Caregiving and the Highly Sensitive Personality.

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I recently came across an article about HSP while researching information about coping with narcissism - I've noticed a LOT of people on this site are dealing with narcissistic parents and/or siblings. I myself have two SILs that (unfortunately) fit that same bill.

After reading this article I concluded three things about this so-called Highly Sensitive Personality:
1) the characteristics fit me to a "T"
2) matched with caregiving it's a two-edged sword - because of an increased ability to empathize it lends itself very well to the task; it also makes one far more vulnerable to the demands of caregiving (especially if caring for a very difficult and demanding person!!)
3) it is the POLAR OPPOSITE of narcissism!!!

According to author and psychologist Elaine Aron, PhD. this is an innate personality trait (NOT a disorder) that apparently exists in about 15-20% of the human population. It's also found in many animals, including dogs and primates. It results from having a "sensitive nervous system that makes it harder to filter out stimuli and easier to get overwhelmed by our environment."

You may be a Highly Sensitive Person if you...
- are highly curious, imaginative, intellectual, and/or creative
- are intuitive, caring, and spiritual
- are a good problem solver
- are especially conscientious and compassionate
- harbor an exceptionally deep fondness for art, music and nature
- were considered "shy" or "timid" as a child

You may also...
-be more acutely aware of your environment; loud noises, bright lights, big crowds overwhelm you more than the average person
- get rattled when there's a lot to do in a short period of time
- prefer to avoid confrontation (also violent movies, TV)
- tend to "sense" an uncomfortable situation more readily than most people, and then feel driven or obligated to "fix" it
- be more sensitive than most to certain smells, tastes, and/or textures

Another "expert", Jeffrey E. Young (who wrote "Schema Therapy: A Practitioner's Guide") states "if these individuals don't learn to handle their high sensitivity they may suffer greatly...when it comes to a self-sacrifice schema, which always lends itself to emotional deprivation"...."these people need to learn to focus on themselves instead of or before focusing on others, and to learn to get their own needs met first, needs they are typically not aware of."

Any of this sound familiar???

48 Comments

OMG, this is SO me.
In addition to the above I also feel a physical reaction when seeing or hearing a story of pain.Its a tingly wave thru my body. Extreme empathy.
My father and son have (had) it too.
Thanks for this info...it explains a lot.
My sister-in-law and I were just talking last night about how she's always sucked into her mother's drama. Her mother is new to asst living, whiny, needy, ungrateful, scared and the list just keeps going on. The problem is, my sis-in-law is UNABLE to 'just say no' to her mother's demands. That's because she's the 'sensitive' personality you just mentioned, and emphasizes so much with her mother, that she is in turn taken advantage of by her other siblings. BUT I believe she is also skirting the 'pride' aspect of care giving too. Sometimes I think she suffers from the 'I'm the only one that can help mother' syndrome, which if you're not careful can lead to a prideful mindset which is scary and a slippery slope. My sister-in-law is a wonderful person and I love her to death, but she is so sensitive that I'm afraid I'd hurt her if I were to tell her that I see her headed for the pride pitfall. It's a catch 22 thing. And a no win thing too.
Very interesting theory. I'm sort of like that, but thankfully I also have a bit of my tough grandmother in me as well.

Nancy H - Interesting about your sister-in-law and her "I'm the only one" syndrome. My strange and wonderful daughter will complain about something, and I, the problem solver, will offer (excellent) advice, which she rejects. She has started telling me, "Mom, I don't want to solve this, I just want to complain!" I sort of hate it, but it's liberating to realize that that is really all she wants!

Probably best not to share your insight with your SIL. I would have a HARD time not doing so, but do as I say, not as I do. LOL.
The "i'm the only one" syndrome is me as well. What is the "pride pitfall"? I'm a little scared right now. My sister watched Mom for a week, and did NOT follow instructions and Mom suffered a major fall. She wants to take Mom for 2 weeks this summer and I wont allow it. I could use the 2 weeks off, but will suffer myself so that Mom is in the BEST hands. Is that what you mean?
Yaya!!! OMG!!! I have known about this for 3 years! ME, TOO! Like Jinx, I have a "manufactured" tough side. If I had my choice and could RECLAIM the me who was plunked on this planet, I would. However, there are a lot of A holes to deal with, lots of insensitive clods, jealous ignoramuses, etc. So, luckily, with great care, we learn to shield ourselves for survival.
When another vocalist friend of mine told me about HSP--I met her through caregiving, as she goes around to homes singing for elders!!-- it actually seemed like an answer to prayer, therapy, and other pieces I had tried to put together. Once I read the book and went on the website, it felt as if I had found my home.
Thank you so much for bringing the subject--or phenomena--to our attention.
I did not know that this characteristic was the opposite of narcissistic, but it sure makes sense. A while back someone who doesn't like me said, "It's all about YOU, isn't it?" And I was shocked, because it never has been. I always wondered why it could never be about me, but I was programmed by Narcissists!! That is one reason I did not go into professional singing in a major way, because I am not comfortable being in the limelight:)) xoxo
Christina - I had the same reaction when I ran across the article. OMG, that's ME!!! I WISH I could grow a thicker skin.....although every now and then I've surprised myself....got into the face of a DMV cop once when he tried to accuse me of falsifying my title application, which had been wrongly filled out by my insurance agent, NOT me. I got really shaky though, and collapsed into tears afterward! As I was reading the article it struck me how well the characteristics "fit" the caregiving role, AND how detrimental they are to it at the same time. It didn't actually state that it's the opposite of narcissism, but boy does it ever seem to be!! Narcissists are incapable of empathy - HSP'ers can't HELP but be empathic. It's in our DNA!!! A blessing....and a curse....
BoniChak - My MIL used to love to watch the Jerry Lewis Telethon every Labor Day weekend...she'd have it on constantly. I couldn't stand to be around it because I would get "sucked in" to all the stories of pain and hardship and empathize so deeply it hurt!
So glad to be getting this feedback...and to realize after all these years it wasn't just me being a "woos". Thnx guys!
This is fabulous!! I knew about this but had forgotten it until now. It is me through and through. (Thought of you first thing Christina!).
My ex said "it's always about you isn't it". I was horrified then furious. No, it was never about me with him or my mom. They were both narcissists. Talk about a glutton for punishment with both of them in my life. Finally I had to "fix" this dilemma. Got a divorce and mom died.
Thanks yaya51 for this topic and for reminding me that I am not crazy, there IS a reason for my thoughts and actions.
TWISTED Narcissists!! They are! They try so hard to confuse things. It's like the Shell game! Yaya, I was going to tell you about the confrontational thing. I'm not afraid of it. I love to speak up, but have to control myself in certain situations. I can't stand it when the TRUTH is hidden. Very difficult for me to keep quiet if I hear bs or see an injustice. heehee:) Hey, Sis xo
I am one of the sensitive personalities and it is not easy. I am all the time having to remind myself that it isn't other people, it's just that I am too sensitive. I sense even small changes in moods or if something is not flowing quite right. And yes, I feel like I need to make it flow better or make people feel better. But I have to disagree that it is the opposite of narcissism, because often I feel that things may have to do with me or that I can make them better. Talk about narcissism! Usually no one is even thinking about me and I certainly do not have super human abilities to change things.

I think the extreme of the condition is avoidant personality disorder. People who are too sensitive just start avoiding everyone, even though they want to be close to people. It has to be one of the saddest disorders.
I'm also a HSP. Another thing I've read about that fits me to a "T" is the idea of mirror neurons. Those of us with a lot of mirror neurons in our brain "mirror" the feelings/reactions of those around us more than other people. We're very empathetic and can easily put ourselves in others' shoes. So if I'm with someone who starts to cry, I start to cry. It can get really annoying because I can be so emotional. Some people can just turn that emotion on and off, but once I get going, it's hard to stop sometimes.

I've always been the person to want to rescue others, but I've learned through many years of doing that that it's very hard on me. Now I'm my mom's caregiver and I don't feel like I have a choice, but otherwise, my days of rescuing others are over. I'm putting myself first for once in my life!

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