When they write an article about Highly Sensitive People, they just can’t stop themselves from sticking in pejorative, judgmental language.
Sometimes it’s so minor that it’s hard to perceive, but it’s almost always there.
**warning** This post is a rant. If you do not like to read complaining and sarcasm, I suggest skipping this. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
I’ve written about my frustration with media regarding HSPs in the past, including this in-depth dissection of a Wall Street Journal article. And the time a local paper titled a piece about my blog: “Leave me alone”.
Who’s my beef with today?
Here’s the headline and first two paragraphs. I’ve underlined the parts I take issue with:
Jumpy, easily upset? You might have Princess and the Pea Syndrome
It could be called ‘Princess and the Pea‘ syndrome, but those with a hypersensitive nervous system (HSP) are now being labelled by experts as highly sensitive people
Are your feelings easily bruised and do you worry about hurting other people’s? Do you well up at charity advertisements about illness or animal cruelty, dislike scary films or feel bothered by loud or irritating noises in a way that others don’t?
You could be a highly sensitive person, or HSP – a condition that is common but until now rarely understood.
Where do I even start? I’m not even sure how the author managed to pack so many niggling things in just a headline and two paragraphs. Let’s go.
“Are your feelings easily bruised?” and “easily upset” and “get upset very easily”
Having “easily hurt feelings” is a common perception of HSPs. So, so common. But nowhere in Dr. Elaine Aron’s HSP self-test is there anything about having easily hurt feelings or getting upset easily.
A less editorializing way to say “Are your feelings easily hurt” could have been, “Are you conscientious? Do other people’s moods affect you?”
That’d be more accurate. And less of an incorrect assessment.
BTW–I don’t believe that HSPs have “more easily hurt” feelings. *I* don’t have easily hurt feelings. Being highly sensitive doesn’t mean you don’t know how to cope with negativity in the world. I have learned how to cope with criticism and negative feedback in my life. Those are just normal things you learn (or don’t learn) as a person.
Having constantly easily hurt feelings might mean you are hypersensitive, which leads me to…
“…those with a hypersensitive nervous system…”
and later in the article: “Rather than being a personality type, being a HSP is defined as having a hypersensitive nervous system.”
I believe that hypersensitivity is not the same as HSP and I think that’s where most misconceptions of the trait come from.
Hypersensitivity means emotional fragility, whereas high sensitivity is a biological predisposition. “HSPs are no less capable than anyone else of developing emotional resilience and reliable coping skills.” (credit to this piece from Psychology Today)
And if you think I’m splitting hairs, here–that “highly” and “hyper” are synonyms, then I take issue with the fact that “hyper” is a pejorative word. It’s the same as saying “overly sensitive”, which of course, is a bad/negative thing.
“…are now being labelled by experts as highly sensitive people”
First of all, this is not new information. Dr. Elaine Aron’s first book about HSPs came out in 1997. But I’ll concede that Aron’s new documentary film is bringing new light to HSPs.
However–“LABELLED”? Would you say people were “labelled” autistic? “Labelled” depressed? “Labelled” left-handed? Who even uses the word LABEL about people?
Condition implies it is a problem or defect. It’s a trait, like being introverted or left-handed.
“princess and the pea syndrome”
I can’t even. If this isn’t disparaging, I don’t know what is. Plus, it’s not a syndrome.
I just can’t.
From later in the article….
“The singer Alanis Morissette, a self-confessed HSP…”
Definition of the word “confess”:
- “admit or acknowledge something reluctantly, typically because one feels slightly ashamed or embarrassed.“
I think I made my point.
But then there are great quotes from HSP experts!
The weird thing is that there are quotes from Dr. Elaine Aron and Dr. Ted Zeff, experts on HSPs. Their quotes make sense and are illuminating. But the author makes no attempt to expand on these quotes, or come to their own enlightened conclusions from them. Why did the author ignore what Aron and Zeff said and just make up their own judgements on what high sensitivity is?
Why is it so hard for a journalist to write a……well, sensitive article about high sensitivity? Why does it seem impossible for them to cast off their preconceived notions and actually listen and absorb the truths about it?
Why the negative spin bothers me so much
As someone who hosts a podcast, runs a blog, and authored a book about being highly sensitive, I have to endlessly justify high sensitivity to people who roll their eyes and think we should just “toughen up.” I used to be one of those people.
I thought sensitive people were overreacting crybabies. I avoided learning more about HSP because I knew I couldn’t possibly be one of those annoying people.
Then I finally did more reading about the subject and realized that indeed I was highly sensitive. This knowledge changed my life. For the better. I was finally able to accept myself, stop wishing I was different, and understand why I felt the way I felt. I was able to find positive things about my personality for once. This epiphany led to my efforts to help others learn about HSP, in hopes that they can have the same life-changing realization that I did. I am passionate about helping people learn about high sensitivity to improve their lives.
This article had the potential to help people. To change lives, honestly. But instead, an author’s misconceptions gave it a negative feel that may have turned people off.
UPDATE: Here’s another one of these types of articles from The Bustle, “11 signs you might be a hyper sensitive person“.
It’s so easy to pick it apart. It uses the phrases “overly sensitive” and “hyper sensitive” repeatedly, which are pejorative. Then an image of an angry faced-girl and “sobbing at the drop of a hat”.
And this is a weird thing I’ve never heard before: “The bad thing about being overly sensitive? You tend to attack people when you’re frustrated instead of working on the problem together. ‘When you get upset, you attack the person and not the issue. You say things you do not mean, as you want them to feel as bad as you. You take things that people say as feedback in the worst possible way, never allowing for the fact that it could come from a good place and place of growth.'”
Huh? What does being HSP have to do with attacking people? If anything, HSPs’ empathy and sensitivity makes us *not* attack people personally.