Highly Sensitive, Gifted, Not Disordered

For some of us, even a little Times Square is too much

Being highly sensitive is a common experience for many, if not most, gifted people. It is related to intensity and excitabilities such as emotional, intellectual and imaginational – and especially sensory.

Mary-Elaine Jacobsen comments in an article of hers about the high sensitivity aspect of giftedness. Here are a few excerpts:

“It appears that highly gifted adults may be more finely tuned in to the subtleties of life and more easily aroused than others around them.

“Their attention is drawn to stimuli others seem to ignore, which begins to explain why a highly gifted person might appear fidgety or edgy, adjusting and readjusting the thermostat, a sweater, or couch pillow.

“This kind of ultra-awareness can be a valuable contributing factor to their qualitatively different experience of life in terms of heightened tone and color and meaning, not simply thin-skinned peevishness. Yet the same sensory alertness can render the gifted more vulnerable and uneasy, and may result in stimulation overload.

“The pressure to respond to the slightest shift in barometric pressure, a bright light or loud noise, a pungent aroma, commotion or emotional upheaval, or tiny blips in the way their body is working, can make the life of a gifted adult a rich tapestry of experience.”

From her article Encountering the Gifted Self Again, For the First Time.

Mary-Elaine Jacobsen, PhD is author of The Gifted Adult.

For more on overexcitabilities, see multiple articles on my various sites, including Too Much to Contain – Intensity and Creativity.

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Photo: ‘For some of us, even a little Times Square is too much’ by Nina Berman, used in article ADD, Stress and Overstimulation – Living Too Close to Edge, by Susan Meindl. She writes, “More and more adult clients arrive at psychologist’s offices suffering from stress and an inability to concentrate that makes them worry that they may have ADD. Often they are just overstimulated and overwhelmed.”

The photo was originally in the article “Too Loud, Too Bright, Too Fast” by Jeffrey Kluger, TIME, Nov. 17, 2002 – which refers to the book Too Loud, Too Bright, Too Fast, Too Tight: What to Do If You Are Sensory Defensive in an Overstimulating World, by Sharon Heller.

Note: Sensory Defensive Disorder – a term Heller and other psychologists use – sounds to me like the diagnostic label Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD).

Elaine Aron, PhD addresses such labels in an issue of her newsletter, commenting: “Simply put, high sensitivity is not a disorder. It is found in about 15 to 20% of humans. Further, some trait like it, usually termed differently but with close to the same ratio, is found in almost every animal species studied. So it is a normal temperament variation that has evolved for a reason.”

She thinks that with descriptions of SPD, “You are going to see considerable overlap with what I would call normal sensitivity.”

And she adds, “We HSPs [highly sensitive people] know, however, that ‘normal’ can be in the eyes of the beholder. HSPs and HSCs can seem strange and even dysfunctional to non-HSPs — always a problem when a non-HSP is making a diagnosis.”

From her newsletter: February 2009 Comfort Zone ONLINE, HSP Living: More Answers to Some of Your Questions.

Her books include The Highly Sensitive Person.

For more on the topic, see my Highly Sensitive site.

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Two of many related articles:

Misdiagnosis of gifted adults: Dysfunctions versus aptitudes.

Mis-Diagnosis and Dual Diagnosis of Gifted Children: Gifted and LD, ADHD, OCD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder By James T. Webb, Ph.D.


Originally posted 2012-11-29 13:34:36.


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