Born to Sense:
High Sensitivity+Trauma =
Psychiatric Diagnosis?


– The feel of newspaper on my hands.

– The sound of car alarms going off. (Especially the ones that sound like horns beeping.)

– Dial tones. (They make me dizzy.)

– The loud, relentless dings and tones of people’s cell phones. (Put them on vibrate, people!)

 – Any sustained, high-pitched tones.

– Whistling. (See above.)

– Vacuum cleaners.

– White noise machines.

– The sound of someone rubbing their hands on their pants.

– The feel of shoes on my feet. (It makes my skin crawl after a while.)

– Repetitive tapping or clicking noises (especially without identifiable reason).

– Dogs. (Dogs!)

– The feel of rough skin on someone’s hands or feet (or the sound of it catching on fabric).

– Seeing (or hearing) people fold paper. (Gives me chills just to write that out.)

– The sound and feel of a nail scraping against a wall. (Or the rubber on my steering wheel.)

– The feel of the upholstery that covers the underbelly of my favorite chair.

– Gum snapping.

– The sound of someone stepping on paper that’s been left on the floor (or running it over with their chair on wheels).

– Several dozen other things.

This is a running list of phenomena that are able to penetrate my skull so intensely as to drive me out of a space or, in more instances than I’d like to admit, bring me to tears. Literally. That’s especially true if my resilience is down because I’m over-tired, over-stressed, or sick. When they enter my world, it’s as if they are amplified especially for my benefit (or torture), clinging to the air above me and making it difficult to breathe. They’re more than ‘pet peeves.’  They cut through conversations, my ability to focus, and, sometimes, to speak. They send my emotions on wild, roller coaster rides – jumping from inexplicably infuriated to tearful and back again. In my more vulnerable moments, these sounds, sights and sensations can linger in my head in the form of intrusive images for hours after they’ve left my physical reality.

It may seem trivial or even melodramatic to bring up these sorts of sensitivities in a venue where we’re most often talking about serious psychiatric abuse, suicide, and so-called ‘psychosis.’ I’m not sure anyone but those who have had similar experiences (and I’m just trusting there are some of you out there) will understand how ‘big’ some of this can be – how difficult it can get to make it through a day in the face of such an onslaught.  People (especially my annoyed family members who are tired of being shushed) have periodically suggested I “learn to deal with it.” They think I’m just being cranky.

But ‘dealing with it’ has proven to be very, very difficult most of the time. At best, it requires me to expend an exhausting amount of energy in order to not be thrown off course, and at worst, retaining any sense of peace and balance feels totally out of reach.   Either way, it can make walking through this world an extremely hard thing and can sometimes make life feel altogether untenable.

But this isn’t just a self-indulgent post about my being particularly sensitive.  Rather, I think it’s important that the potential for connection between high sensitivity, trauma and psychiatric diagnosis be explored (including what all that means in our grander scheme).  Honestly, I’m not sure how what I shared above relates to my being a survivor of trauma (or if it even does). Is this sort of sensitivity somehow also a byproduct of traumatic experiences? Or is my being sensitive in this way actually a reason why I was impacted so intensely in the first place by the bad things that have happened to me (when some seem to much more effectively keep on trudging through terrible experiences)? Which came first: The chicken or the egg?  (Or does that particular egg belong to a different animal entirely?) In the end, I really can’t say. I have no idea whether or not I was simply born ‘more sensitive’ than others in some way.

And, even if it could be proven that I were born more sensitive,  I have no idea how the way in which I interact with my everyday world may or may not be interrelated to the shape of my reactions to trauma overall (the same reactions that have, for me, led to psychiatric diagnosis).  However,  inborn sensitivity is a possibility I’m willing to entertain (and if I’m honest, I’ve already begun to integrate it as some degree of ‘true’).

Inevitably, some will hear what I’m saying as some sort of euphemistic approach to ‘mental illness.’ But, I assure you, it’s not. I’m generally pretty vocal about not subscribing to the biomedical model of mental illness (especially when presented as some sort of unquestionable truth). However, I also do not believe that we are born blank slates. If we can look as physically diverse as we do and have that be rooted so substantially in biology, how can there not be at least some much deeper differences in our beings that are also so related? Regardless, the need to classify some of those differences as ‘illness’ or ‘problem’ is fundamentally off. Some of it is also inevitably connected to a racist, sexist, ableist culture where what’s healthy, beautiful and strong has been artificially defined by those in power and the measures they’ve set, while the rest has been left to sort itself out within the context of some fairly ruthless “survival of the fittest” attitudes.

In other words, individuals are the ones that get labeled as sick or bad while the environment gets a pass, and all the related disconnects in between go perpetually unreconciled. Ultimately, my talk of greater ‘sensitivities’ gets filtered into ‘illness’ language by many people on both ends of the psychiatry discussion spectrum because we’re still hopelessly trapped within that framework (whether fighting for or against it). It still seems a superhuman task for most people to understand that some of us may legitimately be more (or differently) sensitive (for whatever reason), but that that doesn’t mean that the inevitable course of action is to want or need to pinpoint, diagnose and correct those qualities.  It doesn’t mean ‘sensitive’ is bad at all.

There’s lots that I don’t know. (And neither do you. Don’t pretend!) But, here’s what I do know: Being sensitive does not make me ‘mentally ill.’ It does not make diagnoses of clinical depression or anxiety, or bipolar, or borderline or anything else any more apt. It simply makes me sensitive.  I don’t need exposure therapy flooding me with the things I currently have trouble tolerating.  Because I may have a more palpable reaction to certain traumas than some – or to paper folding than the vast majority – does not make me somehow sick or in need of correction.

That I struggled with intrusive visions telling me to hurt my newborn baby girl as a result of the trauma of having had two miscarriages before she was born (see my blog,’Miscarried Life‘) when others seem to move through pregnancy loss with much less turbulence, doesn’t mean that my reaction was wrong or maladaptive. It still made sense, and with some time, I was able to uncover that meaning, be all the better for it and move on through. My reactions to the world are okay, whether or not they are always easily understood. And the fact that the differences in how we react to particular traumas is commonly used as some vague sort of ‘proof’ of the existence of ‘mental illness’ rather than an indication that we need to take more time to learn about each person’s unique life and personhood strikes me as pretty tragic.

I also don’t feel the need to medicate away my sensitivities anymore (though I suppose if anyone ever truly came up with a pill that toned that bit down without any other negative effect I might be willing to try it). The dart-throwing game that doctors play with these chemicals is terrifying to me, given that developing ‘good aim’ is an impossibility for total lack of anything concrete at which to throw.  I understand that there are some who feel these drugs work or are even life-saving for them, but even that falls far short of having discovered a clear problem and identifying the mechanism of the solution.

That some people like coffee, for example, doesn’t mean that they have successfully identified a caffeine-deficiency within themselves.  It simply means that they were tired and the effect of a particular drug is appealing to them for the moment (or at least worth the more negative aspects).  Great for them, but I’m done playing that particular type of roulette myself.  In fact, I’m pretty sure that I’m highly sensitive to psych drugs, too. One of the parts of my story that I don’t typically share (because it feels embarrassing, I guess) is how I used to go into fits of hitting myself in bed at night because it felt like my emotions were crawling around under my skin like bugs and I didn’t know what else to do…

Or how my ex-husband, who surely felt at least a little bit helpless and unsure how to respond, would try to hold me and get me to stop. I didn’t really connect the dots until much more recently, but that was actually a time when I was taking psych drugs, and I think there may be a connection there. Can’t say for sure, but the drugs certainly didn’t help.  And that brings me back to my original point:  Maybe I was just born more sensitive.  And – for all that it makes harder (and easier) in life – that may just be okay.  In this instance, maybe being ‘born sensitive’ kept me from a drug addled life of numbness?  (No, I’m not saying that’s the life sentence of all who take psych drugs, but I’ve seen it be true for far too many who do.)  Who knows.  I can only walk the path that is my own.

– The ability to truly hear and synthesize several different points of view.

– The ability to sense the feelings of others (even those I don’t know that well).

– The ability to read the energy of an audience.

– Attention to minute detail.

– The ability to write and speak with clarity.

– My tolerance for silence.

– The ability to spend a lot of time alone.

– The ability to lose myself in fantasy.

– The ability to raise and lower my mood through music.

– The ability to turn abstract ideas into film.

– The cultivation of a deep sense of social justice.

– The willingness (or sense of being compelled) to speak up when something’s wrong (even in a room full of people in powerful positions).

– The ability to vision opportunity in difficult situations.

– The ability to cry and be deeply touched emotionally by a wide range of people and stories.

– My kids. (My kids!)

– The creativity to develop teaching tools that reach a variety of different perspectives.

– The ability to really see people, including their various strengths and weaknesses (no matter how I feel about them).

– The ability to see the deeper connections to things that seem unrelated on the surface.

– The ability to organize meaningful content out of so many seemingly disconnected ideas.

– Several dozen other things.

I’m fairly certain that many of these qualities also come from a similar place of sensitivity. I know a lot of people who are probably a lot more comfortable in this world than I am, but who lack some or all of these qualities.

– Which one of us is ‘healthier’?

– Who’s more likely to get diagnosed?

– Who gets to decide?


Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.


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  1. This is a truly wonderful essay on the experience of “the self” Sara.

    The phenomenology of our actual experience of being human, which gets lost in our common assumption, that the everyday language we use for communication, is capable of communicating our reality, even to ourselves.

    Especially, when we are pressured by our need of attachment to endorse the consensus reality of our group. I was struck mostly by your sense of these phenomena of experience as: When they enter my world, it’s as if they are amplified especially for my benefit (or torture).

    With the term “amplified” having particular meaning in my own journey towards self-healing, self-regulation, after almost three decades of trying to explain away the phenomena of my spontaneous, by psychoses, by endorsing the bio-medical language of our mainstream consensus.

    In educating myself about the “adaptive” nature of my nervous system and synthesising knowledge from an inter-disciplinary approach to the phenomenology of experience, I developed an embodied awareness of how my innate affect-system, acts as an amplifying mechanism, for orienting my mind’s attention to the phenomena of internal & external reality.

    From such a perspective, the phenomena list you explain here, is your world. While I agree with you 100% that trauma and innate sensitivity, lie at the root of what, mainstream, group, consensus reality, needs to label a mental illness. Because we are not yet ready to accept the human condition for what it is.

    The Universe evolved into a form which is perceiving and acting upon itself. While from my experiential perspective, the issue of what madness experience is, beyond the bio-medical, fever-type model, will see R.D. Laing’s prophecy come true, in this century:

    “If the human race survives, future men will, I suspect, look back on our enlightened epoch as a veritable age of Darkness. They will presumably be able to savor the irony of the situation with more amusement than we can extract from it. The laugh’s on us. They will see that what we call ‘schizophrenia’ was one of the forms in which, often through quite ordinary people, the light began to break through the cracks in our all-too-closed minds.” -R.D. Laing

    Warm regards,

    David Bates

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      • No worries on the name, David. Thank you for your thoughtful response. I hadn’t expected to wake up to such an in depth comment first thing this AM. 🙂 I’m in a bit of a rush as I start my work day, and not sure I can do your comment justice… But I think there’s a really interesting story (or film) to be written from what you yourself describe as combined with the Laing quote! 🙂 -Sera

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        • TIME certainly presses our behaviour and perceptions.

          Like the time constrained behaviour of prescriptive medicine practice and our ability to critique the reality of experience.

          All my attempts to label the oceanic sensation of oneness, during moments of euphoric joy, with sporadic flashes of being immersed within an Ultimate Reality, as both Western & Eastern mystics, alternatively label God.

          Were cast aside in the inevitable needs of survival within modernity’s urban landscapes, where an “economy of survival” masquerades as community and civil society.

          “Why do you insist on contemplating the existential nature of being human, instead of getting on with life & being normal!”

          My family & friends would chastise.

          And yet: – The ability to see the deeper connections to things that seem unrelated on the surface.

          – The ability to organize meaningful content out of so many seemingly disconnected ideas.

          May allow the “sensitives” to bring our common humanity beyond its inherent denial, of its own reality and understand the deeper connections within our body’s, that create our ideas and our cognitive illusion that world is made of words.

          With a sensation focus on our internal nature bringing a realization of how:

          The delusion is extraordinary by which we exalt language above nature:- making language the expositor of nature, instead of making nature the expositor of language. -Alexander B Johnson

          Will the “sensitives” of lived-experience be able to bring an “embodied” awareness of the “illusions” inherent in our Western educated sense of a highly judgemental, labelling sense of normality and confirm Lacan’s insight that the common ego is hollow. Based, not on a true “deeper” sense of self, but a constant judgement of any sense of otherness, flowing from the heart’s “orienting & defensive” impulses?

          So glad you are contemplating your own sensitive nature & just how you are made of Star Dust, Sera.

          Is there room for Spirituality in this MIA faith in Science’s “subject to object” orientation, of subjective inquiry?

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  2. Sera, I too suffer from the issues of noise but nowhere near the degree to which you suffer. However one key fact I have noticed is that the degree of suffering a noise causes me is directly related to the expectancy of any given sound being generated. If I know an irritating sound is about to occur than it has nowhere near as severe an effect as it normally would. Even better is if I create the sound myself, which causes me little to no suffering.

    Unexpected loud or irritating noises still cause a type of physical pain in my head and I have not heard of any reliable cure for this other than using earplugs which definitely help to take the edge off.

    Hopefully another commenter will have some further insight into this problem.

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    • Thanks, Amygdala! For me, it’s not just noise but also the ‘idea’ of some of these things, if that makes any sense. But I completely share your experience that if I’m *expecting* the noise it makes a world of difference (in many instances, anyway), and if I’m in total control of it myself that also helps in a big way. It also helps if I can even make sense of why it’s happening and there is (what I would identify as) a good and sensible reason for it… Thanks for reading!


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      • I have similar problems with some sounds (snoring can drive me absolutely insane to the point that other people don’t seem to be bothered) but also with tactile stimuli (some days my hands are so sensitive that it causes me to cringe every time I have to touch anything but pure silk and there’s usually not a lot of the silk laying around). It also comes with sensitivity to the atmosphere and moods of people around me.
        It is not as bad as for you though, for me it seems to be like that when I’m under stress. When I had chronic stress related to a toxic relationship and encounter with psychiatry I was so sensitive that poking me with a finger could bring me to tears and cutting myself while cutting bread led to a full blown panic attack. It all toned down hugely when I recovered but I’m still more “sensitive” than previously.
        I’ve always been described as a sensitive kid (my parents made fun of me about how I was soothing every little childhood injury for at least a week but I was also considered empathic and artistic) but it was a trauma of profoundly abusive relationship as an adult that made it unbearable.

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  3. Very nice article Sera,
    I especially like the title. After talking with hundreds of people online, I’ve come to a similar conclusion. In fact, I would not be surprised, one day, if being ‘bipolar’ for example, held a sort of social status to it, as a sign of someone who had enhanced sensitivities. The trauma side of your equation is a no-brainer to anyone who takes the time to actually listen to the lives of people dealing with experiences in anomalous states. What’s the relationship between the two? I have a few ideas, but that’s all for now! – Sean Blackwell

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    • Hi Sean, Good to see you here. Thanks for writing! I agree that the trauma side is a no brainer, yet I feel like I continue to hear people talking about trauma being *in addition* to ‘mental illness,’ and not so much at the root of what gets so labeled… Very frustrating! Anyway, thank you again for taking the time to comment. Sera

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      • I think what your describing is most often getting people a borderline label (scarlet letter as some call it). We are all oversensitive drama queens who are supposed to put up with everything that rains on us and take it in.
        “control your emotions”, “you’re feeling too much”, “why do you care?”
        Being a sensitive person (for many definitions of the word: artistic, empathic, compassionate, spiritual, sensitive to oppression of self and others) is pathologized today. The whole role of psychiatry is as a social control tool for people who”feel too much” by the people who don’t feel nearly enough.

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  4. Sera, I was involved in a car accident years ago and I had a head and spinal injury. For the first following years, I was dealing with the rehab of the injury and I thought it was just the emotions and frustration of the injury, but as the months turned into years, I noticed that instead of the “feelings” settling down, they seemed to get magnified. One day I was doing some light work, as I was not fully recovered, and I suddenly realized I was bawling my eyes out, when I noticed it I stopped and began laughing, then I began to feel excitement, this went on for about 5-10 minutes in which I experienced, what seemed to be EVERY emotion the human can experience. It was like a cascade of all these feelings. I stopped what I was doing and tried to figure out what was going on, I had no reason to feel any particular way. There was no situation happening in my life to cause these feelings. Later I read an article about the solar maxim, the cycle of the sun in which there is an increase in solar flares, so I started to record the atmospheric conditions and noticed a pattern whenever rain-storms were in the region or approaching I would feel “stormy,” when ever solar flares, with their electromagnetic waves would occur, my emotions were ALL over the place. Even the turbulent sunspots would be a precursor of things to come. These events didn’t just effect me, but I was able to feel them, for ex when an event would occur I could ask my friends and family if their computers or their phones would act up, or if they noticed people acting oddly, and they would tell me about odd things or people acting oddly. I also noticed that in crowds of people I would suddenly have feelings , (the only way I can explain it is,) feelings that were not my own. I started looking at the electromagnetic spectrum and there seems to be a correlation with the atmospheric and solar disturbances on an electromagnetic level. As all brains produce bio-electricity this also seemed to explain why I would have the feelings of those around me. It seems that we are organic transceivers. I’m NOT talking “new age” stuff but actually able, through the electromagnetic field, to transmit and receive subtle energy from those around us. I think it’s a totally unconscious act that people are not aware of. I’ve noticed also the sensitivity to the sound of closing doors, breaking or crushing ice, the telephone ringing- that one sends me through the roof, the feel of cotton balls- it’s equivalent to nails on a chalk board, rain drops hitting me is like being bombarded with sensory overload any noise above a certain level is grating- I’ve had friends while talking on the phone I would ask them why they were screaming and they would reply that they were just talking normally, I’ve had to turn the volume down just to listen. Music, color, and smells have noticeable effects. Certain music is like a repellant as are neon colors, and I noticed I can smell people’s cologne or perfume even if they’re in a car driving by me, sometimes it’s like walking into a cloud of perfume or cologne, it literally chokes me. I guess what I wanted to say was THANK YOU for the article, I don’t talk much about this, as friends already think I’m crazy, I almost believed
    I was going crazy, except for certain facts would remind me that I wasn’t crazy. Do you know of ANY studies looking into a possible correlation with damage to the bio-electric circuit and the electromagnetic spectrum? and could you suggest further reading on this….I don’t know if it’s a gift or a curse…sometimes it’s both. It’s nice to be able to REALLY relate to a friend on a deep emotional level-(the gift,) but then sometimes it’s hard to KNOW if what you’re feeling is ACTUALLY your “own” feelings-(the curse) signed ditto

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    • Hi Ditto,

      I am afraid I don’t know any studies along the lines of what you’re referring to, but maybe someone else reading here does?

      I really appreciate your taking the time to share so much about your own experience, though. I can definitely relate to many of the sensory experiences your listing… particularly phone noises, Facebook notifications also drive me up a wall… the folding paper thing I mentioned in the blog above is probably my ‘nails on a chalkboard’ in particular!

      In any case, thank you for reading and sharing so much!


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  5. Hi Sera. There are many people like us out there but we keep our experiences under wraps for fear of being judged. I don’t care to be judged. I’d rather disclose it because it brings true connection with others like ourselves. You sound like a hypersenstive empath ( It is both a wonderful thing to be an empath and a difficult one, too. Have you taken the Jung typology test ( These are great tools to help us understand ourselves. I am an INTJ/INFJ. Our being sensitive basically comes down to our having a highly complex neurological system and our chemical proportions (serotonin, oxytocin, testosterone, dopamine, estrogen). Thank you for sharing.

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  6. Hi, Sera,

    I, too, have suffered from “oversensitivity,” for me in the emotional realm. I was told many times as a kid that I was “too sensitive” or that I encouraged bullying by reacting emotionally to it. It appears that sensitivity is a curse in modern society, and the people who do best are the most insensitive. That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

    Now, of course, I’m a social worker and volunteer manager, and my sensitivity is an incredible strength that makes me exceptionally good at what I do. So is it good or bad? Or is the general insistence on people judging other people’s experience as “good” or “bad” the real problem?

    —- Steve

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    • I definitely hear you and agree about the nonsensical reality of the least sensitive tending to be the most successful in this society as it is constructed! Glad that you’ve found a spot where your sensitivity works for you… I (more or less) have, too, at least in so far as the work world goes!


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    • We’re living in the age of sociopathy and the cruel doctrine of “gain wealth, forgetting all but self”. We are told over and over again that we are responsible only for ourselves and what happen to us is the result of our choices alone and nobody is to blame for the failures or to praise for the successes but our own egoistic selves. Being empathic and sensitive is seen as a weakness that prevents you from reaching success (measured as power and money and being on top of whatever profession you choose). Caring for others, working for common good, sustaining society on a basic level by raising kids, producing food, cleaning and building is a loser’s game. There’s something sick in our society and if we don’t shift the focus from psychopathic pursuit of power and success to building communities and relationships with other people we are doomed (I mean that literally – look at the climate change for instance).

      I think the world needs us, it just doesn’t know about it ;).

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  7. Hi Sera oversensitivity is a topic I can relate, with labels or without. I like the term non- neuro- typical or just wired different from the majority of the population. If the sun is to bright and can’t find my shades I can see if I close one eye better than squinting, just one of my sensory overload issues. For me its more audio visual than tactile, but I also have some motor graphical issues, with my fingers at certain tasks. Witch is unexplainable because my spacial aptitude scores off the charts, and yet I Have dyslexia, I have been through many tests for learning disabilities. So you can see I have racked up many labels witch doesn’t bother me much any more after living for 55 years as they say on the spectrum. Sincerely jdnich

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    • Hi jdnich, Thanks for writing and sharing. 🙂 We’re complex beings, eh? I’ve steered clear of most testing these days (unless I can do it myself at home!), but can appreciate the work it sounds like you’ve done to understand yourself and your ‘different wiring.’! 🙂 Thanks again for reading! Sera

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    • Thanks, Metalrabbit. I took a quick look at each, and they look like interesting reading… Though I worry that it is all too easy to just exchange out one diagnosis for another and I’m not sure I want to head down that path… But still interesting reading! Thanks for reading and sharing 🙂


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      • Not so much an issue of trading off one label for another but finding helpful tools, resources to learn from and self manage, and when possible create a shorthand for explaining issues of Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), selective mutism, Irlen Syndrome, temperature control issues, MCS, food intolerance and other gut problems, confusing social issues and isolation, iatrogenic postrauma stress and post trauma stress. Daniel Wendler’s site on social skills, Rudy Simone’s books and site, as well as blogs which appear on Facebook’s Womens Autism Network are helpful for self understanding and understand that there are people like me around, and to stay core-unpathologized. The verdict is out as to whether the Wilbarger Brushing Protocol helps those who start it as adults.

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  8. Thanks for bringing this up Sera. I too had extreme sensitivities towards certain sounds, touches and tastes when I was young. I think I have outgrown it somewhat but it used to be really bad so I understand what you are saying. Hope you will feel better in time.

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  9. I enjoyed your article but it was kind of interesting at the lack of listing the sensation of smell. I am sensitive to touch, sound, smell, color, light levels and almost everything else that passes into my world. Maybe it is due to trauma at a very early age and the duration of that for many years. The hypersensitivity required to survive?
    People always have thought me odd to notice what few others do. To sense the world in a way that few others can or don’t admit to if they do. And the vast majority of what I experience I don’t even mention because people can’t accept it but certainly want to judge it and find a context to frame me in that isn’t usually kind to me.
    I, like you, refuse to accept the labels (and the medications) anymore that seek to put me in my place based on another’s opinion of what “normal” is. To me, the exaggerated senses are how I have always experienced the world and I am working to change my self-ridicule and shame based on what is accepted as illness by society. I seek to celebrate the ways my life is made wonderful by my differences (music, drawing, cooking, photography, writing, etc) to all that I am. There are certainly challenges, but I wouldn’t be half the person I am if one thing were different. I am learning to be at peace with the chaos and take advantage of it. My creative abilities wouldn’t exist without my intensities.

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    • Hi squash, I am actually pretty sensitive to some smells, too… Cleaning fluids and soap can drive me out of the house at times… Not so much colors. 🙂 In any case, thanks for sharing your own experience… It’s been great to hear from people both publicly and privately who relate in some way or have similar experiences 🙂 -Sera

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  10. As a highly sensitive person, myself, what I discovered, for me at least, is that this means I’m sensitive to everything equally–toxic, constricting energy as well nourishing, uplifting energy. So I made it a point to, first, practice focusing in a more positive and gentle way when thinking about life or myself or others, etc. After all, I was sensitive to my own thoughts, as well.

    So I turned down judgment, and tapped more into acceptance, appreciation, and heartfelt compassion. I had to do a lot of forgiving and self-forgiving, and letting go of resentment. I found this relaxed my heart, body, and mind a great deal, and my focus became more about how much love and light can I absorb from the environment, rather than the stuff I had grown really tired of ruminating about (trauma, grief, loss, etc.). I found the more I dwelled on and talked about this, over time, the more I drew it into my experience, became a vicious cycle after a while, and this made my sensitivity more of a curse than a blessing.

    But conversely, the more I focused on topics which made my body feel good and relaxed, rather than tense and uptight, the more I drew good feeling thoughts and experiences into my path, engulfing me with feelings of joy and relaxation. That’s when I relish in my sensitivity, because highly sensitive people have a high capacity for feeling joy and love as much as anything else.

    That way, at least, my sensitivity works for me, in that it attracts love, light, and calm into my life–and into my body–which was like a soothing balm, healing to the effects of trauma.

    I think sensitivity is a precious gift–to feel life is to live life–to which we have to tend constantly. Then, we have a clear radar with which to navigate our lives, from a space of gratitude, appreciation, and love. These were some of the most vital lessons I learned in my healing, addressing how to be sensitive in an insensitive world.

    Thanks for stimulating my thoughts about this. Brought me some new clarity. Blessings!

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    • Alex, Thanks for reading and taking the time to respond. Although I can’t say I’ve tapped into what you describe as sensitivity to positivity, it sounds like it makes sense in a way… though I think I might be hardpressed to apply it as well as you have at the moment. 🙂 In any case, glad that the post sparked some new thoughts on this and thank you again for sharing! Sera

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  11. Hi, Sera,
    I know so many people in sensitivity categories. In different spaces over the decades, I have come across people who adapt to and explain sensitivities in terms of our more organic selves. This makes a lot of sense to me. We attempt to adapt to and function in a modern life that is not healthy in a million ways. We have sensitivities that served us well for the last million or so years in terms of being alert, aware, and prepared in natural environments to discern safe and healthy food, water, people, situations. It is difficult for humans to change/evolve on such a massively sped-up time scale as humanity has experienced in the last 10,000, 500, 200, or even the last 50 years. There are naturalists who take non-neurotypicals out into the wilderness and those people can often have serious adaptive abilities in more wild environments that neurotypicals or people well-adapted to modern life don’t have. Some of the ways I have learned to manage sensitivities have enabled me to survive in this world, and I know I am not the only one to discover some things that work. What I have seen and experienced is most limiting for lots of people are chemical sensitivities, and we keep getting more and more sensitized to the 40,000 chemicals we are exposed to every day (but those little noises can also be more than annoying, too!). It’s hard to adapt to such a toxic world. I am not happy to have so much company, but find it is good to speak about it. If more of us understood the prevalence of different sensitivities, I think we could impact environments and relationships for the better. I think it could be of immense help to understanding each individual and individual responses to what is happening in all sorts of moments and environments we are exposed to or choose in the field of mental health.

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    • Thanks, Karen! Yes, it is indeed a toxic world and the adaptations required to live in it seem of questionable benefit sometime! It’s so interesting how many people there truly are who experience one sort of sensitivity or another. I wasn’t expecting such a big response to this blog, but I’ve heard from people I never would have anticipating hearing from for whom this topic has resonated. As you said, it’s not a happy thing in some ways to have so much company, but it does seem important to talk about it. Thank you again, Sera

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  12. I just posted this on the forums. Is it okay to share here?

    I am also a highly sensitive person and have difficulty functioning in certain situations. Institutional buildings, bright florescents, irritating sounds or smells. A trip to the DMV feels like near unendurable torture. I haven’t been to a concert in years because if this music is too loud or I feel a physical dislike of it for some reason I have to leave. (Why in the world do they turn the huge speakers so incredibly loud at some concerts?) Thanks for sharing, Sera!

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    • Hi Cataract, Sure… Share away 🙂 Looks like an interesting link! Thank you for sharing some of your own sensitivities. The DMV (all the people and waiting and buzzing lights and harshness of environment) is a tough one. At the moment, I’m just coming out of an onslaught of car alarms going off just outside of my work environment, so anything to do with cars is not my friend right now. 😉


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  13. Hi Sera,

    Thanks for this article, I enjoyed it a lot.

    I have many of the sensitivities that you listed, and some that you didn’t. I also happen to be an empath. In many cases, my sensitivities saved my life or gave me easy exits from what would otherwise have been difficult situations. My parents told to ignore what I sense and that I’m crazy, but then I found others who have these abilities as well, and learned to trust myself again.

    I don’t know if maybe your level of sensitivity is much higher than mine, but I wouldn’t ever give mine away for anything else, because it’s like giving away your vision or hearing. I also agree with you that there is really no need to medicate someone for this. At least, in my case, medication only made me a lot dumber and less functional, but then I was lucky enough to be able to taper off of it under professional supervision, and my functioning is now back to normal.

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    • 8, Eh, I don’t think I’d want to give *most* of it away, but if there were ever a way to take the edge off my tendency to shutdown when car alarms are going off outside my work window or people are folding paper or things like that, AND it wouldn’t take away the OTHER sensitivities, I might just consider it. 😉 But I hear ya on overall not wanting to change who you are! Thanks for reading and commenting.


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      • Maybe because my sensory sensitivity is not as acute as yours and more contextual. Still, I think it is better to feel more than less – it is like being more alive. In fact this is what people who have endured periods of excessive stress and trauma report often when the thing is over – that while they were experiencing it, no matter how horrific, they felt more alive and that maybe one of the reasons why it’s so difficult for some to go back to normal – it feels like you’re not alive anymore, that your old and there is not much going on in your life anymore. I don’t think I can express that feeling well but I’ve read it in many reports from people who experienced war-related trauma. Maybe when you have this sensitivity to begin with you react even worse to less dramatic circumstances.
        I guess it’s a curse and a blessing depending how you look at it and where you’re at.

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        • B, That actually makes a lot of sense to me – that it makes some feel more alive. I guess that’s true for me, too… It’s definitely a source of feeling connected to people and my environment a lot of the time…It’s just that it can also push me to the edge of needing to try and shutdown altogether, as well. Sera

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      • Thanks for replying, and I can relate to your desire to take the edge off the tendency to shutdown. I actually have the same problem with certain repetitive sounds. For instance, I can’t stand it when there is a loudly ticking clock and I am trying to sleep. Or when someone is talking and I’m trying to read. It seems that sometimes I am able to tune out such noises, but it doesn’t always work. I haven’t quite figured out why.

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  14. “It doesn’t mean ‘sensitive’ is bad at all.”
    Thank you, thank you thank you. It really brought me to tears reading this (this is how oversensitive I am).

    I have been told by psychiatrists that my reactions to what’s going on around me is a disorder. I have been told by some people (including but not limited to some pretty abusive and psychopathic individuals) that I should “learn how to control my emotions”. None of these people seem to grasp that:
    a) they don’t feel like me so they have no idea how it is
    b) even if I could “control” my emotions which means stop feeling them to the extent I feel them would be worse than death
    I don’t want to be an unfeeling zombie, I want to be me and I have no interest in drugs numbing me (though as you I’m also “oversensitive” to drugs so they never managed to achieve the goal of lobotomizing me well enough).

    This is the most moving and important piece I’ve read on MIA, for me personally at least. Thank you again.

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    • Hi B, I’m so glad that this connected for you and I really appreciate hearing that feedback. 🙂 I think I already said this in one or more of the comments above, but I really wasn’t sure who on earth would even read this let alone relate to it when I put it out, so it’s great to know that there are those that really do. 🙂 -Sera

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  15. I think this site might be of interest and of help to people who are dealing with high sensitivities.

    Also check out SPD and Psychopathology in Adults (left hand side of page in pink box) for list diagnoses psychiatrists give to people who have high sensitivities and/or Sensory Processing Disorder. Sensory Processing Disorder was a diagnosis which the DSM V panel deliberately left out.

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  16. Yes, yes, yes. Long story short, Mother was abusive, father was there but off limits. He came from a very sensitive family, hers was abusive. After that MH abused me for another 38yrs. At 56yrs old I’m just starting my life. Looking to help change what I can so others don’t have to suffer needlessly like I did.
    The thing about being so sensitive is life can be so incredibly rich and detailed to me.
    Thanks I needed that.

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  17. You mentioned “gum smacking.” I am definitely sensitive to that; amongst other things you listed. My late sister was very sensitive to “gum smacking. ” I inherited from her. Thank God, she never got a illicit psychiatric diagnosis because of it and put on dangerous, toxic, addictive drugs like I was. She did get put on toxic chemotherapy and radiation because she came down with Hodgkin’s disease, and then lung cancer and blood clots from the chemotherapy and radiation. She actually died from a blood clot to her brain one Sunday evening. She had a theory about the “gum smacking.” She said these were people so tragically disgusted with themselves and not willing to work for what they wanted out of life; including joy; they sought to tyrannize everyone with their “gum smacking.” So, perhaps, it is not ony sensitivity to the sound of the “gum smacking” which is EXTREMELY ANNOYING AND IRRITATING TO THE EARS!; but also to the fact those who “gum smack” are unexceptionally and tragically unhappy and they want to control others with their self-imposed misery, and self-righteous sanctimonious suffering and pain. Additionally, they do not want you to forget it!

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  18. Sera, You are truly AMAZING! I wanted to express being MOVED positively by this writing and by almost every comment and your replies to each. And tell you simply, that I FEEL YOU! I love that you have shared so bravely, courageously and honestly! You have a deep richness and lustre beyond compare! Thank You. thank you. thank you.

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