I identify as a highly sensitive person (HSP). This has an impact on my mental health, my creativity and my abilities as an editor.
Dr Elaine Aron first coined the term after she began studying the trait of high sensitivity found innately in around 15% of the population. She published her findings in a book called The Highly Sensitive Person in 1996.
Some of the HSP traits that I relate to include:
- Being easily overwhelmed by things like bright lights, strong smells, coarse fabrics and sirens nearby. I can see a TV’s standby light even when my eyes are closed, I have to put my fingers in my ears when a police car goes by, and I when I was a kid I used to complain that the fabric of my clothing ‘rubbed’.
- Needing to withdraw during busy days or long social events (into bed or a darkened room or some other place where I can be in quiet solitude). I think most introverts will relate to this. If I’m in the middle of a city at rush hour, every detail bombards me.
- Having a ‘rich and complex’ inner life – sometimes I just have days where I like to spend time thinking. My dreams are always crazily vivid, sometimes to the point that I can feel pain in them, which isn’t fun when you’re prone to nightmares. I also like to stare at inked-up slithers of dead trees and hallucinate – an act otherwise known as reading.
- Being hungry is incredibly unpleasant. My friends and family joke about my ‘hanger’ (hungry-anger) and big appetite, but I actually have a mild fear of feeling hungry because it feels so extreme to me.
- Being shaken up by change. One time when I was a kid, my mum moved my bed an inch away from the window for the winter, so I cried until she moved it back. (Yes, I was a whiny child.) When I moved out of my mum’s house to live with my boyfriend, I cried uncontrollably for the first night because it was so overwhelming. (Okay, guess I’m a whiny adult, too.)
- Feeling sensitive to other people’s moods and emotions. If someone around me is in the slightest of bad moods, I pick up on it straight away and feel incredibly anxious. Part of the reason I’m such a natural people-pleaser is that it’s so unpleasant for me to feel other people’s negative feelings.
Most people have the ability to be sympathetic. They can understand someone else’s point of view. But as an HSP, other people’s moods often affect me a little more strongly. I often end up feeling what I perceive instead of just understanding it. Or in other words, what should be sympathy transforms into empathy.
How being an HSP makes me a good editor
The upside is that being highly sensitive makes me good at my job – or at least I believe it does.
I so very genuinely want to help my author clients to the best of my ability. I feel I’m able to grasp pretty well and fairly quickly what an author is trying to do with their writing. I do this in a number of ways – using questionnaires and exchanging emails, but also through a general feel of the writing itself.
Possibly this works best when I’m critiquing a manuscript.
Clients have said things to me like ‘the level of detail and empathy for the goals of the story that you have is remarkable’ and ‘you “got” what I was trying to do; you didn’t just edit the words; you understood the concepts’.
Feedback like that gives me a serious case of the warm fuzzies.
How being an HSP affects my creativity
In terms of my creativity and writing, being an HSP can help me tap into different points of view and channel different emotions pretty well. The downside, I find, is feeling overwhelmed with possibilities and ideas, which can make my work spiral into something too big.
Alternatively, I’ll freeze, not knowing which option to choose, leading to a bad case of creative block. If this happens, it helps to set some firm boundaries in place to help me contain my thoughts and ideas. For example, instead of trying to write a novel with four POV characters, I’ll restrict myself to one.
Understanding ourselves is important
Over the past few years, I’ve done a lot of self-analysis. A groovy old Greek dude called Socrates once said, ‘The unexamined life is not worth living.’ Pretty strong words, but I do think knowledge is power. Wait, am I starting a quote-spiral here?
The more we know about how our own minds work, the better we’ll be at making decisions that work for us.
And that includes decisions about how we create art and how we lead creative lives. Knowing what kind of person I am allows me to play to my strengths and combat my weaknesses, without comparing myself to others.