Can there be a more positive “sensitive” term for HSP’s?

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Once I was ‘diagnosed’ as an HSP, it provided me with answers for physical problems that the medical community shrugged at and went “you’re just unlucky”.  Even doctors used the term ‘sensitive’ to describe my iffy immune system and intolerance to medication, totally unaware of the concept of an HSP.  I never doubted that this was who I was, but when I started talking about it to friends and family I came up against a huge stumbling block.  ”Sensitive.” While the word ‘sensitive’ is great as a technical description, there is a lot of stigma attached to it.

‘Sensitive’ is often associated with discomfort and pain – sensitive teeth, sensitive stomach and sensitive skin.  Looking at definitions online, ‘sensitive’ conjures up images of someone taking offence easily, being too serious, overly emotional, readily affected, neurotic, highly strung, difficult, over dramatic; in essence, someone weak and irritating.  Do a search on Google images and the prevailing image is someone looking pained or wan, with their arms shielding their head.

Even those closest to me would often say ‘but you aren’t really sensitive’, clearly with a definite picture mind.  It seems that sensitive people aren’t allowed to be sarcastic or snarky or like loud music! I also have quite a few friends who are HSP’s but it’s the label that puts them off from exploring it.  If I hadn’t had such concrete, medical proof of being an HSP, I’d be like that too.

The term ‘sensitive’ doesn’t empower the people who need it most, the people like me who don’t naturally fit into the expected role of a ‘sensitive’ person.   In fact, I am the product of a world where sensitivity was seen as weakness or failure; where pre-HSP, I had to cultivate a shell to protect myself from a world that was too harsh for me to cope with, even though I didn’t know why.

Some people seem to find peace with their sensitivity and are able to grow and evolve regardless of the negative connotations, but I am not really that kind of person … and there are others out there like me too.  How can I live life openly as an HSP when the term ‘sensitive’ is so restrictive?

In the past, HSP’s were the shamans; the people who created the plans of action, whose instincts and insight protected the community.  Our sensitivity was regarded not only as beneficial for society, but essential for its existence.  Now, the world is harsh and aggressive; it’s a vicious cycle where people are becoming more desensitized to it, continually requiring more stimulation which doesn’t bode well for HSPs!

However, whether you are an ‘open’ sensitive who is comfortable with who you are or like me, sensitivity doesn’t mean weakness.   HSP’s have an inner strength and continue to be intuitive and compassionate regardless of the harshness of the world.

So, do we reclaim the word ‘sensitive’ forcing the world to see us in a new light?  Or do we find a better term, if so… what is it?

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Can there be a more positive “sensitive” term for HSP’s?

  1. I wish I had an answer for your question. I too see the word “sensitive” for its negative connotations, and wonder, in this day and age and in our western society, how we can feel more empowered as HSP’s.
    Indeed, how can we make the world see us in a new and more positive light?

  2. Nicola

    Thank you, it is good to know that someone else feels the same! While I have two years of therapy with a HSP counsellor, I know that I am a sensitive through and through, but in the real world, it seems that the term sets us up for derision without bothering to even think about it seriously. Maybe we need completely different terminology?

  3. Craig

    I’ve been meaning to respond to this post for a while, but the more I considered the main point, the more I realised I didn’t have a reliable perspective on it at all. The connotations of the word ‘sensitive’ are one thing I hadn’t considered at all, and I’m not sure why.

    If it hadn’t been for you I wouldn’t have known that there was some explanation for the strange stuff going on in side my head, and that knowledge has opened up so many avenues to explore that it’s been a little overwhelming. Quite unpleasant at times too if I’m being honest, as new perspectives can force a re-evaluation of old situations. Still, it’s better to take a few lumps in the pursuit of understanding than live in confusion and doubt.

    I’m not sure how I felt at first. A strange mix of relief, intrigue and fear I suppose. The first two are fairly straightforward, but fear? Of what? The things I might uncover and finally understand, for better or worse, or the reactions of others? Looking back I don’t think I cared too much about the latter, and that’s really surprising for me.

    I’ll admit to a certain amount of immediate prejudice upon hearing the term HSP because a culturally fuelled image popped into my head of what that might mean. Fortunately I was talking to you at the time and so immediately understood that was clearly utter nonsense, but I can understand how others might not be so lucky and see it as a troubling burden rather than a potentially useful concept from which to hang and develop ideas.

    Back to the point though, and a question. Is the word ‘sensitive’ weighted differently based on gender? I suspect that I’d have struggled with the term had I been a ‘man’s man’ type. As it is I spent years taking flak for my appearance, my long hair and various bits of jewellery, and a lot of my tastes in music and art. I think I’d already established a form of resistance to the same accusations and stereotypes you’ve identified, and so I kind of sidestepped it. Maybe it’s just denial, I dunno 🙂

    Developing that idea, I have actually tried the term HSP out on a few people in the context of things I now understand about myself, and I can see a flicker of uncertainty before people reply. I’ve found that women are far more accepting of the idea and considerate regarding the implications, and men seem to treat it as just an acronym and never ask anything more. I’ve decided that I’ll gladly talk it through with people as long as I think there’s a genuine positive understanding to be reached. I won’t ever use it if I think someone will see it as an excuse to justify something they don’t understand; that says more about them than me.

    In conclusion, I tend to avoid the terminology and seek understanding instead, because words are often weighted in unusual and unpredictable places. The only time the words become necessary is when I’m trying to explain it to others, and I’d rather try to find an approach that puts understanding before semantics.

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