The HSP World Podcast Ep. 31: The HSP Label – Cage or Lifesaver?

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Thomas:  Hi and welcome to The HSP World podcast. With each episode, we invite a guest with the HSP Trait to have a conversation about a burning HSP-related question they have. We’re not coaches or therapists, we’re HSPs holding space with you.

I’m one of your hosts, Thomas, and your other hosts are. We have an update for you about the HSP World podcast. We are going to be moving to a once a month format. To stay updated, please make sure that you are subscribed to our newsletter.

Robyn: All right, thanks for that, Thomas. And today’s format is going to be a little bit different. It’s just us hosts in here. And we are actually going to be addressing a question that comes from Thomas, but that perhaps some of you out there have thought about before. We are talking about labels.

Okay. Labels like HSP, Introvert, Extrovert, High Sensation Seeker. Obviously our podcast is built around such labels. We bring them up all the time. And one question that comes up occasionally is whether using these labels could actually prevent us from being what we really are. Limiting ourselves somehow.

Or are they conversely something that could actually be springboards for us, to help us understand ourselves better and actually ironically unlock new potentials. That’s the question that we’re going to be looking at today? I know. I certainly have heard, HSPs say to me or of themselves before, oh, I don’t really like labels. I don’t really like limiting myself in the way that I speak about my personality. So I know it is a common concern out there.

Thomas: I think there’s also a sort of an evolution that goes on. I know for myself, you know, when I first learned about the concept of the HSP Trait. You know, what I first felt was, wow, there’s other people like me, there’s somebody that understands me. And so I felt this great sense of relief, and this great sense of belonging.

And then as time goes on, you get used to the idea of the Trait and you’ve learned a little bit about it, and then there’s this sort of question like what’s next? And is there, is there more for me to know? So I think that’s part of where that question comes from is, what else can knowing about it do for me?

Rayne: Yeah, I think, I’ve had the same experience as you Thomas. And I think, for me, finding out that I had the Trait, um, really helpful when I learned, what the D.O.E.S. Acronym stands for. So D is depth of processing, O overstimulation, E empathy, and S sensory sensitivity. Right?

Robyn: Um, says sensitivity to subtlety.

Rayne: Thank you. and yeah, that’s that’s I found it how it helped me. A more curious and playful attitude towards learning more about my senses. I think that’s, that’s one of the really wonderful things, that I’ve really appreciated about, you know, learning that I have the Trait, because knowing how that my different senses are helps me work with, um, things like, oh, overstimulation, right?

So I found it really helpful. I find it really, really helpful. And I mean, I’m still, you know, learning and still, but I find having a curious and playful attitude about it has helped me a lot, you know, just being open to what does it mean? Because, you know, it’s different for every HSP. You know, what senses they, um, you know, some, its texture, some it’s sound, some it’s you know, it’s all different, right?

What do you think about that Robyn?

Robyn: Yeah. So I think how a person might interact with the label depends on, on where they’re at in their own head and their own life and their own experience. Right? I know for myself, I was very much questing after a way to explain a phenomenon that I felt, um, in particular, a feeling of difference. Right?

So I want it to be able to explain, you know, why do things seem to affect me differently? Why do I seem to think about things more, for a longer period than other people. Why do I seem to, be more, I don’t know.

Rayne: Or deeper emotions…

Robyn: Implicated in certain things. Yeah. You know, or certain, certain emotional moments of emotional intensity, you know? And then it’s not as if I hit, we throw labels around all the time. Right?

People will say, oh, okay, this is neuroticism. This is anxiety. This is being type A. We naturally throw these labels around. It is a natural human phenomenon to try to explain things that that happened right. And I think if you don’t have the experience of being confused about what’s going on, if you feel that the labels that you’ve been given have adequately explained what’s going on with you, with your life and your personality, then you probably won’t search much further. Right?

So there are some HSPs out there, I have spoken to some who’ve told me, you know, when they find out about HSP, they say, oh, okay. Yeah, I guess I’m like that. Cool, whatever. And they move on. And I think for people like that, it might be because… You know, they, they kind of organically knew that they were sensitive and it didn’t create an issue because, you know, maybe they’re either working in a field where they’re surrounded by HSPs or where a sensitivity is embraced, or they came from a family where sensitivity is embraced.

And I think if that happens, you don’t really worry as much about it. But I definitely felt that I had something to explain and definitely other HSPs that I’ve spoken to, Thomas mentioned this as well, many HSPs will say, oh, I actually feel a sense of relief at being able to have a name that describes this experience.

That wasn’t the, I finally put words on something, you know, so I know, I know, I felt that I definitely felt that sense of relief. And, I think there may have been a period of overusing the label. Of using it to explain many, many, many things in my life, just because I was so excited to have it there.

Um, but you know, the more time goes by, I start to think, well, okay, it’s probably more complex than that, you know, somewhere my sensitivity ends and my other characteristics begin. There could be overlap and it’s not always possible. I certainly don’t want to be reductive. I certainly don’t want to explain my whole personality just based on one Trait. Right?

And that’s why I’m also, you know, open to maybe maybe the trait will change maybe in 10, 15 years, we’ll call it something else. There have been some criticisms of the ability of the label that Elaine Aron has come up with to explain certain phenomenon, personally, that doesn’t worry me. I don’t care.

I feel that there is something true that it does track. There is something there that fits, and if it ends up taking on a different form, Okay, that’s fine. That happens in psychology all the time. Right? They come up with these conditions and diagnosis and things. Not that, I mean, HSP is not a diagnosis.

There’s nothing problematic about it per se. But we change the way that we name these phenomenon all the time. And I think that, that’s okay. And that’s not something to be afraid of. And that, that doesn’t mean that it can’t still serve you.

What I became really interested in is how can I (use) that label for good.

How can I use that, that label to make me in some ways, stronger, in other ways more at peace?

Thomas: Well, one of the things that, that you spoke to, and that is sort of the explanatory part of the label, it also has the power of giving permission. Because for, for many of us, we’ve been told that, you know, being sensitive is not a good thing. And now learning about the Trait and learning that it is a real thing and that many people are this way.

It’s, it’s like, oh, I have permission to be sensitive. And there’s nothing wrong with being sensitive. So that’s something that I found very positive about just knowing that it’s there and, and, and knowing that, you know, so many other people have the Trait as well.

So I think that permission piece is a, is a very important thing. And this goes for many different types of labels. And when we also talk about introversion and extroversion, and often it’s the same thing with introversion, you know, society, at least Western society, seems to prefer extroverts or extroverted tendencies.

And the work that Susan Cain did, on understanding introversion has really helped and, given permission, for that. And there is some overlap between that and the HSP Trait, at least in terms of the, you know, people’s experiences.

Robyn: Yup. something that I’m realizing there, you know, there is definitely a difference between a label that you are given and a label that you choose for yourself. Or that you, that you acknowledge for yourself and you say, yes, that fits. Yes. I think I belong there. We’ve seen, different groups throughout history, actually reclaim words that have been used against them and say, actually, we want to give it a positive meaning.

Right now I’m thinking of the queer community who have reclaimed the word queer and they use it in a way to affirm their identity and say, yeah, we’re different. Our sexual orientation is different and we need you to notice that. And it, we went from being a slur to being something affirmative. And I wonder if we can do something like that with the word sensitive, right?

Um, I think, I think it’s happening. I’m starting to see more, um, positive representations and connotations behind the word sensitive. But as you, as you noted, often when people hear it, they wonder, oh, is this being used in a negative way? Is it a criticism?

I think there is something very powerful though in, in taking back that label and saying, okay, yes, I am sensitive, but it’s not what you

think. It’s actually has all these other facets to it, and a lot of positive aspects.

Rayne: Yeah. I, I agree with that, Robyn, actually, I see the change happening. Many more sensitives willing to say. Yeah. you know, I have some sensitivities. And it’s not you know, a bad thing. It’s neither good nor bad. It just is right.

I wonder if that’s linked to awareness and as awareness is growing. So is acceptance.

How do you find, um, do you find you try to explain your trait to others or do you more, um, more try to, um, delve more into the, how your trait works for yourself? Well yourself of type of thing.

How do you guys do that? Thomas do you?

Thomas: I, I think, I mean, for me, these, these labels are definitely more of a personal matter.

Rayne: Yeah, definitely.

Thomas: Just knowing that, that I am sensitive, has led to me accepting myself more. So, uh, you know, more self-acceptance. I don’t necessarily feel the need to have to justify it to others or to explain it to others. You know, unless they’re interested, unless they want to know what’s that about. But I feel that, that it’s like, it’s enough for me to know that I’m sensitive and say, okay, that’s good. You know, I now know I have some tools around that to manage my interactions with other people.

So yeah, so no, I don’t feel that I have to go explain things. It’s really more explaining things to myself. If that makes sense.

Rayne: It does, yeah.

Robyn: Yeah, I think it has to begin privately, right. Or may, maybe it’s private and shared at the same time, but I think, probably the first function of it is to understand for yourself and to come to terms with your own self concept. So I know I I’ve definitely used it that way. And I think your, as your own self concept and your own self understanding evolve, eventually you want to be able to communicate that with other people. And this is where you, you do see that double-edged sword of the label, right? Because a word like language is not a private experience. It, it necessarily requires that more than one person engage with it. Right. And you may have one thing that you mean when you say sensitive and other people may have another thing in their mind when they hear the word sensitive.

So this is where there starts to be a potentiality for difficulties, right? Where you may have come to this really beautiful understanding of your own sensitivity, then you try to communicate it. And other people say, oh wait, isn’t that like a bad thing?

You know, or isn’t it, is that, is that a condition?

Are you, do you need to be treated for that? Right. I think the way around this is to hold kind of loosely onto those labels. So, I mean, for myself, I hold onto it very strongly for myself. I know what that means. And I try to really have a firm view of that at all times. Right? Like, I’m like this, this is not going away.

This is fine. This is always going to be a part of my life in one form or another. But then the exact wording that I use, I can adapt to other people. Or depending on the moment, depending on the context. Yes a label allows you to understand certain things.

But I think you have to remember that a label is just there to try to describe a phenomenon. And the phenomenon is primary, right?

The phenomenon is the thing that we’re really interested in. And if people don’t understand the phenomenon through that word, then you’re going to have to look for another word. Right. Or you may have to describe it with a sentence or a story or an example. Right. In many cases I can just use that word and it’s fine. And in that case, the label helps me. But other times I find I have to reformulate a little bit or illustrate it another way. But the label is still helpful because then I, I don’t lose sight of it.

If I never had that word, might lose sight of that part of myself. So to answer your question Rayne, and I think for me, it begins as a private experience, and it becomes a shared experience, but sometimes I do have to modify a little bit the word itself.

I mean, and I also don’t want to be too stuck on it. Right. Because like I said, I know this, this will be a part of me forever in one form or another, but you also don’t, you don’t want the label to limit yourself.

So I guess this is, a question that I would have for the two of you now, do you ever find that it’s limiting and if not, how do you keep the label from putting limits on yourself?

Rayne: Well, I think for me, it’s actually been more freeing than anything. I think I probably felt more limited or thinking, you know, why does it seem, why does it feel so hard to kind of live my life? Like a non non-HSP? When I didn’t know, there was such a thing. So it’s been freeing. It’s been very freeing for me to say, oh, okay.

I know why it’s difficult now. And you know, my, my nervous system is set up differently and there are things to take into account, you, know, as to what I want my quality of life to look like, you know, and then just, you know, make decisions accordingly.

How about you, Thomas?

Thomas: I think, I think my answer is, the same as Rayne’s. I can’t think of a time or even a feeling that the label has limited me in any way. It certainly has, like I mentioned before, it it’s given me more permission and more self acceptance. So I can’t see where it’s, where it’s limiting only, only in one sense. And that is, is that it’s not, it’s not everything about me. And Robyn, you mentioned before. I have been exploring many different labels. And so, you know, one of the things that I’ve come to recognize is that, of course I am many different things.

In addition to the HSP Trait and label of sensitive, I been exploring multi potentiality and I’ve been exploring even a simple label like artist. Which, gave me, real fits and, and struggles before I was able to call myself an artist.

So as I am exploring all of these different labels, it just keeps, reaffirming that, we’re always more than just what the label is. So I guess the real answer is not to be limited by just one label, I guess is what I would say. After the break, we continue the conversation on labels, and how to use the knowledge without being held back by it.

We’ll be right back, after this.

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Now let’s return to our podcast.

Robyn: I guess one thing that I’m thinking that was potentially a limitation, and not necessarily because of the label. But I know in my family there are a lot of sensitive people. And, what’s a little bit different actually about my upbringing than others is that I often receive the message don’t overload yourself.

So I think implicitly, my parents were attuned to problems of overwhelm that can plague an HSP. So that has served me in many ways, right. Because I really do have this, this good sense of, I need to keep up balance and I need to make sure that I don’t burn myself out.

However, if you take that uncritically, then it could lead. And it has sometimes led to me missing out on things or, or holding myself back when I didn’t really need to. Right. So I think, again, I don’t think that’s a reason not to use a label. I think that’s a reason to be careful in how you interact with a label. At the end of the day, the label should not be dictating what you do, right.

It’s an, it’s an imperfect tool that’s trying to capture who you are. But every once in a while, you have to challenge it and you have to base yourself really more on, on data and experience rather than on your notion of what it is, because then you fall into cliches and prejudices. Right?

So I’ll give you a perfect example. I met somebody in a HSP meetup group who told me they were going to try skydiving. And I mean, that’s certainly not what you think of when you think, oh, an HSP right. And this was someone who had a lot of social anxiety and a lot of hard time even to go out to an event.

So, you know, if you went a little bit, stereotypically, you could say, oh, this person gets overwhelmed just by going out to the cafe. You never have them go do skydiving. Right. But to the contrary, this was something that really, really appealed to him. But what was cool is I think he took his knowledge of, his sensitivity and he tried to apply that to the situation, to find a, HSP friendly way to do skydiving.

And his compromise was to kind of do it in baby steps. I think he had found a like a flight simulator. Yeah. like. Someplace where they do flight simulation, then, you know, he could kind of experience what it would feel like to fall out of a plane before he actually did it.

So I thought that was really cool because you, you know, he didn’t limit himself. He didn’t say, oh, I’m an HSP. I can’t do scary things.

But he said, okay, I’m an HSP up, you know, I, I want to do this thing, but I’ve got to find a way that I can do it without being too overwhelmed. So I think that’s a nice interaction of using the, the knowledge of the label, but then also not being held back by it. And I don’t, you know, I haven’t followed up with him. I don’t know if he actually did it, but I know he had this, this plan together, so I don’t see why not.

Thomas: You know, I can speak to that if from my experience as well. And it’s really more around the labels of introvert and extrovert. What I found is, by identifying as an introvert, that there have been some situations where I say, you know, I’m an introvert. I might not like going to this event, whatever it might be, or you know, where a lot of people.

And another friend of mine pointed out that, you know, introversion and extroversion are not necessarily opposites. People can embody both in various strengths and various ways.

And after I thought about it, I thought, you know, that’s, that’s very interesting because one of the definitions of introversion is that you’re drained when you’re around people and you gain energy when you’re doing activities by yourself.

But the truth is for me, I’ve experienced both. I’ve experienced where, working on, projects on my own and being by myself, being out in nature, being out on the water by myself is very invigorating, but I’m also invigorated when I’m around a lot of people. And yes, I have experienced that, thing called introvert hangover, where it’s like, I was around a bunch of people, now I have to sort of relax for awhile. But that’s getting less and less as I, as I go on. So I’m just being sensitive to this idea that it’s not necessarily an either or thing. You know, especially in this sort of a dichotomy of introversion and extroversion.

So there would be an example of a label where I where I might have limited myself by saying, oh, I’m an introvert. And therefore I’m not going to do this and that.

Robyn: Yup. I actually experienced the opposite during the pandemic. I always labeled myself as a pretty strong extrovert and I thought, oh goodness, like we’re going to be stuck at home. Alone all the time. There’s no way I can survive that as an extrovert. And sure enough. Yeah, I actually, there were parts of it I really, really enjoyed.

And maybe I think that was in part a lesson in not holding too tightly to the label of extrovert. And second, it was about, as you said, Thomas, looking at other facets of my personality. And I think the part of me that’s highly sensitive enjoyed the downtime, enjoyed the simplicity and enjoyed the ability to kind of recover from a very busy, hectic schedule before that.

Rayne: Hm, a well-deserved vacation.

Robyn: I would maybe just want to ask each of you, and then I can maybe weigh in after, like, what is your, what is your takeaway for this, or a piece of advice that you would share? Or just something that, that you know, was very positive or helpful for you when it came to using labels?

Thomas: For me what I’ve discovered over and over again is just the permission that the label gave me. It’s like, oh yeah, you are this, swhatever it is. And don’t feel ashamed about it.

This is who you are, and this is where your, your center’s at. Where your power’s at. And you have permission to be that thing, that whatever that is.

Rayne: Yeah, I’d have to say for me too, just using the label or the word that encompasses what it means. I think just viewing that as a guideline, just a guideline. And then, yeah, like I said, delving into it, more learning more about the D.O.E.S. Acronym and how those things work for me. I think that has been the most freeing because once I actually recognize how these things work together, that’s helping me a lot in understanding and saying, oh, okay.

Oh, geez, I’m feeling a little bit, whatever it is, right. It could be, oh, geez. You know, I’m feeling like peopled-out, you know? Then it’s like, okay, so now I know my next step is, you know, I have to go schedule some downtime, schedule some, you know, me time kind of a thing. And it’s not a selfish thing.

It’s not a, it’s not anything. It’s basically, this is what I need to do, so that I feel like I’m operating in a way that’s, you know, helpful for myself. Right? And then my quality of life increases and, you know, I feel good. And so it’s just, I found it really freeing and just using it as a, a rough guideline for what, you know, as a gateway to being more compassionate and understanding and all these things that are wonderful, you know?

So I found it really, really helpful to just kind of view it as that. And it doesn’t feel like it’s any kind of burden or anything. It’s more an invitation, basically, yeah, beautiful invitation.

Robyn: Words are very powerful. Right. Especially the labels that we give ourselves. They create an idea. They create a story. And when you change the label, you change the story. You ironically change the possibilities and the freedom that you can have. My hope in all of this is that if anyone is hesitating to use the word sensitive, I hope they will seriously consider it. You know?

I mean, if it doesn’t fit you, that’s fine. If it fits you a little bit. That’s okay. I just, I hope we’re going to have more people who do identify this way. I hope we’re going to have more people feeling comfortable, self-identifying and talking about it. Because, it would be great to have a more complete picture of what sensitivity looks like. Right.

Because that is just one facet of your personality, everything else is gonna combine to make it look different. Like when we had the HSP meetup group, everyone else was people from all walks of life, really? So there was a lot, a lot of diversity there, and I think I’m hearing from more people can challenge a little bit, some of our preconceptions and notions of what it is to be sensitive and then hopefully make it easier for other people to recognize it in themselves.

Rayne: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Thomas: Well, thank you Robyn. Thank you, Rayne. I think this was a really good conversation.

Rayne: Thank you guys. I always enjoy chatting with you about these things. I think it’s a lot of fun and it’s interesting to hear your thoughts and feelings about it. Thank you.

Robyn: So thank you and thank you to our listeners, of course.

So please join us for our next episode where we’ll be having another interesting HSP conversation. And to any Highly Sensitives out there who have a burning HSP related question, big or small, we invite you to ask it on the HSP World podcast.

Just email [email protected] And a friendly reminder to visit the HSP world website at hsp.world.

Our thanks to the HSP World Mastery Program and to all of you who support our show by subscribing and listening to our podcast, reading the blog posts on our website at hsp.world and chatting with us on our social media channels.

Your support is contributing to the upliftment of HSPs around the world. We’re very grateful.

Music credit: Intro and Outro music from the YouTube Music Library. Song is Clover 3.

Rayne is the Editor and Social Media Content Creator for HSP World. A Freelance Editor and Indie Author Rayne self-published her first book, "Unmasking" in 2017. She's currently writing a trilogy. She's a curious traveler who loves reading, crafting and freely admits she's a Wordscapes App addict.

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