Why sensitive people are misunderstood

My daughter and I decided to watch a film from the TV on the BBC iPlayer. As usual we checked to see if the content would be appropriate for a 13 year old with a sensitive disposition. It said “may be unsuitable for young children” because of “strong language”.

Now, my view is that children are not likely to be traumatised by use of the F word, and so we decided to watch it. It was some kind of mystery and my daughter has become keen on Sherlock Holmes recently.

I think it is a terrible indictment on the way we live our lives that bad language is considered something worth warning about, and yet the scene we saw in this film was horrific and deeply traumatising for my daughter. She said she couldn’t stop thinking about the picture she saw. Maybe a barn full of dead pet animals and a man’s body strung up, upside in a sack, throat cut is not considered unsuitable for children. I beg to differ.

The horrifying scenes we are often expected – as adults as well as children – to find acceptable in films and on TV are not reality. They are fantasy and titillation for those who enjoy the idea of torture and death. And those of us who do not are considered “wimps” or “pathetic”. I’m not saying that I dislike every challenging film I watch, absolutely not, but we are overwhelmed with the idea that NOT wanting to enjoy these makes you an oddity.

I do a lot of my private psychology practice with people who are suffering from stress and anxiety, and one thing that can often arise is that anxiety is the result of believing you have to fit a certain mould – to be “toughened” to be “worldly-wise” (usually in a world that is full of serial killers not the real one).

But not everyone thinks the same; or is made the same. Between 15 and 20% of the population are “highly sensitive” and trait that is found in many species, not just humans, for the explicit reason of survival. It has now been accepted in mainstream psychology as a genuine trait and its formal name is Sensory-Processing Sensitivity.

Sensitive people are genetically programmed to take in more information, to notice more, and to process more. Things do not “wash over them”; they are not programmed for this.

However, these people will be much more aware of what is happening in the work environment, they will discern more, be more effective in picking up on what your customer really wants, notice where people are not happy, and be capable to spotting a potential financial blunder or ask the difficult questions that others have failed to even consider.

Sensitive people are a blessing to any business, and yet they are often not considered appropriate for promotion as they may not appear “tough” enough.

I have experienced working with some fabulous highly sensitive people, and I wouldn’t swap them for the world. They have greater insight and in my experience are purposeful and conscientious.

We need those less sensitive people just as much, because without them we would not be able to drive forward and take some risks which are essential for success. We need people who are not going to find some things have a tremendous effect on them, and who have to take some time out to recover from the assault on the senses that life can sometimes be.

But as with all things, we need a balance, and genetics tells us 1:5 is about right. So remember, that one in every 5 people you employ or work with is probably going to find some things upsetting, confusing, frightening and unsettling.

And before you say “don’t be so sensitive”, listen to them; these people are essential to your survival.

For more details on Highly Sensitive People please see:

 

2 thoughts on “Why sensitive people are misunderstood

  1. Thank you for your blog. I am one of the 1:5 and would hate the programme you mention. Is your daughter ok now or does she still have the images? There is a great EMDR technique to help reduce/remove the images if she still has them. I am happy to share it with you.

    1. Hi Pam, thank you so much for your comment and concern. It took some time for my daughter to recover, but she is learning to deal with these sorts of things day by day and has much improved.
      I must say I do get angry when schools decide for themselves what is or is not appropriate viewing for children, especially when peer pressure is so strong. And the lack of sensitivity towards violent or shocking imagery leaves me aghast!
      I have been considering using EMDR and I would love to hear from you on the technique you recommend. Thank you very much.

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