You may or may not have heard the term “Highly Sensitive Person,” or “HSP.” If you have, maybe you wondered what it meant, or if it applied to you. This blog will talk about this personality type, which according to Dr. Elaine Aron, occurs in up to 20% of the population. Research estimates it affects as many as half of the clients who seek therapy.
20%? That’s quite a bit. But for people who fit the description of the traits attributed to a Highly Sensitive Person, or HSP, it can sometimes feel like being alone and misunderstood in a crowd of people who don’t feel things as acutely as you do, or perhaps even criticize you for your tendency to heightened awareness of your environment and those in it.
Let’s back up for a minute and talk about some common traits of Highly Sensitive People.
As I mentioned, HSPs tend to have a heightened awareness of subtleties in their environment, whether it’s sight, sound, touch, taste, or smell. Bright lights, loud noises, strong smells, rough fabrics, and things like that feel amplified and intrusive. If you are an HSP, you can become stressed out when overwhelmed and may find it necessary to step away in order to regroup and recharge.
HSPs can be creative, conscientious, hard working, and meticulous. They are often their own worst critics, and may lean toward perfectionism. They may have been considered quiet, introverted, or shy as a child.
Highly Sensitive People feel more comfortable when things are in organized and orderly, and they may become overwhelmed by change or chaos. Now, everyone can be overwhelmed by chaos – true. However, for the HSP, the threshold where overwhelm occurs can be lower than for others. Loud parties and crowds can range from annoying to almost painful.
Highly Sensitive People can also be affected by other people’s moods, emotions and problems. They are often described as intuitive and empathetic – it’s almost as if they feel the emotions of others. If something is wrong with a friend, or someone is not being truthful, the HSP may tune into it quicker than other people.
HSPs think or worry about many things, and may have been told “you take things too personally” or “don’t be so sensitive.” Believe me, if the HSP could help it, they probably would.
Highly Sensitive People may avoid extremes in the media, such as violence or even movies that are too sad. As far as interpersonal relationships go, they have a low tolerance for toxic people and may have had to step back from friends or family members – as far as cutting people out of their lives when they feel they have no choice.
An HSP typically has an appreciation of nature, music and art, and these may move them to deep emotional reactions. He or she may tend more toward cooperation than competition, even to the point of underperforming in competitive environments.
HSPs are not necessarily introverts. Highly Sensitive People may be extroverted, but with their love of people and lack of shyness, they still tend to be introspective, have rich inner lives, and need a lot of time alone.
Having heard all of this, do you think you might be a Highly Sensitive Person? I highly recommend getting Elaine Aron’s book as a next step. I have also included a link to a free test on her website for those of you who are curious to see where you fit. If you identify as an HSP, it’s actually a relief to know that you are not neurotic or socially hopeless. If up to 20% of the population is wired this way, you are most definitely not alone. Take the time to learn more about the Highly Sensitive personality type, and set a goal to love and accept yourself for exactly who you are.
Free Test from Dr. Aron’s website: