Have you ever felt that you could understand and sense things that others could not, and yet you have been told that you are being “too sensitive” or you “should not think too much” for it is seen as a negative trait? You may be what is known as a “highly sensitive person” or HSP.
Highly sensitive person is a term coined by Dr. Aron for those who are thought to have an increased central nervous system sensitivity to process subtleties and details that most miss when it comes to physical, emotional, or social stimuli (Aron, 1996). Greven and others asserted that these people are often more perceptive, empathetic, self-aware and intuitive. This also means that they tend to have a deeper sense of love, intimacy, and emotional connection with their relationship with others.
Studies have estimated that 15-20 percent of the population is highly sensitive, however many people do not fully understand what it means to be an HSP, let alone knowing if they are one of them. So here are eight traits about what it is really like being a HSP:
1. They notice subtle details that others miss
Given that highly sensitive people process sensory information more carefully, they are naturally talented in observing the finer details and reading between the lines that others tend to overlook. They notice the changes in their immediate environment and the people around them.
That said, their high awareness of the subtle details can be useful in many different ways when it comes to strategizing their responses based on others’ nonverbal cues about their current mood.
2. They take more time in decision making
Having the ability to process information more deeply, HSPs are always processing everything more, relating and comparing what they have observed to their past experience with other similar things. Having said that, HSPs usually take more time to make decisions because they tend to weigh all options while imagining all possible outcomes very carefully, trying to find the best course of action to take.
They don’t enjoy impulsivity or spontaneity because they’d much rather be sure about things than regret their decisions later on.
3. They can be easily overwhelmed
While some people thrive on having a busy life, people who are highly sensitive often feel overwhelmed when they have several different things to do within a short amount of time. As their stress level increases, they struggle to stay productive while maintaining the uncertainty of not being able to make things work at the end.
Apart from that, HSPs can be overwhelmed by sensory stimuli such as noisy crowds, bright lights, or uncomfortable clothing. They might have the tendency to stay away from parties, night clubs, concerts or festivals where there are loud noises and bright lights around.
4. They need more downtime than others
As HSPs can feel overwhelmed very easily as they are always processing information more deeply than others, it is essential for them to have quiet time to decompress towards the end of a long day or busy week (Benham, 2006). As they are recharging and clearing their heads, it is not uncommon for them to disappear without any call or text for a few days.
5. They are very self-aware than most
As most HSPs have heightened sensitivity, they tend to be more in touch with their feelings and thoughts, and hence they are more introspective than most. As a result, they are able to have a rich inner life where they are able to recognise their own strengths and weaknesses, as well as knowing what’s the best decisions to make in their lives.
6. They experience emotions on a deeper level
Naturally, HSPs have a high tendency to react more emotionally to situations because they feel things more deeply than most (Aron, 2013). They are known to wear their hearts on their sleeves and struggle to mask their true motions as it could be too overpowering at times.
In certain situations, they tend to make decisions based on their emotions even if it doesn’t seem logical at the point of time. In doing so, they maintain their happiness and peace of mind.
7. They are their worst critics
As much as HSPs are often perfectionists, they are actually their own worst critic as the likelihood of them having self-doubts is very high, and this could lead to a great amount of stress when they are attempting something challenging.
That said, the effect can be multiplied when they are being watched and evaluated on the spot. So much so, it can even affect their performance (even if they are competent for the work). This could also be the reason why any embarrassing mistake would stick with them for a very long while, as compared to an average person would.
8. They tend to avoid violent media
With an increased central nervous system sensitivity to process subtleties and details, HSPs do not typically fit into the same category as people who seek adrenaline rush. Catching a violent or horror movie can be too overstimulating for HSPs as certain scenes might replay again and again in their heads, causing them to feel unsettled.
Given that high sensitivity applies across a few different categories, it is important to remember that being an HSP does not mean that you have a diagnosable condition as it is a personality trait that involves increased responsiveness to both positive and negative influences.
Identifying and recognising that you are a highly sensitive person could help you to develop a better sense of yourself and your needs. For a more thorough or “official” identification, there is a questionnaire that was developed to assist people to identify themselves as HSPs, and it is available here.
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