“Do you have any plans for the summer?” My hairdresser asks me as she’s placing foil after foil in my already blonde highlighted hair. I cringe at the question and struggle to think of something I have planned this summer that we can chat about.
It takes 3 and a half hours to make my hair blonde every 6 weeks. Thankfully Danielle, my hairdresser, is super chatty, so I don’t have to contribute too much to the conversation. She tells me about the Starbucks that’s being built down the street from my apartment and the stoplight that’s going up in the oldest square in town. We cover the flat tire I had a couple of weeks ago, the best restaurants in town, the farmers market that recently opened up again for the summer, what beach is least likely to be crowded and where to park to watch fireworks on Independence Day.
I try to keep my face from contorting when she accidentally catches my ear with her comb and pulls the foil a little bit too tight. I don’t want her to feel bad that I’m so terribly uncomfortable.
And to be fair it’s not her. It’s me. I hate people touching me. I hate being too close to anyone. I hate the people sitting next to me talking loudly and the hair dryer going at the station behind me. The touch, the smell, the noise… It’s all too much. The technical term for this is sensory overload. The American Psychological Association defines it like this: “a state in which one’s senses are overwhelmed with stimuli, to the point that one is unable to process or respond to all of them.” To me, it’s a massive feeling of being overwhelmed. I’m just trying to keep up with social cues until I can go to a place that’s quiet and try to decompress.
Quiet and fragile
INFJs are often described as highly sensitive types who are easily upset and seem to take everything personally. On the surface, I’m offended by that description. I’ve never seen myself as sensitive and easily upset. But when I put my feelings aside I can see how that description could be true. Sure, I’m easily upset by the salon experience. It’s a lot for me to process. I don’t voice being upset. In fact, I actively hide it because I don’t want others to be upset that I’m upset. From this perspective, highly sensitive certainly fits.
Elaine Aron, a psychologist, introduced the concept of being a "highly sensitive person" (HSP). She uses the acronym DOES to summarize the characteristics of high sensitivity: Depth of Processing, Overstimulation, Emotional Responsivity/Empathy, and Sensitivity to Subtleties. Understanding these traits sheds light on why INFJs are known for their sensitivity.
Depth of Processing
Sensitive individuals tend to process information on a deeper level. While everyone absorbs information from their surroundings, sensitive people's minds analyze and organize this information by comparing it to their existing knowledge, uncovering deeper meanings. This process requires ample quiet and reflective time.
INFJs, as sensitive individuals, absorb more information and are highly attuned to emotions. As a result, they can easily become overwhelmed by excessive input, such as noise, crowds, bright lights, and the emotions and moods of others.
Sensitive INFJs react intensely to both positive and negative experiences. Studies have revealed that their brains exhibit heightened activity in regions associated with strong emotions, as well as those involved in thinking and perceiving. Furthermore, research indicates that highly sensitive people demonstrate a greater capacity for empathizing with others, essentially feeling and understanding other people's emotions as if they were their own, making them highly empathetic individuals.
Sensitivity to Subtleties
Highly sensitive individuals possess a heightened awareness of subtle details and minor changes in their environment. These may include variations in temperature, mood, or even someone's body language, which they might not even consciously realize they're perceiving.
Overall, Elaine Aron's framework provides valuable insights into the sensitive nature of INFJs and helps us understand why we experience the world in a unique and deeply perceptive way.
It’s OK to be sensitive
Embracing sensitivity is a beautiful and natural part of who we are as individuals. Elaine Aron's work on highly sensitive people sheds light on the unique qualities and strengths that come with sensitivity. It's okay to be sensitive, as it allows us to delve deeply into the world around us, connecting with others on a profound level and understanding subtleties that others may miss. Sensitivity grants us the gift of empathy, enabling us to be compassionate and supportive in ways that make a positive difference in people's lives. So, let’s celebrate our sensitivity, appreciating the richness it brings to our experiences and the profound impact we can have on the world through our deep understanding and heartfelt connections.