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  • Darlene Rose DeMaria

Deep Listening and the Highly Sensitive Person

My word for this year is LISTEN . . . for it is in DEEP LISTENING and ACTIVE LISTENING I am able to be more PRESENT, this is the real present for myself and those I serve. I’ve been thinking a lot about deep listening and the ‘Highly Sensitive Person’. The sensitive person faces great challenges in a time of ‘calculated risk taking’ and negotiating all the subtle and gross nuances of staying safe in these Covid times.

Staying safe in this time requires a sense of ‘emotional regulation’ amidst healthy choices to mask, be aware of social distancing, wash hands, sensible eating and hydration and all those necessary particulars of maintaining homeostasis in this physical body. For the ‘Highly Sensitive Person’ this emotional regulation is not as simple as it may sound. There are a number of considerations in balancing the demands of negotiating this fast paced, tech driven world.

As an Educational Therapist, I focus on all the many gifts my students possess. I have viewed their differences as enhancing not disabling. I focus on all their possibilities and the immense constellation of gifts and talents each one possesses. I assist them in acknowledging, enlivening and expressing their strengths. I never consider their ‘differences’ as disabling. I haven’t paid much heed to the fact that in their own worlds, they might experience being looked on as ‘other’ or ‘different’. I don’t have my head in the sand or ride the denial train but rather it is my job to accentuate their strong qualities to help uncover and promote growth while transforming weaknesses. There are of course so many levels of peeling away layers to uncover their individual strengths. Like a conductor, I strive to bring forth the hum, the glow, the transformation that builds and strengthens personal esteem and self-awareness. This process dances with each sensitive, artistic, funny, creative, shy, yet conceptually empowered, individualized wonder ~ I call my students.

I have worked with many a unique learning style. I might add, I have recognized within most of my students, varying degrees of the qualities that make up the ‘Highly Sensitive Person’. Maybe it’s the awareness of my own pacing of speech, modulation of sound, clarity of mind and deep listening, which I require to be an effective Educational Therapist. I can honestly say, that most of the students I have served and continue to serve in my career possess varying degrees of the soft, sensitive, intuitive attributes of the ‘Highly Sensitive Person’.

In researching the ‘Highly Sensitive Person’, I ran across this interesting book: How To Thrive When The World Overwhelms You The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D. In this book Dr. Aron also identifies as a ‘Highly Sensitive Person’ and provides an acronym DOES to help therapists assess for whether or not a person is a ‘Highly Sensitive Person’. Here is a brief description of her acronym.

D is for Depth of Processing ~

· HSP’s have the tendency to process information more deeply. Each encounter is related and compared to something from a past experience and associated with something familiar.

· When a decision is made without knowing how it ‘came to be’ this is referred to as intuition. HSP’s usually have a ‘keenly developed’ intuition.

· HSP’s may notice they are slower with conscious decision-making.

· They tend to elaborate sensory input more thoroughly. They are keenly aware of inner states, emotions, bodily position and outer events. They possess greater awareness of what is going on inside and outside their physical bodies. These are examples of their depth processing.

O is for Overstimulation ~

· If a situation is complicated (lots to remember), intense (noisy, cluttered, etc.) or extends for too long, the thorough processing of all this can be draining.

· Others who may superficially process will not notice this fatigue. They may not understand the need to be quiet, or to avoid a ‘too loud’ or ‘too bright’ space.

· HSP’s are easily stressed by over stimulation (including social stimulation).

· HSP’s tend to pay more attention to subtle cues: facial expressions, nuances of conversation and social interactions. They tend to find much pleasure in this deeper processing as they link the familiar and feel safe.

· At the same time they are easily over stimulated, the only negative part of DOES. This can be remedied by getting more downtime to process all that has been taken in and to be selective of situations involving high levels of stimulation.

E is for Emotional Reactivity ~

· HSP’s tend to respond more to positive than negative experiences.

· They seem to glean more from positive environments and experiences than others. They notice and interact to a smile, a nod, the tone of conversation, and the general congeniality of a harmonious environment.

· E is also for empathy. HSP’s tend to have a highly developed sense of ‘feeling for others’. This also stimulates the blending with others’ intentions and caring about how they feel.

· This enlivened empathy can make a HSP want to do something to help. They especially appreciate a good outcome and are motivated to figure out how to make it happen.

· HSP’s relish positive emotions, curiosity, anticipation of success, and uncovering that particular shortcut others don’t know about to achieve satisfaction, joy, and contentment.

S is for Sensing the Subtle ~

· There are many little things that HSP’s notice and others miss. In their sensorial processing and awareness of subtleties they can catch the unspoken meanings of words and non-verbal cues that go unnoticed.

· This awareness of under-current subtleties is useful in many ways. It can be helpful in formulating a timely response based on noticing a nonverbal cue regarding mood or trustworthiness.

· There is also the need for tuning in and knowing when it is time to take a break.

Deep listening can bring one in tune with finer abilities of processing. The highly sensitive person is one who deeply listens and is aware of the subtleties of social interactions. These sensitive sensorial processors require time and space to recharge. Very much like a curiously fine tuned vehicle, the HSP must listen and consider the sensible choice of a pit stop before the engine overheats. May we all consider the gifts that deeper listening may provide in our social and self-aware interactions.

© Darlene Rose DeMaria, MA, BCET 2022

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