The Highly Sensitive Person: The DOES Acronym Explained by a Highly Sensitive Man
If you are into psychology blogs there is no doubt you’ve come across the construct: Highly Sensitive Person. But what is it exactly? It means that the nervous system of highly sensitive people are more fine-tuned for picking up subtleties in their surroundings. However, they are also more easily overwhelmed because of it, especially when they’ve been in a highly stimulating environment for too long (Aron, 1999).
You can imagine that this leads to a variety of highly sensitive person problems. Clinical psychologist and author Elaine N. Aron coined the acronym DOES to help describe the experiences of highly sensitive people. Let’s look at what the DOES acronym exactly stands for and explain it with real life examples from a highly sensitive man.
1. D is for Depth of Processing
At the core of the highly sensitive person traits lies the tendency to more deeply process information. This means highly sensitive people prefer to really understand something and therefore process the given information and characteristics thoroughly (Aron, 2020). For example, at the beginning of this year I got the idea to start this blog. Excited as I was, I wanted to know everything about how to build a cool website.
Before I actually started to create one, I researched a ton of different aspects like from which CMS is the best to use (WordPress), all the way down to keyword analysis for the niche that I’m focussing on (Introverts, INFJs and Highly Sensitive People).
About 16 hours each day for weeks straight I watched dozens of different Youtube videos and read different articles on those topics, while working on my website as well. I did this in order to distill the gist of those topics by cross-validating or finding parts of the information of those sources that overlapped with each other.
Better yet, my understanding deepened due to each source approaching the subject matter from a slightly different angle. This fostered a sort of panoramic understanding. Multiple times I watched or read most of those videos and articles, pondered and wondered about them throughout the days. To an outsider this might look like a form of autism, but to me it is highly nurturing.
What I’ve noticed over the years is that when I really want to understand something I always use this approach, which is fuelled by my curiosity. I start to recognise patterns in the information and my mind starts to visualise the creative possibilities. Those exciting creative thoughts and feelings amplify that curiosity even more (and sleepless nights too). As such it is not a conscious choice per se that I want to learn things in this particular manner.
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Beauty Needs a Witness
It is my learning state that is in a way a mode of being that happens to me when my curiosity gets awakened. As I’m writing this I’m trying to understand this dynamic. It is like I try to capture a subject’s essence and figure out how I can apply that knowledge in a beautiful way. By beautiful I mean, simplest, efficient, creative and smart way. This feeling I get when I’m in that learning mode is as if my mind, body and soul are bingeing on life essence.
My being comes alive and I feel rejuvenated. Intuitively I sense that curiosity is almost one and the same as creativity. That same need to deeply absorb arises when I’m making music, writing, enjoying an impressive piece of art or engaged in an interesting conversation. That state of being is so delicious to me that I’ve dedicated my life to bringing forth as much of it as I can.
By discovering beauty, uncovering beauty, creating beauty and being its witness. To hang in its current like a bird till the end of my days. That blissful feeling that can move you to tears and take your breath away. I have a sense that you understand what I’m trying to say. In this regard that ability to deeply process feels like a gift to me at least.
2. O is for Overstimulation
However each gift can be a curse at the same time. On the flip side that deep processing can be enormously bothersome when the to be processed information is unfiltered. One of the most prominent highly sensitive person problems is overstimulation (Aron, 2020). According to Aron (2020), highly sensitive people wear out sooner than the seemingly less sensitive people because of this tendency to process so much.
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For instance, whenever I walk through a busy city centre or mall for longer than an hour, I come home mentally drained. The constant adjustment of one’s own speed when walking through large crowds, the clutter of different noises, the traffic, the going in and out of different stores with varying set ups, personnel that immediately asks if they can help you over and over again, customers walking around that come too close in your personal space.
It feels like I’ve just finished an important exam that I needed to focus on intensely for 4 hours straight while walking. An old mop knows exactly what I‘m going through during those moments. To recover I retreat into my bedroom or studio to be alone with the curtains closed, dimmed lights and headphones on. If anything, as far as going outside my day is done. You know.. The highly sensitive usual right?
3. E is for Emotional Reactivity, but also for Empathy
Next in Elaine N. Aron’s (2020) acronym describing highly sensitive person traits is the “E”, which stands for emotional reactivity, but also empathy. Highly sensitive people tend to react more intensely to both positive and negative experiences (Aron, 2020). In other words, the emotional distance between the highs and the lows seems to be more pronounced for highly sensitive people. Especially positive emotions seem to be pronounced.
I do notice that my moods tend to linger. When I’m in a good mood, because of an amazing song for instance, I can listen to that same song on repeat for days on end and feel that same warm energy intensity as the first time. This is quite the same when I’m in a bad mood. For example, when I get into an argument with my noisy room mate.
Despite that situation getting resolved, I can carry that feeling of annoyance and anger for quite a while. For others a minor thing to be forgotten perhaps 10 minutes after. Me? Still sitting in that emotional funk one to two hours later as I feel it very slowly fading away.
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Mirror Neurons Foster Empathy
Aron (2020), discusses that highly sensitive people show more activity in brain regions related to empathy when pictures with people showing positive and negative emotions were presented to them. Empathy is knowing what the other person is going through and to a large extent actually feeling the same emotions as they do as we observe or interact with them.
Mirror neurons are a powerful factor behind empathy, according to Aron (2020). Brain mirror neurons tend to fire in the same way as the neurons of the person we are observing. In my experience this imitation on a neural level can be active without you consciously knowing it.
For example, a few years ago I invited a group of friends at my place to hang out. The next day however, I felt this lingering sense of sadness in the background. This was puzzling to me because I couldn’t find a direct plausible cause of it. Later I found out one of my friends that came over was depressed. This startled me, because of how strong my gloomy feelings were the next day without knowing why. Does this sound familiar?
4. S is for Sensing the Subtle
The term high sensitivity is often mistaken for having extraordinary senses, like heightened eyesight. But, this is obviously not the case as highly sensitive people can have poor eyesight, smell or hearing (Aron, 2020). Sensing subtleties has more to do with how the information is being processed by our nervous system and our awareness of these subtleties.
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The following example might seem trivial, but perhaps you can see why I think this belongs to the highly sensitive person traits. When I’m in the shower, and the towel that hangs over the shower curtain rail very slowly starts to slip, in 95% of the cases I catch it before it even falls down. Even when it’s just in the periphery. This includes falling objects in general. How about that?! Being highly sensitive helps you not break any stuff or needing to dry yourself with a wet towel.
Luckily, it has social benefits too. My experience is that noticing subtleties is extremely helpful in creating and maintaining harmony during social interactions. For instance, knowing when to stop asking questions about a certain topic when somebody gets uncomfortable. Noticed by their right hand very slightly tapping their right upper leg three times and their energy flow faltering a bit, reminiscent of holding one’s breath for a few seconds.
As the DOES acronym is very simple to understand, the full trait is far more complex. Elaine N. Aron DOES (pun intended) a phenomenal job in describing high sensitivity founded on science in her book: The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You (1999). A must read for any highly sensitive person or individual interested to get a deeper understanding!
Food For Thought
Which Acronym would you use to describe High Sensitivity?
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Aron, E. N. (1999). The Highly Sensitive Person: How to thrive when the world overwhelms you. London, England: Element. Book
Aron, E.N. (2020). The DOES Acronym [Web Article]. Retrieved from http://hsperson.com/faq/evidence-for-does/
For the total list of recommended reading, please go to the Wisdom page.
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