Saturday, June 23, 2012

Being an HSP... and the Intrusion of Noise

We are out "camping" this week. I put that in quotes because we have a cabin, so it's not exactly primitive camping, but it's still a way to get closer to nature, which has always felt very healing, to me.

Being out here where there is no man-made noise reminds me of just how "loud" our everyday lives have gotten. I am not talking about the obvious like the sound of trucks passing in the street, air conditioners humming and someone using a power lawn mower-- I am talking about "the little things."

The sound of velcro, being opened. The sound of "hard" cellophane packaging around the sugar box. The sound of a sliding door that is old and worn where it glides. The sound of a spoon, stirring coffee in a cup. Absent the backdrop of white noise, these sounds are suddenly very loud.

It would be an exaggeration to say that noise has always been my "enemy," but-- that said-- I can honestly say that I have sought "quiet spaces" since I was a small boy. Looking back on my early life, I can see how I responded to "noisy" activities and environments and conclude "Yes, I can now see how I was an HSP," during those early years. Back then, there was no such thing as "being highly sensitive," so I was generally regarded as "timid" and "fearful."

We lived near a busy train line, when I was little. My grandfather would walk me down to the end of the nearby field so I could see the trains go by... and he could never understand why I didn't want to, given that I professed a love of trains. In truth, I thought the trains were cool, but the sound of the engines and rail cars rolling by-- from 20 feet away-- was profoundly overwhelming. Everybody thought I was scared of the trains, but I really wasn't-- I was just completely "sensory overloaded" by the noise they made. The sound felt like... someone was stabbing me in the head/ears with sharp needles, straight into the part of my brain that processes sound.

My experience of "noise" remains the same, today. Noisiness-- of pretty much any form-- has a strong component of overwhelm for me... from raised voices, to loud music, to lawn mowers even down to the sound of cellophane packaging being opened on a quiet morning, or a door that can't be opened silently. When I cook or do home maintenance projects I generally avoid "power tools" (mixers, blenders, table saws) in favor of doing things "by hand..." NOT for "philosophical reasons" but because I loathe the noise of machinery.

Whether I call it an "ideosyncracy" or an "issue," my sensitive ears have occasionally led to feelings of alienation because I was never able to equate "loud" with "fun," as the majority of the world's people seem to. Of course, as I write these words, I realize that there are also those who are HSPs who don't mind noise. Or who can listen to music so loud their bones are rattling, but who are driven crazy by the faintest sound of fluorescent light fixtures buzzing. Ultimately, it may not be the sounds, themselves, that identify us as HSPs... but the fact that we are highly aware of noise. 

Talk Back: How do YOU experience noise/sound? Do you find that you often notice sounds other people are not even aware of? Does ALL loud noise bother you, or is loudness not really an issue for you? Do certain sounds drive you crazy? Do you consider yourself a "silence seeker?" Do you feel that you have a "relationship" with noise that is shaped by the fact that you're an HSP? Please leave a comment and share your experiences with other HSPs.

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  1. I always take special musician earplugs with me to movies, concerts, plays, etc, to control the volume--and hence the amount of sensory input. Sometimes I find myself more comfortable in the very back of the theater, because it means the audience is IN FRONT of me (also lessens the sensory input).

    I don't know if this is an HSP-thing, or just a getting-older-and-getting-grumpy thing, but I'm finding I'm much less tolerant of sound/noise generated by someone other than myself: My neighbor clearing his throat every morning; The upstairs neighbor dropping (God knows what) on her kitchen floor every day; the dog barking half a block away... :-\

  2. Boy do I connect with that!
    More and more I want to run screaming from the city, because of the noise. I steel myself in every activity I do, to put up with the noise, and I find I am doing it less and less well. I don't want to go to the fair because it is crowded and noisy, even though I used to enjoy them. I think when I was young, I survived by shutting it out, not even allowing myself to acknowledge my sensitivity. Even so, I lived in a smaller city, and had very short doses of "loud". My parents were quiet, the house was always quiet, and noisy things were done outside so they didn't reverberate through me.
    I think my dad was always sensitive, and my brother even more so, so I wasn't highly exposed. Now, I'm married to a man that doesn't not understand soft voices and complains because I sometimes find a restaurant so loud I can't stand to be in there. Our house has a minimum of 2 to 3 loud TV's on at any time, and the construction next door has been excruciating.
    My kids are just as sensitive and struggle daily.
    I think we all need new tools to live with this "disability".

  3. I've been meaning to write and thank you for the material you put on your blog. It's very well written and I can totally relate to it.

    The sound thing is a real issue for me. I moved from the city to the country a few years ago and have no intention of going back! There are no freeways withing hearing on my house, but the distant sound of the ocean is a lot like the white noise of a freeway. The ocean was calm yesterday and I heard nothing other than the wings of a hummingbird flying outside my window. :-)

    I feel fortunate that I can turn off the radio at work. My co-workers like the noise, but it would totally stress me out if I had listen to the radio and pay attention to clients at the same time. One thing at a time please!

  4. I do not mind all loud sounds or environments. It mostly depends on the type of sounds, my reserves at the time, and the duration. Like so many things, even if I enjoy something, I have to limit the amount of time I'm immersed in it. I also have to have a quiet place in which to retreat. It always bothered me when my Mom would comment on the quietness of my house when she visited. To me, quiet is a good thing. It restores my sanity...that sense of peacefulness...a haven from the intensity of the outside world. It bothers me that for so many people quiet seems to mean "boring" or "uncomfortable".


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