Is experiencing ASMR related to being a Highly Sensitive Person?

ASMR Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response UniversityMichelle Woodall is a Counselor and Psychotherapist in Edinburgh, United Kingdom.

She has her B.Sc. in Mathematics and Economics with a Certificate of Counseling from the University of Birmingham, along with a Diploma in Person Centred Counseling from the University of Warwick.

Michelle’s areas of focus include depression and/or anxiety in the Highly Sensitive Person.

She recently wrote a series of articles about the Highly Sensitive Person which included ASMR.  I reached out to Michelle to learn more about the term Highly Sensitive Person and how it may relate to ASMR.

In my interview with Michelle she explained what the term Highly Sensitive Person means, typical traits of Highly Sensitive Persons, how being a Highly Sensitive Person may affect the ability to experience ASMR, and potential applications for ASMR in her practice.

Below are my questions in bold, her replies in italics, and links to her website.

What is a ‘Highly Sensitive Person’?

Michelle, “A ‘highly sensitive person’ is a term used to refer to a person who has the innate trait of Sensory-Processing Sensitivity. This means that those who are highly sensitive take in more information than most in ‘ordinary’ situations and reflect on this information at a deep level, are emotionally deep, aware of subtleties (such as lighting, changes, colour, tastes, smells, others’ emotions).

Highly Sensitive people are estimated to be 15-20% people of the population, and may experience difficulties because they may respond differently to situations to most others. Often we will have been told that we ‘think too much’ or ‘shouldn’t be so sensitive’; however this trait is innate and whilst it has its challenges also brings with it enormous strength and wisdom.

The highly sensitive will often notice things which others have failed to, be aware of things and be able to reflect deeply. It’s this very skill, to reflect deeply which can cause the world to be overwhelming at times.”

What is the origin of the term ‘Highly Sensitive Person’?

Michelle, “Coined by a fabulous researcher by the name of Elaine N Aron, who researched the trait of Sensory-Processing Sensitivity and wrote the book ‘The Highly Sensitive Person.'”

How did you become interested in the concept of the Highly Sensitive Person?

Michelle, “Very simply I read about it through various serendipitous clicks of my mouse, thought ‘hmm, that sounds all rather familiar” read more and had an emotional reaction (of course I did, I’m a HSP) which was about realizing the way I am is really OK, everything fell into place and it helped be to expand my acceptance of myself.

It was sometime afterwards I focused my counseling practice to working with highly sensitive men and women. I did this as I had been aware that there were a number of clients who seemed very aware of subtle signals and would be able to read me very well, which meant I needed to be very, very tuned in and be very genuine.

I enjoyed working this way, I enjoy working to my capabilities – there are definite advantages of being highly sensitive when working with others who are too. Aron recommends trying to find a HSP therapist, or at least one who is familiar with the concept.”

What are the most typical traits you see in your patients whom are Highly Sensitive Persons?

Michelle, “Themes, more than traits emerge, which is the effects of being told the way you are is somehow wrong, by society, by family. Often clients have experienced depression or anxiety for a long time.

There are differing trends between men and women, and whilst this is a broad brush in general due to the societal idea that men shouldn’t be emotional – in order to survive male clients have often needed to hide their intense feelings, and can feel a lot of shame around this, or have needed to ‘switch off’ their feelings in some way.

Female clients may have often been valued for their ability to empathise, but then because other’s may perceive the HSPs emotions as ‘complicated’ they have rarely found someone who is willing to listen as closely to them, leading to anger and perhaps a sense of worthlessness, as everyone seems to be communicating others are worth empathizing with, but the HSP is not because of their ‘sensitivity’ i.e. “you’re just being sensitive”.”

Do you think Highly Sensitive Persons may be more likely or less likely to experience ASMR?

Michelle, “I think probably more likely to experience ASMR, because of their finely tuned sensitive system subtle arousal has a more powerful affect. HSPs are often moved by art and the more subtle, creative experiences of living.

I see ASMR as an intense response to a subtle and gentle experience and this seems to align with the very nature of a HSP.”

Do you think experiencing ASMR could be helpful to individuals whom are Highly Sensitive Persons?

Michelle, “I think yes, absolutely, in terms of relaxation and specifically to support a HSP enjoying their sensitivity.”

Do you see any other potential applications for ASMR in your practice?

Michelle, “Interesting question, a possible idea to explore might be the use of ASMR for people who have experience of trauma. If the ASMR did not contain any triggering content for the client it could help clients to ‘ground’ themselves into the here and now and experience safety.

For clients who have experienced trauma the experience of safety is a key to healing – it helps the parasympathetic system to kick in – allowing trauma to be processed, rather than constantly relived.”

Click HERE to read Michelle’s articles on the Highly Sensitive Person.

Click HERE to learn more about Michelle at her website

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