‘Sensitivity’ can be a loaded term in our culture and has a number of connotations, many not very positive. Elaine Aron, Ph.D., author of The Highly Sensitive Person, defines a sensitive person as one who is aware of subtleties in their surroundings, more readily overwhelmed after being in a stimulating environment for too long and possessing a number of other traits; such as being more cautious, needing more downtime, being more sensitive to pain, more sensitive to caffeine and more sensitive to medications. In addition, those who are more sensitive (or Highly Sensitive Persons (HSPs)) tend to be prone to being easily startled and are aggravated by loud noises and bright lights. HSPs also tend to need more sleep than those without this trait. Dr. Aron’s extensive research has established that about 15-20 percent of the population is highly sensitive and it is a trait that tends to be inherited.
Lest I give the impression that those who are highly sensitive have it all bad (or that others around them suffer as a result of their sensitivity), let me share with you some of the benefits of being an HSP. Those who are highly sensitive tend to be very creative, empathic, insightful, conscientious, reflective and detail-oriented. They are often aware of subtleties in their surroundings that go completely unnoticed by those without this trait; subtleties that may be clues to changes in their health and well-being or the well-being of those around them.
HSPs often have a history of frustrating encounters with medical professionals as they can detect subtle changes in sensation and functioning of their bodies, which the Western medical paradigm is ill-adapted to address. Thus when symptoms have no known cause or diagnosis, patients end out going through a number of tests and medical visits to no avail and may be labeled ‘neurotic’ or told that their condition is ‘psychosomatic’.
Here is where naturopathic and homeopathic care can lend a hand. Those who are highly sensitive tend to respond well to more subtle herbal, nutritional and homeopathic treatments that nourish their nervous systems and gently rebalance the functioning of their body and mind. Dr. Aron states that HSPs tend to have a harder time working mixed shifts or night shifts and recover more slowly from jet lag. Thus it can be said that HSPs also likely have more vulnerable circadian rhythms and could benefit from counsel and support in this area (chronotherapy).
I have greatly enjoyed working with a number of individuals who could be classified as highly sensitive in my practice. I find that in-depth, time-intensive and supportive care (including homeopathy, flower essences and other naturopathic modalities) can be very healing for HSPs. Naturopathic medicine, particularly homeopathy, pays careful attention to the subtle signs, symptoms and observations that patients experience and express. There are over 2,000 homeopathic remedies, many of which can be helpful for HSPs. Below I will share the picture of Phosphorus, a remedy that depicts Dr. Aron’s description of an HSP to a ‘T’:
Phosphorus, a mineral remedy can help someone who fits the following remedy picture: one who is highly impressionable, sensitive to external impressions (light, noise), easily startled, drained from too much social contact, possessing quick perceptions and prone to anxiety and fears (often felt in the pit of the stomach). Phosphorus types are sympathetic to the suffering of others to the point where they may actually feel other people’s pain. They tend to be artistic, creative and imaginative and have strong intense relationships. They generally feel better in the morning, better from sleep and worse from missing a meal and from coffee. There are a number of mental-emotional and physical symptoms which this remedy can effectively treat: anxiety and fears, colds which settle in the chest, a tendency to bleed easily, vertigo, diarrhea and vomiting… Early on, one needing Phosphorus may suffer from fatigue and concerns about their health that can seem out of proportion to their health problem. Later, indifference, apathy and dullness can set in and one can become more withdrawn.
It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss how remedies are selected, prescribed and act to effect healing, but a brief caveat: even the most astute homeopath is limited in prescribing a remedy for their own chronic condition. If you are suffering from a chronic condition and are interested in homeopathy, please seek the care of a qualified naturopath or homeopath and do not self-prescribe!
For a more detailed discussion of the HSP trait, research and case studies on HSPs, the merits and drawbacks of medication for HSPs, psychotherapeutic support and a number of helpful resources and tips, I highly recommend reading Dr. Aron’s book, The Highly Sensitive Person and film, ‘SensItive: The Movie’: http://sensitivethemovie.com/. You may also like to do a brief self-test to see if you are potentially an HSP, you will find this test on Dr. Aron’s website: http://hsperson.com/test/highly-sensitive-test/, along with newsletter archives and a number of other resources.
If you are an HSP, I hope that you can find the support that you need to flourish! And if you are not an HSP, perhaps you have learned something of value to help someone you know, or just to understand HSPs and homeopathy a little more…
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Aron, E. (1996 ). The Highly Sensitive Person. How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You. New York, NY: Broadway Books.
Aron, E. (1996 ). The Highly Sensitive Person. Self-Test. Retrieved from http://www.hsperson.com/pages/test.htm
Elmore, D. (2000). Phosphorus handout (from Vithoulkas, Shore, Kent, Whitmont, Cowperthwaite, Gibson & Nash). Portland, OR: National College of Natural Medicine.