- Understanding the Highly Sensitive Person: Signs, Causes, & More
- Is High Sensitivity the Same as Introversion?
- What Does It Feel to Be an HSP?
- 12 Signs You Might Be an HSP
- 1. You Have Been Called Oversensitive
- 2. You Are Easily Overwhelmed by Your Senses
- 3. You Are Easily Upset by Violence in Media
- 4. You Avoid Stressful Situations
- 5. You Are Overwhelmed by Crowds
- 6. You Identify as Deeply Emotional
- 7. You Were Called Shy as a Child
- 8. You Are Overwhelmed by Tasks
- 9. You Are Attuned to Nuances
- 10. You Are Sensitive to Pain
- 11. You Are Considered Thoughtful
- 12. You Work Hard to Please Others
- How Common Are HSPs?
- What Causes High Sensitivity?
- Potential Challenges For HSPs
- Being Easily Stressed by Conflict
- Being Unable to Avoid Overstimulation
- Simultaneously Being a High Sensation Seeker
- 6 Ways to Thrive as a Highly Sensitive Person
- 1. Own Your Identity as an HSP
- 2. Learn How Your Sensitivity Is Expressed
- 3. Engage in Contemplative Practice
- 4. Turn Toward Feelings of Discomfort
- 5. Connect With Others
- 6. Draw on Your Strengths
- Final Thoughts on Being an HSP
- What Is a Highly Sensitive Person? (A Relatable Guide)
- What Is a Highly Sensitive Person?
- 3 Things You Need to Know About Highly Sensitive People
- 4 Science-Based Traits That Define a Highly Sensitive Person
- #1 Depth of Processing
- #2 Overstimulation
- #3 Empathy (or Emotional Reactivity)
- #4 Sensitivity to Subtleties
- The World Desperately Needs More Highly Sensitive People
Understanding the Highly Sensitive Person: Signs, Causes, & More
While high sensitivity is considered a personality trait, it is not classified as what the American Psychological Association (APA) identifies as one of the Big Five personality traits: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.1 the five traits, high sensitivity may be most closely associated with conscientiousness, which describes careful or detail-oriented people. In order to be this meticulous, it is necessary to be highly sensitive.
High sensitivity is also linked to introversion. Introversion isn’t explicitly named as one of the Big Five; however, it falls on the far end of the spectrum for extraversion.
Extroverts feel energized by social interaction while introverts recharge by spending time alone.
It’s important to note that people can be both extroverted and introverted, and possibly more so at different times in their life.
In general, HSPs tend to experience most of the following features:
- Sensitivity to lights and sounds
- Sensitivity to caffeine and medications
- Feelings of overwhelm in crowded places
- Feeling more drained than others after spending time with people
- Affected by the energy and moods of the people around them
- Startle easily
- Difficulty with transitions and change
- Avoid violence in television and movies
Is High Sensitivity the Same as Introversion?
Introversion is common amongst HSP, though not all HSP consider themselves introverts. In fact, up to 30% of HSP may be extroverts.2 High sensitivity is actually a separate personality trait entirely. Many HSP find that they need time to recover from experiences that are activating to their high sensitivity, but they may not need to be alone to recharge in general.
What Does It Feel to Be an HSP?
Each HSP has different experiences depending on their particular situation and stage of life. When you are young and unaware of your high sensitivity, you may feel extremely overwhelmed. You may experience overwhelm with sensory input ( sights and sounds) and your emotions, as well as the emotions of others.
American culture does not fundamentally value sensitivity some other cultures, so HSPs can feel as though there is something wrong with them, if they are oversensitive or weak.
This can bring additional stress around being an HSP on top of the overwhelm that is already present.
If kids grow up in an environment where sensitivity is valued, they can have a positive experience of being an HSP.
HSPs have many unique experiences. For example, strong intuition is common amongst HSPs. In other words, HSPs can often sense things that are happening around them that are not being named. Additionally, many HSPs experience exhaustion. This is due to the fact that highly sensitive brains process stimuli more deeply.
12 Signs You Might Be an HSP
There are common characteristics of being a HSP being easily overwhelmed, being upset by violence on TV, and identifying as deeply emotional.
Remember, being highly sensitive is not a disorder or diagnosis; rather, it is a personality trait.
While you don’t need to resonate with every characteristic listed below to be considered a HSP, the majority of HSPs experience most of these things.
Here are 12 signs that you might be an HSP:
1. You Have Been Called Oversensitive
This is the hallmark characteristic of being an HSP — after all, high sensitivity is in the name. HSPs tend to be much more sensitive than those around them.
2. You Are Easily Overwhelmed by Your Senses
HSPs typically experience overstimulation from at least one of the five senses: sight, smell, taste, touch, and sound. Some HSPs may find that one or two of these senses overwhelm them at times. Other HSPs may feel overstimulated from all five senses.
3. You Are Easily Upset by Violence in Media
Since HSPs are highly empathic, any display of violence in the media can be extremely upsetting. As a result, you may avoid watching horror movies, torture scenes, or even the news.
4. You Avoid Stressful Situations
Many HSPs structure their lives so that they can avoid stressful or overwhelming situations. While this may happen unconsciously at first, many HSPs realize this is true for them as they start to reflect.
5. You Are Overwhelmed by Crowds
Large groups of people are often overwhelming for HSPs. Crowds may make you want to withdraw or shut down entirely. This can be due in part to the sensory stimulation that comes with being in a crowd, along with the emotional energy that HSPs absorb from others.
6. You Identify as Deeply Emotional
HSPs tend to have a strong connection to their emotions and other aspects of their inner life since HSP brains process things more intensely. If you spend a lot of time and energy contemplating or cultivating your internal world, you may be a HSP.
7. You Were Called Shy as a Child
As adults, many HSPs identify that they were labelled as “shy” or “withdrawn” when they were children. Even if these words were not explicitly used, HSPs often remember people commenting on their sensitivity as a child.
8. You Are Overwhelmed by Tasks
A full to-do list can be overwhelming for HSPs. It can feel even more daunting when you feel as though there is not enough time to complete the tasks. This may be due to the fact that HSPs go to great lengths to avoid making mistakes or upsetting other people.
9. You Are Attuned to Nuances
HSPs are adept at picking up subtleties: in the environment, in projects or art, and even in the emotional reactions of those around them. The high sensitivity that is characteristic of being a HSP enables you to notice things that others may miss.
10. You Are Sensitive to Pain
Increased sensitivity to pain is common amongst HSPs. Again, this is related to the sensitivity to sensory input as well as the extra processing that HSP brains engage in compared to others without this trait.
11. You Are Considered Thoughtful
If people are consistently remarking on your thoughtfulness, it is ly that you are a HSP. Since HSPs are detail-oriented, they pick up on things that other people may not notice or remember.
12. You Work Hard to Please Others
HSPs go to great lengths to avoid upsetting others or making mistakes. As an HSP, disruption in your environment — which includes the people around you — can be extremely disrupting to your nervous system.
How Common Are HSPs?
HSPs account for 15-20% of the population.3 High sensitivity also seems to occur equally across the gender spectrum. Being a HSP can be vastly misunderstood, however, depending on the culture. In some cultures, sensitivity is valued and associated with understanding. In American culture, on the other hand, sensitivity is often devalued and pathologized.
What Causes High Sensitivity?
High sensitivity is an innate trait. In fact, biologists have found that the high sensitivity personality trait exists in over 100 species. From this finding, they have come to understand high sensitivity as a survival strategy. Animals (including humans) who are hypervigilant and highly aware of their surroundings are more ly to detect and avoid predators or unsafe situations.
While high sensitivity is a “nature” trait versus a “nurture” trait, the way in which you are nurtured around it can influence how it impacts you in your life. High sensitivity does not get “better” or “worse” over time, but how you live with it can change. For example, if your high sensitivity was appreciated and celebrated as a child, you are more ly to be well-adjusted.
On the other hand, if you were shamed for being a highly sensitive child, you may lack the knowledge and tools to effectively live with your high sensitivity. This can cause you to develop self-loathing around this trait.
Potential Challenges For HSPs
While there are many positive things about being an HSP, it comes with certain challenges being easily stressed by conflict, and, in some cases, being a high sensation seeker.
Potential challenges of being an HSP include:
Being Easily Stressed by Conflict
HSPs usually try to stay away from overwhelming stimuli or stressful situations, such as conflicts or confrontation. They tend to avoid conflict altogether, which can make relationships difficult at times. This can lead to codependency due to constantly trying to keep things peaceful and limiting self-expression.
Being Unable to Avoid Overstimulation
We only have so much control over our environment at any given time, which can be difficult as an HSP.
“Bigger,” “louder,” and “brighter” are all favored in our American culture, despite the overwhelm this can cause HSPs.
You may feel as though you are “high-maintenance,” and it can be challenging or even embarrassing to advocate for your needs to be met — especially as a people-pleaser.
Simultaneously Being a High Sensation Seeker
Some HSPs are also high sensations seekers (HSS).4Part of you may struggle with feeling overstimulated, while another part of you enjoys risk and excitement. This juxtaposition of different traits can be challenging to cope with.
6 Ways to Thrive as a Highly Sensitive Person
By gaining more insight into how your sensitivity affects you and learning to embrace it, you can thrive in this world as an HSP.
Here are six ways to thrive as a highly sensitive person:
1. Own Your Identity as an HSP
Recognizing high sensitivity as a personality trait that you possess is a key part to thriving as an HSP. Part of this is acknowledging that being highly sensitive does not mean there is anything wrong with you — it’s just a part of who you are, any other characteristic.
2. Learn How Your Sensitivity Is Expressed
While there are many general qualities and traits associated with being an HSP, each person’s experience is unique. For example, your sense of hearing may be especially heightened while another HSP is more affected by smells. Learning more about yourself can help cultivate your sense of identity as an HSP and explore ways to cope.
3. Engage in Contemplative Practice
Whether it’s mindfulness, meditation, body scans, or something else altogether, it’s essential to create a contemplative practice as an HSP. This provides you with the opportunity to check in with what it feels to be in your body and learn more about your experience. With this awareness you can make choices around what you need.
4. Turn Toward Feelings of Discomfort
Many HSPs tend to avoid the discomfort that comes along with negative or activating emotions. However, this can create a depleting cycle. Learning to embrace and reframe discomfort as part of your experience can help you process these feelings, as well as create space for joyful emotions too.
5. Connect With Others
Engaging with people who are or understand HSPs can be validating, which can also help cultivate resilience. Connecting with other HSPs, engaging in support groups, or working with a therapist who specializes in high sensitivity can all be great options.
6. Draw on Your Strengths
Many HSPs have deep experiences with art, music, and nature. This appreciation for nuance, in addition to other strengths such as imagination, can be important coping mechanisms. They can also act as assets toward building resilience.
Final Thoughts on Being an HSP
If you’re not sure how to best utilize your potential as an HSP, you’re not alone. Talking to a therapist or reaching out to a trusted friend or family member can make a big difference in how you feel. Consider using an online directory to help you find the right therapist or mental health professional for you.
What Is a Highly Sensitive Person? (A Relatable Guide)
Do you feel things more deeply than others seem to? Are you easily overwhelmed by crowded spaces and hectic environments? Do you ever need to just withdraw and be alone? If so, you might be a highly sensitive person — someone who has high sensitivity to the sights, sounds, emotional cues, and other stimuli around you. And that’s a healthy trait.
Being highly sensitive comes with a variety of strengths and advantages. At times, it can also lead to overstimulation and exhaustion. And that’s just the beginning of what it means to be a highly sensitive person (HSP). Read on to learn more.
“Many highly sensitive people need to excuse themselves from demanding environments, often having a ‘refuge’ where they can be alone and ‘ground’ their reactions.”
What Is a Highly Sensitive Person?
The definition of a highly sensitive person is someone who experiences acute physical, mental, or emotional responses to stimuli.
This can include external stimuli, your surroundings and the people you’re with, or internal stimuli, your own thoughts, emotions and realizations.
While everyone feels sensitive at times, and everyone reacts to stimuli to some degree, being a highly sensitive person means you experience a much greater response — so much so that it can seem overwhelming. Many highly sensitive people need to excuse themselves from high-stimulus environments, often having a “refuge” where they can be alone and “ground” their reactions.
Tip: If you’re thinking, “That’s nothing special. Everyone feels that way sometimes!” …you are ly not a highly sensitive person.
Highly sensitive people know from long experience that they feel things far more strongly than others do. They have seen firsthand how they’re different.
Often, it’s also noticed and remarked on by others, with comments , “You noticed that?” “Why does that bother you?” “I dunno, it doesn’t seem loud/cold/hot to me…” or “You’re too sensitive.”
3 Things You Need to Know About Highly Sensitive People
Here are three simple, important facts everyone should know about highly sensitive people:
- Being highly sensitive is a normal trait. Approximately 15 to 20 percent of the population has the gene that makes them highly sensitive.
- High sensitivity is a real, research-based characteristic. In psychology, anyone who tests as having a very high degree of Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS), a personality trait, is considered highly sensitive. SPS is the trait of deeply processing experiences and stimuli, and a person with high SPS has differences at the neural level.
- Being highly sensitive comes with both advantages and drawbacks. Highly sensitive people tend to be empathetic, artistically creative, intuitive, and highly aware of the needs of others — so much so that many thrive in careers as therapists, counsellors, artists, musicians, and writers. But highly sensitive people also deal with overwhelm, exhaustion, and burnout, especially from “absorbing” or sensing all the emotional cues of the people around them. Loud, crowded, or visually busy spaces can also overwhelm sensitive people — any strong sensory input can.
Because of their need to spend time alone, highly sensitive people are often confused with introverts. The truth is that anyone can be highly sensitive, whether introverted, extroverted, or anywhere in between.
“The truth is, you aren’t ‘too’ much of anything. You simply have a very unique and powerful personality trait that comes with both pros and cons.
4 Science-Based Traits That Define a Highly Sensitive Person
Wondering if you’re an HSP? Check out the signs of a highly sensitive person
If you’ve often been told that you feel things “too” deeply, are “too” sensitive, or that you “feel too much,” you’re ly a highly sensitive person. (The truth is, you aren’t “too” much of anything.
You simply have a very unique and powerful personality trait that comes with both pros and cons.
) But to be sure, it helps to understand the traits of a highly sensitive person — and see which ones you experience yourself.
Luckily, those traits have been well-studied in both humans and animals for more than 20 years. It appears that the many of the experiences shared by HSPs boil down to just a few foundational traits. These traits were originally documented by Dr. Elaine Aron, and have been expanded and verified by other researchers.
Today, Dr. Aron focuses on four main traits that define a highly sensitive person, represented by the acronym D.O.E.S.:
#1 Depth of Processing
HSPs tend to process information more deeply than others. For example, if someone tells an HSP their address, the HSP may mentally repeat it over and over, or compare the street name to other similar-sounding words and names. They may notice a metaphorical connection between the street name and other ideas.
This has a practical use — it means they are very unly to forget the address — and it’s also part of what makes HSPs so artistically creative.
But it also means that their nervous system is processing every piece of information over and over, often magnifying it.
This is the foundational trait of highly sensitive people, and it’s what gives HSPs a sense of “burnout” or overload. Which brings us to…
Processing every little detail, all the time, is exhausting. Since an HSP will take in and think about details that most people never even notice, they are de facto performing more cognitive work than the average person — all day long. Thus, it’s only natural that an HSP will feel exhausted in situations where others feel fine.
Examples include being able to only plan one or two things in a day of travel, not a packed itinerary; wanting a moment of quiet, without conversation, when others want to keep talking; or wishing to go to a low-key, chill environment rather than a busy restaurant or high-energy club. HSPs can handle high-stimulus environments, but only for shorter periods, and only if they come into them “fresh” for the day.
#3 Empathy (or Emotional Reactivity)
Emotional reactivity means that HSPs have a stronger reaction to both positive and negative experiences. However, research has shown that this effect is particularly pronounced in relation to positive experiences — or even pictures of a positive event.
Positive settings help rocket HSPs into not only a good emotional state, but better creativity and thinking as well.
This may be part of the reason most HSPs seek to create a private refuge (which they often want no one else to enter) where they can control their surroundings and create the atmosphere they need.
Empathy means just that: HSPs are more aware of the emotions of others, they think about what others needs, and they are concerned with helping others.
The brain of a highly sensitive person reacts more strongly to images of other people’s faces showing emotion, and their “mirror neurons” — the part of the brain that helps us understand and empathize with the emotions of others — are particularly active.
For an HSP, the experience of empathy is not just “understanding” someone’s emotions. Many HSPs feel that they absorb emotions even when someone isn’t visibly expressing them, or pick up on emotions from places as well as people.
#4 Sensitivity to Subtleties
HSPs are naturals when it comes to picking up on subtle cues or stimuli that others miss. This doesn’t mean they have super-hearing or vision; it’s simply what happens when the nervous system is wired to process every sense impression deeply.
The result is that HSPs will notice small sounds, tiny distractions, smells, or tastes that others don’t seem to even be aware of.
(This can feed into being overstimulated, since most workplaces are designed for people who aren’t distracted or bothered by such “tiny” details!)
You may identify with some of these traits more than others. But if you found yourself nodding along with most of them, there’s a good chance you’re a highly sensitive person.
“HSPs, you are normal, you are healthy, and your personality comes with some serious advantages.”
The World Desperately Needs More Highly Sensitive People
HSPs can thrive. Check out 14 Things Highly Sensitive People Absolutely Need to Be Happy
If you’re a highly sensitive person, you’re all-too-familiar with experiences of overwhelm, stress, and emotional overload. For far too many HSPs, these become defining traits of their personality. Some may worry that something is “broken” about them, while many others simply feel excluded by a not-sensitive society.
But your sensitivity is not a weakness. It’s a strength.
Being highly sensitive is a perfectly normal “thing” to be. And if you are highly sensitive, the world desperately needs more people exactly you.
We need highly sensitive people because:
1. HSPs see shades of emotion that no one else sees — and use them to enrich the world.
Most people might not think they can relate to high sensitivity, but chances are good that their favorite songs, paintings, and stories were created by the highly sensitive.
HSPs are endowed with the power to reach into the world of feelings and dreams — and distill them as eye-opening moments for others.
2. HSPs offer cooperative and compassionate leadership.
Make no mistake, while many HSPs dis the cutthroat nature of the business world, others are actively working to change it.
Sensitive leaders tend to listen more to their team, clearly express the reasons for their decisions, and pay attention to the strengths and preferences of those they work with.
They are big on encouraging words and building consensus, and they allow employees to vent when needed without reprimand.
Highly sensitive leaders may be in the minority, but they might be the best leaders (and bosses) you’ll ever have.
3. They help those around them process their emotions (and get their needs met).
Is it possible that highly sensitive people play a vital evolutionary role — serving as the “emotional processor” for the rest of the group?
Anyone who’s friends with an HSP will ly say yes.
HSPs serve as sounding boards, they build up their friends with encouragement, they react sincerely and empathetically to your struggles, and they help you see connections you wouldn’t have seen on your own.
HSPs, you are normal, you are healthy, and your personality comes with some serious advantages. It isn’t always easy being highly sensitive, and you may have to learn strategies to cope with overwhelm. But make no mistake: Your sensitivity is your greatest trait.
Want to be around people who share your sensitivity? Join the Highly Sensitive Refuge community: