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8 Signs You’re a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)

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Susan Cain’s book Quiet was a catalyst for the introvert movement that helped bring awareness towards personality types with a greater need for solitude and less stimulating environments. With one third to half of the world’s population made up of introverts, it’s great that we finally began to acknowledge and talk about their unique set of traits and tendencies. Along with introversion, sensitivity has also made the headlines and been widely discussed. The personality trait was first researched by Dr. Elaine N. Aron in 1991. All of her important findings have been published in various articles and in her book The Highly Sensitive Person.

Although it’s a trait being acknowledged more, Aron states that sensitive people are still often considered the “minority” of the population. She emphasizes that culture plays a large role towards how sensitivity is valued. Aron writes, “In cultures where it is not valued, HSPs tend to have low self esteem. They are told ‘don’t be so sensitive’ so that they feel abnormal.” We want to raise this issue and help promote more acceptance towards highly sensitive people. Approximately 70% of the introverted population is made up of HSPs. Not all introverts identify as HSPs, but there seems to be an overlap between the two traits that’s too important to ignore. Are you an introvert wondering if you’re also highly sensitive? Psych2Go shares with you 8 signs you’re a highly sensitive person (HSP):

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1. You feel deeply and tend to be more emotionally reactive.

Have people often called you “deep” when you provide your insights? Then, you may be an HSP. HSPs tend to feel things more deeply and are more naturally inclined to react emotionally towards situations. Dr. Ted Zeff, author of The Highly Sensitive Person’s Survival Guide, writes, “They like to process things on a deep level. They’re very intuitive, and go very deep inside to try to figure things out.” Overall, HSPs are empathetic and care a lot for others when they are having a tough time. Since your emotions run deep, when others suffer, you can also feel their pain. This helps you stay open-minded when you can easily put yourself in the shoes of another and understand what that person is going through.

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2. You prefer to exercise alone.

Highly sensitive people often avoid team sports because they are uncomfortable with an audience watching their every move. According to Dr. Zeff, the majority of HSPs gravitate towards solitary sports, such as running, hiking, and bicycling. This allows time for you to reflect and get away from overly stimulating environments as you simultaneously work on reaching your fitness goals. However, in some circumstances, HSPs may enjoy playing in team sports if they were brought up by parents who provided a supportive environment that made it easier for them to get involved. If you were encouraged by a nurturing family and good friends, then you may find yourself flourishing in team sports, too. Nurturing one’s sensitivity is the key to helping them grow comfortable with activities they may not be naturally inclined to enjoy because it allows them to feel safe to take risks.

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3. It takes you longer to make decisions because you are concerned about making a “wrong” or “bad” decision.

When you’re sensitive, it takes you more time to make decisions, even though there may not be a right or wrong decision. For instance, it may take you longer than others to choose what you want to eat from a restaurant menu. This is because you have a tendency towards weighing all the options that are provided. Even if you already have a good idea about what you want to choose from the menu, you can’t help but think about the what-if’s and explore the possibility of other dishes based on their descriptions. As a result, when it comes to making big, life-changing decisions, such as where you want to move or what career you want to work, you may often feel paralyzed and overwhelmed by the various potential outcomes you imagine from each possibility.

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4. You pay attention to subtlety and small details in general.

You’re sensitive to changes in your immediate environment and the people who surround you. You may notice the small details, such as the new color someone paints their nails or the tiny crack on someone’s lamp that wasn’t initially there. When you identify as a highly sensitive person, it’s hard for you to miss subtlety, because you’re prone to reading between the lines. Generally, as someone who has a lot welling up inside of you, you make it a habit to notice things, because everything affects you strongly.

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5. You are highly conscientious and have extremely good manners.

When you’re highly sensitive, you care a lot about the way you present yourself and how your own actions may affect others. You tend to be considerate towards others’ needs and want to do things in a way that creates convenience, rather than causing trouble for them. You put a lot of effort in even the smallest actions, such as making sure you put an item back where you got it from as you’re shopping to prevent troubling a staff member to do it. You’re the type of person to always thank your waiter at the end of the night for their service and leave a generous tip. It leaves you feeling uncomfortable when you’re not exhibiting polite mannerisms to the best of your ability.

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6. You are prone to having anxiety or depression, especially if you’ve had many bad past experiences.

As an HSP, if you experienced a lot of negative events in your life, you may have developed anxiety or depression over the years. According to Dr. Aron, this is because your nervous system often operates in anxious mode when you don’t feel safe in your environment. Your nervous system is meant to alert you about potential danger, so when it’s used to doing that in abundance, it causes you to stay on edge for long periods of time. This is why it’s crucial to have parents who nurture your sensitivity with just the right amount of care. If they make you feel ashamed for being sensitive, it prevents you from understanding and using your sensitivity in a productive way that can help you grow. But if they protect you too much because of your sensitivity, then it may cause you to have difficulty making transitions in life and adapting to new situations.

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7. Violent/horror movies are not your cup of tea.

This is one that I strongly resonate with. As a child, I couldn’t stand being pulled into the same room and forced to watch scary movies. As a result, I’d always stay wide awake because certain scenes would replay again and again in my head that prevented me from falling asleep. When you’re highly sensitive, you are overly stimulated by violent/horror films that sensation-seekers often get a good adrenaline rush from. Realize that there’s nothing wrong with turning down horror movies. Your nervous system will be much happier that you did what’s best for you.

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8. You work well in team environments.

When you’re highly sensitive, you tend to be a deep thinker. This makes you a valuable person in team settings because you’re able to analyze situations and figure out how everyone’s strengths and talents can be used to help the team work more efficiently. In addition, you can also identify many of the pros and cons when it comes to decision-making. However, you may not be comfortable with being the person in charge of making the actual decisions. Instead, you may like to play the role of someone who negotiates and helps facilitate discussions, rather than the person who has to take action. Still, with the right amount of encouragement and good practice, HSPs can make exceptional leaders with their ability to empathize with their coworkers and having an open mind when problem-solving.

Would you consider yourself a highly sensitive person? Do you agree with these points? Psych2Go would love to hear your thoughts! Please be sure to leave a comment down below!

 

References:

Aron, E. (2017). The Highly Sensitive Person. Retrieved December 12, 2017, from http://hsperson.com

Chan, A. (2014, February 26). 16 Habits Of Highly Sensitive People. HuffPost. Retrieved December 12, 2017.

Chung, M. (2017). The Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) and Introversion. Introvert Spring. Retrieved December 12, 2017.

37 Comments

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    • Hi Mizuki, yes I believe you’re right. INFJ is one of the personality types that can identify with these traits! =) Are you an INFJ? Thanks so much for reading, I hope you have a great day!

  1. I am an extremely sensitive person. In a team setting, I’m the one highlighting all the blind spots and weaknesses that could hinder or derail a project. Sometimes it’s perceived as pessimistic. Just like the weather, the climate of any environment is unpredictable when you’re trying to accomplish something.
    It took years to develop a positive template of my sensitivity. I used to think something was wrong with me (there was: my self esteem). But I realized this was a gift: to solve problems from an in-depth perspective.

    • Hi Jason, thanks so much for reading. =) I think because you can pick up on the blind spots and weaknesses for projects, you serve as a valuable asset to your team. I don’t consider that pessimistic at all, but rather, you have a realistic perspective, and that can be refreshing for people who easily overlook the small, yet essential details. I’m glad you’re able to see that your sensitivity is a gift because it is! Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts! I hope you have a great day! =)

  2. This piece is loaded with so many great points. It was truly a great read!

    I loved how you tied together the connection between HSPs and introverts and touched on how societal views can have an effect on an HSP’s self esteem.

    In the second bullet point, you raise an interesting point about how proper nurture and support can make HSPs comfortable with traditionally unappealing activities. I think it would have been great if you expounded upon that just a little more. Why is that the key to making HSPs secure in uncomfortable settings? Especially since you touch upon the concept again in point #6.

    I also really loved point # 8 because it reinforces what you talk about in the introduction: the idea of normalizing being an HSP. Point 8 takes that a step further and frames it as an asset. Really nice work!

    As a follow-up, in your opinion would you categorize empaths and HSPs as one and the same, or do you think that they are two separate qualities? Is one a subset of the other?

    • Hi Valencia, thanks as always for reading and providing your input. =) That’s an excellent suggestion you brought up and I was able to expand further on point #2. HSPs have to feel secure in uncomfortable settings because they’re overwhelmed easily. The only way to alleviate some of that anxiety is by providing a safe environment in which they won’t feel judged. In other words, they have to feel like it’s okay for them to take risks.

      That’s also a great question you raised! I think HSPs and empaths are more or less the same, because in order to empathize with someone, it requires a special degree of sensitivity. I would say they go hand in hand! =)

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I hope you have a great day! <3

  3. I never perceived myself as an HSP until now. I always wondered why I feel so strongly about exercising alone and why female & male colleagues tell me everything they’re feeling/thinking once they get to know me. I am a deep thinker and I have a deep empathy for other people’s struggles in life. I always put myself in their shoes & feel what they are feeling. I draw from my life experiences and provide them with insight of the best way to manage an issue they are facing. When they don’t heed my advice and continue asking other people, I feel hurt that my advice was overlooked when it came from my heart. After a sense of betrayal, I would usually restrict how much empathy I’d have toward that person and make a mental note of the individuals typical behavioural pattern. I.e. don’t give her to much insight or invest too much time because she doesn’t want to hear the truth – She only wants to hear a convenient truth.
    Thank you for this article because it has taught me so much more about myself and changed my perspective on something I passionately denied my whole life.

    • Hi Damien, thanks so much for reading and for sharing your thoughts! 🙂 Wow, I had no idea how much of an impact my work can give! I’m glad I helped you come to terms on something you’ve denied. It’s hard, because society doesn’t often favor highly sensitive people, so I understand wanting to keep it subdued. I think I’m the same way whenever I give others advice, too. I initially pay attention first to how much people want to hear and go off on that. It’s not a bad thing, because sometimes people want a shoulder to lean on vs. advice. It’s always good to be cognizant of that, and it seems like you’re already doing that! Sometimes, people don’t want to hear the whole truth, like you said —just what is convenient. But, I’m glad this article helped bring forth some perspective! I hope you have a great year ahead of you! 🙂

  4. Goodday psych2go. After reading ur article, u realised that I’m quite the highly sensitive type but i feel I’m way more depressed and i soo don’t know how to deal with it. I’ve tried talking to people about it but i feel most of them don’t understand. Please i need it cause it seems it’s killing me daily. Thanks

  5. Being an HSP can be exhausting, overwhelming and stressful. Not to mention also isolating. I appreciate and loathe this “gift” simultaneously.

      • Aww, Diana, I’m sorry to hear. Relationships can be difficult for HSPs because not many people are aware of how to handle and communicate with them properly, but that’s what makes spreading awareness about this topic that much more important. We wanted to join that movement. If you would like to see more content on anything else that sparks your interest, let us know. ♥

    • Hi Christina, thanks so much for reading and for sharing your thoughts with us! I agree, haha. There’s pros and cons to everything in life. 🙂 Still, I think being an HSP is special. Have a great day! ♥

  6. Catherine,

    I can relate to EVERY bullet point! I so enjoyed reading this article. I always thought something was wrong with me. I have had bouts of depression, low self esteem, hurt feelings, etc. I am the “quiet” person on the team, but the one who sees all the cracks and possible landmines on team projects. I can completely relate to this article! Thank you for writing it!! 😊

    • Hi Dani, thanks so much for reading and for sharing your thoughts with us! 🙂 I’m glad you can relate to every bullet! I’m sorry to hear that you’ve had a rough time. It’s hard being an HSP because we’re often conditioned in society starting at a young age believing there’s something wrong with us when in actuality, it’s a normal part of who we are. It seems like you are very perceptive. Sensitivity can be a gift for that reason. I hope you have a great day! ♥

  7. I can relate to this.
    The fact that I feel compelled to make sure that someone else that I don’t even know is not affected by my actions or help a helpless person always intrigued me. I have always felt regret for not being able to help someone that I knew needed help. But as an INTJ, I have let my rational side control most of those emotions, mainly when I knew I could help a person but I just didn’t act because I was self-conscious. And that is usually followed by a “nice” 10 minutes of over thinking the situation and the “ifs” and “if nots”. Also, that makes me think that I might be heartless – like all the psychopaths in the movies, cause they are usually INTJs, just a stereotype anyway… – because I’m able to stand there and do nothing.
    But then again, isn’t that what everyone else does? I think the problem might not just be me, it is our society that has influenced us to act like this. So HSPs are normally prone to not feel comfortable in a society that doesn’t empathize like they do and they feel too awkward to act naturally and emotional when most would just overlook the situation. In fact that’s how I feel.
    I want to say all those good things and kind words and how I feel to someone but my brain is hardwired to translate all of that to a simple “yeah…” or “ok”. It makes you feel stupid.
    When someone comes to me asking for advice I usually follow one of this two paths – I tell them what I truly think and feel they should do because I know and trust them well enough to not feel judged – or – I tell them something useful or convenient but still convincing and impersonal to the point that I don’t feel exposed or judged, even if I know them well but I still don’t feel comfortable to say anything meaningful or meanful – because I can be very honest even too honest I try to restrain the things I say so I don’t hurt anyone not ready to hear truth. I could even hurt myself in the process too.
    Sorry for the long text.
    I really liked reading this and it made me think a lot.
    Thanks and keep up the good work!

    • Hi Michael, thanks so much for reading and for taking the time to share such deep thoughts with us! 🙂 Haha, my boyfriend’s name is Michael, too, and the two of you are so similar! I believe my boyfriend is an INTP. And no need to apologize for the long message! It shows that you have a great interest on the topic, and that’s inspiring for me to see! Gets me just as excited! Haha. I understand the overthinking process and feeling stupid after only being able to say a few words without seeming overwhelming or strange to others because so much goes on in our heads when we have a great desire to help or do something. It’s definitely one of the many struggles of being an HSP. We live in a judgmental world in general, but it sounds like you have a lot of kindness inside you. I think it’s important to do what feels right to you regardless of how others will judge you. If people will judge you for helping someone out, then that just goes to show our world needs to adapt a more humanitarian approach, and as an HSP, you can subtly hint at it. Your actions don’t need to be loud in order to make a difference. A little always goes a long way. I think you’re doing just fine. 🙂 Thanks so much for opening up! It means a lot! ♥

  8. I am definitely a sensitive person and often it makes life more difficult. I usually feel weighed down in larger groups, it’s like I suck up people’s feelings. I have a hard time making decisions on a regular basis. While I do ok with the horror movies, there are several violent movies I wish I could “unsee”. Especially ones that are based on true stories like “Lone Survivor”. It is hard to feel normal when you’re constantly overwhelmed by feelings.

    • Hi Amy, thanks so much for reading and for sharing your thoughts with us! We sound very similar! I also have a hard time making decisions, especially when I’m provided with many options. It almost paralyzes me for the most part. But I learned over time that it’s okay to be uncertain at times. Eventually, we always figure out what’s best for us if we learn to hold onto who we are and stay true to what fulfills us. Being overwhelmed is experienced often by HSPs, and I’m sorry if you’ve had a tough time up to this point because of it, but with enough practice, you can get better at making decisions. 🙂 I believe in you. ♥

  9. I can relate so much to this article! About 2 years ago I first heard about HSPs and it made so much sense. I didn’t understand myself than. And thought more toward autism. But this helped me and give me confidence to explain myself to others and know that it’s okay the way I am!

    • HI Adja, thanks so much for reading and for sharing your thoughts with us! I’m glad the article helped give you a boost of confidence. 🙂 There is definitely nothing wrong with you, but society doesn’t spread awareness about HSPs enough for us to feel as though we belong. I hope you are able to find a safe space here at Psych2Go! It’s interesting that you bring autism up. Unfortunately, a lot of stigmas, stereotypes, and myths surround that topic, too.

  10. Crystal Childs , I don’t like to label things or new age stuff but HSP fits pretty good on crystal child,and I had never felt so identified,Deep thinking is my biggest problem is something that I don’t know how to stop and horror movies make a big impact in my life fortunately now I can watch them and I enjoy them is kind of hard be a HSP in a world like that especially when you want to help and care for someone that is in pain and sadness but the situation load’s you with this pain and sadness !!!!

    • Hi Andres, thanks so much for reading and for sharing your thoughts with us! I’m not familiar with what a crystal child is, but it sounds magical! Deep thinking has its pros and cons like most things in life. 🙂 But I’m glad you’re able to watch horror movies and enjoy them more now! That’s something I struggle with as an HSP, haha. I get frightened easily.

  11. The only items that don’t pertain to me are 5 & 8. I prefer to work alone. I’m actually trying to work past the being secluded.

  12. This blog is really nice 😊 I’m also a highly sensitive person and some of your traits are also my traits hahaha especially no.2 and no.3 😁😁😁

  13. I can to almost everything in your piece, except for the enjoyment of working with a team. 98% of the people I meet I find to be extremely mentally exhausting. Its almost as if they are energy leeching.. Its hard to explain eloquently. If others seem to have a dark cloud over them, so to speak, then that cloud expands over me too. So working with any kind of team is not a experience I enjoy. Honestly I would rather have a root canal then work in a team setting

  14. This is absolutely 100% me, all of it! I’ve always felt like there’s something so wrong with me. I’ve thought maybe I’m part Asperger’s, maybe part non-hyper ADD, maybe part narcisstic. Maybe those are true, but this is every bit true for me and has provided a little bit of relief knowing I’m not totally unlike anyone else in the world. I never understood what I saw as opposing traits existing in me. I really like people overall and I don’t want to be alone 100% of the time, but being with people too long just exhausts me.

    And why can’t I watch violent/horror movies that everybody else loves? They bring me down so low and can haunt me for days, months, even years for some. So there other people who don’t just intellectually dislike these movies but dislike them because it hurts so bad deep inside of you to watch or even think about?! And I’ve hated myself for feeling like this, telling myself I’m too self-focused and I need to stop it, but can’t. Has been just more evidence to myself how screwed up I am. Thank you for posting this!

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Written by Catherine Huang

Catherine Huang graduated from the University of Rhode Island with a BA in English. She has a penchant for storytelling, ramen, and psychology. Catherine is a writer for Psych2Go and looks forward to reaching out to its growing community, hoping to encourage others to tap into self-examination and confront life's challenges head on with the most difficult questions.

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