HSPs and introverts are easily mistaken for each other. However, the terms are not interchangeable. An HSP’s nervous differs significantly from that of a non-HSP. We perceive and take in more stimuli than our non-HSP counterparts. For this reason, we are more easily overwhelmed than non-HSPs. HSPs are often unfairly perceived as ‘slow’ or ‘weak.’ The volume of information being processed is larger and therefore takes more time.
I remember once feeling deeply hurt by a cavalier comment from an adult who hardly knew me. “Oh, she needs to increase her stamina,” in response to a statement that I had felt cold at night. What did she know? It was a new place, the temperature setting was different from what I was had been used to and the sleepwear I had brought was woefully inadequate. At the time, I will confess to feeling deeply offended and insulted. Being ‘hardy’ or ‘rough-and-tumble’ is so easily perceived as a virtue to which everyone must aspire. Not so.
Being able to think deeply about complex concepts, to see an issue from multiple angles, to listen intently and pick up on non-verbal cues in a conversation instead of simply responding to the words being said, to perceive and detect subtle nuances in works of art, literature, and music, to see both the forest and the trees, i.e. to perceive the bigger picture and the smaller details – these are gifts! Having an exquisitely heightened sense of perception also means being more susceptible and reactive to negative stimuli, such as prolonged exposure to loud noises, extreme temperatures, unpleasant odors, large crowds, violence, gore and conflict (even if is fictional).
An acquaintance once commented in response to my penchant for avoiding violent movies that she ‘didn’t feel sorry for those people. They were just actors who made a lot of money.’ It hurt when my significant other supported her view while looking askance at mine. Because my extraordinary capacity for empathy (which enables me to feel others’ pain even when I know it isn’t real) was a gift I brought to the relationship and not something to be derided.
Sometimes , parents hurt us without meaning to. Food was a major bone of contention (no pun intended!) in my early years and continues to be a thorn in my side today. I could never consume it at a speed and amount to satisfy anybody (by which I mean, my mom). Mealtimes became experiences to be dreaded. It was nightmarish to be confronted by a vast plate of food, knowing full well that you could only tolerate a few bites or spoonfuls before it became overwhelming. Wondering when the adults would finally tire of waiting and allow you to leave. Because the only alternative was throwing up. To this day, even the memory of certain foods (such as garlic) automatically activate my gag reflex, even though the dreaded item is nowhere to be found! The HSP palate has a lower tolerance threshold than a non-HSP’s. This is not right or wrong. It just is.
Compelling one to be like the other doesn’t do either person any favors and frequently destroys the relationship. I remember one “fr-enemy” (portmanteau of ‘friend’ and ‘enemy,’ first heard via Charlotte on “Sex and the City”) attempting to educate me on the virtues of consuming leftover pizza. Suffice to say, there is nothing left over from that so-called ‘friendship.’ I also recall a colleague talking to me about food power struggles with her young daughter. “Eat it anyway,” she would say when her daughter complained that she didn’t like something. “Because you’re not always going to get your way,” she explained to me. No, but one would hope that as an adult, you would have enough personal autonomy, disposable income and culinary skills (particularly essential now!) to plan your own meals and select your own portion choices.
The biological need for food also interrupts the writing process, the morning burst of energy and the delicious crackling interplay of ideas. I am never at my best after lunch and it takes a while for inspiration to strike again. I love writing at night as I am doing now. I am far less likely to be interrupted by biological and social needs. As Kate Reddy stated in the book “I Don’t Know How She Does It” by Allison Pearson, “I like the night. More time in it than day. Why waste it asleep?”
So, what am I? An extroverted HSP? An ambivert (equally introverted and extroverted) HSP? I continue to figure it out. Like all of us, I am a work in progress.