Have you heard of Stendhal Syndrome?
Stendhal Syndrome is a “psychosomatic disorder that causes rapid heartbeat, dizziness, fainting, confusion and even hallucinations when an individual is exposed to art, usually when the art is particularly beautiful or a large amount of art is in a single place. The term can also be used to describe a similar reaction…when confronted with immense beauty in the natural world.” (wikipedia)
Flashback. I had a creative writing class in college and we had to write poems in different formats. I was not into poetry, but I was into getting good grades so I worked hard on the assignments.
To this day, I still remember that one poem I wrote was called “To the Cathedral Builders”. It was about how upon seeing something like a beautiful old cathedral, it bothers me that I can’t take it all in because the beauty is overwhelming. No matter how long I stay and stare at a beautiful building, I can never appreciate it as much as it deserves to be appreciated.
Now, I wasn’t experiencing “dizziness, fainting, or hallucinations”, so it wasn’t Stendhal Syndrome, but I did feel intensely bothered by it.
Do you ever feel overwhelmed and grumpy when nothing is wrong? You aren’t alone.
I have experienced this feeling a lot. When there is a moment I know I am seeing something special, something I traveled very far to see, something someone worked very hard to build, or a stunning natural wonder, I want to sit there and stare at it and ponder it for a long time. I feel like this scenery/structure deserves my respect. And I am so overwhelmed by its beauty that I want to take it all in, to remember what I’m seeing, and to preserve that feeling I’m experiencing at that moment forever, because that is the right thing to do.
But I can’t.
No matter how long I stare, I can never save that exact feeling to recall it again in the future. I can take photos and tell myself how important that moment is, but it is still a moment, and soon it’s gone. (Does this remind anyone of the Unbearable Lightness of Being? That book blew me away.)
Anyway. In these situations, you have to let go of the guilt and pressure you are imposing on yourself. Remind yourself to simply enjoy the moment, and realize that you can’t completely absorb every single detail of the wonders you see. Appreciate it for what it is, and let it go.
It’s odd to me that I still remember the title of that poem. I completed dozens and dozens of assignments during my school years, but I remember that so clearly. I think it was because I tapped into something quite personal when I wrote it, and I was not used to examining myself on that level. Look at me, all poem-y and creative writer-y.
Hi Kelly, thank you for this beautiful reminder about how beautiful it is to be HSP!
It brought tears to my eyes just reading your post and reminded me of the last time I went to visit Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. It just blew me away.
I get this too when I look at a tree in full blossom at spring time. Last week it was the view of a lake reflecting a deep blue sky and snowcapped mountains.
These moments remind me how privileged I am to be able to experience such intense beauty.
So intense it hurts sometimes, but hey; it seems to me that’s a small price to pay.
Vera, what a nice comment. It feels good to know I’m not alone.
Great insight, Kelly. It takes effort to walk away from a great view (hardly tried to photograph the Grand Canyon) and accept what I call “ineffable” (no words can describe.) I have come to value memories over photos, and was put to the test many years ago in the beautiful Wind River Range of WY, when a camera didn’t work. Just say, “wow, God!”
Glad I don’t have the syndrome.
“ineffable” — Why have I not been using this word??!
The Grand Canyon: we couldn’t find it. We went to north rim, parked in a corner that was all forest, but we spied a path. So, off I go, looking for any sign that we are headed the right way, ahead of my family as I am the organizer, planner, map reader, yada yada. The path ENDS, at an old railing. SMACK. The Grand Canyon is suddenly there. I will never again have that sensation, or maybe it will next be when I get (hopefully) to heaven. The intense size, beauty, even the air had its own quality. I turned back to encourage my family to hurry over, waving wildly and…I had lost words. I thought I was saying, I found it! What I really said was uhhhh ahuhu, uh uh uh. The fellow there before me thought I was having a stroke. It was a highpoint of life, an overabundance of wonders. Given the chance to return to the Grand Canyon or Hawaii, I would really have to think hard on that.
how lovely. thank you for this perfect description 🙂
I had the same reaction to seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time. It was my life-long dream, and we took a long cross-country drive to get there. I was surprised at how taken back I was. That was quickly diminished by wrangling our three children and keeping them on the path and away from the edges! But I actually have my reaction on the video that I took as I was walking up to the observation point through the trees. I’m glad to know someone else was moved as deeply.
I had this intense feeling looking at a very large picaso in Atlanta’s High Museam. We had jyst entered the museam and there it was! I teared up, couldn’t move, just kept staring at trying to comprehend it. I guess you could say I was incredibly moved by its beauty. My husband noticed that I was having a moment and stood near me quietly. Then he gently started to move through the Museam and I snapped out if it s bit and saw the rest of the gallery! I never even thought about it until this post. I was moved more than anyone around me…yes I’m HSP 🙂
Looking at my son I feel so fulfilled of beauty and love, that it´s like I need to take off my gaze for some seconds. All this beauty ( I feel blessed about this Supreme feeling) is so huge that doesn´t fit in myself and I feel overwhelmed. So I need to turn down the intensity of this feeling because I also feel very nervous at the same time. It always happens looking at the sky, nature, landscape, flowers ( they are awesome), a nice skin of someone, smelling sweet cakes or bread baked and a large etc.
Bea, this is such a lovely description. I know what you mean about the overwhelming feeling of it sometimes. I also feel that way about really perfect flowers and my dog, although I’m sure that can’t compare to one’s own child 🙂
Thank you Kelly. I had a dog ten years ago and she was one of the most beautiful soul that I met. I could get lost in her look. A look of Supreme goodness. My best regards from Spain.
The thing that I judge to be true beauty is not something seen or heard or written but is felt in the heart as a breathless, swelling ache brought on by having caught a glimpse of something that our brain (or awareness) perceives to be a bit of perfection. These moments of peak emotion will live with us for life. I believe they can become a path to an even greater, more profound experience.
Thanks you Kester, I think I felt it in my heart just as I was reading your description.
It’s why I close my eyes and/ or cry. It’s more than I can bear. I have to remind myself to breathe. Thank you for the reminder.
Karen Ann, Yours is my experience exactly. “More than I can bear…” It’s a deep ache that takes my breath away and pins me to the place of looking so that I never want to leave. My strongest feeling came on a trip to New Mexico and Ghost Ranch (north of Abiquiu, home of Georgia O’Keefe). It’s desert valley is ringed with the most incredible standing rock formations, pale and humanoid atop reddish-brown talus. I wanted to spend the rest of my life in that place.
I’ve never gone back because I know I’ll never leave. I do have a life elsewhere, but the place lives in my heart.
Sounds very similar to the effects of psilocybin mushrooms
I know what you mean…beauty that is heartbreaking…overwhelminng. Sometimes I just cry.
I hear you- someone just told me my photography is heartbreaking beautiful. I take this as a high compliment but also make my heartache. Interesting..
This is really well put. This is how I can deal with wishing the world was a better place, or dealing with the negative emotions of others. Sometimes, during states of high empathy (the painful caring about someone kind), and wishing the world was like my inner world, I stop to think about it.
How would I feel if I woke up tomorrow, and suddenly…everything was just how I wanted, or thought it should be? How would I feel if I woke up inside my inner world, then found out that my inner world had somehow leeched the real world and merged with it? What if I woke up and all of the wars, depression, anxiety, self hatred, racism, sexism, pain, suffering, famine, and so on…just…vanished? What am I thankful for in life? All of the things I’ve accomplished, all of the thanks I have for the important people in my life, real or imaginary…I honestly have to not think about these things before I go to bed, as it will oddly enough, trigger painfully beautiful nightmares about it!
While during states of wishing and hoping people, animals, plants, microbes, the world, and all life throughout the multiverse would get better, many people I talk to wish it was true in reality, that they would just wake up and everything would be perfect. This would actually be a kind of hell for me! It would drive me crazy if I woke up and everything was perfect!
A world which would be perfect, as far as I see it, would be my heaven and hell. If it was an objective world that I could retreat to, change, influence, and rearrange with my imagination, and then leave on my own choosing, that would be acceptable.
Incredible, Kelly I just teared up – also a highly sensitive person here.
I have been wondering if there was a term for exactly that: “overwhelmed by the beauty of nature.” Which is what I typed in the search bar to land on your article. The place I live in, is an incredibly beautiful part of southern California. In the Mojave desert, where life and the will to live seems ineffective against the elements; appreciation for the gradual growth of a plant is respected by the humans who watch over it. The beauty in that in itself is a whole other level. My friends and I took a hike into a hot spring the other day and could not stop reveling in the perfection of nature, in its mind altering and baffling ways. We consistently were engrossed and overwhelmed with the beauty. Whats so magical about stumbling onto your article is the synchronicity of the book The Unbearable Lightness of Being. That book has been with me since college. Just over a decade ago, my room mate lent me that book and I fell in love. So much so that I recently revisited an old idea of getting “Einmal ist Keinmal”, which was written in the book to mean something like; what happens but once may as well not have happened at all. Directly translated it means “once is never”. Ironically or not so, I was getting my degree in college to be a photographer. A childhood loss directed me towards pictures as a method for personal therapy.
That title runs through my mind in those moments of bafflement. “The unbearable lightness of being” is the perfect way to describe the emotional and spiritual moment.
As for the physical, looking up Stendhal Syndrome is the next step on this internet-venture. As someone who works in the healing field, this syndrome could be a whole other avenue of the healing properties of beauty and earth. This electric energy that rattles the mind through viewing the most beautiful expression of source itself, could it be linked to the kundalini/chi/prana energy life force?
I am thankful for the internet and finding your article. What you wrote is a part of me that is so hard to describe to someone else unless they have felt it too.
I sometimes cry when I see exceptionally beautiful women. I just feel so overwhelmed by their beauty and many times tears will form in my eyes and I don’t know why.
Recently I was revisited by feelings from a past experience tied to art & nature and found this post looking for collective experiences, and seeing if other languages have a word for it. Really appreciate the content and comments here along with digging into being overwhelmed by beauty, biophilia, fernweh, and waldeinsamkeit.
I went to the Museum of Contemporary Art Toronto years ago, and saw a gallery full of paintings from a group of Canadian landscape painters from the 1920s called the Group of Seven. It was a lovely exhibit, but I had no personal tie to the artwork – just an appreciation for it. However I unexpectedly started crying and was overcome with emotion. It passed pretty quickly and left me baffled. Fast-forward to this summer on a solo cross country road trip… I took a break on a hike in the mountains to let my surroundings soak in; it was essentially a scene the Group of Seven would have painted. Realizing this I was hit with that same intense emotion again. I probably would have forgot about it, but I had a similar experience after returning home seeing an Ansel Adams photograph from Joshua Tree after visiting there.
The reaction isn’t shocking if I think about it objectively, but how it happened and what it felt like is almost impossible to explain. On top of that, trying to recall and write about this is on par to having overwhelming grief (which is why I switched into research mode and ended up here). I love the comment about the link to kundalini/chi/prana energy life force – conceptually I would also like to connect our perception of time as well as permanence to this.
I wonder if these types of experiences are isolated to HSPs or are available to a larger facet of folks? Also can someone have this type of experience if they are already aware of it, or does having an awareness groom or prime them to manifest it? And will I or others experience this again now knowing it’s a thing? tbd – hsp signing off.