4 Characteristics of a Highly Sensitive Person
I am a sensitive person. However, I am not a Highly Sensitive Person.
Hold on, you may say. What’s the difference?
The Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) was discovered by Dr. Elaine Aron, PhD. An HSP has a trait called “Sensory-Processing Sensitivity” (SPS). Since the trait occurs in 15-20 percent of people–and over 100 species of animals as well–it’s not a disorder. However, it is often misunderstood.
The difference between HSPs and the rest of the population is the HSP’s hypersensitive nervous system. The four main areas of high sensitivity are awareness of subtleties, “depth of processing,” emotional reactivity/empathy, and easy overstimulation.
Awareness of Subtleties
HSPs have hypersensitive nervous systems, which means that they receive a lot more sensory stimuli than non-HSPs. Stimuli includes “sights, sounds, smells, vibrations, [and] touch.”
This means that they perceive subtleties more easily than most people. Since they receive extra sensory input and process it more carefully, they see what others miss. One way they use this is to “strategize [a] response based on [the] awareness of others’ nonverbal cues…about their mood or trustworthiness.”
Depth of Processing
HSPs process the input they receive “in more detail than others do.” They “[pause] to check, observe, and reflect on or process what has been noticed before choosing an action.” They may take longer to make decisions simply because they process so deeply and consider each option carefully. However, they will immediately recognize an experience similar to what they’ve faced and will react more quickly than most.
As found in a study by Bianca Acevedo et al., an HSP’s brain shows more activity in a part of the brain called the insula. The insula “integrates moment to moment knowledge of inner states and emotions, bodily position, and other events.” This means that HSPs have a high awareness of their surroundings and their inner state.
HSPs have a stronger reaction to experiences than non-HSPs, whether the experiences are positive or negative. Further, the ability to recognize “emotional states…through tone of voice, posture, gestures, and eye contact” makes an HSP very empathetic. Since they process deeply and catch most stimuli, they can easily interpret and feel the emotions of others.
However, this means that they can be thrust from emotional state to emotional state, which is exhausting. It also means that if they are around someone who is constantly in a negative mood, they will be affected by that.
Though high sensitivity can be a wonderful trait, the amount of stimuli an HSP receives and automatically processes can be overwhelming. A person can only tolerate so much. Environments “with loud noises, bright lights, strong smells, or lots of activity” are particularly hard for them to handle. Sometimes they are even sensitive to certain fabrics.
An easy solution is to leave the difficult environment, but that isn’t always possible for the HSP to do. In order to keep from being overwhelmed, HSPs need time to themselves, particularly in a quiet, non-stimulating environment.
Difficulties for the HSP
Since HSPs are different from the rest of the population, they are often misunderstood. Highly sensitive men, though, usually have more difficulty than women simply because of societal ideals. In certain societies, like North America, sensitivity in men is not a desirable trait; those men are teased. In other societies, though, like Thailand and India, sensitive men are rarely ever teased.
Still, high sensitivity is not a problem. HSPs see what others do not and have incredible intuition. Their difference in perception brings diversity to the workings of the human mind. They are incredible, creative, often misunderstood people.
After all, difference and diversity are what makes humanity beautiful.