at school. HSCs need to have a few minutes of quiet time several times a day in order for their sensitive nervous system to calm from the over-stimulating environment. Given that an HSC’s nervous system is highly organised, it is very sad that they often are so over-stimulated that schools sometimes wonder if they have learning difficulties, when the opposite is often the case. Over-stimulation also causes levels of cortisol to rise and regular snacks, especially protein, can help to keep levels down. HSCs are also prone to sudden drops in sugar levels (resulting in feelings of anger and lack of focus), so opportunities to eat more often are very important.

Emotionally, HSCs are very tuned in to their own and others feelings. They cannot quickly recover from wounds and upset that most children simply brush off with ease. This is part of their charm and depth and an essential part of who they are. HSCs also have a strong startle reflex – this means a loud noise or sudden emotional buffeting may cause a big effect. HSCs in general have very quick reflexes, an advantage in some ways, and not in others. This startle reflex does not go away in adulthood and their deep and intense emotional responses mean that bullying in particular (whether physical or emotional), needs to be resolved promptly and permanently. HSCs become highly distressed when witnessing cruelty – rather than trying to ‘toughen them up’, it is important to recognise that part of the role of sensitive individuals in terms of survival is to be the ‘Canary in the mine’ – announcing that something is not right – these warnings cannot be heard if sensitive individuals lose their voice. Rather, encourage them to talk about what distresses them and value their insights into the kind of behaviour that makes the world a better place. Teachers can help with this by being calm and kind authority figures, willing to listen and accepting of sensitivity.

So, going back to the ratio of boys and girls attending my practice – I do think that most of the boys are there because their sensitivity is considered alien within the larger culture. At school, rough playground games, shouting and pushing, competing and dominating are considered normal for boys. Even well-meaning fathers question whether they should allow their sons to cry (even at age 7), or give them hugs or pull them onto their laps. They question the child’s preference for sports that are done alone rather than rough games in teams, even wondering if these sensitive young boys are homosexual. In case you are wondering, there are no more gay or lesbian highly sensitive people than there are in the non-highly sensitive population.

The bottom line is that it is harder for sensitive male children. The most common criticism that male HSCs have regarding their father is ‘he doesn’t listen’. I believe that fathers are conflicted as to what they should expect from their sensitive sons – tellingly, they are less conflicted in responding to sensitive daughters needs. Given this gender question, it is not difficult to imagine that unconsciously, even teachers might be expressing their frustrations at trying to understand a sensitive child, particularly an articulate, emotional or over-stimulated boy. I do recommend Dr Ted Zeffs book ‘The strong sensitive boy’ as a guide for parenting male HSCs, it is full of advice and also the recollections of now-adult sensitive men about what worked for them and what didn’t. I also recommend Dr Elaine Aron’s book ‘The highly sensitive child” which is full of explanations, advice, information and strategies.

barbara_allen-wGiven that school can be so demanding for HSCs, just to spend a whole day in that environment, I feel that probably the best advice I could give parents is not to make any more demands once the child is out of school. Let them choose their own activities, give them half an hour on their own after school, to calm their nervous system. Don’t make them attend play-dates or after school activities unless they are asking to do so. If your child continues to be over-stimulated, stressed and exhausted, consider online schooling as an alternative, although most HSCs do continue to enjoy the social part of school life if they are allowed to do this in their own way. Also, remember that HSCs respond best to praise. Correction or criticism needs to be very light. Make sure your child has quiet time before bed and an opportunity to talk about anything that is bothering them before sleep, so they don’t continue to worry during the night. Above all, let them know you appreciate their sensitivity, their thoughtfulness, the way they think carefully about things, the kindness they show to friends, siblings and pets. That you love them just the way they are.

Barbara Allen
Founder and Director
National Centre for High Sensitivity CIC
Article written by Barbara Allen (e-mail: accounts@hspsensitive.com)

On managing our connections and our hearts

Sometimes, we can be just standing around at a bus stop and people start talking. Before we know it, we know their life story and they see us as their best friend. It’s interesting how HSPs often seem to develop accidental friendships with people who don’t actually know them from Adam! Sometimes, of course, it is mutual and we can celebrate having found a like-minded soul to talk to about what has meaning for us – sadly that is not often the case.

As HSPs we listen deeply and I think people often feel this as love.  Sometimes it’s love, but often we are just being ourselves in a general way.  Since we understand them quickly and deeply, people often open up and this is great, but it means we sometimes then carry too much of other people’s ‘stuff’ around with us afterwards – they feel great, we feel weighed down. I’ve often heard HSPs talk about how they now avoid this hobby or that place because there is someone who has decided they are their best friend – and the HSP doesn’t know how to get away without risking upset.

It’s hard at first to get a balance. It feels important to make sure that we are genuinely choosing those who we want to listen to and who we have as friends.  It’s not a bad thing if we limit our closest friends to those who can reciprocate, especially if we are still struggling with past hurts or family set-ups. If we don’t use caution, we could get very tired and also, in time of need, find that those who we are spending time with, cannot offer us the same quality of support, and that can lead to resentment.  Sometimes, we are still with friends from the long distant past, who for decades have been gradually providing less and less benefit, but we don’t know how to say goodbye. It’s important to try to find equals, then we will have plenty of energy to share around for others who might need us from time to time. Understanding that friendships can have a varied life-span helps. Some friends are there for a short time, others stay a lifetime. What matters is if it feels like a mutual friendship, at whatever level that friendship is happening.

Of course, when it’s us who are looking to make a connection, our heart often leads – and the connections we make tend to be very deep indeed. So taking care of our heart can become quite an important task if we want to survive making close relationships, especially the romantic ones where we may end up with a life partner. Being well tuned in to others means we often detect their needs quickly, sometimes even before they do, and we rush to meet them if we can. This sensitivity to others’ needs and desires can sometimes lead to over-commitment, one-way commitment or a commitment that is too early in a relationship. These are the times when we can end up in relationships that are fraught with demand, or abusive in some way. Having a tendency to be loyal to a fault, HSPs can then struggle to withdraw from a relationship.

But with the right person, an HSP’s relationship can be very special indeed and provide a longed-for intimacy. For this reason, when positive relationships end, HSPs can sometimes take longer to get over it than most. Those deep connections are hard to tear away from and the grieving process can be very long, with losses at many levels.

This might sound obvious, but whatever the state of your friendship group, do remember to include HSPs in your ‘gang’. You would be surprised how many dissatisfied HSPs I come across who are annoyed with friends who don’t understand them, who realize after consideration that they have forgotten to look for high sensitivity as a quality of choice in their potential friendships. Maybe this happens if HSPs have grown up having their trait reflected to them as a negative, so they have avoided HSPs like themselves and tended to seek out non-HSPs, especially extraverted non-HSPs as their allies – friends their non-HSP families would like to see them with, but who will not always provide the understanding and soulful conversation needed to feel connected.

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Whatever the state of your relationships and friendships, it’s worth remembering that there is good advice and information in the books of Dr Elaine Aron. She writes insightfully about intimate relationships in her book ‘The Highly Sensitive Person in Love’. As you may know, she works closely with her husband, Art Aron in his research on love relationships (Art came up with the ’36 questions of love’ that you may have heard about on the radio or seen on the internet in the last few years). Taking care of your heart will mean you also take care of your energy. The better care you take, the more you will have to give.

Barbara Allen

Founder and Director
National Centre for High Sensitivity CIC
Article written by Barbara Allen (e-mail: accounts@hspsensitive.com)

Permission to be yourself

In current times, it has to be said that things for HSPs are showing potential for improvement. More people know about the trait’s existence, some of those understand what this trait actually is in genetic or scientific terms and some understand it in bigger than scientific terms, of how we fit into the expression and purpose of the larger tribe of man. And yet ….

Sometimes, we are struggling, despite our knowledge and education on the topic, to actually express our highly sensitive nature in our normal, everyday lives. It’s often when I see those HSPs who are exhausted, or constantly stressed, or with unhealed wounds, that I wonder what is going on – they know the facts of who they are, yet are failing to truly thrive thus far. But that’s not all – a lot of these HSPs out there are successful, going to work, building businesses, gaining respect and recognition for their gifts, fulfilling parental roles and so on, but even so, I don’t think the majority, in their heart of hearts, could say they feel perfectly well or perfectly aligned to their natural needs and activities, even now. I wonder why this is? When a perfectly healthy HSP, with a good job, lovely family and nice life-style chooses to come and see me for mentoring, about ‘managing life more effectively’, it makes me stop and think – what exactly is making these HSPs think that they need more of anything in their lives right now? And when they say ‘managing more effectively’, what does that mean, really? Is this their way of saying they are unhappy?

I’m in a privileged position of having met, in my lifetime, hundreds, if not thousands, of beautiful HSPs. In my twenty years as a therapist, I met many, often presenting with anxiety, low mood, sometimes addictions, who at the same time as needing to be somewhere where they could be understood and supported, were leading some quite astonishingly successful lives, or at the very least, lives that most people would love to have (looking from the outside, anyway). Later, as I moved slowly into specialising in education of professionals about our trait, and providing more varied spaces and settings for HSPs to get support and to meet each other, I began to realise that this was about more than educating with information about the HSP trait (information is power after all) – it’s actually about an internal war against external culture. This is a very interesting topic, since studies have shown that HSPs are less influenced by cultural systems than others (I suspect in part due to their deeper processing, in particular, the processing of their value system) [Aron A. et al. (2010)].

So, what is happening, that makes apparently-empowered HSPs, struggle so hard to find a sense of true wellness or peace? Is it simply that they are expressing the typical experience of the minority in a majority-dominated environment? Certainly, living non-HSP lifestyles can be precarious for HSPs due to over-stimulation, lack of down time (and the extravert imperative that might not suit the 70% of introverted HSPs). There is also the pressure to adapt to the way the other 80% live their daily life, plus the pressure to meet the mile-stones of life that feel normal to the non-HSP, at a time that feels right for them, but maybe not HSPs. In theory, if we are aware of these pressures, why is it so hard to get a real sense of wellbeing and make choices that benefit us and help us to live an authentic HSP life?

By the time you get this far in this article, you are probably thinking, ‘yes, Barbara, that’s exactly what it is like, I read Elaine Aron’s book cover to cover, I studied articles about my trait, I’ve made quite a few changes in my life already, so why is it? Why don’t I feel ‘right’ yet?’.

Well, that’s a great question and although I don’t claim to have the answer, I do think it’s worth sharing some thoughts I am having about this, to see what others think. My over-arching and general heading for my ideas on this is ‘we are still not doing enough to be our real selves.’ Yes, by all means, eat healthily, it will help. Go to bed an hour earlier, it will help. Choose your friends or partner more wisely, it will help. Reduce your work hours a little, it will help. Visit nature more often, it will help. But is that it? We may not realise it, but that is the kind of thing that helps non-HSPs – they benefit greatly from ‘little’ changes like that. But us, highly sensitive people, is that really enough? I really wonder if we are being brave and clear enough about what really is an authentic way of living for a highly sensitive person.

Is there a little voice in your mind now, saying ‘What? You can’t really expect that HSPs just pick up and seek a life of solitude and creativity, surely? What about everything they have built their foundation on? What about the mortgage? What about the people in my life? What about my friends? What about money?’.

Well, no, I wasn’t thinking every HSP should throw their hands up and vacate the modern world and leave everyone they love, so you can breathe a little easier – certainly not all HSPs are the same and neither are their needs. But – I am saying that there is a possibility that we are ‘tweaking’ our lives a little here and there at the edges and hoping that this will be enough. Clearly, if we are still not feeling ‘right’, its not enough, is it? I imagine that might sound like bad news… at least initially. You see, one of the most pressing issues that all of us have when we say we want to make changes, is that we want to make changes whilst not really making changes – its human nature, not just HSP nature. And we as HSPs do it just as much as anyone. In reality, we need to get a grip on the process of real change – or forever feel like somehow some kind of mark is being missed. Don’t know if that makes sense to you? Let me give you an (anonymised) example of the way these things often go for HSPs:

A number of years ago, a talented young man in his twenties came to see me. He knew what high sensitivity was and was relieved to have found out about it. It made sense of his life as a teenager, feeling out of sorts, anxious, not sure he fitted in. It made sense of the ‘kind of breakdown’ he had suffered in the first year of his degree. At the time, he had gotten through it. His life had been one of doing the right thing, making his parents proud, getting an education and going to the big city to be the success that everyone could see he would be. Well, that was fine for the first two or three years at work in London. Then breakdown number two arrived. His was a typical HSP breakdown – anxiety and constant activity, followed by exhaustion, depression, work-phobia and getting signed off by the doctor for a number of months and taking mild anti-depressants/anti-anxiety meds (which were helping a bit).

We talked about HSP life-style, the pressure to socialise in his job, the number of hours he was working, the need for downtime, good food and suitable friendships. Also, what type of work and work environment did he need? At this stage there was no partner, no children, so options were fairly flexible. So, as the weeks went on, much resting and re-framing, this HSP began to recover, to make plans to go back to work, a little more on his own terms.

The focus was mostly around work, this was the remit I was given and the one he worked to – and that is where I think things were ‘not enough’. The fact was, this lovely HSP needed a life transplant, not a different way of working. Ultimately, two years further down the line, with now a lovely fiancée and so much ‘going for him’, the inevitable collapse happened again, despite adjustments to his work schedule and social life. At what stage, I wonder, should both he and I have been thinking about what was the real extent of his natural, authentic need as an HSP in terms of his home and work environment? Needless to say, after a couple more years of not feeling well, he finally decided that a space in the country as opposed to the city was probably the best place for him, along with part time, but reasonably paid work. His fiancée decided that the countryside and a quieter life wasn’t for her and they parted company soon after he moved to a peaceful haven. Her leaving was one of the ‘inevitable losses’ that often take place when we make changes in our lives that really matter – sometimes we lose people, friends, fiancées – sometimes we lose ideas, plans, money, hobbies or work options. I imagine at this moment, you are thinking with horror that it’s all too much. But wait…..

Looking at him now, ten years on, I see a man with a loving partner who also enjoys and needs the peace of the countryside (in her own, more extroverted way), two little children with parents who have time and energy for them. Yes, he is not the high-flying city-guy that he set out to be, but I think he is happy. What’s more, his job actually entails helping families move out of the city to find homes in the countryside – a job he is well suited to both as an HSP who can intuit the complex needs of his clients and whose own history of growth and development provides a wonderful education that underpins his craft. Would he say, if you asked him, that he misses the old life? I don’t know. I imagine perhaps there might be some things he misses – the fast car and the kudos that big bucks brings, perhaps – the external version of success. But overall, I like to think he feels he made changes that bring him closer to who he is – and as a result, closer to who and what he loves.

So, what am I saying after all the above? I guess I’m saying, take a good look at your life over the last few years and check if there are any unmet needs that you really could do with attending to. Think about whether you are dallying at the edges of changes rather than taking yourself seriously.

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Above all, don’t wait for permission to be yourself – or if you do need permission, be your own best advocate and weigh up your choices with fairness, kindness, patience, intuition and truth as your guides. Learn to differentiate between what ‘looks’ like you being happy and successful and what ‘feels’ like it. Enjoy the process and good luck .

Barbara Allen

Founder and Director
National Centre for High Sensitivity CIC
Article written by Barbara Allen (e-mail: accounts@hspsensitive.com)

Ups and Downs and Why it is OK

If you have ever wondered about how much you seem to follow an apparently unpredictable up and down cycle, maybe this piece is for you….

HSPs have been described in various ways over the years, comments can vary in extreme from ‘rather neurotic’ to ‘so sane but intense’, ‘healthy’ to ‘unwell’, ‘eccentrically delightful’ to ‘weird’, ‘so chattery’ to ‘silent and withholding’, ‘emotionally unpredictable’ to ‘hardly expressing a thing’. I hasten to add, these descriptions have as often been from HSPs about themselves in my therapy room or at meetings, as from those who know or observe them. Some of us will bristle at such generalisations or interpretations, others will recognise people’s reactions or comments on our state of being, others will not recognise themselves at all. But when all is said and done, what are we, really, when it comes to those ups and downs that people notice, that we notice, even if we don’t show the effects – that propensity to seem emotionally very high one minute and very low the next, to seem apparently contradictory? Does it mean we aren’t normal, or there’s something deeply wrong with us? Should we immediately run off and find a therapist to ‘fix’ what’s wrong with our brain? Get a BPD diagnosis!? Or is it normal for highly sensible people to experience this level of changing emotion?

Let’s not forget, before we explore this a little further, to reference what actually defines us as highly sensitive people, having Sensory Processing Sensitivity (as defined by Dr Elaine Aron). We have:

  • Depth of processing and everything that comes with that.
  • A propensity to become easily Over-stimulated.
  • Emotional intensity.
  • Sensory sensitivity (including sensitivity to subtleties).

Remember these things? Did you read Dr Aron’s book on highly sensitive people or have you bypassed one of the most empowering books ever written in favour of websites that generalise and capitalise on something they often know very little about and can leave readers feeling disempowered or victims somehow? When you are thinking about your development out there in the world, remember to refer back to the source of the research on our trait. This really does help.

Of course we have ups and downs and of course they are noticeable. If we have intense emotions, are they not going to show, somehow? If we get easily over-stimulated is that not going to become apparent? If we think deeply about all sorts of things, or notice every little change or sensation around us, is that really not going to colour how we engage with everything and everyone around us? But is the simple fact of intensity, or moving from one emotionally intense feeling to another logically an indicator that something is wrong? Does it mean there is no rationale, or thinking process gong on? I don’t think so, which is why I wanted to bring ‘strong feelings’ to your attention. Strong feelings, for us, often don’t limit themselves to singular emotions – one of the reasons we can be quite exhausted at times. One day we might be feeling very sad. The next perhaps feeling angry. The next joyful? Are any of those feelings wrong? What if we experience all of them in one day, is that wrong too?

"When you start to feel like things should have been better this year, remember the mountains and the valleys that got you here." - Morgan Harper Nicholls

So, why am I talking about all these things? How does it help to think about ourselves as prone to surges of joy and depths of despair? In particular, if you come from the UK like me, how does it help to normalise this in the face of a culture where the ‘stiff upper lip’ is part of the national character? It’s because it really does matter how YOU colour your normal behaviour. It really does matter how YOU assimilate experiences and respond to your environment. It really does matter what YOU think. And importantly, it matters what values you use to screen everything you perceive about you, your purpose, our purpose, what’s happening ‘out there’, as a part of that species called human.

Why? Why does it matter, that you continue to be intense, affected, a depth processor, aware of little things?

Well, if you haven’t already worked it out, your human tribe needs you to be just as you are. So much of what we see matters. If no-one is noticing, it’s our job to bring it to their attention, sometimes by just feeling things. It’s not always comfortable for people to see us in tears at witnessing something that is obviously cruel, especially if they haven’t noticed. However, if we don’t show it  how will anyone learn? If we don’t think carefully and in a complex way about long-term plans and effects, how will anyone who is busy under a workload of empire-building or drudgery ever know there is another way of doing things? And how do we know that any of these things need thinking about if we are not moved by our feelings, our sensitive nervous system, to notice, to consider at depth and hopefully, to communicate a question or an idea for alternatives? Feelings are a neutral thing – they simply indicate there is something to notice (and potentially, to act on).  They are neither right nor wrong.

There is such a lot going on around us. In the bigger picture, some people are screaming about the dangers facing us through our environmental negligence, others are concerned about walking backwards from hard-won human rights, greed run wild, building the rights of women, children, whole races and species. Does this mean we all have to be standing on soap-boxes? No, it doesn’t. We are empowered in different and varied ways. Let’s remember however that change can happen in the tiny increments of life – a little word, a little change, maybe just a little respect for the way in which our awareness and response to things outside ourselves can be intense. Giving ourselves respect for the deep, deep way in which we respond to what is going on around us, what is engaging with us, can empower us to have a voice or an idea that will make sense. Sometimes our very intensity is what what stops others in their tracks and gives them pause for thought.

Having feelings that are intense, and easily moved, gives us a very finely tuned view of what’s going on around us. We are responding to what is happening. If we can accept our feelings as normal, give them space and respect as signals to observe something, it gives us power. Just because our feelings can seem to change, it doesn’t mean any of those responses are wrong. If we disregard strong feelings, we do so at our peril. The ‘up and down’ is simply an indication of response to a tide that is sometimes inspired by negative experiences, or sometimes by the positive. Negative and positive things happen all day long, we have no idea what is going to happen, therefore we don’t know how we will feel. It’s not a fault, it’s not a weakness, it’s just a response. No feelings are wrong, they just are. The only wrong thing would be to count them as of no importance or to fail to act on them when the time is right.

And what about over-stimulation and the anxiety or fatigue that this can bring on? Often that fatigue or overwhelm will lead to feelings – are those feelings wrong, or are they simply indicators that something needs adjustment? As sensitive people, we need to make adjustments more often, we are affected more quickly. It’s all normal, unless someone else or we ourselves decide our response should match the unresponsive majority. So often I have heard HSPs talk about how they over-reacted to something perceived as disrespect, or felt embarrassed by tears of joy at something as simple as the first blossoming flower of spring. But when you look more deeply into these things, we don’t always ‘over-react’ – sometimes something did happen, it’s just no one else noticed. Sometimes assumptions from the dominant culture do curtail our freedom to do and act as is natural for us. Sometimes our sensitive systems and creative abilities do perceive new or wonderful ways to benefit ourselves or others, giving us overwhelming feelings of joy and expectation – imagine how hard it is when no one else realises how wondrous it is. Do allow yourself time to experience the disappointment and sadness when you are the only one who notices.

What might it be like, to truly respect your responses, to check them out for meaning, to accept those intense feelings neutrally as information rather than a fault? What part might that play in furthering your own empowerment?

Next time you feel your ups and downs are unwelcome, think about how they inform our intelligence, how they inform us if we are on the right path, how they enable us to finely tune our destiny and that of others. Find other HSPs, even for a few minutes, to hear how you feel, what you are thinking, what matters. You will be surprised how one other HSP can help you to manage the helter skelter of feelings that one minute seem to be troubling, the next minute seem to be nicely settled away, having been heard and made sense of. Sometimes only another HSP will be able to see the sanity in your distress, the numinous in your joy. And let’s be honest, if you really do have an issue related to your feelings, something that needs work, who better to advise you and help you seek a safe space to learn and grow, than a fellow HSP?

Enjoy those ups and downs as signs you are alive and well and ‘sensitive’ to everything around you. Don’t abandon your innate and natural wisdom – there is a reason for your response. You just need to realise you are the one to interpret these feelings, not the dominant culture who whilst needing our sensitivity, might mistakenly seek to suppress or negate it.

And then  – this is the hard part – we do have to learn to ride the disappointment of knowing something that others are slow to realise.  We are first aware, that means we witness the thing that needs to change over and over whilst others have no idea. That’s ok, but we do need to grieve and then accept that we, the first responders, will always need to wait for others to catch up to where we are. There are still ways in which we can use our feelings and awareness to bring about meaningful conclusions – just not all the things, all the time.

barbara_allen-w

But that’s ok. It’s the life of a sensitive person to be up and down in truthful response to what is going on around us. We will survive, but let’s not add to our distress by putting ourselves down for our up and down experiences. They are normal and signs that there is hope.

Barbara Allen

Founder and Director
National Centre for High Sensitivity CIC
Article written by Barbara Allen (e-mail: accounts@hspsensitive.com)

On the Quiet – NCHS Update

It’s been a while since our last Newsletter, not because there is nothing to report, but simply because such a lot has been going on behind the scenes, both to slow things down but also to speed us forward. So, it’s a pleasure to write a summary of some of the latest things we would like to share with you about our work here at the National Centre for High Sensitivity during the last year.

Thanks firstly and as always, to Ildiko Davis, our Newsletter Editor, website editor and also facilitator of online HSP meet-ups, both for HSPs and HSP therapists. Ildiko’s work has helped us to keep you informed and also, to focus our attention on where we are going and what’s going on ‘out there’. It’s been a long, slow road, getting the NCHS on its journey and Ildiko has been such a support and strength through this process over a number of years.

The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.During the last twelve months, a tiny team has been forming here in Andover, made up of volunteers offering a little of their skill in helping me to bring ideas and plans forward. I would like to thank Anna Pell, Bridget Woodward, Rosanna Leigh, Claire Bailey, Andrew and Sophie Kidd and Jordan Leigh for stepping forward, offering time this and last year that I know is hard to find in this busy world, but so very much needed. There are more waiting in the wings to offer skills and ideas, I know, and it feels like this year, our little team is going to form a foundation that will be a springboard for much useful work for and on behalf of HSPs in the UK.

Our next major piece of work is around funding. So far, funding has been very small and provided mostly by a combination of donations from my private practice, Growing Unlimited, and small donations from HSPs to cover some of the costs that naturally arise. In order to progress, we need to bring in many thousands, rather than a few hundreds of pounds, so once again I have been wondering where it will come from. I have recently had an offer of some help from a fund-raiser and I am hoping over the next couple of months to meet with them for ideas and guidance in where to find funding and how to go about asking for it. I’m excited by this and profoundly grateful for this offer of help.

One of our exciting plans is to hold a conference in late Spring 2020. I am hoping for April but it will all depend on finding the right venue at the right price and when it’s likely to be available for us. The conference will be two days and will include talks, discussion groups, stalls with relevant books and other HSP-related items, networking tables for HSPs who can offer informed and appropriate support or anything else that HSPs might find useful. Topics will include science-related info, talks by a variety of professionals and others who have an interest in appropriately supporting or educating HSPs, highly sensitive children and their families. There will also be a variety of discussion groups so that people with common interests can get together to learn more, get support, share ideas and so on. It’s important to us that we find a way of holding this conference in a way that will work in its intention but also work for HSPs strategically.So, I will be looking for a conference organiser with some intelligence and imagination :).

During 2019, we have a few interesting meet-ups and workshops coming up (see our listings in the newsletter), one of which will be our HSP Retreat Weekend, 29th and 30th June. My colleague, Annet de Zwart from the Netherlands will be co-facilitating this event with me. She has co-facilitated HSP Gathering Retreats with myself and Jacquelyn Strickland/Elaine Aron in Europe and the UK and she also attended the training with Dr Elaine Aron last year. So, she is perfectly placed to bring something special to our upcoming event. The two topics we will cover this time are: Understanding and managing over-stimulation and The path to HSP empowerment. The two days will consist of information and exploratory activities, a chance to get to know other HSPs in a gentle setting, time to unwind and be social (if you want to) and above all, a chance to grow. This will be an intimate event and held in our dedicated Andover space to help keep costs for participants down. If this event goes well, we may expand it a little next year, we will see! We don’t have a lot of places on the retreat this year, so if you think you might like to join us, do book early.

We are in the process of developing a new website which we hope will be easier for non-techs like myself to update and will encapsulate the information our current site has, plus bring into one place a blog, a chat facility, a forum and also our event listings which are currently hosted here and there on Meet-up.com. Hopefully this will simplify things and help to make sense of all of the different things we are involved in. With no funding to speak of, we are dependent on volunteers to help us with this new website, so thank you Andrew, Sophie and Jordan for starting us on the road to our new and expanding website.

Difficult roads often lead to beautiful placesI thought I would also mention a new project that is coming along later this year. The project is the idea of Rosie Raleigh, who attended the UK HSP Gathering Retreat last year with Jacquelyn Strickland and became inspired to use her skills to help with reforming policy to include the needs of HSPs. As you may know, working with high sensitivity as a cultural diversity issue is close to my heart. Rosie will be working with higher-level policy-making and has a lot of experience with this, so I have high hopes. Rosie has named the project ‘Vantage’, after the name given by scientists to a particular aspect of our genetic trait.If you want to know more about Rosie’s project e mail her at rosieraleigh@gmail.com.

Finally, I would like to give a little more of an introduction to Claire Bailey, who has recently joined me as an administrator and support. She is very well qualified in all levels of managing behind-the-scenes in organisations, so I’m very lucky to have her. Claire is a volunteer for the NCHS and for now she is very part time, so as always, if you get in contact with us here, do forgive us if we need to take some time to get around to answering any queries :).

barbara_allen-wWell, that is all for now I think. If I have forgotten anything, do let me know and I will add any information to an email or to the next Newsletter. Thank you for reading this far and I look forward to meeting you at one of our events in the near future:).

With warm regards
Barbara

Article written by Barbara Allen (e-mail: accounts@hspsensitive.com)