Let’s think about being a highly sensitive person. While highly sensitive people are sometimes negatively described as being “too sensitive,” it is a personality trait that brings both strengths and challenges.
A highly sensitive person (HSP) is someone who is thought to have an increased or deeper central nervous system sensitivity to physical, emotional, or social stimuli. Some refer to this as having sensory processing sensitivity. Have you ever been told that you’re “too sensitive” or that you “shouldn’t think so much,” particularly by people who strike you as too insensitive or who you believe should think a little more? If so, you may be a highly sensitive person, or HSP. It is important to remember that there is no official highly sensitive person diagnosis, and being an HSP does not mean that you have a mental illness. High sensitivity is a personality trait that involves increased responsiveness to both positive and negative influences.
- Avoiding violent movies or TV shows because they feel too intense and leave you feeling unsettled
- Being deeply moved by beauty, either expressed in art, nature, or the human spirit, or sometimes even a good commercial
- Being overwhelmed by sensory stimuli like noisy crowds, bright lights, or uncomfortable clothing
- Feeling a need for downtime (not just a preference), especially when you have hectic days; needing to retreat to a dark, quiet room
- Having a rich and complex inner life, complete with deep thoughts and strong feelings that go with them
Highly sensitive people are thought to make up roughly 20% of the general population. It is less common to be a highly sensitive person, and society tends to be built around people who notice a little less and are affected a little less deeply. Highly sensitive people may benefit from finding ways to cope with the stresses they often face. This is true for those who recognise themselves as highly sensitive as well as those who have a loved one who is more sensitive than the average person. Being an HSP comes with both advantages and challenges. It is possible to be too easily offended by people who mean no harm or who are trying their best to be kind. It is also possible to overreact to daily stressors or relationship issues, particularly if you become emotionally aggressive as a response. However, being an HSP doesn’t necessarily mean that you imagine negative motives when they are not there. It is more that you perceive them more easily. Or, you may be affected more deeply by negative experiences, which is not necessarily a weakness. Some of the ways that being an HSP might impact your life include:
- You might avoid situations that leave you feeling overwhelmed. Highly sensitive people may be more affected by certain situations such as tension, violence, and conflict, which may lead them to avoid things that make them feel uncomfortable.
- You might be highly touched by beauty or emotionality. Highly sensitive people tend to feel deeply moved by the beauty they see around them. They may cry while watching particularly heartwarming videos.
- You may have close relationships with others. HSPs care deeply about their friends and tend to form deep bonds with people. Again, the empathy that a highly sensitive person brings to the table is a powerful tool for being a supportive friend and loved one.
- You may be grateful for the life you have. Highly sensitive people appreciate a fine wine, a good meal, or a beautiful song on a level that most people can’t access. They may feel more existential angst, but they also may feel more gratitude for what they have in life, knowing that it is possibly fleeting and nothing is certain.
A major benefit of being an HSP is the ability to empathise. Empathy is a tool that can promote strong relationships and a deeply fulfilling emotional life. Of course, it’s important to differentiate between your feelings and others’ feelings.
If you know how to manage the unique features of being an HSP, you can make it more of a strength and less of a challenge in your life. To do this, it helps to understand what you’re dealing with, whether you are doing this for yourself or trying to build a deeper understanding of someone in your life who may be highly sensitive.
“Energy flows where attention goes”