“Am I Happier Single?” Learning to Love and Hyper-Sensitivity

Toward the later part of my acting career, I noticed a pronounced pattern. When I was single, I booked more work. And though I had a fairly good idea why, the partnered-up me was often too deep in a relationship to snap out of my funk for the sake of auditions.

Once a boyfriend and I passed the initial dopamine-drunk stage, something would happen that zapped the light clear out of me. And I’m not talking major brawls. An issue involving work…a misunderstood remark…his fear that I loved acting more than him. I marveled at friends who laughed or complained about relationship strife, then carried on with relative ease. And here I was, cowering in a metaphorical corner, angst invading my every pore. I could see it in snapshots and the mirror—in ways that couldn’t be photo-corrected or concealed. In severe cases, I felt contagious, as though this cloud of heavy, visible smog could choke me and others, bringing them down with me. Even when my low moods didn’t directly involve my partner, it affected him. In both cases, I sensed his frustration, disappointment, confusion, hurt and sometimes anger, which made everything worse. Exhausted, I usually ended up holing myself away somewhere, crying my eyes out and wondering what the heck was wrong with me. Not exactly the most camera or step-into-character-friendly state…

One particularly sad day in 2006, I took this self-portrait in the mirror for my photo-a-day journal. Below it, I wrote: Sad, Swollen Rudolph—but rainbows are coming. I feel it…and hope.

I analyzed my feelings, sought therapy and eventually got through them—usually after a makeup or breakup. Then came the recovery time—getting over the exhausting turmoil. A sort of “I just need time” flu. To quote my optimistic mother, my love life was like a “very diverse and interesting movie.” For a while, I dodged serious relationships, thinking that they were the problem, aware—and fearful—that the common denominator (i.e., problem) was me. It took some time, growth, strengthening single time and effort, but I gradually learned this wasn’t the case.

Numerous people suggested I read The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine Aron throughout the years. Each time I looked into its philosophies, however, I dismissed the personal relevance. Highly sensitive people are often perceived as shy, timid and extremely introverted, I read—and that ain’t me. Then I came upon an article that discussed the highly sensitive extrovert, or “sensation seeker,” and a Home Depots-worth of lightbulbs went off. Ah-ha! Perhaps I wasn’t so strange or broken after all…

This revelation combined with maturity, transitioning to writing and meeting my awesome, understanding husband have led me to embrace and understand my sensitivity in a whole new way. And I’m happy to say the “Sad Rudolph” days are far fewer, milder and further between.

I’m not crazy about labels and realize that biology only accounts for  a portion of who we are. But since I’ve found exploring high sensitivity empowering and pacifying, I thought you all might like to read and chat about it, too.

Facts about High Sensitivity

  • Psychologist Carl Jung came up with the concept, using the term innate sensitiveness.
  • High sensitivity affects about 15 – 20% of the population.
  • About 30% of HS people are social extroverts. The other 70% are introverted, but not necessarily shy.
  • Highly sensitive people are believed to process sensory data much more deeply and thoroughly due to nervous system differences. This often leads to a low tolerance for violence (on TV and elsewhere), physical and emotional pain, loud noise, foods/flavors, bright lights and more.
  • High sensitivity is not treacherous, weakening or a life sentence.
  • High sensitivity brings along many perks.

Benefits of High Sensitivity

We have rich inner lives, and thrive on alone time. In a world where many people fear being alone, this is a particularly awesome strength. Thoughtful alone time deepens our understanding of our lives, our work and ourselves.

We’re highly empathetic, which makes us valuable friends, spouses, listeners, artists and caregivers. Others may deem us “psychic” for sensing so much about other people or situations, when in fact, our senses are highly attuned—from my experience, anyway. (DUDE, we could make serious ching. Kidding. ;))

We’re more in touch with our intuition and can pick up potential harm easily. If food tastes slightly off, we’ll notice first, potentially saving ourselves from toxicity. Our heightened ability to perceive sights, sounds and other sensations alert us to harmful people giving us odd looks or invading our personal space. We also pick up easily on others’ good hearts and trustworthiness.

We have a crazy-high capacity to feel love, joy and other positive feelings—not merely negative emotions. Our hearts may break bigger, but we love larger, too.

We’re extra-sensual and can reap more pleasure from sex than less sensitive counterparts. Highly sensitive people can be “turned on my subtle cues,” says Aron. She also says that the extraverted, sensation-seeking sensitives tend to enjoy sex more than the average person, want more of it and have the ability to “enjoy sex without love.”

We’re more selective about commitment, and fiercely loyal in relationships. We also can’t much handle staying in “wrong” or damaging relationships or careers. This can inspire us to do what must to get out of not-the-best relationships and seek work we love, where less sensitive folks might “grin and bear it.”

We’re creative. Sensitivity and artistry go hand-in-hand . It takes a deep feeling person to be able to express themselves in profound ways. If you’re like me, powerful emotions almost force you to express yourself through writing or other creative mediums when talking and feeling aren’t enough. And who better to depict colors, tastes, smells and other sensations than those who perceive them the strongest?

Are you or a loved one highly sensitive? Any prime examples or lessons learned to share? What behaviors help you maximize the perks or minimize challenges?