Originally published in Comfort Zone Newsletter: May 2010
As most of you know, highly sensitive people can also be high sensation seekers (See Comfort Zone, May 2006). Sensation seeking, also termed novelty seeking, is just what it sounds like – curiosity, being easily bored, willing to make an effort to do something new rather than “same old same old.” It appears to be an innate trait related to the neurotransmitter dopamine and to pleasure centers in the brain, with some of us having the trait more than others. Sensitivity is probably more related to serotonin and to attention and perceptual processing parts of the brain, but that is way, way oversimplifying things. We will know more about the genetics very soon.
As you know, innate sensitivity involves a strong desire to check things out before acting and an ability to sense subtleties as well as being easily overwhelmed by too much stimuli. Since sensation seekers want more stimuli, it would seem that the two traits are opposites and you could not have both. However, the true opposite of sensitivity is high impulsivity or risk taking, not high sensation seeking. We think of high sensation seekers as being impulsive, but the sensitive ones do not take many risks. They just want variety. They do struggle with inner conflict however, as each trait demands to be represented at the decision-making table in the “executive function” in the brain. HSS/HSPs have to learn to be good mediators.
Easily Bored by What?
Recently my husband and I were looking at some data suggesting that most HSPs (not just HSSs) are more easily bored in conversations. That seemed interesting, given that conversations that are not boring could be highly stimulating. Hmm. Maybe we don’t feel overwhelmed at all by some forms of stimulation. Perhaps we love to hear someone talking about their deepest thoughts and feelings because it feeds our desire for inner sensations. Perhaps all HSPs are high sensation seekers if you include this type of sensation seeking. What a thought.
It makes sense. If we HSPs desire to know all about something before we act, we should be seeking as many inner thoughts and experiences about it, and anything like it, as much as possible. We should be swarming through our minds, looking for all reactions to the smallest input from outside, and if nothing is inputting right now, we should be contemplating past and future input. A conversation at that level is simply an extension of our inner proclivity.
It does seem that we seek a certain kind of rather complicated, therefore highly stimulating, inner experience. Most of us want to do at least some of the following: Think more about the meaning of things, to pray or meditate for the sake of deep inner experiences, to understand our psychological selves, ponder our dreams, express what’s inside through art or writing, think philosophically, make use of our intuition, and generally to contemplate everything that might come up from our unconscious or down from our higher states of consciousness.
I do not know where I will go with this thought, beyond taking it to you. It may help us to think of ourselves as quite tough in the face of inner stimulation, seeking it out without becoming overwhelmed by it. Maybe the subtitle of my first book should have been, “How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You with Stupid, Boring Stuff While You Would Rather Think and Feel More.”