There are times when I want loud noises, activity and adventure. I want to run around, listen to music, feel the blood pumping, scream, and shout because I like the stimulation, the danger, the energy and the movement. But other times, I feel I can’t take it. I need to withdraw from the world, to find tranquillity and relax.
I have found myself walking a fine line. It’s strange and unnerving that I bounce between such extremes. One moment, chaos and danger are awesome; hours later, I’m stressed to the point of feeling unwell.
What can explain this?
Being a Highly Sensitive Person can explain the desire for solitude and calm. But what about the adrenaline junkies side?
Well, some people are High Sensation Seekers.
What’s a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)
HSPs account for about 20% of the population and include both men and women. HSPs are called this because they have a biological trait called Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS).
To be sensitive is to have a more reactive nervous system, which is looked at in four ways.
- Inhibition of behaviour in new situations, HSPs tend to hold back to process the situation.
- They are more aware of sensory stimulation, and more subtleties are noticed in the world around them and within themselves, like body sensations, thoughts, and emotions. However, this can lead to overestimation and anxiety.
- Deeper processing of all this information and comparing it to past experiences or future possibilities. It involves greater contemplation of this information, both conscious and unconscious.
- Stronger emotional reactions result in a greater intensity of emotion, which may invoke behaviours like contemplation, increased focus and attention to possible threats, and more excellent drive towards learning.
These are not the only traits involved but are used to help understand psychological and behavioural responses.
What is High Sensation Seeker (HSS)?
Those who are sensation seekers need greater stimulation through novelty and complexity and seek sensation for its own sake to feel the moment’s emotion. They can get quickly bored but like the hustle and bustle of activity.
What’s important to know is that it’s not just a type of person but also a biological trait that we all have to varying degrees. It makes us seek adventure and excitement—sometimes, taking extreme risks like adrenaline sports, drug taking, unprotected sex and more.
Sensation-seeking is a trait first defined by David Zuckerman in the 1960s and involves four components.
- Thrill and adventure seeking – the desire to participate in risky activities like adrenaline sports. Such as skydiving, flying or driving at high speeds.
- Experience seeking is about seeking new experiences and pushing personal boundaries, so it can include taking mind-altering drugs and hooking up with fringe societies and groups.
- Disinhibition – sensation seeking through wild parties, promiscuous sex, and feeling out of control.
- Boredom susceptibility – a low tolerance for uninteresting people, places or activities.
What does it mean to be a HSP/ HSS?
The upside to being sensitive yet needing intense stimulation is that you will go out and seek these novel experiences, but you are unwilling to take extreme risks to get them. We are more careful, plan better, and take precautions. The result is that our thrill-seeking is done more safely, with less chance of going wrong. Sensation-seeking is tempered by conscientiousness, prudence, and calculated risk.
The downside is that these two drives can result in feeling conflicted. One side will win over the other temporarily, only for it to be redressed later on. So you feel as though you are bouncing between two extremes, never happy for long because you will want more or less stimulation soon.
The sensitive side can seem like a burden because it holds us back. Without it, you could enjoy more novelty more of the time. Our sensitive side is less understood and accepted in society, so we feel we have to ignore it. I often wish I wasn’t quite so sensitive that I could do more and be more of a risk-taker.
An article here helps explain it further, along with a test to see how much of a sensation seeker you are.
Being a sensation seeker and a sensitive type has led me to play computer games with battle and danger. Also, I watch films, TV, and novels with drama and action. However, horror is a genre that’s too scary for me. It’s about stories filled with adventure and excitement, lots of battles, romance, sex, and passion. They can leave me trembling with fear, anger or desire as I take on the role of the protagonist.
I’m not much of a traveller, but I like hiking up into hills and mountains, even though I fear heights. That feeling of danger is both thrilling and unsettling to me. I want to try my hand at more intense sports like surfing, kite surfing or martial arts.
I’ve also had peak experiences where I felt so emotional I couldn’t keep it all in. The agony and ecstasy of a moment make me feel like I’m dying and transcending at the same time. I live for those moments in some ways. But I have to calm myself down afterwards by resting, like climbing into bed because it’s warm, quiet and dark.
Being a sensitive sensation seeker is to walk a tightrope between too much or too little stimulation.
It’s not an easy line to walk because we are not totally in control of our circumstances.
Yet those sensitive types who need intense experiences must learn to balance the novelty with rest periods for recovery.
I’m still not sure if I’m a sensation seeker, but it does explain a lot of my desires and behaviour.
Do you desire novelty and stimulation despite reacting strongly to it?
How do you balance and honour the two extremes of adventure and safety? Comment below.
HSP Podcast #16: High Sensation Seeking – A Highly Sensitive Person’s Life [Internet]. [cited 2016 Sep 14]. Available from: http://highlysensitiveperson.net/episode16/
Sensation seeking [Internet]. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 2016 [cited 2016 Sep 14]. Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sensation_seeking
Comfort Zone | May 2006 – The HSP Who Is Also A High Sensation Seeker [Internet]. [cited 2016 Sep 14]. Available from: http://www.hsperson.com/pages/1May06.htm
tmcooper. The sensation seeking highly sensitive male [Internet]. The Sensation Seeking Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) with Tracy Cooper, Ph.D. 2015 [cited 2016 Sep 15]. Available from: https://drtracycooper.wordpress.com/2015/05/04/the-sensation-seeking-highly-sensitive-male/
Desperately Seeking Sensation: Fear, Reward, and the Human Need for Novelty [Internet]. [cited 2016 Sep 15]. Available from: http://www.dana.org/News/Details.aspx?id=43484
Aron EN, Aron A, Jagiellowicz J. Sensory processing sensitivity: a review in the light of the evolution of biological responsivity. Pers Soc Psychol Rev. 2012 Aug;16(3):262–82.