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Highly Sensitive Parent – Signs, Pros & Cons and Self-Care Tips

| Signs | Benefits | Disadvantages | Self-care tips |

What is a highly sensitive parent?

A highly sensitive parent is someone who is easily over-aroused by external stimuli and has high sensory processing sensitivity (SPS). They are heightened in their sensitivity to sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches ​1​. Their children may or may not inherit the trait.

These parents notice more in their environment and ponder deeply before deciding on their actions. Their brains tend to process information more thoroughly, and their nervous systems are aroused more easily ​2​. Therefore, they tend to be more sensitive to stimuli, react faster to them, and have stronger emotional reactions ​3​.

Highly sensitive people are easily affected by loud noises, bright lights, physical touch, or strong scents.

mom attends to a girl's scraped elbow

Signs of being a highly sensitive parent

Although every sensitive person is different, researchers have found some common traits. You may be highly sensitive if you answer yes to the following ​6​.

  • You are aware of subtleties in your environment more than an average person
  • You are more affected by the negative feelings of others
  • You are more sensitive to pain
  • You find yourself needing to withdraw on a busy day to be alone
  • Sudden noises startle you
  • Your sensory input can be easily overwhelmed by bright lights, strong smells, coarse fabric, or loud sounds
  • When you were a child, your parents or teachers viewed you as a sensitive or shy child

The benefits of being a highly sensitive parent

Being a highly sensitive parent is a blessing and a curse. While you face unique stresses, your sensitivity is a valuable asset to your child.

You are a responsive parent

There’s good news if you are a highly sensitive parent – you usually make very good parents.

You might be more sensitive to things ​4​. But it also means that you recognize what makes your child special and unique. You can sense your child’s needs and respond quickly.

Your sensitivity to body language and nonverbal cues enables you to better understand and communicate with your child. 

Your kids benefit from this, especially if they are also highly sensitive.

Your responsive parenting can help your child develop a secure attachment and thrive ​5​.

You understand your highly sensitive kids

If you have highly sensitive children, you understand exactly what they are going through and you can empathize with their experiences. 

The advice you give them in new situations will be more applicable. You can share your own experiences and the techniques you used to combat overarousal.

You and your kid have a closer relationship

The ability to attune to your child and to answer questions only sensitive people tend to think about helps you develop a happier relationship with them.

The disadvantages of being a highly sensitive parent

You sometimes feel overwhelmed and guilty

The feeling of being entirely responsible for another human being can be overwhelming. Highly sensitive parents tend to be “worriers” who focus on small things and think about problems deeply.

Often, you may compare yourself to others and feel that you aren’t living up to the ideals.

When you need to retreat from social stimulation or family life to recuperate, you may have feelings of guilt for doing so. You have a hard time getting alone time or meeting your own needs when there are young children in the family.

All parents are faced with these challenges of parenting, but it’s incredibly tough for you.

You may overprotect

High-strung parents tend to overprotect, particularly if the children are also highly sensitive. You may resent the way your parents over-pushed and made you feel inadequate as kids, so you over-compensate your own children.

When parents overprotect their children and limit their experiences, the child will end up with fewer life-enhancing experiences and opportunities for learning new skills.

Overprotective parenting often causes children to have low self-esteem and lack essential coping skills.

You may push too much

On the other hand, if you were coddled as a child and left without crucial skills, you may push your own child too much to make up for your own lack of experience.

Highly sensitive parent self-care tips

It is important for highly sensitive parents to take care of themselves and keep from feeling overwhelmed or burned out. 

Me-time is important for all parents but is extremely important for highly sensitive parents.

Commit to having some downtime

Most parents understand the importance of taking good care of themselves. 

Establishing consistent routines and setting aside time for yourself are admirable goals. Nevertheless, asking parents to schedule downtime is like asking a child to set their own screen time. It might be easy to agree in theory, but hard to follow through in practice.

Rather than setting aside a certain amount of time for downtime, sneak in quiet times here and there in your daily life. Doing a couple of deep breaths, a few jumping jacks, or a minute of meditation every now and then is all it takes to calm your sensitive nervous system ​7​

Making this a habit every day will greatly improve your mental health.

Set boundaries

Parents who are sensitive to their children’s needs are often willing to help and take on more than they can manage. Maintaining your physical and emotional well-being depends on setting clear boundaries and maintaining them. 

It is okay to say no to avoid chronic overarousal that is harmful to your health.

Protecting your well-being does not make you a bad parent. As with an airplane, put your own oxygen mask on before helping others.

Accept yourself and ask for help

Highly sensitive brains are simply wired that way. You are not weak and you don’t have to toughen up. Embrace your ability to be attuned to others’ negative emotions and to show them empathy. When necessary, ask for help. 

Establish a support network

Find and build friendships with others who are also more sensitive.

When you meet someone who shares a trait of high sensitivity with you, you will no longer feel alone.

You won’t be told to grow a thicker skin. Your new friends will understand what you go through and what you deal with every day.

Seek professional help if needed

Sensory processing sensitivity is often a genetic trait. It is not a disorder and is not the same as a sensory processing disorder. Therefore, your sensitive nature is not an illness that is in need of treatment.

However, if your sensitivity or strong emotions interfere with your functioning or decrease your quality of life, contact a physician or a mental health professional for help.

References

  1. 1.
    Benham G. The Highly Sensitive Person: Stress and physical symptom reports. Personality and Individual Differences. Published online May 2006:1433-1440. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2005.11.021
  2. 2.
    Smolewska KA, McCabe SB, Woody EZ. A psychometric evaluation of the Highly Sensitive Person Scale: The components of sensory-processing sensitivity and their relation to the BIS/BAS and “Big Five.” Personality and Individual Differences. Published online April 2006:1269-1279. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2005.09.022
  3. 3.
    Aron E. The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You. Kensington Publishing Corp; 2013.
  4. 4.
    Grimen HL, Diseth Å. Sensory Processing Sensitivity. Comprehensive Psychology. Published online January 2016:216522281666007. doi:10.1177/2165222816660077
  5. 5.
    Cabral de Mello M. Responsive parenting: interventions and outcomes. Bull World Health Organ. Published online December 1, 2006:991-998. doi:10.2471/blt.06.030163
  6. 6.
    Ershova RV, Yarmotz EV, Koryagina TM, Semeniak IV, Shlyakhta DA, Tarnow E. A psychometric evaluation of the highly sensitive person scale: the components of sensory-processing sensitivity. Electron J Gen Med. Published online December 10, 2018. doi:10.29333/ejgm/100634
  7. 7.
    Seppala EM, Hutcherson CA, Nguyen DT, Doty JR, Gross JJ. Loving-kindness meditation: a tool to improve healthcare provider compassion, resilience, and patient care. J of Compassionate Health Care. Published online December 2014. doi:10.1186/s40639-014-0005-9

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