As I continue forward with the fairly newly found knowledge that I am a highly sensitive person, I find that new answers to old problems continue to be found. Highly sensitive people make up about 20% of the population, and the term “highly sensitive” is often misunderstood. Not only do highly sensitive people feel things more deeply than others, they also process external information more completely, seeing subtleties that most miss. Because we are truly wired differently, and have a hard time filtering out the wide variety of sensory information that surrounds us, we easily and quickly become overwhelmed. We are like live wires with almost no insulation, and sometimes the noise and clatter of the world hurts.
In the course of my lifetime, I am experienced a great deal of trauma, and have lived with PTSD since childhood. I began to wonder if my highly sensitive nature made me more prone to suffering from traumatic events. The way I see things, there are truly traumatic events, like rape and childhood sexual abuse, but I know that I am also very easily traumatized by every day events. Things that other people see and hear about, and shake their head over, then moving on, affect me deeply. I have learned that what is one persons adventure may be a highly sensitive person’s idea of torture. So, was I highly sensitive, and therefore more open to the affects of life traumas, or did the early lifetime traumas create the hyper-sensitivity in me?
I looked to HSP expert, Elaine Aron, for answers. Her book, The Highly Sensitive Person, has sent many people free from a lifetime of feeling that they were inherently flawed, or weak. I know it made all difference for me, and how I care for myself. According to Dr. Aron, it does indeed take less of a trauma to produce a PTSD response in a HSP. My traumas were not small, and began when I was 4 years old, so I have come to believe that while what happened to me would be perceived as traumatic to any young child, because of my HSP nature, it did take me down a path of learning certain coping mechanism that served me well as a child, but became disabilities for me as an adult.
For instance, my ability to dissociate for long periods of time may have saved me as a child, but this sort of “checking out” robbed me of many years of my life, leaving with no memories of those times, and huge gaps in my life history. I learned how to be there without really being there, and I learned it very well. It took a heck of a lot of work to get beyond that defense mechanism, but I finally have a solid time line for the last few years, and those years have been fraught with many seriously awful events. Maybe because I am now setting boundaries, and taking better care of myself in all respects, my brain is stronger, and more capable of handling these unfortunate, but sometimes inevitable, life events. Whatever the explanation, it is nice to have a linear memory.
So what can a HSP do when faced with a traumatic event, even something others might bounce back from quickly, to care for themselves properly, and not let trauma become PTSD? Elaine Aron recommends that HSP be very gentle with themselves in the aftermath of a trauma, or frightening event. Take time off from work and life, slow way down, or stop, and give yourself time to process the event. Find someone you trust to talk to about the event, even if you do not want to talk about it. Sometimes it is necessary to go over the event again, and again, and again to truly purge yourself of the effects of the event, so that it looses its power over you.
Do not be afraid to get back on the horse, so to speak. If you had a bad car accident, do not avoid driving, no matter how scary the thought may be. You need to reclaim your sense of safety as soon as possible. So, do not run from whatever caused your trauma, but confront it. You do not need to do it alone, but you do need to do it.
Whatever you currently do to care for yourself, and to recharge, and reduce your stress and overwhelm, do more of it while you heal. Pray more, spend more time in, or near water, meditate more, rest more. Treat yourself to a massage, or another relaxing thing, and be around people that you love. At the same time, immerse yourself in activities that you love that will take the focus off of the traumatic event. This does not mean to work more, it means to recreate more. Keep yourself busy doing things that feed your soul while you heal.
Ask for help. If you have physical injuries, or just are unfocused, ask friends for help, and keep asking as long as you need help. Explain to your friends and family that you are sick, and ask them for help while you recover. Help yourself by acknowledging your need for more of everything now, including rest and quite time, and make yourself take that time. Do not add insult to injury by overloading yourself. The world expects us to “take a licking, and keep on ticking.” An HSP needs more time to rewind before they resume business as usual.
Finally, if yourself stuck, and unable to get past the trauma, find a caring professional to talk to, and do this sooner rather than later. We all want to appear capable and able to bounce back, but HSPs require a lot more time and TLC in order to bounce back in a healthy way. Honor yourself, your experience, and your temperament, and give yourself that gift of time and TLC, so that you can recover and reclaim your life post trauma. It will happen with proper self care, and there is no need to rush it.
HSPs and Trauma