Published August 28, 2007 by:Priscilla King
1. "HSPs don't like 'other people.'" This myth is particularly unhelpful to the minority of HSPs who also inherit traits associated with what's usually considered an extroverted personality. Recent research has also identified the physical trait that produces genuine, benign introversion, which shows up on brain scans as a "long brain stem" (LBS) and produces a deeper, slower thought process than average. (For more about LBS introverts, visit www.theintrovertadvantage.com). Some HSPs also inherit LBS traits; some do not. HSP and LBS traits seem to balance each other well.
However, even those who have both HSP and LBS traits can also be task-oriented leaders or charismatic attention seekers. These traits produce introverted tendencies that may help hold extroverted tendencies in check. In any case, even those of us who are genuine introverts usually have deep, lasting friendships and can have rewarding marriages. What HSPs inherit is the ability to analyze our social lives and explain exactly whose company we like and dislike, and why.
2. "HSPs shouldn't marry each other, shouldn't marry at all, shouldn't have children, are probably homosexual," etc. There is some truth in this myth when HSPs try to deny or "overcome" their sensitivity and marry people who may be good catches but are temperamentally incompatible. When HSPs marry each other, in the absence of additional genes that really are dysfunctional, we probably have the most satisfactory family lives on Earth. What the HSP trait produces, in terms of relationships, is a capacity for deep long-term commitment and intense physical pleasure. And, in the absence of disease conditions, HSPs' high levels of sex hormones allow some HSPs to fall madly in love at 50 and have vibrant sex lives at 75.
3. "HSPs are likely to be or become schizophrenic or schizoid." Some psychotic disorders seem to mimic HSP sensitivity, and it's possible for HSPs to develop all kinds of other hereditary or environmental diseases, but there's no real correlation between HSP perceptivity and psychotic hypersensitivity. HSPs are generally perceptive of a wide variety of pleasant and neutral stimuli, through all unimpaired sensory channels. Acquired hypersensitivity produces more awareness of painful, chaotic stimuli, often through just one badly damaged set of nerves. HSPs hear conversations in the next room; hypersensitive people hear buzzing, ringing noises, or hear "voices" repeatedly whispering nonsense or disturbing ideas.
4. "HSPs are 'on the autistic spectrum.'" I'll agree that well-known high-functioning autistics like Temple Grandin and Donna Williams are HSPs, but I'm not convinced that any causal relationship is involved in this correlation. People who overcome severe disabilities or seem to heal themselves from severe diseases do tend to be HSPs. Helen Keller was almost certainly HSP too, but although the HSP trait allowed her to overcome the loss of her sight and hearing, it had nothing to do with the infection that produced her blindness and deafness. What we do know about autistics is that high-functioning autistics tend to have the kind of painful, chaotic hypersensitivity that other people acquire later in life as a result of nerve or brain damage.
5. "HSPs need therapy to become more 'normal.'" It's very easy for non-HSPs to confuse the healthy perceptivity that makes HSPs reject many things as "too loud, too bright, too fast, too tight" with acquired hypersensitivity, or sensory defensiveness, produced by brain damage. Sensory defensiveness, in which ordinary stimuli are perceived as unbearably intense, is "on the autistic spectrum." It is often produced by fevers, concussions, and/or medication, and it can and should be treated with the relatively cheap and simple therapies Sharon Heller discusses in her book. However, HSP perceptivity is normal for those who've inherited it. HSPs become less sensitive with age, but this erosion of perception is not a gain--it merely slows down some aspects of the aging process. (When middle-aged people complain about not being able to read the copyright data line on the eye chart or hear "inaudible" dog whistles any more, while their friends are buying eyeglasses and hearing aids, you know we're HSPs.)
Since you're reading this online, you may benefit from this warning. I was an early adopter of computer technology. (I think I was the third girl student to acquire a guest pass to the computer lab at my school.) My HSP long-distance vision, which I had enjoyed, "normalized" to 20-20 about two years after I bought a computer of my own. The black-on-pale-gray screen at which you're looking may damage your eyes less than my orange-on-black screen did mine, or it may not. All computer addicts, HSP or otherwise, need to force ourselves to take frequent hand and eye breaks.
6. "HSPs are attuned to the psychic realm." I don't want to get into any religious debates about what the psychic realm is. I merely want to emphasize that HSP perceptivity is a matter of consciously perceiving things that exist in objective fact, even if the majority of humankind need binoculars, telescopes, etc., to verify them. HSPs "perceive" auras, ghosts, angels, etc., only if they believe such things exist. Many HSPs don't. Some HSPs make a hobby of debunking the "psychic" claims and perceptions of fellow HSPs.
Here's one example with which I'm familiar. In many times and places, some HSPs were said to have "healing hands," and some of them probably believed it. HSPs who take Judith Walker Delany's NeuroMuscular Therapy courses learn exactly how "healing hands" are able to perceive and relieve stiffness in specific muscles, which can occasionally restore sight, hearing, etc., to people who thought they were permanently disabled. The ability to find the knots is a hereditary gift. Anyone born with the ability can learn to use it, and will probably perform one or two "miracles" before retiring from the massage business. The faith and love some faith healers experience is real, as is the faith of people whose "miraculous" healings are spontaneous (check out Senator Orrin B. Hatch's story in Larry King's Powerful Prayers). Still, people whose "miracles" don't last need to know that this is more likely to be their body telling them that they've slept in the wrong position again than it is to be God telling them that something is wrong with their faith.
7. "HSPs are 'smarter' than most people." What researchers like Daniel Goleman and Dawna Markova have been saying for years is that, if people want to be (or become) intelligent, they are. The question is how an individual is intelligent. HSP perceptivity does virtually guarantee high I.Q. scores for most of us, apart from late-blooming HSP boys who may be too farsighted to learn to read before age ten, dyslexic HSPs who may read too slowly to test well even as adults, and other "Mislabelled Children". (Parents concerned about these issues should click on www.moorefoundation.com or http://mislabeledchild.com. When I tried to Google "Dawna Markova" for you, I only got a link to a "SmartWired" page that didn't make it through my security filter, plus several sources through which individual books like "How Your Child Is Smart" can be purchased.) Because most HSPs are in fact "gifted," we need to be particularly aware that there are other ways of being "gifted" that may be complementary with our own.
8. "HSPs are timid or 'withdrawn.'" HSPs do and should "withdraw" quickly from harmful stimuli; this is why, although our overall life expectancy may not be much longer than those of other people, our active life expectancy probably is. Because HSP children lack the experience and vocabulary to communicate their perceptions clearly, it's also possible that little HSPs recognize harmful stimuli, such as food their bodies aren't built to digest, more accurately than adults may realize. Then there are stimuli that healthy HSPs don't perceive as harmful but do perceive as tiresome, stressful, messy, tasteless, tacky, boring, ugly, rude, and generally no fun (e.g. school, television, shopping malls). Healthy HSPs withdraw from those things too, although most of us withdraw our attention in wholesome ways, like tuning out from school in order to pursue hobbies, or ignoring "desirable connections" whom we don't like in order to spend more time in less predictable relationships with those we love.
9. "HSPs tend to become addicts or alcoholics." There is no question that all chemical stimuli, even those in ordinary food substances, have more pronounced effects on HSPs than on non-HSPs. Not all HSP's have allergies. but because HSPs are naturally oversupplied with histamine, HSP allergy reactions are hard to miss. Probably not all HSPs are alcohol-sensitive or even sugar-sensitive, but when we are, the results are equally dramatic. HSPs can get relaxed, chatty, and uninhibited without alcohol--and can take blissful mental "trips" without LSD. A few lucky HSPs who were around in the 1960s even avoided those dangerous experiments with drugs, because nothing our friends seemed to experience on drugs seemed much more interesting than what we experienced while meditating. History records that HSP artists have often experimented with drugs and other unhealthy behavior, like deliberate food poisoning or sleep deprivation, in search of "unique" images to paint or write about. As in the cases of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Edgar Allan Poe, or Janis Joplin, these experiments tended to destroy rather than enhance the artists' productivity. Knowing this is often enough to keep HSPs away from drugs and alcohol for life.
Because young HSPs are at so much risk of being labelled "depressed" or "withdrawn," and inappropriately medicated for conditions they don't even have, I almost wish I had found a link between the HSP trait and the "Prozac Dementia" reaction to serotonin boosters such as Prozac, Luvox, Serafem, or even Ritalin. One anecdote in Joseph Glenmullen's Prozac Backlash, about the dramatic reaction in one of Dr. Glenmullen's brightest students, is suggestive but not really proof of a link. However, it bears reiteration that the type of depression most obviously associated with HSPs is endorphin-deficiency rather than serotonin-deficiency depression. To learn more about which type of depression you or a friend may have, look for a copy of Kathleen DesMaisons' Potatoes Not Prozac, or visit Dr. DesMaisons at www.radiantrecovery.com. Endorphin deficiency is best treated by diet and exercise, NOT serotonin boosters.
10. "HSPs tend to be liberal, humanistic, and/or on the left wing." Elaine Aron's correspondence does seem to support this view, but as a relative, employee, and personal friend of several conservative and even hawkish HSPs, I'm in a position to suggest that the slant and marketing of Dr. Aron's book may have selected for the type more congenial with her. I can testify firsthand that the Army knows the value of even physically inadequate female HSPs. Many HSPs who are physically strong, male, and conservative find a military career congenial, or at least useful as a way to finance education or launch a business.