Are You a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)?

Growing up sensitive was not easy for me, it often made me feel overwhelmed, emotional, and weak. I was hard on myself about not fitting in, always wishing I was more like everyone else. What I did not know was that the same sensitivity that was causing me to suffer also led to some of my favorite experiences. The world spoke to me through all of my senses in profound ways opening me to the creative and spiritual aspects of life. I had a depth of perception and experience that I assumed everyone had, but this was not so.

Have you ever felt like your sensitivity was hard for others to understand, leaving you feeling like something must be wrong with you? I hope that learning more about the Highly Sensitive Person will be validating and encouraging and even good news!

What does being a Highly Sensitive Person mean?

The term "highly sensitive person", HSP, was coined by Elaine Aron, PH.D. She discovered through her research that about 20% of people are born with this unique trait. HSP was originally called "sensory processing sensitivity" (SPS). While it not a disorder, it can lead to more intense experiences and reactions to internal and external stimuli, which isn't always easy for them and those around them. Born with three extra genes, “the sensitive gene”, “the reward chemical”, and the “emotional vividness gene” HSPs can be seen as having an evolutionary advantage. The ability to have finely tuned perceptions of the complexity of situations can lead to higher capacities to respond in more intelligent and helpful ways. Some have suggested that highly sensitive people struggle in relationships, but this is not so. Due to their ability to attune to others and sense what they are going through and may need, they are more likely to be compassionate and know how to show up for others and in situations effectively.

Highly Sensitive Person Quiz

Are you a highly sensitive person? This is not an official test, but the questions can give you a fairly good idea of where you land on the spectrum of sensitivity. Rate the following questions 1: Most of the time 2: Some of the time 3: None of the time

  1. Do you tend to have deep experiences, picking up on other's moods and emotions?
  2. Do you often feel intensely impacted by music, art, nature and environments?
  3. Do you notice the subtleties and nuances in the environment more often than most people?
  4. Are you good at reading people, sensing what kind of person they are, and when they are relaxed or not?
  5. Do you get overwhelmed easily by loud sounds, bright lights, crowded places, strong smells, or scratchy clothes, to scary or violent movies or images, finding yourself easily drained?
  6. Do you find gentle, quiet, calm and still places soothing?
  7. Do people tell you that you are too sensitive?
Am I HSP or something else?

Learning about the above traits and experiences of highly sensitive people may have made you wonder; "What about empaths, introverts, or people with PTSD?" There are definitely other reasons why and ways in which people can become highly sensitive and these people may have very similar experiences to HSPs. While not all introverts are HSP, it has been found that up to 70% of HSPs are also introverts. Introversion is also considered a trait. Empaths may seem to be exactly the same as HSPs, but these are also understood to be slightly different. Most HSPs are also empathic, but the terms are not to be used interchangeably, as not all empaths are HSPs. There is some overlap between people on the autism spectrum and HSP, but they are distinctly different in origin and the full expression in a person's life is quite different. The brains of HSPs and Autistic people also show different brain pattern activity. Mental health can be an issue for HSPs as much as for anyone else, but HSPs may be slightly more prone to anxiety, trauma, co-dependence, or perfectionism than a person without this trait, however this is not a conclusive part of any research that I have seen.

Making self care a priority

If you are a highly sensitive person you may want to let the people you are close to in on it so they can appreciate you and your needs in a new light and with more information. Your own self care may also need to be brought up a notch or two. It is important that you do not ask too much of yourself and begin to pay attention to your body's signals of "too much". Knowing when to disconnect from stimulation both in the outside world, and in your own home will help you to achieve more of a sense of peace and balance in your life. Finally, don’t apologize for who you are. Life a lot harder when we don’t accept the way we naturally are. Remember that your HSP characteristics are a gift. This is often easier said than done. If you find that you are overwhelmed by the challenges related to HSP and want some help navigating the territory with a professional feel free to reach out for a consultation as therapy can be very helpful.