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Ask the Introvert: Being a highly sensitive introvert — the beauty and the beast of it

To summarize in one lighthearted sentence, highly sensitive people are like Nigel Tufnel’s amplifier in “Spinal Tap.” Our senses are permanently on 11. 
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Sharon Glassman, Ask the Introvert columnist

What’s an introvert? How does introversion effect us at work and play? In our friendships? In our search for meaning and happiness?

I’ll explore these and other timely questions about introvert life in this column, as an introvert entrepreneur, artist and journalist. 

Want to ask a question? Just use the email below.

P.S.: even if you don’t think of yourself as introverted, you may find some helpful info here. Why? Because, to paraphrase Ben Franklin: we assume our differences divide us, only to find we share common ground.

Today’s introvert-astic question: What’s a highly sensitive introvert?

If the term “highly sensitive person” doesn’t thrill you, I get that. The name sounds like a synonym for weakness. But the truth is, it’s more of a superpower.

And researchers have found 70% of introverts also are highly sensitive people. HSPs for short. So, let’s take a closer look at what this means.

“The Highly Sensitive Person” is a book and a term coined in the 1990s by psychologist Elaine Aron. According to Aron, 30% of people see, hear, experience and remember things in a magnified way. 

Her website and book recount her research. A key finding: too many people are highly sensitive to labeling it a disorder. Aron also explores the difference between HSP and potentially similar-sounding conditions.

Serious stuff. But to summarize being an HSP in one lighthearted sentence? Highly sensitive people are like Nigel Tufnel’s amplifier in “Spinal Tap.” Our senses are permanently on 11. 

And while Tufnel’s amplifier is a joke, HSPs really do feel a larger jolt as they experience the world.

This is where being an HSP introvert gets challenging. As an HSP you feel everything extremely. As an introvert, you process those feelings deeply. Repeat until exhausted.

Tall about a neurobiological recipe for stress. And even distress. 

Let’s defuse this heavy news with a delightfully nerdy diagram.

Let’s talk Venn diagrams

Remember comedian George Carlin’s classic routine about the essential difference between football and baseball? (If not, it may be worth a view.)

Tweaking the Carlin metaphor a tad, bar graphs are the football/extroverts of the infographics world. And Venn diagrams are the baseball/introverts.

Which is to say: bar graphs value height; Venn diagram circles measure interconnectedness.

Related side note? I also think Venn diagrams are super cute. They look like happy faces waiting for an imaginary smile. Plus, you can color them in so many fun ways. 

I mention this to illustrate how the highly sensitive brain emotionally experiences some objectively basic thing. Super fun. Also? Kinda tiring.

So. Back to our Venn diagram. To create one, let’s draw a circle on the center right of our paper or screen. Or in our mind.

This circle represents our introversion. Next? We’d draw a circle center-left that overlaps the first circle by 70% (Graph paper or a grid could help here, but an approximation will do just fine).

The result? The large, almond-like shape created by our overlapping circles approximates the deep, double-ply process of a highly sensitive introvert interacting with the sights, sounds and information of their everyday world. 

Heck yeah, it’s a lot.

What to do?

Being an introvert and a highly sensitive person in the everyday world has its upsides. See: our ability to experience big beauty from little things like a Venn diagram. 

But, energetically, it also can be a major drag.

Acute misery is the realm of professionals. And if you’re feeling it, please seek one out, pronto.

Minor overwhelm is the ongoing challenge of HSP introverts. Meditation. Hydration. Nature. Self-compassion. And, of course, rest. These aren’t cures. But they can help to calm our overstimulated senses as time ideally resets and recharges our brain.

Have a question about introvert life? Write to askin@smilesongs.com.

Sharon Glassman is a Longmont-based introvert lifestyle journalist and creator of Smile Songs gifts. The thoughts and opinions offered in this column are intended for entertainment and informational purposes only. Use of this column is not intended to replace or substitute for any professional, financial, medical, legal, or other professional advice.

The Longmont Leader accepts contributions, photos, and op-eds for publication from community members, business leaders and public officials on local topics. Publication will be at the discretion of the editor and published opinions do not represent the views of The Longmont Leader or its staff. To submit a contribution, email info@longmontleader.com.



Sharon Glassman

About the Author: Sharon Glassman

Sharon Glassman is a Longmont-based introvert lifestyle journalist and creator of Smile Songs gifts.
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