Therapy can be expensive and NHS waiting times can be very long.

Whilst you wait. Do please consider becoming a patron at and for £6 per month you will get access to over 20 sessions worth of psychotherapy related audio with updates every Monday morning.

As well as hours and hours of varying hypnotherapy tracks to listen to, again updating each Monday.

It doesn’t replace one to one therapy but I hope my content would be a great help to you on your journey to overcoming your difficulties.
The Richard Nicholls Podcast

Free bonus episodes and hypnosis audio when you subscribe to Richard's newsletter!


Episode 215: Sensitivity


[00:00:00] And hello to you and welcome to the Richard Nicholls podcast. The personal development podcast series. That's here to help inspire, educate, and motivate you to be the best you can be. I'm psychotherapist Richard Nicholls. And this is episode 215 it's titled Sensitivity. And if you are ready, we'll start the show.[00:00:30]

Hello people it's July. Not that you'd know it. Flipping English Summer. It's annoying sometimes when things don't meet our expectations, isn't it. Like things aren't difficult enough for people right now. Now we've gotta throw in the uncertainty of whether we need a coat or not just to go to the shops. Small issue

I know in the big scheme of things, but life does pile things up on top of us. Doesn't it? Something struck a [00:01:00] cord with a few people the other week. I was talking about being sensitive and getting easily frustrated in the impatience episode. This was on Patreon. Did I mention I used Patreon as a, as a way of allowing listeners to support my podcasts?

I'm sure I must have mentioned it once or twice before. Well, if you like what I do and you'd like to support me, you can, and you get a lot of extra mental health stuff alongside it as well. So look me up. [00:01:30] Link is in the show notes. Anyway, I made an episode about impatience and talked about how, when life can be a bit rubbish, it makes us extra sensitive.

And because everything feels upside down at the minute, we're, we're a bit raw and on edge, and it means that things can get easily aggravated. Like I was working in the garden last weekend when we suddenly had that brief burst of good weather, didn't we? And I'm like, I'm going weeding. And I spent a [00:02:00] couple of hours pulling up little weeds outta the gravel garden that I've got.

Because I don't have a lawn. It's just gravel and it's got weeds in it and it ended up being the nicest day of the week. And my, my Baldy head got a bit sunburnt. So being directly in the sun was a little bit painful for just a few days when I was out and about soon after. My skin was sensitive. So it was easily aggravated and our emotions are the same, like I said, the other week.

[00:02:30] Um, Now, when I talked about this on my Patreon podcast series, a few listeners messaged me to say. You know, I feel like that all the time, they said they'd always felt that way. And that happens anytime I talk about sensitivity. Even before the Ukraine invasion and the cost of living problems. And sometimes people wonder if there's something wrong with them because they're so sensitive.

These people might think of themselves as introverts, you see. And just assume that feeling overwhelmed [00:03:00] by stimuli. Is just a part of that, but it's possible that there's a little more going on here because of what is often called Neurodiversity. The idea that everyone's brain works in a slightly different way, and that doesn't mean that there's something pathological about it.

It doesn't need treatment just because it functions differently to what is common. It just needs taking into account in the same way that people [00:03:30] have more reactions to medication than other people do, whether that's anaesthetic, penicillin, antidepressants some brains and bodies react differently and it's just accepted.

Just like some people are taller than average. Some people are shorter. Some people have darker hair, paler skin, bigger noses than what is considered the norm. And it's just accepted without judgment, mostly. Or at least it certainly [00:04:00] isn't pathologised as something that needs to be treating. But when it's invisible, when it's in our brains and the way the world makes us feel,

then it can be easy to think that there's something wrong with us, if we cry at a film or a piece of music or artwork. Someone once said to me that they, they thought there was something wrong with them because they'd cried at a Guns And Roses song because it meant something to them. It was more than just a bassline,

[00:04:30] some guitar chords and a guy squawking in the background pretending to be Robert Plant from Led Zeppelin. And the meaning behind an experience is gonna be different for everyone. I remember when I first started working as a therapist, it was before I was married. So it was before my son was born and I was a very different person.

I was only a part-time therapist at the time as well, one day a week. So I had a, a job in stock control for some industrial lubricant distributor. And [00:05:00] as, as a therapist, I could work with anything that I was qualified to do. So, your mum has died. Come on in, let's talk about it. Neglectful childhood, sit down mate.

Let's have some corrective experiences. You had a miscarriage, I'm here to listen. And I could deal with it. It wasn't easy to listen to someone's pain at losing a baby. It's not supposed to be easy. I'd be a bit of a rubbish therapist if it was so easy, that sort of stuff was water [00:05:30] off a duck's back, but I could handle it.

Then my son was born and that pain, that loss, that meant all the more to me and I couldn't handle it. And I'm really lucky that I found out before a client came to me talking about it. When I was sitting in the office in the stock control job on my own, cuz I'm in early, cuz I always went in an hour or so early just to make up time for doing my therapy stuff.

On a Thursday, I think it [00:06:00] was. Someone else came in early and they needed to talk because the night before, uh, content warning folks for miscarriage, if you need to skip 60 seconds, skip it. Their best friend had had a baby born with umbilical cord around their neck, and it had stopped the blood flow to the brain.

The baby died. And my workmate she's sitting at a desk telling me all about this. I'm a therapist. And I'm in tears. [00:06:30] It just came outta nowhere and I cannot prevent water leaking outta my face. And it surprised me and I, I had to apologise or I felt like I had to apologise. I mean, I didn't have to, I had nothing to apologise for.

And when I said, Mandi, I'm really struggling with this. It was her. That apologised and we just sat and cried together and that was what she needed. But I knew that for a short while, I wasn't gonna be able to [00:07:00] deal with that in the therapy room. And I had to regularly check in with my emotions about it, to see how I felt, because for a while, the memory of that conversation

was he enough to set me off a little bit. And I knew I still wasn't ready. I dunno how long it took, but it got easier as time went on and eventually I could handle it again, but I didn't for a moment think that there was something wrong with me. Any more than being moved by music or art should make someone [00:07:30] feel ashamed.

it is definitely true to say that some people are more moved than others. Some people are more sensitive to stimuli and easily overwhelmed than other people are. Because we are all different. Because there is diversity to our brains. In this case, it's called Sensory Processing Sensitivity, SPS. And studies seem to suggest that around 15 to 20% of people have brains that [00:08:00] process input from their senses

in far greater an experience. And not just humans either, but even fish are shown to have SPS. In particular, the Pumpkinseed Sunfish, which I didn't even know existed until I read the research in preparation for this episode. Other animals to show this SPS, sensory processing sensitivity, are birds,

rodents and Macaques. To name just a few. [00:08:30] But apparently there have been many, many more spotted. Supposedly it's been observed in over a hundred non-human species, sensory processing sensor, sensory processing sensitivity. Put me teeth in. Helps to explain the genetic side to personality, I think. It's why there's a, a nature side to who we are and not just a nurture. Because with certain sensitivities comes preferences and behaviours.

Of course you're more likely to be [00:09:00] introverted if large groups overwhelm you. So there's definitely nothing unusual about you. If you feel more sensitive than other people seem. Brain scans, even show that the areas responsible for empathy are more active than other peoples tend to be. These fMRI scans that were done over the course of a, a few years recently, showed that SPS was associated with activation of brain regions that are involved in [00:09:30] awareness integration of sensory information,

empathy and action planning. It's thought that it's a survival instinct thing that studies show that those low in SPS pay less attention to subtle stimuli. They approach novel situations more quickly. They're less emotionally reactive. They behave with less reference to past experiences. Whereas humans that are categorised as highly sensitive [00:10:00] people, they're more likely to pause, to check

in novel situations. Rather than just rush in, they show heightened awareness of, and attention to subtle stimuli, both positive and negative stimuli. So you can see why humans might develop it and survive to pass on their genes by being more responsive to their environments. These more sensitive organisms, whether that's the pumpkin seed sunfish or whatever [00:10:30] shared ancestor that us, the fish and the rodents and the Macaques all have 400 million years ago, they get an advantage.

Cuz they have an enhanced awareness of opportunities like food, mates and alliances. As well as an enhanced awareness of threats like predators and even, you know, loss of status and competitors and because their brain is better at experiencing these things, they're more ready to respond. For [00:11:00] us, it can be a, a rich and fulfilling life

if you're highly sensitive. Every juicy peach you eat can taste like the best peach you've ever had, but every under ripe peach can taste like the worst peach in the world. You can appreciate art and music more than most people do. And you can feel more gratitude for the simpler things in life. But you can also become easily overwhelmed and tired by experiences when your [00:11:30] friends are just getting going. It might give you a cheap night out because not only do you not need much or any alcohol to enjoy yourself, you might be ready for bed by half past nine.

And how do we thrive in a world like that? Do you fight it? Do you challenge it? Do you try to overcome it? Do you accept it, give in to it and learn to live with it? I think trying to overcome it is unnecessary. It's not like learning to drive, but it [00:12:00] is like learning to map read, I guess. Once you know how to navigate yourself around in a world like that, and you can enjoy it.

You might need to get some desensitisation. If busy places overwhelm you avoiding them, isn't really the answer. And if we do avoid the things that overwhelm us, we can wrongly assume it's because of some phobic response. And then we begin to fear it until it actually does become a phobic response. No matter [00:12:30] the answer is still the same, feel the fear and do it anyway.

Go into some busy towns and cities from time to time, even if you find it hard to get used to shopping precincts and the like at least become familiar with them so that you don't only associate them with overwhelm, that the overwhelm that you just know you're going to get. And so you begin to feel even before you leave the house and that's a phobic response. And if you need to wear earbuds, so that things aren't quite so [00:13:00] intense, then do.

The, the COVID restrictions of 2020, they were great for sensitive people, gave them permission to do all their shopping online and plenty of needed to continue with that as it gave them some insight into who they are and where their strengths lie. And if that's you then fine. Play to your strengths. But some things you do need to go out and have a look at don't you, you can't buy [00:13:30] wallpaper online.

Not really. You can't test drive a new car from a YouTube video. Don't spoil things for yourself by refusing to go to the shops. Stick in your earbuds. If you have to and be okay with being overwhelmed by stuff. If you hide away, you can turn being sensitive into being anxious. And that's not fair on you. Also budget for an early night on days like that.

If you're invited to a friend's birthday party on a [00:14:00] Saturday evening, don't expect to enjoy it if you've spent all morning wandering around Ikea. If you know that it would spoil your life to live like that, then be aware of it and live your life on your terms. I'll tell you all of these things, not just because you might see yourself in these examples, but others as well.

Your partner, your brother, your, your son. Understanding what makes, not just yourself tick, but others as well might [00:14:30] make it easier to accept others. To not take offence if they say it 9:30 in the evening at your birthday party, that they're going home now, cuz they're exhausted. Because their idea of fun isn't to get the karaoke machine out and

start singing Mustang Sally in front of a lot of strangers who they don't even know. They would rather stick hat pins into their eyes. But it might be your idea of fun. And if you project that out to everyone else, you might get disappointed that all the effort that you put [00:15:00] to make the perfect party for them was not appreciated.

Everyone's idea of fun is something different. A highly sensitive person is gonna prefer two or three friends at home with a few drinks and a chinwag. They might prefer alone time reading gardening. My wife's on the border line of sensory processing sensitivity, if not quite well into it. And she's a classic introvert.

It was Glastonbury festival last weekend. Wasn't it. And the idea, [00:15:30] after talking about it, of spending the weekend at a festival like that is living hell to her. If I wanna do that sort of thing, it 100% cannot be with her. There has to either be a compromise or she just doesn't come with me because it isn't fun to her.

I love conferences. Meeting new people catching up with old friends, soaking up the atmosphere. I love the parties afterwards and the drinking and the dancing. And I've been a [00:16:00] therapist for 20 years and we have these conferences and my wife has refused to come to every single annual therapy conference that I go to.

If I wasn't a therapist who understood a bit more about what makes us tick. It would be easy to be offended by that because the meaning behind it is different for me, because of that insight. When she invites me to her work events, I jump in the chance to [00:16:30] refuse would be to, to shun her. So, well, why won't she do that with my events?

Is it because she doesn't love me or she doesn't have any respect for me after all? Or is it because she's an SPS introvert and it would really drain her. And I don't want her to feel guilty for not coming. I'm not gonna shame her in front of my colleagues for not being there. It's just how she is. I wouldn't make her feel guilty if she was in a wheelchair.

When I was going on a rock climbing [00:17:00] weekend with some mates and she didn't wanna join in. Some people find things easier than others and you might be one of them. Some people find things harder than others and you might be one of them. And that's okay. One thing to bear in mind is. Because highly sensitive people feel everything more than others.

That also includes guilt. It's not all crying over double rainbows. It's also crying over spilled milk. If this is you, [00:17:30] be careful. Because one of the most important things when it comes to getting the most out of yourself is to rest. If being the best you can be means that you leave your office desk tidy, but there's too much work for it all to be done for five o'clock, then you'll feel guilty.

Your conscientiousness will backfire on you and you'll try to make you achieve those things by working harder, which then makes you [00:18:00] inefficient because you're tired, which makes you feel guilty, which then keeps you awake, which makes you more tired and more inefficient. And that makes you feel more guilty and round around

it goes. The secret to living as a highly sensitive person, and being the best you can, is to rest. You're not gonna blame the car if it ran outta petrol, if you've been driving around with a rev counter in the red all day. Or your, your, your phone, because it wasn't charged up, but you've been [00:18:30] using it as a sat nav, whilst you drive around with a rev counter in the red all day.

But it's easy to blame ourselves when we run ourselves down. As if there's something wrong with us. There's not get some rest recharge top up your tank and be okay with that. And don't, don't pathologise it. Our society often thinks of personality traits as disorders, just because someone doesn't fit in some culturally defined box.[00:19:00]

If half the population fit in one particular box. And the other half of the population is made up of 50 different shapes that would fit into 50 different boxes. That's still half the population not fitting in the most popular box. I'm making up numbers to be honest and being, being, um, neuro diverse is more like a, a third than a half, but you get my point.

Don't pathologise your personality. Anyway. Gotta go as always, [00:19:30] I'll be back every Monday on Patreon, every Wednesday on the Therapy Natters podcast links to both places are in the show notes and I'll speak to you then. See ya folks.