Why is group therapy a good option for a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)? To explain, I'll start with some science and then make sense of it all to help explain why group therapy, and the right kind of group, is beneficial for a HSP.
HSPs are said to make up about 20% of the population. And within that, 70% are introverts and 30% are extroverts. These are the numbers found in Dr. Elaine Aron's research that started in the 90's. By looking at these numbers we can already determine a few things. 1) There are too many HSPs in the world to be considered a "disorder." It's instead a temperate type and brain difference. 2) HSPs are still a minority, and therefore a group of people who often feel misunderstood. 3) With most of this group being introverts, and the other portion extroverts who have a smaller bandwidth than non-HSP extroverts, there is less social engagement.
Maybe you're starting to see why gathering as a group is helpful for HSPs, but also challenging.
Here's a bit more information about HSPs that is relevant to joining a group. HSPs have brains that are wired a bit differently. Certain places in the brain are more sensitive, or more active than a non-HSP brain. One of these places is responsible for empathy, and is known as mirror-neurons. Another place is the amygdala. This is responsible for emotions, specifically related to the fight or flight response. It lets us know if something is a threat or dangerous and prepares us for running away or fighting. It doesn't have to be an actual life-threatening situation for the alarm to sound. It can be a loud sound, meeting someone new, being watched while performing a task, or watching something violent on tv. And with HSPs, this is the case. You might experience this as overstimulation, anxiety, stress, and avoidance of the things that are causing those feelings.
One more reactive part of the brain for HSPs that I'll mention is related to sensory processing. In fact, another name for the Highly Sensitive Person is "Sensory Processing Sensitivity." HSPs take in more information from their environment and this leads to overstimulation. The sensory system related to seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, smelling, and movement can add up quickly and become overwhelming and just too much for a HSP.
The Main Points
Wow, that was a lot of science! Here's the takeaway.
HSPs are a minority and often feel misunderstood.
HSPs have a lower tolerance for social interactions, especially with larger, busier, and louder groups.
HSPs are in tune with others' experiences and can sense, even feel what others are feeling.
HSPs have a reactive threat system, sending signals of threat and frequent feelings of anxiety and stress.
HSPs become overstimulated by sensory stimuli in their environment.
And this is why HSPs NEED a support group just for them. In a group especially designed for the HSP, here is what you can expect.
Soothing, calm environment
Small group number
Respect for everyone's comfort level with socializing limits
Slower pace with more time for transitions
Space for deeper thinking, feeling, and processing
Connections with others on a deeper level
Understanding and validation for being a HSP
Finding a group of people who "get you," one where you can be your authentic self, one that offers support, and one where you can give support... I mean is there anything better? Being involved in a group of other HSPs is very healing and meaningful for many.