In our former article “Humans: Bad Parasites, Good Sign?” (find the article here ), we made the current suggestion: before trying to answer the question “ how humans could live in symbiosis with planet Earth”, a few steps back should be considered. We should first better understand how rich our own diversity is and how it can help us to build up a more symbiotic relationship within our own species. Over the layer of cultural diversity, that thankfully the society has started to value, we, in this article are going deeper with the genetic diversity of our own species. We put some interest in one in particular: the neurodiversity.
Neurodiversity is defined as the concept where neurological differences such as Asperger syndrome, ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) or HSP (Highly Sensitive Person) are the result of normal, natural variation in the human genome. As in the case of many types of diversity, we tend to discriminate differences and therefore, losing all the possible contributions they could bring to the human species. But does looking at a monochrome is really nicer than a rainbow? If people being HSP or Autistic are still present nowadays, it is seen from an evolution/genetic aspect that some of our ancestors had this character as well. Preserving those characters until now is supposed that being HSP, ADHD or Asperger was useful and brought some contributions to the group our ancestors belonged to. We can then wonder what advantages those characters could bring to tomorrow’s society?
Being a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) may differ from the other type of neurodivergence in some points. The term “HSP” is new: it has only been mentioned firstly in the ’90s. However, being an HSP is more common than what people think with 15-20% of the population concerned and with a ratio 50/50 among females and males (1). Dr Elaine Aron, who has done research in that topic for many years said “It is found in too many to be a disorder, but not enough well understood by the majority of those around us. HS is innate and in fact, biologists have found it over 100 species from flies, birds, fish, to dogs, cats, horses, and primates. This trait reflects a certain type of survival strategy being observant before acting.” To sum up, YES it is real, it seems to have a genetic origin and NO it is not a disease, a handicap or a disadvantage when we fully understand it. Defining the genetic origin of HSP has just started to raise some interest in the research community. HSP is often mentioned by the psychological concept: Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS). A human with a particularly high measure of SPS is considered to be a highly sensitive person (HSP). Dr Judith R. Homberg pointed out in her paper review (2) that the neuronal mechanisms underlying SPS are still poorly understood and need further clarification.
Unfortunately, sensitivity is not always a “good thing” to be expressed…rather the opposite. Sensitivity is also often seen as a female trait. Some people probably used and are still using this to explain why females are supposed to be weaker, less capable of and therefore, should be less considered than men. In our society men must be tough. Being a sensitive man may be equal to lose your male attribute and being put into the box “feminine” or “gay” – which apparently seems to be interpreted as “being inferior” by some people. Should we then assume a “sensitive” and “straight guy” being an oxymoron? Considering the rapid mood change occurring among HSPs, highly sensitive women can be also criticised or blamed on being on their period as the leading factor of their attitude. We could then wonder, if this means that the concerned women are then condemned to have their period from their childhood until their death, 24/7 because they are sensitive? Sensitivity concerns everyone (but at different intensity), however, most of us have (had to even) learned to hide it when we grew up, in order to be tough. It seems that being tough is related to a mechanism of survival: Being ready to face anything, anytime. Indeed, despite being in 2019 and at the top of the food chain, we are still acting as preys (3). Our evolution from preys/scavengers to predators has been probably too fast that our genetics/ psychology was not able to follow up. Because showing our weaknesses and being exposed is seen as socially and professionally suicidal. Therefore, we must all pretend to be strong or untouchable men and soft but not too sensitive women? For those reasons, most HSPs try to act as none-HSP, aware of it or not. This, as you may imagine, is likely to create many challenges and obstacles all over their life.
A strange fact though, for many, learning that they are HSP is often like a great release. Especially because they can finally realize that they are no longer some lonely alien on Earth. Unfortunately, using the social media to search for information about HSP can tell a lot about the lack of knowledge. We have a huge misconception of the sensitivity in general. By searching on Youtube, we mostly learn the definition of an HSP, and how to “live the most normal life”, giving an impression of HS as a problem or disadvantage only. We can also encounter several videos using a way too much the spiritual dimensions that can easily scare some of us, especially the most rational and pragmatic ones… We then, end up with more questions than we had before. Facebook has not been a better success with mostly HSP support groups mainly composed of groups of middle age members, who depict the topic one-side, mostly negatively. This reflects the current global situation of being HSP in our society: we mostly discover the natural and frequent aspect of being highly sensitivity only after having experienced some life challenges, often involving psychological consequences such as severe depression, intense anxiety etc. As we ignored the concept of HS, those life challenges are also often due to an attempt to live as a non-HSP in a non-HSP world. With over 1,5 billion estimated HSPs in the world, few can recognize herself/himself in the categories mentioned above. And also where to find information about how using our sensitivity as a strength? The answer is in the question: so few agreed that sensitivity is a strength. Despite HSPs feeling things much more, they do feel things much more! It is important to point out that being HSP is not better than not being one, neither being worst. They are just different, and like anyone else, they are just trying to understand where they interlock in the puzzle of society.
We could sincerely wonder if it is that bad to have a bigger empathy for people in our today’s. We are living in a world where social isolations is raising. Moreover, technology creates more and more services decreasing the need for human interactions. We could then wonder: despite being a social species, are we inhibiting ourselves to that natural need due to “progress”? Does a society creating cyber-girlfriend-avatar or dating apps where people spent hours every week just to find some social interactions with someone physically near them is a sustainable?
Being an HSP confers some advantages in some situations; in daily life, relationships or in the working environment. However so little is known about it. To society: how about being more inclusive and active for positive changes? To the HSPs: why only talking about how highly sensitivity makes life so difficult or how to cope with our own sensitivity to have a life as good as possible, meaning as a non-HSP? Cannot we empower the sensitivity and the highly sensitivity by showing how some HSPs use their ability to create some great impacts? Due to their huge empathy and sensitivity, HSPs care about people. It is not (only) because they are themself good people, but because bad as good things that affect others affect them too, with an intensity depending on how sensitive the HSPs are. They can then be much more in other’s shoe and understand their struggle compared to other people. Embracing more empathy could help solving problematic situations and strengthening human relations, either personal or professional.
In a world where people are more and more disconnected from nature and other people, could HSPs be one of the bridge builders of a new sustainable society?
(2) Homberg, Judith R, Schubert, Dirk, Asan, Esther, Aron, Elaine N.,Sensory processing sensitivity and serotonin gene variance: insights into mechanisms shaping environmental sensitivity
(3) Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
(Special thanks to Elisa & Georgeta!)