Highly Sensitive People
Do any of the below statements describe you?
• People have criticized or teased me for being too sensitive or too emotional.
• People sometimes tell me that I am too intense and should “lighten up.”
• I need down time after engaging in daily activities while others around me do not.
• I tend to take on the mood or emotions of others.
• I have a great amount of empathy for other people.
• I feel things deeply and am easily moved by emotional experiences, the arts or music.
• I have a rich imagination and/or vivid dreams.
• I am sensitive to criticism and often take things personally.
• I am conscientious and detail oriented.
• I am bothered by loud noises, bright lights, strong tastes/smells, and itchy fabric.
If the above seems familiar, you might be a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP). For a more detailed questionnaire about high sensitivity, check out the self-test here.
High sensitivity, also known as sensory processing sensitivity (SPS), is an innate trait that occurs in 15-20% of the human population and has also been seen in many other species. Highly sensitive people (HSP) have nervous systems that perceive more subtleties and process information and sensory data with greater depth. High sensitivity is often misrepresented as introversion, while in fact 30% of HSP’s are extroverts.
The fact that HSP’s feel and perceive more than non-HSP’s means that people with the trait can easily become over stimulated and will often need down time to recover. Since nearly 80% of the population does not experience the same degree of over arousal, HSP’s often receive little support or understanding from the people around them. Unfortunately, this lack of understanding can lead to criticism and judgement causing some HSP’s to believe there is something inherently wrong with them.
Although being highly sensitive can sometimes have its challenges, there are many positive benefits to being an HSP that are often overlooked by the general population. Highly sensitive people tend to be empathetic, compassionate, caring, creative, and hard working. They also often have professions that reflect their sensitivity, such as in the arts or in the helping fields. In essence, HSP’s have much to offer to their friends and family, as well as to society as a whole.
A note from Debby, a fellow HSP:
Growing up I felt very different from my peers. On numerous occasions I was told that I was overly sensitive and people often teased me for crying easily. I was constantly trying to toughen up, however it never really worked. This made me feel like I didn’t always fit in and I sometimes wondered if there was something wrong with me.
During my psychotherapy training I came across the research done by Elaine Aron on highly sensitive people and discovered that I too am an HSP. This came as such a relief; to finally have a name for what I was experiencing and an explanation why. More importantly, it helped me realize that there was nothing wrong with me and in fact, I could use my trait to benefit my work as a therapist.
As an HSP, I am able to tune in to the sensitivity of others and can often detect when someone might be highly sensitive. Many clients discover that they are HSP during therapy, which can speed up the therapy process. Once clients understand and accept the trait, they are then able to make sense of their current and past experiences.
If you wonder whether you too might be an HSP and would like to discuss this with a professional, I invite you to contact me to arrange an appointment.