Being A Highly Sensitive Person

Medically reviewed by Kayce Bragg, LPCS, LAC, LCPC, LPC, NCC
Updated February 8, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Do you ever feel the need to lock yourself in a dark room to decompress after a hectic day? Do you tend to avoid watching anything that contains violence on TV or at the movie theater? Have you ever asked yourself, "why am I so sensitive?" If so, you may be what is known as a highly sensitive person, or HSP.

Being a highly sensitive person may feel challenging, as you may experience social isolation or difficulty with others not understanding how you feel. However, there may be some advantages to this personality type.

Learning how to navigate the world with self-awareness, self-love, and kindness to yourself and others might assist you in feeling more comfortable as a sensitive person while minimizing the impact of any disadvantages.

Definition Of High Sensitivity

Talk Through Your Feelings With A Professional

According to the book "The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You" by Dr. Elaine Aron, a highly sensitive person may have physical and emotional responses to their external environment that can be different than those around them. For example, they may be more prone to sensory overload or difficulty with busy and stressful environments. They may also be more inclined to cry or feel scared in response to an emotional film or book. 

It was in 1991 that Dr. Elaine Aron began researching high sensitivity, which she referred to as Sensory-Processing Sensitivity (SPS). Dr. Aron is known most for writing her book named above. The book aims to help people understand what it means to live life as a highly sensitive person, including how to deal with each characteristic involved in being an HSP.

It may be helpful to note that the traits and definition of a highly sensitive person may overlap with the traits of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), some anxiety disorders, and some forms of ADHD. A highly sensitive person test is also performed in order to better understand each individual and to find a realistic and effective solution for these areas. Sensory overload, sensitivity to social situations, and needing extra time to unwind may be symptoms of these conditions. If you're considering the possibility of being a highly sensitive person, a psychologist may be of help to you.

Traits Of A Highly Sensitive Person

Each highly sensitive individual may or may not have every one of the defining characteristics. It is said that some people will experience certain traits, which can be seen as positive or negative by some, to a greater degree than others will.

For example, highly sensitive people may have difficulty tolerating noisy environments, some to a greater degree than others. They may also find that they startle easily, whereas others may not.

HSPs can be hard on themselves, especially about any mistakes they might make. However, this may help them to prevent making similar mistakes in the future. Another trait listed in Dr. Aron's book is a need to relax. After exposure to too many stimuli, an HSP may feel that they need to isolate themselves to "recharge their batteries."

Here are just a few of the common noted traits of HSPs:

  • Sensory sensitivity (sound, vision, taste, smell, or touch)
  • Difficulty with large crowds
  • A feeling of being different than everyone else
  • Heightened empathy
  • Crying at sad movies or books often
  • Becoming fearful, angry, sad, or disgusted with ease, depending on stimuli
  • Feeling happy, excited, loving, or energized with ease, depending on stimuli
  • Heightened intuition

According to hsperson.com, "the key quality is that, compared to the 80% without the trait, they process everything around them much more-reflect on it, elaborate on it, make associations. When this processing is not fully conscious, it surfaces as intuition."

A Test To Determine High Sensitivity

Dr. Aron developed a small test to help people determine if they are highly sensitive. Some of the statements included in the HSP testare:

  • Other people's moods affect me.
  • I find myself needing to withdraw during busy days, into bed, into a darkened room, or any place where I can have some privacy and relief from stimulation.
  • I am easily overwhelmed by things like bright lights, strong smells, coarse fabrics, or sirens close by.
  • The arts or music deeply move me.
  • I startle easily.
  • When people are uncomfortable in a physical environment, I tend to know what needs to be done to make it more comfortable (like changing the lighting or the seating).
  • I try hard to avoid making mistakes or forgetting things.
  • I make a point to avoid violent movies and TV shows.
  • Being very hungry creates a strong reaction in me, disrupting my concentration or mood.
  • When I must compete or be observed while performing a task, I become so nervous or shaky that I do much worse than I would otherwise.

Depending on how many of the items in the test you can relate to, you may find that you are a highly sensitive person. If you find that you relate, it may be helpful for you to familiarize yourself with how this may impact various areas of your life and to learn how you can maximize your ability to cope.

Coping As A Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)

As a highly sensitive person, you can take a few steps in your day to try to reduce the negative impacts of the stimuli, people, or environment around you.

  1. Get good sleep each night and wake up at the same time each day.
  2. Wear noise-reduction headphones or earplugs in loud environments.
  3. Avoid forms of media that cause stress, such as violent films or the news.
  4. Set boundaries with others when you need space or time alone.
  5. Spend time in
  6. Limit caffeine intake.
  7. Try to complete tasks on your own schedule.
  8. Have an enclosed or safe space to retreat to when you feel overwhelmed.

Outside of day-to-day life, HSPs may also encounter challenges in love and relationships.

The HSP In Love

In addition to the book, "The Highly Sensitive Person," Dr. Aron also wrote The Highly Sensitive Person in Love: Understanding and Managing Relationships When the World Overwhelms You, which addresses potential unique challenges associated with highly sensitive people and how they behave in relationships. "HSPs have nervous systems that pick up more on subtleties in the world and reflect on them deeply. That means, for starters, they will tend to demand more depth in their relationships to be satisfied; see more threatening consequences in their partners' flaws or behaviors; reflect more and, if the signs indicate it, worry about how things are going." The book also covers how to meet someone and fall in love if that happens to be something you are interested in.

Careers For Highly Sensitive People

Talk Through Your Feelings With A Professional

When planning a career, it may be beneficial for a highly sensitive person to consider their particular sensitivities. For example, roles that require constant direct supervision may not allow them to perform at their best. They may also wish to consider jobs that do not require them to work in an open office environment where they will constantly be surrounded by large numbers of people and high noise levels throughout the workday. An at-home job may be perfect for those who work best in a quiet and self-controlled environment. 

Highly sensitive people can also consider how their particular characteristics might be advantageous in specific roles. For example, according to Entrepreneur, eight characteristics make highly sensitive people exceptional business leaders:

  1. Emotional awareness
  2. Empathy
  3. Dedication to fairness and justice
  4. Leadership
  5. Passion
  6. Need for space and time to themselves
  7. Innovation
  8. Generosity

Carefully considering how being an HSP may affect how you perform on the job and how a particular role may affect your health and well-being may be an essential step to take before you choose your career path or your next position.

Counseling For HSPs

In some cases, sensitivity may be caused by an underlying mental health condition. In other cases, highly sensitive people may seek help to learn new techniques for dealing with stress, intense emotions, and other concerns. Counseling can be an effective way to handle these symptoms.

Although traditional in-person therapy can be beneficial, online counseling has been proven to be effective in treating prolonged exposure to stress. For HSPs, online counseling may provide a sensory-friendly alternative to traditional therapy in an office. It can be done in a familiar and safe environment with access to an internet connection and digital device.

Some online therapy sites, such as BetterHelp, offer a database of licensed counselors with expertise in various fields. Read below to find counselor reviews from users of the service.

User Reviews

"Enjoyed my sessions with Michael Curry. He's attentive and sensitive and caring. He's knowledgeable in the Word and brings hope to the listener and for that I am very grateful."

"I've seen a number of therapists in the last few years but my sessions with Olivia have far surpassed all experiences I've had. I'm so grateful for her knowledge, understanding and empathy. She has made a real difference in my life after just a small number of sessions."

Takeaway

Being a highly sensitive person may feel isolating. However, you're not alone. Several coping mechanisms are available, as well as access to counselors online and in-person to assist. If you are interested in starting online counseling, consider taking the first step with BetterHelp.

For additional help & support with your concerns

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet Started