What is hypersensitivity?
In psychology, hypersensitivity describes an increased sensitivity, in comparison to the average one, which develops either temporarily or permanently, and can be accepted with difficulty by the person concerned and by those around him or her, who may describe their emotions as “exaggerated” or “extreme”.
This notion refers to a temperament, an individual characteristic, described by the American psychologist Elaine Aaron in 1996.
“Hypersensitive” individuals represent between 10 and 35% of the population.
Hypersensitivity is not a disease but a trait of character, manifested by extreme sensitivity to the world around us. The word “hypersensitivity” consists of “sensitivity” and “hyper”, which means that those concerned experience emotions in a much more intense way than most other people.
Emotional hypersensitivity, also known as High Emotional Intelligence (HEI), refers to the fact that people react more strongly to various emotional stimuli: their feelings and perceptions are increased tenfold. People with hypersensitivity are characterized by a high level of sensitivity to external stimuli, a deeper than average cognitive processing of sensory data and a high emotional reactivity.
People with hypersensitivity may, for example, ask themselves many more questions than others in a particular situation. They find it difficult to make decisions, feel quickly overwhelmed by a situation if the environment in which they find themselves does not suit them (because of light, noise or smells, etc.) and feel their own emotions and those of their entourage more intensely.
One can be born with this character trait or acquire it as a result of a traumatic shock or because of one’s upbringing. It is also possible to stop being hypersensitive.
What is hyperemotionality?
Hyperemotionality, or emotional dysregulation, is a disorder in the perception of emotions, leading to an inappropriate and often excessive reaction. This condition usually manifests itself through our relationships with others.
A hyperemotional person feels regularly overwhelmed by his or her emotions and this can sometimes happen without any apparent cause. Thus, being confronted with a rejection may, depending on the individual’s personal history, cause a collapse. Although this may seem like a “normal” emotion, the person in front of the person affected by the disorder may not always understand such a reaction.
Indeed, those around a hyperemotional person will have a hard time understanding the intensity of this person’s emotions, whether they are negative (anger, sadness, worry, fear, etc.) or positive (joy, happiness, enthusiasm, etc.). The latter can then prove to be overwhelming for those around the person as well. A hyperemotional person suffers from this and makes those around him/her suffer through their destructive behavior.
Hyperemotionality is rather common, affecting 20% of the population to varying degrees.
It appears progressively throughout the person’s life and can be triggered by an emotional shock. Anyone can be affected by hyperemotionality.
The main characteristics of hyperemotionality are:
- Reacting to emotions that do not normally provoke reaction in other people,
- An emotional outburst that overrides all logic,
- An abnormally high duration and/or frequency of emotions,
- A very impulsive behavior,
- Withdrawal into oneself,
- Anxiety disorders such as panic attacks,
- Fear of change and the unknown,
- The feeling of always being on guard,
- Relationship difficulties, etc.
A hyperemotional person reacts in an inappropriate way on a psychological level but also on a physiological level. Thus, physical manifestations may also appear:
- Facial redness,
- Heart palpitations,
- Tremors in the hands and body,
- Inability to speak or stuttering.
What is the difference between hypersensitivity and hyperemotionality?
Hyperemotionality is a sub-family of hypersensitivity. Sensitivity manifests itself through emotions, sensations, feelings, imagination and intuitions. Emotionality is therefore one of the five pillars of sensitivity.
Therefore, hyperemotionality is one of the possible manifestations of hypersensitivity but is not always part of it.
People with hypersensitivity often have an increased reactivity to noise, light, smells or even certain flavors or textures. This is called hyperesthesia (sensory reactivity to certain stimuli). But this is not the same as emotions.
Hyperemotional people have stronger and more varied emotions that last over time. They are also more sensitive to the emotions of others. Hyperemotional people quickly feel overwhelmed, invaded and overtaken by their emotions. They find it difficult to contain and tame their emotions, whereas hypersensitive people know how to contain them and do not let their emotions overwhelm them.
In general, a hyperemotional person is also a hypersensitive person but not all hypersensitive people are hyperemotional.
What can be done about hypersensitivity and hyperemotionality?
Hyperemotionality is part of psychological functioning of a person and cannot be treated without having to do the in-depth analysis of the causes of this behavior, alone or with the help of a therapist. Getting to know oneself is the first step in the process of acceptance and change.
Thus, several approaches are possible:
- Learning how to relax through breathing techniques, sophrology, meditation or hypnosis,
- Engaging in a physical activity such as yoga,
- Getting professional help through interpersonal therapy (IPT) or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
Hypersensitivity, on the other hand, is a state of mind that one must learn to tame. Indeed, repressing one’s sensitivity is harmful and hypersensitive people will not feel better because of it, quite on the contrary.
Nevertheless, learning to tame one’s hypersensitivity involves:
- Accepting it without feeling guilty: this would allow you to create solid relationships with others, to be intuitive and creative.
- Knowing how to turn it into a strength: empathy that emerges from it can be a real asset both in professional and personal environments.
- Knowing how to relax: hypersensitive people are often anxious, nervous and stressed. It is therefore important to know how to calm down in order to cultivate peace of mind. This can be done through meditation, sophrology, breathing techniques, etc.
- Finding the right balance: empathy is an asset but it can quickly become a burden. You have to learn not to be overwhelmed by the emotions and problems of others. You can keep a diary that will allow you to evacuate the emotional overflow and thus avoid being overwhelmed by all these emotions that can become paralyzing in everyday life.