Do you know what it’s like to be a Highly Sensitive Person? Do you have anyone in your life who might?
According to Dr. Elaine Aron, the world’s leading expert on the matter, Highly Sensitive People have a more sensitive nervous system that allows them to perceive information on a deeper level than most and respond to stimuli more strongly. It’s a heritable, biological disposition found in 15-20% of people all over the world (Aron, 2013).
Because HSPs have heightened physical, mental, and emotional senses, they can see things going on deep beneath the surface that most of us can’t. They tend to be intuitive, emotional, soft-spoken, and altruistic. They’re also incredibly loyal, devoted, caring, and nurturing, so if you’re friends with a Highly Sensitive Person, you should consider yourself incredibly lucky.
Not sure if your friend really is an HSP? Here are 10 definitive signs to look out for:
1. They’re good at reading people
HSPs have a knack for reading other people and their emotions. Because they’re so perceptive and in tune with everything around them, it’s easy for them to gauge your emotions just from your facial cues, mannerisms, or body language. They’re observant, intuitive, and incredibly skilled at nonverbal communication (Aron, 2013). So if you’re always wondering why your friend always seems to know what you’re thinking or how you’re feeling before you yourself can even understand it completely, it’s probably because they’re Highly Sensitive.
2. They like to think things through
Whether it’s about which outfit to wear, what movie to watch, or where to eat lunch, your friend never decides anything without thinking things through first. They like to ask for other people’s opinions before they make their choice and they take their time making sure if this is what they really want. Indecisive but agreeable, they’re not one to take charge and tell anyone else what to do. Should that responsibility ever fall on them, however, they will think long and hard about what’s best for everyone involved. Meticulous and analytical, they’re mindful of how their words and actions affect the people around them.
3. They’re easily overwhelmed
It doesn’t matter if they’re extraverted or introverted, Highly-Sensitive People don’t like being around large crowds. They try to stay away from anywhere where there’s lots of noise, bright lights, or commotion, so parties, night clubs, concerts, and festivals aren’t really their thing. If your friend is an HSP, they’ll also need a lot of space and time alone to decompress, because they can’t handle being so stimulated for so long (Benham, 2006). HSPs are easily overwhelmed and often quick to absorb the emotions of others. So if you’re in a bad mood, it’s probably going to put your friend in a bad mood, too.
4. They can’t stand cruelty
Is your friend protective of you? Have they ever stood up for you when someone else was mean to you? Or defended you to someone else? Highly Sensitive People have a strong sense of right and wrong, and they find it hard to sit idly by when they see someone else being hurt or mistreated. Graphic depictions of violence make them uncomfortable because they often feel other people’s pain as if it’s their own. They will never put someone else down just to make themselves feel good and they believe in equality, fairness, and justice (Cooper, 2015).
5. They’re incredibly empathetic
Another great quality many Highly Sensitive People share is their incredible gift for empathy (Acevedo, 2014). Compassionate and understanding, HSPs make other people feel heard and validated because they always make sure to consider everyone’s point of view. They’re some of the most considerate and soft-hearted individuals you will ever have the pleasure of meeting, and you’d be lucky to call one your friend.
6. They’re great at listening
Does your friend take the time to listen to what you have to say? Do you get the sense that they really care by giving you their full attention? Highly Sensitive People are great listeners and they’re always ready to lend an ear to a friend in need (Aron, 2013). Supportive and reassuring, HSPs are more than happy to help you work through all your feelings and listen to your problems. They’re also incredibly insightful and great at giving advice.
7. They’re very self-aware
Most Highly Sensitive People are deep thinkers with a rich inner life (Aron, 2011). Their heightened sensitivity allows them to be more self-aware and introspective than most. They’re in touch with their own thoughts, feelings, and beliefs so they know themselves better than anyone else ever could. As a result, they usually have a self-deprecating sense of humor, question their own decisions, and recognize their own strengths and weaknesses.
8. They’re passionate
While some people might think of your friend as a drama queen or a crybaby, you understand that they’re just a passionate person with a lot of heart. They dedicate themselves fully to everything they do and experience everything life has to offer wholeheartedly. They’re enthusiastic, free-spirited, idealistic, driven, and determined. They stand by what they believe in and stay true to themselves no matter what.
9. They’re artistic
Research on Highly Sensitive People shows that a large majority of them tend to be artistically inclined (Zeff, 2004). Because their emotions are so much more intense and powerful than most of us experience, many of them channel it into a creative outlet like painting, writing, singing, or dancing. It’s easy for them to get lost in the melody of a song or the stroke of a brush. They love to express themselves and have a deep appreciation for music, art, poetry, nature, and anything beautiful.
10. They’re emotionally open
Finally, perhaps the easiest way to spot an HSP is if they wear their heart on their sleeve. Highly Sensitive people aren’t afraid to be vulnerable or emotionally open. They love passionately and think about life deeply. They get hurt easily, cry easily, and get upset easily because sometimes they feel overwhelmed by all their emotions. Something so simple can mean so much for them and they are some of the purest and most generous souls around.
So if you have a Highly Sensitive friend in your life, don’t take them for granted. Navigating life as an HSP can be tricky, but there’s a lot you can do to make it easier for them. Remain honest with them about your emotions, respect their boundaries and personal space, and connect with them in a meaningful way. Be their safe space and encourage them to embrace their sensitivity. Don’t ever make them feel like they have to change to be accepted, because Highly Sensitive People make the world a better place in their own gentle, beautiful way.
- Aron, E. (2013). The highly sensitive person. Kensington Publishing Corp.
- Benham, G. (2006). The highly sensitive person: Stress and physical symptom reports. Personality and individual differences, 40(7), 1433-1440.
- Cooper, T. (2015). The Ordinary Magic of Resilience and the Highly Sensitive Person. The Guilford Press, New York: NY.
- Acevedo, B.P. (2014). The highly sensitive brain: an fMRI study of sensory processing sensitivity and response to others’ emotions. Brain and Behavior, 4(4), 580-594. doi: 10.1002/brb3.242
- Aron, E. N. (2011). Psychotherapy and the highly sensitive person: Improving outcomes for that minority of people who are the majority of clients. Routledge.
- Zeff, T. (2004). The Highly Sensitive Person’s Survival Guide: Essential Skills for Living Well in an Overstimulating World. New Harbinger Publications.