The Highly Sensitive Person: Are you one?

We live in a world where showing emotions and/or vulnerability is highly disregarded. It’s seen as a sign of weakness. But, did you know there are people who get deeply touched just listening to a beautiful melody? Is it wrong to be sensitive? And, do you fall under the spectrum of the Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)? Let’s find out!

I never understood why I felt overwhelmed in crowded places such as the mall or why, ever since childhood, I was told to “grow a thick skin” so I wouldn’t take things so personally.

I didn’t know the reason and assumed that I was simply too sensitive. However, psychologist Elaine Aron conducted research in the 90s where she observed certain people had a more developed nervous system. 

What does this mean? We process everything (information/stimuli) differently than the majority of the population. The Highly Sensitive Person processes things more intensely.

According to Aron’s study, between 15-20% of the world’s population is an HSP. So, do not fear. You’re not alone.

Traits of the Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)

Now that you understand the meaning of being an HSP, let’s go over some of the most common traits based on Elaine Aron’s research:

1.You avoid crowded places

Whether it’s the mall, a crowded plaza, a theme park, or a concert venue… You normally avoid places where there are many people.

You’re sensitive to people’s energy and crowded places carry lots of different frequencies. You prefer smaller groups o interacting with fewer people.

2.Sudden changes overwhelm you

You prefer planning things ahead of time because you don’t feel comfortable with last-minute changes. They can deeply affect you emotionally.

You’d rather know where you’re going or what your workday is going to be like, than having sudden changes. When this happens you may feel overwhelmed.

3.You struggle with criticism (even when it’s constructive)

You may be a perfectionist. That’s why criticism may hurt your feelings. It’s important to learn when criticism comes from a good place and is constructive. While this may not be the case for everyone, you may also get nervous if someone is standing behind you while you’re working on your computer. You feel uncomfortable when they’re looking at what you’re doing.

4.You’d rather exercise on your own

While it’s true that you may like team sports such as soccer or basketball, you usually prefer working out on your own. You feel more comfortable practicing individual sports.

5.You’re very observant

Because of the way your nervous system works, you probably notice small nuances in your environment. Things that other people wouldn’t pay attention to.

6.It’s difficult for you to make decisions

If you’ve read traits #2 and #3, you’ll understand why it may take you longer to make decisions.

You’re probably not indecisive, you’re afraid of making a mistake. That’s why you’d rather first analyze all options before making a decision.

7.You may struggle with anxiety (and/or depression)

The Highly Sensitive Person is more prone to suffering from anxiety or having anxiety attacks. In some cases, it’s also common to struggle with depression (or both). That’s why, if this is the case for you, I recommend that you work with a professional such as a therapist to help you regulate your nervous system.

8.You cannot stand violence

It doesn’t matter if it’s violence from a war, a horror movie, or abuse of any kind and to any living being. You cannot stand violence. It’s something that deeply affects you and the feeling of discomfort when seeing violent images could last for hours (or even days!).

9.You’re very polite

Because of your sensitivity, you’re a very considerate person. You pay attention to details and have good manners. I’m not saying the rest of the world is rude, but you take politeness to a whole new level.

10.You have a hard time saying NO

One of the most challenging traits of the Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) is the struggle of saying NO. Even if you’re exhausted and you truly don’t want to do something, you may end up saying YES just because you don’t want to disappoint someone else.

As HSPs, our growth lies in learning how to establish healthy boundaries and learning to say no without fear of retaliation.

lotus flower buddhism
Lotus flower, one of Buddhism’s symbols. Credit:

The positive side of being an HSP

While there may be some struggles to being an HSP, there are also MANY benefits to it. And, in my opinion, once you learn to work with your sensitivity, the pros far overweigh the cons!

Let me put it this way, once you know about your traits, being an HSP is almost like having a superpower. It can help you and, certainly, help other people.

What are some of the positive aspects of being a Highly Sensitive Person?

1.Your emotional intelligence is highly developed

Has it ever happened that you can guess how someone’s feeling even without talking to them? Early in our childhood, we learn how to quickly decipher no verbal communication. Having a more developed nervous system helps us notice little things that other people don’t pay attention to. 

The Highly Sensitive Person knows right away if someone is sad or angry. If they’re annoyed or upset even if they don’t say anything. You can sense it and know it.

It’s also really easy for you to know when someone is lying. And this may hurt your feelings because you’d like people to be honest. People usually lie because they’re afraid of being judged.

Take advantage of your sensitivity to feel different emotions and use them to your advantage.

2.Your intuition is your best friend

Not only are you quick to see how others are feeling you’re also highly intuitive… and when you combine the two and use them wisely, imagine how you could use them for the greater good!

There are times, due to our difficult upbringings, where we stop listening to our intuition. It’s happened to me. But listen to that inner voice that tells you «follow this path» or «avoid this situation/person/place at all cost».

3.You’re very passionate about the arts

Whether it’s a painting by Salvador Dalí or Ravel’s Bolero, you’re deeply touched by the arts. You feel them more intensely. 

Has it ever happened to you that you listen to a melody and start crying? That’s a common trait of the Highly Sensitive Person. I personally get goosebumps when I listen to the sound of a violin.

And, let me ask you, isn’t this simply beautiful? Some may not understand it and you’ll have to accept that. But don’t limit yourself out of fear of what others might think. Art, in all its facets, is beautiful and worthy of being admired.

You may also feel deeply connected to nature. I’ll go over this below, but being out in nature is crucial for the well-being of the HSP.

4.You have a fascinating inner world

You may have a lot of imagination, am I right? And you’re not afraid of spending time alone, you actually crave it sometimes.

You appreciate those alone moments where you’re either reading, listening to music, or simply meditating.

Your inner world is truly…. well, a Universe on its own. And this is good! Your innate curiosity to want to learn and understand things is what allows you to grow as a human being. 

So don’t be afraid to say no to those night outs, unless you really want to go out. But if you’d rather stay home reading a book, do so.

5.You’re highly empathetic

It’s easy for you to be in someone else’s shoes. Your sense of empathy is so developed you may literally feel someone else’s pain. This is what happens to empaths.

In a world where some people can’t understand other people’s feelings/situations, having a highly developed sense of empathy is a gift!

beautiful sunset out in nature
Beautiful sunset. Credit:

How to improve your life as an HSP

We experience everything, the good, the bad, and the ugly, more intensely than most people.

That’s why it’s critical to keep a daily self-care routine to live your life to the fullest. It wasn’t until I started my own healing process with my therapist that I realized I would need to make some changes around my lifestyle and dedicate more time to myself to show up as my true self.

What are some of the things you could start doing today?

  • Meditate: Dedicate 15-20 minutes to meditation every day. This will help you regulate your nervous system and calm down your mind. It will help you decrease the anxiety you may be feeling due to all the external stimuli.
  • Cherish your alone time: The rush of everyday life, the loud noises, the bright lights… Your nervous system processes all of this more intensely. Even if you’re extroverted, try to dedicate some time to be alone. Take a bubble bath, listen to music, read, practice yoga…
  • Journal daily: Dump all your thoughts in a journal. This will help you see some patterns but also let out anything that doesn’t serve you. But, you can also write about those things that make you happy! Writing can be a very therapeutic way of releasing emotions for the Highly Sensitive Person.
  • Spend time in nature: Whether you like the mountains or the beach, or both, try to spend time out in nature to charge your batteries. Nature has healing powers for the HSPs.

What about empaths?

I’ve focused on the HSPs in this article, but you may have also heard about the term empath.

I’ll go deeper about empaths in another article, but let me share some traits here. I personally use both Highly Sensitive Person and Empath interchangeably. There’s such a small nuance separating the two, but they mostly overlap.

The main difference is that empaths feel the energy of other people and absorb their emotions/feelings as if they were their own. This can make it difficult, until you learn and heal, to establish healthy boundaries and if not worked on (and also depending on your upbringing) could lead to codependency.

So,  here’s the spectrum:

Narcissists > People with different degrees of empathy (the vas majority of people) > Highly Sensitive People > Empaths.

Now that you’ve learned about the Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), have you determined if you’re one? Share your experiences in the comments section.

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