Are You a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)?

by Rachel Lysak | Oct 2023

H​igh sensitivity is an impactful personality trait observed in 15-20% of people. It is characterized by deep cognitive processing, elevated emotional intensity, and increased sensitivity to stimuli. Dr. Elaine Aron, who introduced the term Highly Sensitive Person in the early 1990s, describes this trait as a heightened awareness and responsiveness to the environment and its subtleties. Highly Sensitive Persons (HSPs) move through life with a distinctive sense of environmental and interpersonal sensitivity and emotional awareness. HSPs are deep thinkers who must take time to reflect on their experiences and can be easily overwhelmed because they are constantly processing high volumes of sensory information. They have a heightened sense of empathy and strong intuition, with increased sensitivity to stimuli like bright lights, loud noises, strong smells, and variations in texture.  This sensitivity can bring about a deep emotional connection to stimuli such as music, theatre, and other forms of art. It can help the person form deep bonds with others because they intuitively know what their friend, family member, or colleague is feeling as well as what they might need to feel better.

Although it can be beautiful, sensitivity brings challenges. HSPs often find social engagements draining due to their deep empathy and perceptiveness. Their need for solitude may be misunderstood as antisocial behavior, and the constant overstimulation and emotional overwhelm may lead to anxiety and depression if not handled with care.  For those unsure about their sensitivity levels, the PsychCentral quiz provides valuable indicators, helping individuals understand their reactions and comfort levels in different situations. While not diagnostic, the quiz is a useful tool for self-discovery and a starting point for exploration with professionals.  Identification as an HSP is not a disorder nor a diagnosis.  Rather, it is another way to understand yourself or your loved one; knowledge that can be a life-enhancing tool.

How to Offer Support

Is your child, partner, parent, etc. an HSP?  A supportive and understanding environment is crucial for them.  Recognizing their need for downtime, validating their emotional responses, and providing a calm and tranquil space are essential for their well-being.  Mindfulness and meditation are valuable, aiding in stress reduction and emotional balance. Setting boundaries to protect from overwhelming situations and seeking help from therapists knowledgeable about high sensitivity can also be beneficial.

For Further Reading

Dr. Elaine Aron’s works are invaluable resources for those interested in delving deeper into the subject.  Her book, “The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You,” offers insightful perspectives and practical advice for HSPs and those interacting with them.  Aron’s extensive research and personal insights shed light on the challenges and gifts of being highly sensitive, providing guidance on navigating relationships, work, and self-care effectively.