It’s easy to focus on the negative, given our built-in evolutionary tendency to avoid danger. However, amidst the distress we lose sight of the gifts inherent in the SPS and introversion traits. In the early months, when your world still feels upside down, it’s important to look at the bigger picture. Below I review a few of the positive aspects of each SPS component. These benefits manifest especially when HSP’s and introverted people find ways to meet their own needs, along with adequate social support.
D: Deeper processing leads to creative solutions, strong intuition, and a fine-tuned ability to recognize patterns. You might find it easier to think of fun play activities and/or problem-solve some of your child’s difficulties together. When competing family occur, you’ll tend to come up with innovative, considerate solutions. It will take some extra time but if you allow yourself the opportunity you will see that your depth serves you in relationship with others and yourself. For example, you may discover a tiny detail that makes all the difference for your and your baby’s sleep quality that would otherwise go unnoticed.
O: Unfortunately we haven’t discovered the upside to overstimulation yet. However, becoming mindful of overstimulation is a sign from your mind and body to slow down and reset. Determining your own overstimulation and understanding how unpleasant it feels will help you attune to your child’s stimulation needs. You can notice when your child needs a break and learn to provide it in a variety of situations. Your own history with overstimulation – and hopefully validating yourself and taking needed breaks – provides you with a backup plan and pre-selected hideouts for sensory breaks. Your child will thank you someday for teaching them that it’s ok to take a pause! See “S” for the upside of noticing sensory subtleties.
E: Through the ability to perceive and feel others’ emotions, HSP’s understand others’ needs, attune to loved ones’ feelings, and form deep interpersonal connections. They also derive greater pleasure from expressive and abstract experiences, such as listening to a favorite musician or admiring art. Empathy goes a long way when your baby tries to tell you something important through incomprehensible cries and early speech. When your toddler tests limits (and your patience), you might recognize the underlying cry for help and provide support rather than punishment. An empowered highly sensitive person knows how to read between the lines and will veer away from the idea that your child is “manipulating you;” It is reassuring to know that empathy and perspective-taking aid parent-child communication. Understanding strong emotions helps you validate your child, teaching them a very important skill and openly demonstrating your love.
S: The upside of sensitivity to subtleties entails attention to detail and extra consideration for others’ comfort. HSP’s see meaning in the ostensibly mundane and easily benefit from sensory grounding techniques. They quickly notice the positive impact of sensory pleasures, such as cuddling up in a soft blanket or smelling a lovely scent. You will notice your baby’s subtler cues, facial expression, words, and more, and therefore can be a very responsive parent. You can point out the little things when interacting with your child, teaching them to attend to details and take in important information. You will be able to share delight in small details, which most children inherently enjoy. While it’s likely not the most enticing way to spend the Friday evening, noticing subtle differences between different kinds of rocks can be an important educational moment for your little one!
While highly sensitive people only make up 15-20% of the population, 70% of HSP’s also identify as introverts. Similar to showing your child the importance of breaks, introverted parents better understand their child’s needs for alone time, whether that child is introverted or not.
A child’s self-acceptance starts at home through acceptance from primary caregivers. When you work through your own shame and stigma regarding sensitivity and/or introversion, you give your child a special gift. They learn to love themselves wholly, whether society supports their individual personality or your child has traits that don’t jive as well with mainstream approaches. Acknowledging and embracing your own differences models an invaluable life lesson.
Next week we will talk about practical strategies for managing the challenging aspects of sensory processing sensitivity and introversion. Please let me know of any other relevant topics you’d like me to cover in the future.