The Highly Sensitive Singer
It is probably not news to us that most artists and creatives often are sensitive souls or empaths, drawn to expressing themselves through their art and performance.
But what exactly does it mean to be a ‘highly sensitive’ person?
What is ‘High Sensitivity’ and how do you know if you have this personality trait? How can we embrace it and use it, rather than letting it stop us in our creative work? And how could we support a highly sensitive singer?
Regardless of the choice to pursuit an artist career or not, with no doubt; we are all sensitive and creative beings. Could it be however, that a percentage of all humans (and animals) have a more sensitive nervous system, making them more responsive to stimuli and generally more sensitive to their surroundings?
This is what psychologist Dr Elaine Aron set out to discover during her research in 1991, also calling it Sensory-Processing Sensitivity (SPS, the scientific term).
Her study went on for years and included thousands of volunteers, all thought to be more sensitive than others. Concluding her research, she stated that approximately 15-20% of the world’s population are born with this personality trait that she named HSP; short for Highly Sensitive Person.
She found that some subjects and experiences were repeatedly described by the volunteers, such as:
More aware than others of subtleties
More easily overwhelmed
Have a rich, complex inner life
Made uncomfortable by loud noises, bright lights and strong smells
Deeply moved by the arts or music
Other people’s moods affect their own
Life changes feel unsettling , no matter if good or bad
Find it unpleasant to have a lot going on at once
Does this sound familiar?
But how do you know if you’re a HSP and what difference would that make?
After completing the study Dr Aron wanted to give something back to the participants, and wrote a self-help book for ‘Highly Sensitive People’.
This book is a great tool in how to navigate life as a HSP and can be equally useful for a non-HSP too, seeking to understand a friend, relative, partner or employer’s personality trait.
Personally, this book has been my life-saving guide to cope and not feel alone for so many years!
There is also a test on Dr Aaron’s website that you can complete to see if you are an HSP. There’s a scale and different grades as well so some will have a more sensitive nervous system than others.
For example, some are introverts, and have a tendency to stay in the background while others are extroverted and not afraid to speak up.
A well-known artist and HSP, raising the subject is Alanis Morissette. She often speaks about the category ‘Sensation Seeker’ as an HSP.
This means that despite your sensitive nature, you’re still constantly seeking strong emotional sensations. I personally think this can be compared to why some of us seek the stage. The adrenaline and wave of emotions it brings to be on stage doing a performance is hard to beat with other happenings in life.
So now, how could this personality trait affect us or be of help to us as a singer/performer/artist?
And what could we keep in mind when working with/coaching the highly sensitive singers?
Following things are characteristics to the HSP trait that could affect the singing and performance:
Strengths to use:
Close to their feelings
Excellent at adding feeling and nerves to a performance and expressing a story through songwriting.
Aware of subtleties
Paying close attention to detail which can be very useful when working with singing technique and the use of dynamics for the voice.
Picking up other people’s feelings
Often aware of others feelings and energies and caring for people around them which can be very valuable when working in an ensemble or with a band to create a safe environment for all.
Great Artists & Performers
To create art we need to be reflecting on our environment and also look at the inner life within ourselves – this comes easily for the HSP. As a coach you can encourage them to keep using their inner reflections and emotions to create from, rather than letting it pull them down.
Things to be aware of:
Sensitive to criticism
Both struggling with receiving criticism and being self-critical is common in HSPs as they tend to focus on the details more than seeing the whole picture. This also goes along with a common feeling for the HSPs of “not being enough” or not being able to tackle everything the non-HSPs seem to handle easily.
Stage fright and performance anxiety
Can be very common for the HSPs and they might need more guidance and encouragement to overcome and manage this.
Often needs a lot of alone time/down time to recharge after being in busy environments such as gigs, auditions, rehearsals.
As an HSPs nervous system is more responsive to the environment this also reflects on their senses – for a singer this would mainly be a sensitivity for loud noises and bright lights (stage spotlights) Take into account to adjust stage monitors, high frequency sounds and possibly dim lights at rehearsals to ease this sensation for the HSP.
There is of course plenty more to mention on high sensitivity but I hope this introduction has made you curious to find out more. So please do explore, use and embrace your own sensitivity and start spotting those sensitive singers that might be in need of a little extra care.
Lastly, though I’m not an expert of any kind on high sensitivity, I’ve lately begun a mission; to spread the knowledge of HSPs on my socials and through my music. Both for HSPs to know better how to take care of themselves and for non-HSPs to understand how they can be supportive.
Society has definitely become softer and more accepting of differences but I still think there’s an attitude of “power through things” and to label sensitive people as “too sensitive”.
Sometimes the sensitive labels themselves and doesn’t accept themselves as they are. But there is no such thing as being “too sensitive”.
Almost as a mantra, I keep saying to myself and reminding others of that; Being sensitive is a gift, don’t hide it – use it 🙂