People with ADHD are known for being hyperactive, but activity isn’t the only way that they are hyper. They can be hypersensitive to all manner of sensations, like sound, touch, and taste, but they are not alone. In recent years hypersensitivity has been recognized as a positive personality trait. I read about this recently over at Lifehacker and was surprised how upbeat the coverage of the trait was. There was even a handy quiz to aid self-diagnosis.
How Being Highly Sensitive Affects ADHD
Are you usually accused of being too sensitive? I am constantly told I am too sensitive. I’m told I’m too picky, too thin skinned, too negative…yet over time I have found this hypersensitivity to be one of my greatest attributes. Certainly there is a detriment to being highly sensitive, especially when we allow them to control us instead of use the trait as a tool. This seems to be the problem for highly sensitive adults with ADHD. The enhanced perceptions serve as irritants or distractions and affect how others see us. A family member told me over Christmas that he wasn’t surprised I didn’t like a certain movie because “you don’t like anything”. I was flabbergasted because it simply wasn’t true, yet that was the perception many family members’ had of me. Why was this?
Years ago I described the hypersensitivity this way:
It’s like trying to listen to your favorite radio station on the beach when the guy next to you is listening to another station at full volume. There is cacophony. Frustration. Noise. Likewise, odor becomes noise. Touch becomes noise. Taste becomes noise. They crowd out the other thoughts…
Is There an Upside to the Downsides of Hypersensitivity?
Flaws stand out to me loudly as if broadcast with a megaphone while wearing a fluorescent yellow banana suit with blinking lights. A plot hole in a movie or a bad ending can ruin the entire experience for me. Scorched food tastes repulsive. Twisted clothes annoy me. Subwoofers feel designed to torment me on the sub molecular level. Family gatherings overwhelm me because of the noise & commotion. Tragedy derails me for weeks, if not months, because the pain feels like a hole as deep as an ocean in my heart. Yet, this high sensitivity can be a blessing. I enjoy nuances that others miss. I notice micro expressions on faces that betray their thoughts and give me advance warning. The social cues that ADHD adults often miss can be compensated for with that one aspect of the trait alone! I gravitate towards exotic flavors introducing me constantly to new food experiences, subtle scents in the wind awaken my mind, music is emotionally transcendental, and art floods me with feelings of light and joy. Some may argue that everybody is like that, but it is my experience that what sets me and other Highly Sensitive People apart is the intensity in which we experience life, both the highs and the lows.
If you have ever watched in puzzlement when a family member or friend is overwhelmed by simple noises or commotion that doesn’t disturb you at all, or irritated by seemingly insignificant flaws that you didn’t even notice, try to imagine how much more they enjoy the small nuances of life than you do. They are hyper sensitive, or in other words, hyper aware. It’s OK. Don’t resent it. You aren’t shaken up like they are by random events. Unlike Highly Sensitive People, things tend to roll off your back. Don’t deny them the flip side to the coin of all their persnickety finickiness.
Turn the Flaw into a Talent
My only regret is that it has taken me so many years to learn to control these perceptions. Too often they have been giant boulders in my path, too tall & wide to circumvent. Progress has been halted time and again by seemingly insignificant details that for me are yellow & black striped mountains of caution. They aren’t imaginary problems, but assuming I can calm myself from being irritated or overwhelmed, the plus sides define me and set me apart as a person. In fact, I’ve come to see my high sensitivity as one of my greatest attributes. I think too deeply? OK, fine. Maybe the people complaining are too superficial. I’m hard to please? Perhaps, but it can also be true that those who criticize me are too easily pleased. Somewhere there is a happy medium, but it doesn’t have to involve accepting the ridicule and disapproval of others, nor does your high sensitivity have to rule you like a picky overlord. Common anxiety management techniques can help keep the negatives in check, freeing you to enjoy the nuances of life that this trait has made aware to you.
Edited to remove some notes I left for myself at the end that were for another blog. Whoops…