The Ultra-Sensitive Person: Staying Centered and Feeling Safe when the World Overwhelms You
by Roger Easterbrooks
Do you experience a heightened sensitivity to certain noises, light, foods, groups of people, other people’s edges or emotions, or does everyday life feel like just too much stimulus? Do you have frequent feelings of overwhelm and panic? If you experience any one (or more) of the preceding or following indicators then you are likely an Ultra-Sensitive Person (USP):
labeled as to “sensitive” or “thin skinned” or “emotional”
overwhelmed by being “out in the world”
overly attentive to what is going on all around you
urge to hide in a quiet, sometimes dark, room when things are too much
cancel or don’t make plans with others
affected by other people’s moods
highly allergic to foods and environmental conditions
exceptionally intuitive and artistic
Being ultra-sensitive means you pick up on most of the subtleties around you, no matter what they are. This is because you are “deeply tuned-in”. When the stimuli from these many levels begins to feel too much, a state of overwhelm can happen. You start to operate from a “survival” mode. For example, to cope with the situation you may retreat to be alone in a quiet and darkened room. This is a place where you can regroup and calm down an over-activated nervous system.
Ultra-Sensitive People are neither better nor more conscious than anyone else. They do experience things more intensely and are aware of more of the subtleties in the environment than non- USP’s. Some people are ultra-sensitive in only a few areas of their life, like flying in an airplane, or being in a small cramped space. Others are ultra-sensitive in most or all areas of their lives. This is, I believe, based on your birth (karmic as well as physical), developmental growth and life experiences.
Being Ultra-sensitive is actually a gift, although it does not always feel that way. You have probably been criticized and shamed, for the way you have lived or not lived your life. You may have been called too sensitive, emotional, thin-skinned, a complainer, or one who is never satisfied. The story of The Princess and the Pea mirrors an ultra-sensitive’s character (most often related to women). For men, especially, the title may be “cry baby”. These shame-laden labels can tarnish one’s life. Yet the biggest tragedy comes when you hide or suppress your awareness of the information that this gift reveals to you.
So lets spend some time inside such a person, which is rich and bountiful. Remember you need not have all these indicators be true to be ultra-sensitive. There is a heightened sensitivity to the environment. It is challenging to be in the outside world where your input sensors can be easily over stimulated. You are very intuitive, even prophetic. You know what other people are feeling; your interpretations of such messages are not always accurate, but you know when something is up. Other’s moods affect you. You love very deeply and fully. You can be overly conscientious. When you reach the overwhelm stage you usually retreat into a dark room or any place away from the situation that has pushed you over the line. You can be sensitive to light, noise, and foods. If you go to the mall on a busy shopping day, you feel it as a massive input of stimuli where others may only be mildly distracted. When you get overwhelmed you respond as if your survival is at stake. In fact, panic/anxiety attacks are a common response to the overwhelm situation. Then it is “run for cover”, or for some of us it may even be “go, go, go, do, do, do” even more and try to kill the sensations in that manner. Addictions are born from not being able to tolerate these overwhelmed feelings.
How does one get to be this sensitive? Some of us are born this way – we come in with a different neurological perspective. Some of us are traumatized in the early stages of development and become sensitive, example sexual abuse, or later in life such as fighting in a war (Post-Traumatic Stress). Others get these sensitivities from a skip in their central nervous system, such as a physical abnormality (Mitral Valve Prolaspe) or chemical and food allergies. Whether you are ultra sensitive in certain areas of your life or in all areas isn’t the only point, for the area you are ultra sensitive in is the place where overwhelm is possible, unless you learn to put a dimmer switch on your central nervous system and sensory awareness. How is it for an Ultra-Sensitive on the job? It is best to find a work environment where you can have your own space to operate. You will not be the most social one at the company water cooler and will tend to shy away from a lot of contact in large groups. You are very good at what you do the more you are left alone. But this also can bring in the feeling of loneliness. Do you make contact – jump into the game – and risk having to cut out early or have a panic attack? It is hard to make good decisions if you are busy dealing with staying alive from having too much input. Because you tend to be very good at what you do, people will come to you for assistance and in that case you will receive the acknowledgment you want but at the possible high cost of having too much contact. Any job where your co-workers can have free access to you will be very challenging. You may not feel like you can escape if the need arises. Here again is the basic challenge for the Ultra-Sensitive person; which is when things get to be too much and you need to withdraw will you have the ok-ness within yourself to do what you need. Of course your responsibility is to develop skills that will help you tolerate the sensations of overwhelm. It is also helpful to learn how much and what types of information you can take in before overwhelm happens. In that way you will be able to take a break and in that way reduce the possibility of over stimulation.
Your social and intimate relationships provide you with a great opportunity to enjoy the richness of you sensitivities. They also provide you with situations where you can become even more easily over stimulated. Your ability to tune in to what others are feeling and what they need can be a great asset in any relationship. But this gift must be used wisely. The down side is that you can give yourself away or be intrusive on another’s space. Clear communication as to what is happening for us is most helpful. For when you go into overwhelm others may see you as being narcissistic. But what is actually happening is that you have gone into survival mode and that means by its very nature that you can only pay attention to yourself. At these times it may be necessary to take time alone away from as much external stimuli as possible. This needs to be presented as a way of taking care of yourself so that you can come to terms with exactly want your overwhelm is about. Once you are out of overwhelm then you can return to your regular mode of making contact and interacting.
Boundaries are also very different for Ultra-Sensitive People. Even when you are clear as to where the other person is and you know what your stand is, you can usually still feel the other almost like it is yourself anyway. That means you have a very unique opportunity to learn about how to stay with yourself as well as to be deeply connected with another. This line is a thin one, between you and another, and it is easy to cross over and believe that you have lost yourself. Sometimes it is true you do lose yourself and at other times that is not. You are totally with yourself but still acutely aware of the other as well. I feel this may be a slightly different perspective on boundaries that many psychological therapies don’t acknowledge.
There are several basic approaches to the question “How can I turn down my overly sensitive nature?”. I offer consultation on all the levels of attention needed in this experience physical, emotional, and spiritual as well how to find the appropriate practitioners in your area.
Roger Easterbrooks M.B.A., Registered Movement Therapist, is an ultra-sensitive. He is trained in intuitive and traditional techniques of healing. Some of the methods he uses are movement education, breath and emotional release work, and compassionate conversation. He is the creator of the Heart of Intimacy Relationship Intensive. He can be reached at (206) 264-5066, www.ultra-sensitive.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org
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