Have you ever felt like you were different from everyone else? Like you could see or sense things other people couldn’t? Do you feel that you are more empathetic, self-aware, or intuitive than most? Chances are, if you’re a Highly Sensitive Person, the answer is probably yes.
A concept first coined by psychologist Dr. Elaine N. Aron, Highly Sensitive People (or HSP for short) are those born with a distinct biological trait that predisposes them to process and understand information on a deeper level (Aron, 1996). This means that they are often more perceptive, self-aware, and highly in tune with their feelings and the feelings of others (Greven, et al., 2019).
Most HSPs are great listeners and deep thinkers by nature. They may feel easily overwhelmed by too many things happening all at once, so it’s not uncommon for them to need time to themselves to recharge after a particularly hectic day. While most HSPs are introverts, over 30% of them are extraverted as well.
According to research, one in every five people or 15-20% of the general population are Highly Sensitive People (Aron, et al., 2010). Despite being a relatively common personality trait, however, a lot of people still don’t fully understand what it means to be an HSP, so here are four facts about what it’s really like being a Highly Sensitive Person:
1. You wear your heart on your sleeve
Being an HSP has a lot to do with feeling things more deeply than others. That being said, you might find yourself crying easily over little things or being quick to feel angry over a slight disagreement — and that’s okay. Most Highly Sensitive People find it hard to mask their true emotions because of how overpowering they can be at times.
Being an HSP myself, I’ve been called a “crybaby” by a lot of my family and friends over the years because I used to get weepy over sad stories or movies. It’s perfectly normal to feel this way, as HSPs are known for their ability to “absorb” the feelings of others. That means hurting when the people you love get hurt, or feeling angry or indignant on their behalf. Sometimes it’s enough to leave you feeling emotionally unbalanced, which is why a lot of HSPs may struggle with controlling their emotions.
2. You love to express yourself
Because Highly Sensitive People feel so much richer emotions than other people do, it should come as no surprise that most of them channel it into creative outlets. They seek to express themselves and how they’re feeling through things like music, art, poetry, writing, dancing, and more. Doing this allows them to make sense of what they’re thinking and feeling. Otherwise, they’d need to bottle it up until it exploded, which is absolute torture for a Highly Sensitive Person.
On a similar note, HSPs are also drawn to the creative arts because they tend to have a deeper appreciation for it. They can be moved by a song, a poem, or a painting in a way most people would find it hard to understand. As an HSP, appreciating someone else’s work of art means feeling what they’re feeling and having their message emotionally resonate within you, even if you yourself have never experienced what they might be going through.
3. You are often misunderstood
Another common misconception most people have of HSPs is that they’re “drama queens” who like to make a show about how they’re feeling. However, what might seem as moody and over dramatic behavior to some is just the way HSPs are biologically wired to behave.
If you’re an HSP, it can be difficult for other people to connect with you, because they may feel like they need to walk on eggshells around you and tiptoe around you all the time. They might not joke around and tease you as much, or refrain from criticizing you in any way. However, with a bit more time, effort, and understanding, you’ll find that a lot of people come around to understand your point of view, too.
4. You are Easily Overwhelmed
Highly sensitive people struggle to multi-task when they have a lot of different things to do. They become noticeably more anxious with the more they have on their plate, and as their stress level increases, they have more difficulty being productive. It’s easier for an HSP to feel overloaded with sensations, events, and experiences, because of their ability to perceive things at a much deeper level than most are capable of. They find noisy environments chaotic and uncomfortable, and thrive in moments of peace and quiet. This is why most HSPs are often mistyped as introverts by those that don’t know or understand them well.
5. You easily absorb emotions
To a highly sensitive person, emotions are infectious. Being an HSP means having the uncanny ability to intuitively sense the emotions of those around you and experience it as if they were your own. When the people they care about are happy or having fun, they can’t help but feel and radiate that same joy. They can sense someone else’s discomfort or apprehension, which makes them great at reading people and knowing how to approach them However, this makes it harder for an HSP to let go of negative emotions as well, which is why they seem so affected when others feel angry or upset with them.
6. Sometimes you struggle with your sensitivity
For a lot of HSPs, there is likely a time in your life when you wished you could stop feeling the way that you did. There might be moments when you feel bad about being so soft hearted or so easily affected by everything. You might not have really understood yet what it means to be an HSP; all you know is that you’re different from most people around you, and no, it’s not just because you “always take things so personally.”
At times, it may be hard for you to be honest about how you really feel, even to the people you love, because you’re afraid they might be dismissive of you and invalidate your feelings. You might have been told to just “forget about it” because it’s “not a big deal.” While on the one hand, you know that they’re right sometimes and that you really shouldn’t sweat the small stuff, you also know that it’s hard to swallow your feelings and keep them inside.
In the end, while sometimes it may feel like being a Highly Sensitive person is more of a burden than a blessing, it’s important to keep in mind that sensitivity and empathy is a wonderful gift to have. To be kind and gentle in a world that all too often seems cruel and uncaring is the greatest strength any person could ever hope for. So celebrate what makes you unique and embrace your sensitivity!