What It’s Like to Parent as a Highly Sensitive Person
Signs of a Highly Sensitive Parent.
Posted Feb 09, 2021
Sarah, much like other new mums, didn’t expect a whole bunch of things when she became a parent.
She expected to have a lot of support. What she didn’t expect was to feel isolated.
She expected to experience joy and gratitude all the time. What she didn’t expect was to feel insecure about her abilities as a parent.
But what topped Sarah’s list of things she didn’t expect was the overstimulation.
She expected, much like other mums, that her baby would cry. What she didn’t expect was how triggering the loud noises would be. She felt a crescendo of tension, unease, and edginess that would become extremely uncomfortable on most days, unbearable on some others.
While parenting is never easy, it is even more challenging if you’re a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP).
According to psychotherapist and researcher Dr. Elaine Aron, author of The Highly Sensitive Person, HSPs have what is called Sensory Processing Sensitivity, or SPS. (SPS is a personality trait, and not a diagnosable condition, unlike sensory processing disorder.)
HSPs constitute about 15-20% or a fifth of the population. They are not only highly attuned to themselves but also their environments. They process stimulation and emotion more intensely than others and have a rich and complex inner life.
7 Signs of a Highly Sensitive Parent
There are several traits or characteristics common to Highly Sensitive Parents:
1. They can get easily triggered by loud noises.
Sudden noises or events can startle them to the point of feeling pain in their extremities, even if it's just their child playfully jumping around.
2. They can get easily bothered by big feelings, meltdowns, or tantrums.
While every parent finds it difficult to deal with their child’s big feelings, HSPs can get intensely rattled as they tend to absorb the anger and tension; they’re also bothered by on-screen violence.
3. They are very aware of their child’s emotional subtleties.
HSPs are highly touched by emotionality and can deeply empathize with the feelings of others.
4. They can get overwhelmed easily.
Hectic schedules (whether their own or of their kids) can leave HSPs feeling drained; they struggle to manage the pressure and uncertainty of getting everything done. A busy day with nonstop interaction can leave them fried.
5. They can be prone to negative thinking.
HSPs may be significantly impacted by how others perceive them, including their own kids. This thinking can obsessively play out in their mind or spiral into anxious thoughts.
6. They’re highly misunderstood.
HSPs are often called "shy" or "anxious." When they’re growing up, they are often told that something is wrong with them. Worse, they’re labeled as a "bad parent" when they’re unable to tolerate overstimulation and have to hide from their kids to reset themselves.
7. They feel criticism like a dagger.
Any kind of negativity, but particularly criticism, is toxic to the HSP's finely tuned system. However, they’re prone to excessive self-criticism which can also lead to parental guilt.
Due to their struggles owing to the above-mentioned characteristics, a Highly Sensitive Parent, not knowing that they’re highly sensitive, may wonder how other parents "do it." They may not enjoy parenting most of the time or even dread getting up and facing another day with their child.
This may lead them to desist the chores that other parents may take in their stride, such as taking their baby out for grocery shopping because they can’t handle the overwhelm of noise and busyness, or opting out of mommy groups because they’re unable to sustain rational conversation and paying attention to their baby.
Sarah discovered that she is an HSP only when she sought therapy. She mentioned that had she known that she’s an HSP earlier, it would have saved her years of self-doubt and the feeling of being "weird."