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December 18, 2013

I guess I’m sensitive, too

If you haven’t read about how Addison’s “a little bit sen-sti-tive” and Neal’s a LOT sensitive, they probably provide useful context for this post.

So I set out to read The Highly Sensitive Person with Addison in mind. And  then pretty quickly my thoughts turned to Neal. But as I read the initial self-assessment, I kept thinking, What ARE these questions? Everyone would answer yes to these. Duh, who doesn’t hate loud noises? Obviously other people’s moods affect us . . .

my test

But I had to remind myself that no, in some of the larger-scale studies a full 42% reported that they were not at all sensitive . . . to almost any of these things. How is that EVEN POSSIBLE? And then slowly, it dawned on me, Holy crap, I’M an HSP. 

Maybe it shouldn’t have been such a shock. I mean, I already knew I was an introvert. And I have some physical conditions that some doctors consider to be nervous system disorders. (And I cry like all. the. time.) But at the same time, I didn’t fit the infant/child profile at all, according to my mom (whom I grilled with interview questions from the book for several hours last month. That lady deserves a medal, by the way, both for raising me and putting up with my psychoanalysis of said raising.). And I could not be more dissimilar from Neal in some of his keys areas of sensitivity. Still, although I couldn’t make sense of it all, I knew immediately, this book is about me.

It wasn’t until I got into the second chapter, that it suddenly started to become more clear (I say more clear, not clear because there’s a lot to take in). Apparently, there are at least two distinct types of HSPs. It appears that all HSPs have a heightened “behavioral inhibition system,” a sensitivity to punishment or negative stimuli, which could make them more conscientious, cautious, anxious, or avoidant. (Aron calls this the “pause-to-check” or “advisor” system.)

The distinction lies in the strength of their “behavioral activation system,” the one that is sensitive to reward, goal-oriented, willing to take risks, and wants to try novel activities. (The “activator” or “warrior-king” system, according to Aron). Aron asks,

“What type are you? Does your pause-to-check/advisor system rule alone, thanks to a quiet activator/warrior-king system? That is, is it easy for you to be content with a quiet life? Or are the two branches that govern you in constant conflict? That is, do you always want to be trying new things even if you know that afterward you will be exhausted?” (p. 31)

If you haven’t figured out which type I am, just go back a couple posts to my goals for 2014, which I helpfully titled, DO ALL THE THINGS! It’s like I got bored in the middle of the night and my behavioral activation system came out to play, planning 12 months of goals and an insane road trip. Yep, I am a woman in constant conflict. Neal, on the other hand, mostly lets his advisor system “rule alone,” which is why we can both be HSPs but so completely dissimilar. It also gives me more insight into what type of HSP Addison would be, if she proves to be one. That girl’s definitely got the “warrior-queen” thing going on.

Although on more careful examination of my childhood in light of the diversity of HSP profiles, I can see evidence of my high sensitivity (my intense nightmares being one key indicator), I have realized that my chief area of sensory-processing sensitivity — sound — has only become clear since becoming a parent. You may have heard me mention a time or two (or two hundred) that Addison does. not. stop. talking. Often right over Neal, who also seems determined to finish his sentence. How anyone can handle two people talking at them at the same time, I’ll never know. Without even realizing it, I get “karate-chop hands,” as Neal (lovingly) calls them — a manifestation of the full-body tension that engulfs me when too much noise is coming at me all at once. When I was first reading Aron’s description of over-arousal, I couldn’t quite identify it in myself. Sweaty palms? No. Heart racing? Not excessively. But “karate-chop hands”? Definitely.

I think it took parenting a chatty extrovert to reveal an underlying sensitivity to noise that I can tell has been there all along (now that I know what to look for). It actually helps me understand why even though I love music and it played an integral part in my adolescence and young adulthood, I prefer complete silence when working; even instrumental music in the background makes me lose my train of thought. If I’m listening to music, that’s what I’m doing . . . and that’s basically all I’m doing. Which explains why as an adult I rarely listen to music. There just isn’t time in my life for spending 3 hours listening to the same song on repeat like Neal and I did on one of our first dates.

So what does all this talk of sensitivity mean? Self-examination is, of course, an end in itself. But as I thought about summarizing my experiences with my Stronger theme (ahem, almost two years ago), this seemed like a necessary prelude. You might be able to guess why. Hopefully, I’ll articulate it myself someday soon.



  1. Love this! I really really really need to read this again now 🙂 Also we need a video of Addison talking! Preferably with a cameo of the karate hands

    Comment by kei02003 — December 18, 2013 @ 2:59 pm

    • I’ll have to think on the video — it would definitely be one of the most ridiculous videos ever made if I did.

      Comment by llcall — January 10, 2014 @ 2:28 am

  2. I agree with Emily about needing a video. 🙂 I love your self-talk that you recorded at the beginning of this post. So funny. I’m not surprised at all that you identify as hsp. You are the most compassionate, deeply feeling person I know (maybe others I know feel as deeply as you do, but they aren’t as expressive or as emotionally healthy, so it comes out in different ways). And I think the fact that you’re in constant conflict, while frustrating, is a benefit to you. It gives you perspective and experience that allows you to relate to a greater number of people. I feel like I’m in conflict a lot, too. More on topical issues, but still a lot of conflict. One way I deal with the resulting frustration is by telling myself that by being stuck between two camps, I’m in the rare position of being able to serve as an ambassader between both. And since I’m an extrovert and love to bring people together, that helps me feel like the internal conflict is worth it. Also, I have got to talk to you and Emily sometime soon to help me figure out where I fit on the sensitivity scale. I’m having trouble assessing and making sense of what I think I am.

    Comment by Victoria — December 19, 2013 @ 1:31 am

    • I agree, constant conflict definitely isn’t all bad. Of course, when I put my body in conflict with itself, I definitely reap the negative consequences.

      Comment by llcall — January 10, 2014 @ 2:30 am

  3. Uh, I need to read this book. I’m apparently pretty sensitive, too. 🙂 I cannot handle two sounds happening at the same time, difficulty with background music, etc. I’ve always thought it was related to my misophonia. Have you heard of that? Interested to know if you thinkyou have that, too.

    Comment by Kristine A — January 7, 2014 @ 6:13 pm

    • The first time I heard of misophonia was when you commented on something on Facebook a few months ago. But I really didn’t give it a second thought. I’m curious to hear more about your experiences with it. I’ll have to share the Wikipedia article with Neal — I think he would probably agree that I get irrationally anger about innocuous sounds.

      Comment by llcall — January 10, 2014 @ 2:25 am

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