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HSP decision paralysis

Sandwich or salad? Holidays by the sea or in the mountains? Moving to the countryside or staying in the city?

In life, we are all faced with constant choices, and therefore have to make decisions at every moment. Some are major and others insignificant, and without major repercussions. Some require prolonged thinking time, while the majority of others are almost instantaneous. But this is not counting on the arborescent thinking and personality of highly sensitive people. For rather indecisive people like them, all choices are important and require reflection. They often have great difficulty making decisions, as if they are faced with decision-making paralysis.

This may seem completely paradoxical given the exceptional depth of treatment of highly sensitive people, but that’s a reality for HSPs. Why might deep thinkers like them find themselves in this frequent state of indecision?

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Highly sensitive people have a special characteristic called depth of processing. This particularity allows them to absorb more information from their environment than the majority of people. They sort them, analyze them and think about them, which allows them to respond more thoroughly. We could therefore imagine that making a decision would be a simple formality for them. But this is not the case.

This is also an aspect of their personality that those around them sometimes complain about. It can be very frustrating indeed to deal with someone who just can't make up their mind. But it is also a trait, called by psychologists “paralysis by analysis” that highly sensitive people themselves fear.

Let’s look at where decision paralysis often comes from:

  • Procrastination: Delays in decision-making, often due to excessive contemplation and fear of making the wrong choice.

  • Overthinking: Constantly mulling over options, leading to mental fatigue and a lack of progress.

  • Information Overload: Being swamped by a barrage of data, making it difficult to discern relevant details.

  • Indecisiveness: Finding it nearly impossible to settle on one option, even in seemingly simple matters.

  • Escalating Stress: As the decision looms, anxiety and stress levels increase due to the mounting pressure.

  • Fear of Regret: An intense worry about making choices that might result in future regret.

  • Seeking Perfection: Striving for the perfect solution, causing decisions to be endlessly postponed.

  • Loss of Focus: Inability to focus on other tasks or responsibilities while the decision remains unresolved.

  • Second-Guessing: Doubting decisions that have already been made, leading to further confusion.

  • Diminished Self-Confidence: The continuous struggle to make choices can erode self-assurance and self-esteem.

While some of these reasons may be true to some degree for highly sensitive people, we know that for them it may be a little different, so what about them?

Where does this decision-making problem come from?

When we are in alignment with ourselves, our thoughts and actions are like yin and yang, complementary and in perfect harmony. But when the flow between our thinking and our actions is unbalanced or interrupted, we sink into yin... thinking, and there is no room for yang... deciding.

How is it possible that people with exceptional decision-making resources have so much difficulty using them…

1. The majority of highly sensitive people want to please others.

Highly sensitive people often prefer to go with the flow. Go to the cinema or take a walk in the park? It is not essential to debate or argue, the main thing is to be together, not the activity itself. In addition, as they do not like conflicts, they avoid upsetting others, especially if it is a choice to make such as organizing an activity or the evening meal. For them, their choice (and there, they always make one, very often to their detriment), will always be to give priority to the well-being of those around them. Whether they eat peas or green beans doesn't matter as long as everyone is happy with the decision. As I mentioned, this attitude of pleasing, at all costs, too often excludes them from the equation, but they cannot blame anyone because it is their choice. As ironic as it is, on this point, they do not procrastinate.

2. The opinions of others count when taking their own.

This more or less ties in with the previous argument with this small difference, that in this case, a highly sensitive person really wants to know the opinions of others because this could enlighten them more in making their decision. Perhaps they missed an important point when weighing the pros and cons of the arguments in making a decision? Maybe it is subjective? Perhaps they are too involved and have lost sight of certain aspects?

Highly sensitive people therefore seek the opinion of everyone around them, before determining their own, to be sure to have all the data in hand. Parents, family, friends and even the neighbor will all be invited to give their opinion to help them in their choices to make a more informed decision.

3. An underlying fear of failure.

Terrified of making the wrong decision, highly sensitive people, who are perfectionists by nature, need to think long and hard. This is not to displease their tree-like (arborescent) thinking which will delight in imagining all the hypotheses, even those which have nothing to do with the subject!

Of course, there's nothing wrong with considering all scenarios and planning ahead, unless it doesn't completely paralyze us. By analyzing all the possibilities, the choice of decision can become very complicated. And when the famous “what if” takes over, the brain is in total inertia, unable to settle on a final decision. This could all be the result of excessive worry and fear of failure.

Highly sensitive people are very afraid of regretting their decision, and therefore of being in

a situation of failure. They are also so aware of the subtleties and details of decision-making that they fear it, and sometimes overcomplicate it. The whole process can therefore become particularly difficult for them.

4. When perfectionism takes on terrorist overtones

Highly sensitive people often struggle with perfectionism which can take on the appearance of a terrorist in their lives. Some people prefer to say that highly sensitive people are super overachiever (and they are), but this is sometimes a way of avoiding giving a negative aspect to the word perfectionism. Yes, HSPs are extremely conscientious and detail-oriented, but behind that there is also a deep fear of criticism and failure. They tend to believe that if they don't do everything perfectly, failure will result. They therefore analyze all possibilities in depth to avoid feeling guilty if something goes wrong. But wanting everything to be perfect can sometimes block them. Perfectionism means planning in advance so that things go smoothly. One problem though: life is unpredictable. She throws you curveballs when you least expect them, and there's nothing you can do, no matter how much you plan ahead.

It’s a lot of pressure, because perfection is an unrealistic expectation. Highly sensitive people are bound to be disappointed, because perfection can never be achieved. Trying to constantly pursue perfection is absolutely exhausting, and also a hell of a waste of time.

Perfection and decision-making feed off each other, they go hand in hand with each other. The only way to avoid failure is to make the best decision in the first place, so there you have it... another reason that leads them to overthink and weigh all possibilities, and therefore delay their decision-making.

5. Pressure? Not for the highly sensitive!

This is a clear statement. Highly sensitive people don't handle deadlines or any other form of pressure very well. It’s one of their daily battles! Having to juggle several tasks in a minimum of time is quite restrictive for these perfectionists. They prefer to take their time in their projects and decisions and devote all their attention to them. But making a decision is, in a certain way, being put under pressure. So here is another trait of highly sensitive people that prevents them from making quick decisions.

6. They are undoubtedly masters of criticism… self-criticism!

Unfortunately, highly sensitive people are their own worst critics.

In general, a highly sensitive person sets the bar very high in their life goals. You have to remember that no one is harder on themselves than a sensitive person. And it is true that this may seem paradoxical, because generally, as much as the highly sensitive person is kind to those around them, they will be excessively harsh and critical of themselves.

Highly sensitive people therefore have difficulty managing their own failures. They blame themselves all the time for their mistakes, their reactions and therefore, in the same vein, their choices and decisions. This can really complicate things when they have a decision to make, especially if the same kind of situation led to failure before. They will therefore ruminate for a very long time and evaluate all the scenarios, emphasizing their thoughts on possible catastrophes and possible failures. Difficult to make a decision with this state of mind!

7. The weight of “decisional trauma”

Dr. Elaine Aron explains the reaction of many highly sensitive people to decision-making, which she calls “decisional trauma,” in a particularly interesting way:

“Sensitive people try so hard to make the right decision that the whole process, especially if it is later regretted, can become something they dread.”

It is true that it may seem improbable that, having such rich decision-making resources at our disposal, we would encounter difficulties in using them.

Where does this paralysis come from? One way to find out is to sit down with our past to explore when, how and why our “decision trauma” originated.

So let’s take our dusty memories out of our closets and look at what happened somewhere along our decision-making history.

As we have seen, one of the traits of highly sensitive people is their ability to analyze information, and their need to take time to weigh the pros and cons before acting. Unfortunately, this pause time is not always available for various reasons: either the decision must be made immediately, or the thought process is interrupted or compromised by external factors.

Try to Identify if you have experienced one or more of the four compromised decision-making scenarios:

  1. In a situation completely beyond your control, you were pushed (by people or circumstances) to skip the important step for you to pause and analyze, and the consequences were particularly negative or led you to failure.

  2. You had enough time to pause, but not enough time to think about your observations. You had to make your decision there on the spot, knowing that you were making it without much thought. You weren't happy about it afterwards.

  3. You had enough time to pause and think, but you ignored or rejected your intuition which was sending you completely opposite messages. Result: a bitter failure.

  4. You had a decision to make that involved another person, and because you didn't express that you needed time, the other person got impatient, made the decision for you, and the outcome didn't work out or did not meet your expectations..

  5. To please someone or a group of people, or out of obligation, you accepted a joint decision knowing full well that it would lead to failure, and that actually happened.

If you experienced one or more of these scenarios, what beliefs did you develop afterward? Take a few moments and think about it.

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By understanding the nature and the implications of your decision paralysis, you can begin to employ strategies to break free from the grip of indecision and make choices with greater clarity and confidence.

Whatever the source of your decision-making difficulties, it is important to understand how your conditioned responses can cause stress. Stress that can eventually freeze you and hold you hostage when making a decision.

But dear highly sensitive people, it is the way you operate that has led you to be like a “deer in the headlights”, so your beautiful mind can get you out of that too. The solution is to recognize the type of thinking that is holding you captive.

Very often, what keeps you prisoner is your tendency to rumination, leaving your brain paralyzed. As we have seen, when you have a choice to make, you tend to think deeply about each option, in all its details. You weigh the pros and cons, down to the smallest aspects. You therefore tend to think (too much), and especially to ruminate, without being able to act. Doubt is what restricts you… and handicaps you.

To be able to silence rumination, you will first have to face the trauma that led you, in the first place, to become vigilant, to be in doubt, hesitation and even fear. It requires a high level of willpower, self-responsibility and intentionality, but you can do it.

Also let your spontaneity be the source of your decisions. Let yourself be carried by your emotions in order to position yourself. They will often guide you very accurately... with a little help from your great intuition, because your intuition, sensitive friends, is very developed. And don't forget that intuition brings together everything you have learned, experienced, thought about, and much more. Trust it!

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If you live in alignment with yourself and find the magical harmony of yin and yang, your thoughts and actions, as well as your reflections and decisions, will bring you out of decision paralysis. It's not easy and requires a lot of introspection, but you know how to do it so well. The world needs you, not just for your in-depth analysis, it also needs you through your actions.


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