On the day Israel was attacked by Hamas terrorists, I was leisurely having the “free breakfast” at a hotel while accompanying my husband on a business trip. I seemed to be the only one in the room who was startled by the images on the communal television.
Most likely, I had more of a personal connection to that scenario than the others. My ethnic identity, after all, was closely related to the victims. I also share a neurodivergent profile with 20% of the population: Highly Sensitive Person(HSP).
According to Dr. Elizabeth Scott, writing on Verywell.com, HSPs share “an increased sensitivity to physical, emotional, and social stimuli.” We are often called “too sensitive” by others. Count us out for violent movies and a too-hectic schedule. Count us in for being deeply moved by beauty and having a rich internal life.
If you think you might be a member of our tribe, you can take The Highly Sensitive Person Test, created by Elaine Aron, the psychologist who pioneered this personality type in the mid-1990s.
I believe HSPs are more impacted by both global events and personal challenges. For instance, recently I’ve been disappointed by those around me who do not seem glued to their devices to follow every nuance of the events in the Middle East. I’ve been feeling the same way since the invasion of Ukraine, and have only recently, after 18 months, begun to ignore photos and lengthy descriptions of the horrors to preserve my sanity.
Recently, there was an escaped, young prisoner in my bucolic, semirural county in Pennsylvania. The incident captured national attention for two weeks. The fugitive was hiding out in the garden property where I volunteer weekly.
My favorite secret spots were exposed by the national press, including the dairy where the prisoner stole a van to escape. Oddly enough, my predominant emotion was not a fear for safety, but actual empathy for the fugitive, operating in blazing temperatures without food or water. Overwhelming empathy is another HSP quality.
Since I left the world of employment, I have been immensely grateful every day. HSPs do not thrive in the chaos of the workplace. For me, the workplace was the classroom and the education department of a local university: so many personalities to appease. Almost daily, I count my blessings that so much less is required of me.
Believing that I’ve never been happier in my life, I was astounded to look back and find that in my six years of retirement, I have lost both parents, supported my son through a serious medical condition, witnessed the divorce of my daughter from my beloved son-in-law, and assisted her move to the West coast into a new marriage. I also guided my husband through two unexpected and very serious surgeries.
Why do I think the quality of my life at this moment is so good? I believe I’ve hit on the perfect strategies of daily living for an HSP: I am a regular participant in life affirming activities. Every morning I make time for meditation and inspirational readings. My house is a model of orderliness, sometimes bordering on perfectionism.
On a weekly basis, there is the watering of plants in a magnificent conservatory, the care of sheep and goats at a local museum, and writing posts for my peers, which help me work through the issues of retirement and aging.
Through great fortune and effort, I am living close to nature with a loving partner, a fellow HSP. There is calming music playing most of the day, a morning routine of newspapers and puzzles, and our days together afford space for alone-time. Good food is a major priority, and we keep our small circle of friends and family as close as they will allow.
These personal strategies also lessen the impact of the perpetual shock of new world calamities. At least the home front is calm. Rick Hanson, writing in Greater Good Magazine, offers these strategies for coping with the pain of others (the techniques work well for global disasters):
Do you think you might be a Highly Sensitive Person? When have you felt overwhelmed by personal or world issues. Have you developed your own coping skills?