I’m Easily Grossed Out

i'm easily gOne day, Sisi pointed out the only brown leaf on our liquid amber tree.  Leave it to a Highly Sensitive Child to notice and care about a leaf that looks slightly different than the rest.  I glanced at it, then did a double take.  There was a bronze smudge on it.  To my horror, the smudge was actually hundreds of sesame seed sized caterpillars sucking the lifeblood out of that leaf.  I wanted to throw up.  Any bug, even cute bugs like lady bugs and caterpillars, becomes disgusting in large quantities.  At least to me.  My husband didn’t think it was gross at all.

Every day since my discovery, my daily ritual is to examine these bugs with equal parts horror and fascination.  The O.G.s  have long since flown away, but I’m now noticing more of those bronze smudges all over the trees.  They are multiplying.  Hundreds of leaves munched away. There is caterpillar poop everywhere.  It’s gross.  And so interesting, but so gross.  It makes me all jittery when I see them, like they are crawling on me.thanks for your support!

I’m just easily grossed out. I always have been.  Moldy bread, ants eating a dead bug, that crusty stuff around a milk carton.  I gag!

I used to get so disturbed on rainy days as a kid because the the floor of a school bus was all wet with dirty water, smushed snails from kids’ shoes, stray hairs.  I tried to look out the window but found myself searching the floor for nastiness.  Please tell me I’m not the only one!

It’s not just sights either.  Gross sounds (swallowing, slurping, burps) can fill me with anger.  This has a term actually- misophonia.  I don’t think I have true misophonia, but I can relate to those who do.

It’s also hard for me to ignore gross smells.  My neighbors wake me up out of a dead sleep sometimes when they smoke on their porch.  I just donated several perfectly good towels because I just couldn’t get this slight mildewy smell out of them, even after many washings with vinegar and baking soda.   I can smell peoples’ saliva on Matteo’s head all the time- he’s irresistibly kissable so it’s no wonder.
baby caterpillars and eggs

Why are HSPs so easily grossed out? We are sensitive to subtle stimuli.  We notice gross things that others don’t.  And then we think about what we’ve experienced, holding onto it almost obsessively to wrap our minds around it. HSPs have stronger emotional and physical reactions to stimuli- perhaps we feel more jittery, nauseous, stressed out by gross things than the average person?  I’m just throwing these ideas out there.

Does this serve some sort of adaptive purpose?  Probably.  I can think of specific instances when my high sensitivity to gross stuff protected me. Like when I could smell mold coming from the wall (turns out we had major undetected water damage!)  I also swore I could hear very subtle scratching sounds in the walls at night that my husband didn’t hear (turns out we had rats living in the attic.)  I can smell when food goes bad much better than my husband, who gets food poisoning a lot more than I do.  But there are probably many times when this high-gross-out-factor has caused me unnecessary stress.  It also makes parenting a bit challenging.

Parenting can be gross.  I’ve had to suck it up and confront things that gross me out.  Crazy diaper blowouts, snot sucking with the nosefrida snot sucker, open wounds, and vomit all come with the territory.  My duty and love for my kids far outweighs the gross-out-factor.  I’m the adult, so I jump in and do what I need to do.

Question: I’m super curious how HSPs in the medical field deal with all the blood, bodily fluids, smells?  Did it take some time to get used to it?  How do you cope?



  1. Kari says

    When I was in grad school for clinical psych they referred to this as “disgust tolerance”. Our professor instructed the small class to imagine opening a new fly swatter straight out of the package, using it to stir a pitcher of lemonade, and then pouring a glass and taking a drink. I was amazed to look around and see that I was the only one who looked horrified at the thought of this! I find mindfulness techniques to be really helpful but a swarm of small insects still sends me into a bit of a tizzy. I admit to having to scroll past that first photo very quickly!

  2. Lacey says

    Yup, I’m with you! That fly swatter illustration has me cringing too. And wet floors with … muck …. on them? Shudders.

    One of my main sensory problems would be smells. I have a much keener nose than my husband and when I was pregnant? It was unbearable. I could smell the food inside the fridge sometimes with the door shut and if my husband opened the door within a few minutes of me walking into the kitchen, I gagged or vomited.

  3. says

    Feeling so much better after reading this post. My son is a HSC too and we had a chat yesterday about how things creep him out easily. I explained to him it’s because of all his senses working overtime etc. Bless him he was so worried that he was a wierd child 🙁

    • frazzled says

      That is a hard one. I think the only way I’ve turned down the gross-factor is to become desensitized, and that takes time and exposure. I think agreeing with your son that life can really be gross and smelly and dirty and disturbing sometime will make him feel validated. and it’s ok to be grossed out, but hopefully we can learn to embrace things that gross us out and find what is interesting about them if we can.

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