Are You a "Highly Sensitive Person"? The Facts About Hypersensitivity and ADHD

"Toughen up!" "Don't be so sensitive." "I can't believe that bothers you!" If you've heard these things all your life, you may have hypersensitivity — a real condition with real coping strategies.

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More Signs of Hypersensitivity

Prior to discovering my hypersensitivity, I perceived my over-the-top emotions as a character flaw. My mom would say, “Why can’t you get on an even keel?” As a child, I didn’t have an answer. This added to my already-low self-esteem.

“Recognizing their high sensitivity can help people stop feeling bad about themselves,” says Aron.

A friend, Denise, diagnosed with ADHD at age eight, had a similar childhood to mine. “My parents would say, ‘You need to toughen up. Don’t be so sensitive. Don’t be so influenced by what others think about you,’” says Denise. “I still find, as an adult, that if I’m fighting with peers, I immediately take their words and gestures to heart. I’m too quick to accept the nasty things they may be saying about me.”

Like me, Denise is sensitive to environmental noise. “I need to get into a forest or a quiet place every once in awhile to calm myself down. I am also overwhelmed by the constant flow of information we are bombarded with these days.”

Psychologist and ADHD coach Michele Novotni, Ph.D., says she sees higher levels of physical sensitivities and emotional reactivity in her ADHD clients than in the general population. She told me about a client whose manager made an unkind, unfair remark at work. A person without ADHD may have let the words bounce off of him, but her client, who has a high level of sensitivity, ended up in tears.

Novotni suggests that it is her ADHD clients’ feeling overwhelmed that leads to their hypersensitive reactions. This, in turn, contributes to their difficulty in coping emotionally. Take the routine of going to work in the morning. Most people get out the door without forgetting anything, ready with a game plan for the day. Someone with ADHD, who can’t sort tasks and prioritize, feels tired and overwhelmed by the time he gets to work.

“Some of my clients tell me that socializing is work,” says Novotni. “So if you think about the things that most people do for recreation as being work, you probably won’t have the resiliency to cope with other things that come down the pike.”

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TAGS: ADHD Symptoms, Comorbid Conditions with ADD, Hypersensitivity

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