A highly sensitive person (HSP) is someone who is innately more in tune with and aware of himself and his environment than an average person typically is. Psychologist Elaine Aron coined this term in 1996 and, through her research and the research of others, it has been determined that an HSP processes sensory information more deeply than most as a result of nervous system biological differences. This means a highly sensitive person is more easily affected by his surroundings than most. This sensitivity varies from person to person, and an HSP can be highly sensitive to either physical or emotional stimuli, or both.
Emotional aspects of psychological sensitivity vary from person to person. Some people believe someone whose feelings are easily hurt is a highly sensitive person; while that may be one factor, there is much more to it. Moods of other people have a strong emotional impact on an HSP, and the mood of an HSP can transform according to the mood of the company he or she keeps.
Are you a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)?
Do any of these characteristics apply to you?
- You feel more deeply than others.
- You’re more emotionally reactive.
- You often hear “Don’t take things so personally” or “Why are you so sensitive?”
- You prefer to exercise solo.
- You take longer to make a decision.
- You get more upset (than the “average” person) if you make a “wrong” decision.
- You’re extremely detail-oriented.
- You’re prone to anxiety or depression.
- You can be annoyed by sounds or lights that don’t bother others.
- You are very intuitive and you feel that you can usually sense if someone isn’t telling the truth or if something else is wrong.
- Violent movies or shows bother you.
- You cry more easily.
- Criticism bothers you.
- You prefer a solo work environment.
- You can become stressed out and upset when overwhelmed and may find it necessary to get away, maybe into a darkened room, to seek solitude, relief and comfort.
- You are very creative.
- You get a sense of comfort and well being when around a lake, river, stream, the ocean, or even a fountain.
- You have a deep, rich, inner life.
- You don’t like crowds (unless they are kindred spirits).
- You have above-average manners.
- You have a deep respect and appreciation of nature, music and art.
- You were considered quiet, introverted, timid, or shy as a child.
If you find you are highly sensitive, it’s important to know the following:
Your trait is normal. It is found in 15 to 20% of the population—too many to be a disorder, but not enough to be well understood by the majority of those around you.
It is innate. In fact, biologists have found it in over 100 species (and probably there are many more) from fruit flies, birds, and fish to dogs, cats, horses, and primates. This trait reflects a certain type of survival strategy, being observant before acting. The brains of highly sensitive persons (HSPs) actually work a little differently than others’.
You are more aware than others of subtleties. This is mainly because your brain processes information and reflects on it more deeply. So even if you wear glasses, for example, you see more than others by noticing more.
You are also more easily overwhelmed. If you notice everything, you are naturally going to be overstimulated when things are too intense, complex, chaotic, or novel for a long time.
This trait is not a new discovery, but is has been misunderstood. Because HSPs prefer to look before entering new situations, they are often called “shy”. But shyness is learned, not innate. It has also been called inhibitedness, fearfulness, or neuroticism. Some HSPs behave in these ways, but it is not innate to do so and not the basic trait.
Sensitivity is valued differently in different cultures. In cultures where it is not values, HSPs tend to have low self-esteem. They are told “don’t be sensitive” so that they feel abnormal.
The Highly Sensitive Introvert
Introversion is one of the major personality traits identified in many theories of personality. People who are introverted tend to be inward turning, or focused more on internal thoughts, feelings and moods rather than seeking out external stimulation.
Introverts tend to be more quiet, reserved, and introspective. Unlike extroverts who gain energy from social interaction, introverts have to expend energy in social situations. After attending a party or spending time in a large group of people, introverts often feel a need to “recharge” by spending a period of time alone. Introverts often take pleasure in solitary activities such as reading, writing, using computers, hiking and fishing.
Although high sensitivity can manifest in many different ways—HSPs are often introverted—as many as 70% are—and frequently come from the Myers-Briggs types INFP, INFJ, INTP, and INTJ. This is not to say that all introverts are HSPs, but there is a lot of overlap between the two personality traits.