Health & Medical Self-Improvement

HSP - High Sensitivity Across the Life-Span

Psychologists propose that there is a developmental evolution to life and that an individual has different tasks, and experiences changing demands as they grow up and age.
As a result there are different stresses and different gratifications for Highly Sensitive Persons (HSPs ) at different times of their lives.
Psychologist Carl Jung, made a broad and simple differentiation.
He divided life simply into the first half and the second.
The first half of life took an individual up into their mid-thirties.
In first half of life Jung felt that the individual's task was to learn the rules and attitudes of their culture, as well as the practical skills needed to work and the emotional skills needed to care for themselves and others.
  • The person in the first half of life has the task of proving that they can master the demands of their society and be a productive member of it.
In the second half of life, Jung believed, all this having been proven and accomplished, the individual had a responsibility to develop their own particular gifts and to offer to the world those things, such as thoughts and ideas that only they alone could give.
  • In the second half of life a thoughtful individual is required to partially shake off the accepted attitudes of their culture and take a more personal view of themselves and their needs and possibilities.
    This new approach in the second half of life is supported by the skills, financial stability and network of human contacts built in the first half of life.
For the HSP progress through the developmental stages of life with their changing demands poses unique challenges.
Infancy and childhood...
lack of power and control
Because high sensitivity (HS) is present from birth, it exists before the individual has the ability to control the environment themselves.
As a result HS infants and young children are often overstimulated and neither the parent nor the infant may recognize this.
The infant may on the one hand be treated as difficult or demanding, or alternatively treated as fragile and overprotected.
These responses play themselves out in families during childhood and may create an internal belief in the HS child that they are "naturally difficult" or "delicate".
  • In those instances when sensitive parents recognize the needs of their infant or child and help them to develop the skills they need to avoid overstimulation, sensitive children can thrive and learn to use their sensitivity productively at a very early age.
  • As sensitive children acquire more self-management skills and are permitted to influence their personal environment, they will try to choose ways to avoid overstimulation.
    Often they are more solitary, choosing quiet pursuits such as reading or art.
Children are rarely able to identify their problem as "high sensitivity" and experience instead a feeling of being different and out of step with those around them.
These feelings are painful and may lead them to feel sad or angry.
Teen years...
more outgoing and voluntary control
Nature has determined that teens in general can handle a lot more stimulation.
Teens typically turn to peers and seek out a more exciting social life.
This is also true for many HSPs especially when they have had "good enough" childhood experiences.
Longitudinal studies of "reactive infants" who grow up to be shy children find that by the mid teens many of these children are no longer distinguishable from their peers.
In personal interviews with these reactive teens however, they tell the researchers that they still feel shy inside but are able to "act" outwardly as if they are not.
This testifies to the development of social skills which can be used voluntarily.
dealing with the extroverted societal ideal
Their mid-twenties are often a challenging time for HSPs as the convenient and ever-present social networks of high school and university begin to fall apart and quiet HSPs may have trouble developing new social networks to replace them.
The very public social scene of bars and clubs may be too overstimulating to be enjoyable.
Many HSPs come to hate their sensitivity during these years and wish that they could make it go away so they could be "normal".
HSPs often feel isolated and despairing during these years and often cling to a few important friendships which carry them through.
During all this HSPs are also busy trying to learn the ropes of their society and acquiring the skills, education and professional contacts that they need to live as adults.
Unfortunately, North American society is oriented towards an extroverted and less sensitive ideal.
This means that HSPs trying to approximate he "standards" of our society are required to work outside their comfort zone much of the time and this is an extra burden which often leaves them physically and emotionally worn out.
This is especially true when they have no concept of High Sensitivity to reassure them and continue to judge themselves according to the standards of the less sensitive majority.
seeing advantages
By their thirties, most HSPs have been fortunate enough to have had successes that they can attribute directly to their special sensitivity.
This, in conjunction with their increased power over their own environment lets HSPs take a more even-handed attitude to their sensitivity in their thirties and beyond.
HSP in the second half of life The requirement of the second half of life for everyone is simply to be more yourself.
Jung put it nicely when he said that we should each aim to be "the experiment nature intended".
It is in this endeavor that sensitivity really comes into its own.
The detailed cognition, the self-reflection, the ability to deal with others emphatically and diplomatically, and the natural creativity of most HSPs are combined with their life experience and life skills in a very potent mix.
Wisdom and integrity...
Valued by society
Many HSP's blossom later in life when the pace of life around them slows or steadies and when there is time and space for the kind of thinking that they prefer and they have the practical skills to use their gifts to good effect.
In the second half of life when many non-HSP adults also slow down and begin to be more self-reflective and concerned with experiencing their individuality, the "difference" of HSPs just becomes one difference among many...
but it remains what it always was, an important and necessary part of the human spectrum of response.
Sometimes the overwhelming experiences of early life are not easily transcended.
An individual who feels, or has been treated as too fragile, damaged or "bad," may have missed out on developing some of the skills and attitudes that would support their sensitivity and let them use it positively as adults.
When this is the case they may fall into depression or remain hampered by excessive anxieties about going out into the world or revealing themselves to others.
In these situations it may be helpful for them to seek counseling or psychotherapy to help undo some of the damage of the past and open a pathway to the future.
Many adult HSPs do very well in longer term, talk-based therapies where, in a quiet supportive space with the steady attention of a sympathetic counsellor, their naturally detailed cognition and sensitive insight can be used to heal themselves...
and return their potential to the world.

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