Monday, April 10, 2006
Why is the HSP trait not better known?
On the most superficial of levels, Elaine Aron did us all a huge favor by taking this thing called "sensitivity" and removing it from the realm of "pathologies" and into the realm of a "neutral inborn trait." Personally, I am happy there is nothing "wrong" with me, and all I have to know is how to manage a trait that's sometimes a bit challenging. I can deal with that.
There's a downside to the HSP trait being classified as such, which is that because it is a "neutral trait" and NOT a "disease" or "pathology," it doesn't get the same attention a mental disorder might. Sure, we have certain "special needs," but so do people who are 6'6" tall. And they don't get a show on Oprah, either.
That's the "flip" and "easy" answer.
The term "HSP" has been around for only about a decade. Although there was research done on "hypersensitivities" and "hyperexcitabilities" in gifted individuals in the 70's (Kazimiercz Dabrowski, et.al) Elaine Aron was really the first to say "this is a natural trait, not a dysfunction." It takes a lot longer than ten years for something to gain mainstream recognition. It also takes independent research by a number of experts to confirm the original findings. The latter is currently happening both in Germany and in the Netherlands.
The good news is that awareness IS spreading. An increasing number of therapists have Elaine Aron's books on their shelves. Many people in the healing/helping professions not only know about the trait, they ARE HSPs. If you google "Highly Sensitive Person" you get over 100,000 hits. Just three years ago it was fewer than 10,000. There are counselors and life coaches who ONLY work with HSPs. There are dozens of HSP groups on the web, HSP web rings, support groups and blog rings. The annual HSP Gatherings, which started as an "experiment" in 2001, have grown to where there will now be Gatherings in four different locations this year, including the UK and Canada. When I learned about being an HSP, I found one online group with fewer than 30 members.
We are, in a sense, still the "pioneers" of this trait-- I suspect that 100 years from now the term "HSP" will raise no more eyebows than "left handed" does, today.
All we can really do be to be "good ambassadors" for what we are. And how we are. Tell those we meet who seem like they might be HSPs about the trait. Be "involved," rather than sit as passive observers. A couple of years ago, I was at a workshop on the enneagram and somehow "sensitivity" came up (not in an "HSP" context) and after mentioning the HSP book, it turned out that 6 of 30-odd people in the class had either read the book, or heard about the trait. I have three copies of the first book (because I lend it out a lot) and they were lent out and examined by a dozen people at the workshop, in the course of a week. In a receptive environment, people are grateful to have answers.
I think some HSPs get frustrated, and start directing their energies in a negative direction. Their focus becomes on getting respect and "special treatment" from a world they see as not supportive. Frankly, I think that energy could be better used to tell people who are HSPs, but don't know it as "a trait" that they are really not "nuts."
Maybe the day will come when we are on Oprah-- but in my opinion, being on Oprah would have to be all about pointing out the benefits and strengths of being an HSP, rather than reqesting "special treatment" from the world because we're sensitive. Wearing a mantle of "victimhood" will get us nowhere. And without greater awareness among those who are HSPs, but don't know it yet, we probably won't be on Oprah. The supporting numbers are simply too small. And whether Elaine would go on Oprah, if invited, I don't even know.
Thus, until that day comes, perhaps the best we can do may be to simply accept ourselves and set a good example.
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