Where it seems like everyone is constantly multitasking, on edge, and looking for their next fix of dopamine, a highly sensitive person (HSP) creates images of frailty, shyness and weakness. And it shouldn’t be.
HSPs make up around 20% of the population, yet they are often misunderstood. A lot of the misconceptions are because highly sensitive people don’t fit into the expected mould. I know this to be true since I’m an HSP myself.
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If you want to know why a sensitive person in your life is often quiet, avoids crowds and prefers working alone, or even why they cry at sappy movies, then this article is for you. If you are a highly sensitive person too, then this is also an article for you — because it’s high time we stopped hiding and shaming our sensitivity. We should start accepting it as a normal personality trait that has been stereotyped as weak.
So from me (and on behalf of other HSPs), here’s what I wish you knew about being highly sensitive.
I am a highly sensitive person
This means that I have a higher-than-average sensory processing sensitivity. This makes me more aware of my environment and it affects me in different ways. Basically, it just means that my senses are more intense than yours. You can think of it as the equivalent of having a very high-resolution camera zoomed in on life. It can also be quite frustrating at times.
I’m not the only person who feels this way. Research shows that 15% of the population has some form of sensory sensitivity. That can make life pretty difficult sometimes, and can also be a source of great wisdom and strength.
Everyone wants me to be less sensitive
If you’re highly sensitive, you’ve probably been accused of being overly aware. People want you to just shrug off what hurts you and carry on. I’m going to tell you the truth. I wish someone had told me that I was highly sensitive and how it was holding me back from living life the way I wanted. The truth is, letting your sensitivity motivate you instead of holding you back can have a positive influence on your life.
Sensitivity is a misunderstood trait
Sensitive is a word with a negative connotation. Most of us are sensitive to one thing or another, but highly sensitive people are on a whole different level. They feel things much more deeply than the average person and they uniquely see the world.
We aren’t fragile. We are strong, but we are sensitive and sometimes our sensitivity is mistaken for fragility by others. Our world has been set up to cater to others, so we have had to learn how to adapt our sensitivity to fit into society.
A highly sensitive person is not made
A highly sensitive person is born, not made, like left-handedness. They can be prone to anxiety and depression. But rather than being a weakness, sensitivity can also be a strength.
Being highly sensitive isn’t a choice or a personality flaw — it’s a trait. Psychologists suggest that as many as 15% of people are born this way.
It’s a trait that can be traced back to their genes, which makes it something they were born with rather than developed over time.
I see and feel everything
I see things, hear things, and feel things with great detail. Sometimes, I smell and taste things that most people don’t. I see too much. I know too much. Also, I tend to absorb other people’s emotions and pain.
This is both amazing and challenging at the same time. It’s amazing because I do enjoy being able to experience life in a deeper way than most people do. But it can also be challenging because sometimes too much input can be overwhelming — especially when there is trauma involved.
I feel emotions intensely
I absorb other people’s energy and emotions, sometimes even when they’re not around. So, I have to be on guard at all times, or else my body becomes a sponge for everyone else’s pain and discomfort. For me, this is exhausting and anxiety-inducing.
The world is an overwhelming place for me sometimes, but if you’re like me, you can also feel great joy from being so attuned to the nuances of the world around you.
I am not an over-reactor
People perceive us to be over-reacting, or as overly emotional in most situations. We are often reminded that we shouldn’t get offended or upset so easily.
I am not an over-reactor. Most people panic and react when emotions strike. I internally unravel and dissolve into a puddle of tears and snot before bubbling over with an epic eruption of sadness.
Because we feel so deeply, we often have to hide our feelings in order to fit into our society as well as protect ourselves from being judged and ridiculed for having “too much emotion”.
My sensitivity is a gift in many ways
Being highly sensitive is a gift. Highly sensitive people are more observant and more attuned to their environment. They experience the world differently from others, which in turn gives them a different perspective.
We feel joy and love deeply. When we experience pain, it can be more intense than others may experience as well. Yet we also have unique gifts that come from our sensitivity such as intuition, empathy and creativity.
I connect with animals and nature in a way that most people don’t get to experience. My sensitivity allows me to feel what animals are feeling and helps me understand them better than most people who don’t share this trait.
I crave deep and happy relationships
I crave deep and happy relationships, but I wish my friends knew that I’m a highly sensitive person, and that doesn’t mean I’m broken. This doesn’t mean I want to talk about my feelings all the time or never be alone. Yes, I need alone time to recharge, but I crave deep and happy relationships just like everybody else.
I’m an ‘old soul’
HSPs are people who feel things very deeply and have great empathy for other living things. They often get lost in their own thoughts and sometimes can’t relate to the world around them. HSPs have experienced many hard times and difficult situations, sometimes causing them to feel hopeless or depressed.
A passion for helping others, creativity and spirituality are common traits of an old soul. An old soul can be identified by their love of all things vintage, their musical tastes (often based on decades past), and their desire to help people and make a difference in the world and most HSPs are this way.
That’s how I feel every day. I am constantly overcome by the feeling that I’ve been here before… that this has all happened before. And then my mind starts to go crazy with ideas about the past, the future, what it all means… and then I have to take a step back and relax.
I pay attention to detail and familiarity
I easily absorb, retain and recall details from my environment.
It means that I have a keen sense of my surroundings and an uncanny ability to read people without even trying. It makes me a great friend, an excellent counsellor, and someone who can give you good advice on subjects like relationships and work-related issues.
I have a soft spot for the aesthetics of things
I notice when things don’t match. If you don’t know what matching means, allow me to explain.
It’s when the seam on your shirt matches the seam on your pants. Your shoes are the same brand and colour as your belt. Your hair bows match the colour of your shirt. The hems of your pants are smoothed down and facing in the same direction. You wear socks with little owls on them.
Oh, and you’ve got a matching bowtie or pocket square or vest or scarf or whatever other superfluous clothing accessories you’re into.
I need to be more resilient
Being a highly sensitive person is difficult. The world tells us to be tough and to suck it up when we’re hurting but eventually, that leads to burnout.
Most people think that being an HSP gives you a never-ending supply of energy (and it does — to be fair). But what I’ve recently realized is that because of our heightened sensitivity and empathy, we are more likely to over-give. The idea of someone else in pain makes us feel pain — their suffering becomes our suffering. This is why some of us HSPs often grow anxious, depressed, exhausted, burnt out, and snap under stress (trigger warning for emotional labour).
I can be easily overwhelmed
My sensitivity also means that I can be easily overwhelmed by loud noise, not enough sleep and a lot of work. I can be easily overwhelmed by crowds, sudden noises, and extreme opposites such as heat and cold.
If you tease me or criticize me, I have a hard time not taking it personally. Before you give a judgmental look, question my motives, roll your eyes at my sensitivity, correct me in front of others, or call me out in front of a group of people, ask yourself if you intend to help me or hurt me. If the answer is hurt — don’t do it. It’ll hurt me far more than it will help.
Highly sensitive people are sometimes more vulnerable to anxiety disorders
Highly sensitive people are almost twice as likely to suffer from anxiety as the general population.
Irritability is a particular problem for highly sensitive people, and research suggests that it may be due to the wiring of their nervous systems.
Being highly sensitive means a little bit about how you are wired and more about what you have had to do to survive in this world without having your head explode all the time.
However, some highly sensitive persons might not necessarily have anxiety disorders, but they might still experience some pretty serious symptoms of anxiety, like feeling agitated, upset, or tense for no reason. And as anyone who’s ever dealt with anxiety can tell you: It sucks.
I have a hard time being assertive, so my comments can come off as snarky or critical
As an HSP, one of my biggest challenges is being assertive and expressing my needs in a way that’s respectful and clear.
Being an HSP makes it difficult for me to process conflict. So when someone says something that offends or frustrates me, I’m unable to process my emotions and respond in a productive way. Most times.
There’s no such thing as “tough guy” for me
Being highly sensitive is not an easy diet to swallow. Being highly sensitive means that I experience things more intensely, both the good and the bad.
As a result of experiencing things more intensely, it takes me longer to recover from strong emotions and also take longer to recover from being overstimulated by sensory input than other people.
Being a highly sensitive person is a good thing
You have an amazing ability to sense things that others don’t, which is why you’re able to notice details and pick up on subtle clues people give off without even realizing it. You can read other people’s energy, which helps you understand them better as well as know when something’s not right.
Your brain notices everything around you and has to process all the information while everyone else only sees what they want to see and what they expect to see.
You have an excellent intuitive sense of people and situations. This can help you foresee danger and avoid catastrophes — but can also make you worry about things before they might happen which can be exhausting.
Hopefully, the knowledge that we HSPs aren’t just overly-sensitive or weak will help to lessen the stigma for other HSPs. More importantly, maybe this article helped you in some way, no matter how small.
If you are an HSP too, try not to worry about other people thinking you’re too sensitive. Instead, let your sensitivity take you where it may: through a little tear, a big laugh, and almost everything in between.
Your emotions are real and valid. They aren’t signs of weakness or instability. It’s just that when you experience your emotions so deeply, the effects can impact your body and the way you feel. But remember, your sensitivity is an asset, not a flaw.
So, now that you know this, the next time you encounter someone who is “too sensitive”, please recommend that they read this article. Maybe then they might be able to use their sensitivity to their advantage instead of feeling ashamed of it.
Other than that, thank you for reading and keeping an open mind.
Would you consider yourself highly sensitive? I would love to know in the comments below.