If you’re familiar with the concept of a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) and have read around the topic, or seen psychologist Elaine Aron’s excellent film Sensitive the Movie, you will have come across the concept of a “High Sensation Seeking HSP”. These types of people almost sound like a contradiction in terms when you first hear about them. Recording artist Alanis Morissette (who appears in the film) is one such; imagine being an HSP yet wanting to perform high-octane music to a stadium full of fans…it sounds unimaginable to those of us who are so highly sensitive we choose a far quieter life than even the average Joe on the street.
What this boils down to is a package of being both highly sensitive yet kind of addicted to the buzz of a thrilling experience and novelty; a craving for being in a regularly high state of mental or physical arousal. If you’ve spent years being almost painfully sensitive or even unwell, perhaps with chronic fatigue, you may quickly brush this off as nonsense in your own case and yet its a paradox I discovered about myself some years ago. Just because I had chronic fatigue didn’t make me low energy; the reality is, I’m so naturally highly charged I almost self-combust or, to put it another way, I melt my own circuit board.
Of course, thrills can vary across the whole board of human experiences but, I assumed in this case, referred to the three-dimensional world of the five senses because, after all, we tend to imagine fast cars, fairground rides, spending high-earnings, unbridled sex, high-octane sport and other dare-devil pursuits as the typical precursors to the high-arousal state, not the quiet life of contemplation.
So, initially, I also ruled out the high-sensation version of an HSP for myself, being so not into the kind of physical pursuits or behaviours that constitute a thrill-seeking life in any typical sense. However (and there is a High Sensation Seeking test you can do on Elaine Aron’s website), as I got to know myself better, I began to suspect that I was more high sensation seeking than I originally gave myself credit for and, as I rebalance my health, this is producing a higher score than it did when I felt much more physically compromised. The reality is, yes, I am a High Sensation Seeker (score of 14 out of 20 compared to full marks in the Highly Sensitive test), just not in the ways I tend to think of as typical…and considering this has helped shed some real light on the health and even emotional issues I’ve been having for years. Because, when you seek a great deal of sensation yet your chosen sensation domain is “outside of the body” it can cause a tug-o-war situation with your own physical groundedness until one of them starts to flounder; let me explain.
It was only as I sat here scrolling through my emails just before dawn last week, when I couldn’t sleep for all the high-wire sensations and ideas pinging around in my head, that it really struck me that I am high-sensation seeking after all…to the nth…only in a far more abstract, other-dimensional, “spiritual” kind of way. In that regard, I push myself way out there as far as I am able to go, open to every experience I can have at the widest expansion of my human operating system (which never seems quite wide enough for me…). Thus, exploring the metaphysical territory of “who am I” ,”what’s life all about”, “where are we all headed”, “what’s my part in it” and “how does it all connect together” is my primary interest in life, utterly dominating or informing everything else that I put my efforts into.
Never content with doing something just for its own subjective sake, I have to pull right back to where I can get the broadest possible experience, and relevance, of it, which can be exhausting and takes being prepared to consider some pretty mind-bending stances on what it means to be human, I can tell you. There’s also plenty of “novelty” to be experienced out there; in fact its unlimited so, in a sense, there is no end to your task if this is what you focus on…you can just keep going and going; which is something I do all the time. In fact, I never seem to stop and never know the luxury of declaring “there, that’s finished” and taking a long pause since there’s always a queue of other things for me to dive straight into (and there is no “ending”, plus everything is interconnected). My husband would describe me as a high-wire because I can’t “sit still” with my ideas and burn so brightly with so much stuff, all the time, clutching a notebook in bed or on holidays, recording my thoughts as I walk the dog, jotting ideas down on receipts in restaurants. Try as I might, I never truly take a break because the more I go into the abstract state, such as meditation, the more glistening new ideas come flooding in; so, no wonder I tend to burn out!
Yet, let me also get something straight; some people assume this is a mental problem like I’m ruminating on things, worrying too much, claiming responsibility for more than myself in a way that is limiting me (notice, these are very-human ideas of “taking on too much”…). In doing so, they misunderstand what people like me are getting out of our broader stance, thus its not that way at all. Really, it’s the human experience that feels so limited and drab whereas, inside my own consciousness, there are no boundaries to keep me hemmed in. Things make far more sense to me pulled back to gain the bigger picture and I love doing it; it’s what makes life juicy and meaningful and these broader perspectives are delectable, offering radiance to the “ordinary”, like gilt edging on everything, which is like being on a permanent high.
Looking back, though I have always been wired this way, it has only dominated more over the last ten years or so, making me not so much a spiritualseeker as spiritual-thrill-seeker and its my highly sensitive qualities that led me there. No different to another HSP wanting to jump off the very edge of life to see what that feels like, I’ve been busy doing my own version…and the thing it doesn’t offer is anything mediocre; life is a truly a ride of many surprises and readjustments when you live it like this and you have to be adaptable and “up for it”. So, its the same thing either way; just different versions of pursuing it and I wonder if this is typical of those who are HSP yet not into high-octane living.
The thing is, wonderfully expansive as these metaphysical pursuits can be, it can also feel a lot like being the moth to the flame, energetically speaking. Other high-sensation seeking HSPs may come back with burn marks from yet another bungee cord but I come back, daily, with my other-dimensional equivalents; or, at least, I used to and which my up-and-down health has also been testament to.
Grounding myself and, more to the point, embodying myself…fully…has been the focus of most of my efforts and the subject of several of my blogs lately, both here and on my other outlet Spinning the Light. So I won’t repeat all that material here, though I will link back to my recent AuraTransformation post, which explains in detail how difficult this lifelong process has been at times and what I have done to try and make it far less painful and prolonged (with incredible results as I observe the rapid progress I’m making). As a default setting, I have always tended to mingle the spiritual aspect with everything I experience, perceiving it in the most ordinary of things but, instead of allowing that gentle process of stirring them together to happen organically, I used to tend to focus most on the other-worldly aspect, hunting it down with my mind in my typically airy, high-intellectual way. Done in any prolonged or over zealous sense, this can take your physical body way out of balance, as I have learned, because you do become much less grounded that you need to be. I mean, grounded in a much more fundamental sense that just needing to sit under a tree once in a while (though that will help); rather, right at the very core of you, as a way of being through your choice of daily focus and priorities, without which you can start to slip away, out of the body.
Like any addict, I’ve had to confront just how much I go after these heightened experiences, as top priority every day (as an entirely sub-conscious thing since I don’t plan to have them….but, as soon as I do, I drop all my other plans to concentrate on them). Noticing, too, how tinkering around with them is my favourite pastime and how flat life seems without having them to play with so that I actively resist a more mundane life. For a long time, I made do with writing about these interests of mine, which is a powerful way of grounding them since it turns them into something tangible and, as it were, anchored into place where you and others can discuss them as an aspect of life. However, I have also noticed how telling myself this was enough neatly sidestepped the need to ground the more abstract aspect of me into my own body. I was still keeping my high-octane aspect outside of me…and going there to visit!
Perhaps therein lies the difference between HSPs who seem to thrive at life and those who don’t. None of us, I suspect, embrace the mundane but in choosing how to have our heightened experiences, we make or break aspects of our own physical health and this is something to watch out for and, where necessary to rectify.
In order to bring my kind of heightened experiences home, I’ve had to learn how to fall in love with a slightly more ordinary range of experiences, at least some of the time, enabling the two aspects to mingle together somewhat in ways that are more bearable for my body. To start with, this can feel like trying to pack an airbag back into a car’s dashboard after it has “gone off”; its like your expanded aspect simply won’t fit back into the body and its just so frustrating. Gradually, having done this for some time (and following my AuraTransformation), I notice that I can bring more and more of these two aspects together and its working. Not only am I feeling more embodied and “physical” without that necessarily equating with pain or exhaustion; I’m also noticing how I am far less highly sensitive, especially where it comes to actual pain triggers and environmental or food sensitivities. In a very notieable way, I’m getting away with a far broader range of experiences…and still standing at the end!
Another bonus is that its allowed me to appreciate that being the HSP that I am doesn’t equate with being some-sort of weakling or lazy person doing nothing with their life. Far from it, I have the scars to show for it and, even as I step forward into a more grounded experience, I realise I get to choose where to put my own focus. I used to tell myself that if I got my health back, I would get more active and make more of a mark on life in the ways that “other people” do. Maybe, at the subconscious level, I knew that the high sensation demanding part of myself would demand no less; but would now have to focus this on more worldy pursuits of thrill (I would get flash-forwards of myself giving Ted talks etc and it would run my blood to ice). I now know and admit, the subliminal dread of this did nothing for my recovery process. Now I say to myself that if I get my health back to one hundred percent, I will still get to pursue what truly interests me and there will be no forcing myself to engage more on the stage of life than I feel absolutely comfortable with; the world needs its well-balanced philosophers, writers and artists just as much as it needs its stadium performers and bungee jumpers.
My best advice is, stop focusing on fame or salary as benchmarks of success; your gifts are your gifts and the world will catch up with appreciating them much more as you and others like you gain the confidence to really put them forward, in your own unique way, without any underlying feelings of shame (that is such an old-world mentality and its overdue to be decommissioned). Maybe, as our special part of the rebalancing of the world, its time us introverts reclaimed a portion of the idea of “thrill-seeking” for ourselves and our own unique definition of it and, perhaps then, there will be one less thing for HSPs to feel highly sensitive about!
As I’ve talked about ceaselessly across the years, recovery is all about recovering “lost” parts of yourself and reattaching them; so rediscovering, and reattaching, lost or “invisible” traits can be one of the most potent experiences you ever have on the road to regaining balanced health. Owning my own high sensation seeking trait feels like such a homecoming for me that I just have to think about it to get tingles; and this allows me to consider how I want to be able to feed and encourage that trait, in all the ways that are most supportive of me (rather than their shadow versions coming up at will).
So, my point is, if you are highly sensitive, please don’t rule out that you are also, potentially, a high-sensation seeking version of an HSP even though that might feel counter-intuitive at first glance of its traits. Look beneath the surface of what that means and consider how mediocre (or otherwise) your interests are, where do you put your focus, are you more intense about certain things than the next person, how deeply do you think into things and on what kind of topics are you hooked. Consider how much do you put pressure on yourself to immerse in your interests or meet self-imposed deadlines or objectives like the world is depending on you. Do you burn the candle at both ends, cut yourself off from other people, feel like you’re on a mission or are you almost obsessive in your pursuit of whatever you prime interest is (all of which can be to the detriment of your nervous system). It could be that you’re having your very-own high-octane lifestyle right there, within the four-walls of your own head.
If so, consider in what ways could you imagine integrating this better with a more grounded experience (which is not to say “boring” or “routine”). We’re entering a new era when escapism should become less of a requirement as we live our own best-version of life “down here” so its really worth considering how the passion you escape to might be something you can animate as actual experience, here and now, as you. In fact, you will be doing the world a favour when you do this as it desperately needs its feeling people, its observant people, its caring people, its bigger-picture-seeing people…in short, its HSPs to take more of a part in the way things are going and to tip the world’s balance towards something far healthier. This is no time for bailing out; just “come as you are” and bring your own unique skill set with you. Above all, come back to life!
In my own case, I’ve noticed how the burning frustration that used to be one of my core sensitivities (my shadow trait; and such a self-eroding one at that), making me internally fiery with unrealised passion for experiences that seemed “out of this world” but unattainable in real life, is now starting to lessen. This is because its fire now gets to turn into the creative force of enthusiasm and passion in order to collaborate with those other elementals: water (flow), air (expression) and earth (grounding). How to work powerfully with all four elements, getting them into balance, is something I plan to talk about in another post very soon; it will help to ground and “round” you. Apart from finding that your high sensitivity turns into a super power instead of a pain, becoming a well-rounded person will be the best gift you ever gave yourself. It doesn’t mean giving up your passions, just learning how to live with them a little better which, actually, helps them to manifest more in the physical world rather than staying “out there” in the abstract.
For more highly sensitive resources, see my HSP resource page.
My experience with AuraTransformation is a key article on this extended topic, as refered to above. You can find more recent articles on my experience of AuraTransformation™ and the ongoing process of re-embodying myself for better health on www.spinningthelight.org using the AuraTransformation search term.