Discovering the term Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) changed my life.
I learned why I operate the way I do. Why I struggle in some areas and shine in others. And why boundaries around my time and energy are vital to my well-being.
Dr. Elaine Aaron is the psychotherapist and researcher who coined the term Highly Sensitive Person, also know as Sensory-Processing Sensitivity. She identifies Sensory Processing Sensitivity as a normal temperament trait, not a disorder, found in approximately 20% of the population.
In a nutshell, you have a more sensitive nervous system and process things more deeply. According to her research, biologists have found this trait in over 100 species from birds, to dogs and cats, to horses.
The world has stereotyped sensitive souls to be weak and broken, but nothing could be farther from the truth. It is often the sensitive souls who are the ones striving to create a more fair, humane and just world. And there are far more of us than you might think.
Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, Dalai Lama, Eleanor Roosevelt, Steve Jobs, Princess Diana, Jane Goodall, Scarlette Johansson, Nicole Kidman, Taye Diggs, Winona Ryder, Claire Danes, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Elton Jon, Alanis Morissette, Jim Morrison, Jewel, Jack Johnson, Dolly Parton, Edgar Allen Poe, Emily Dickinson, Virginia Woolf, E.E. Cummings, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Robert Frost, and so many more.
If you’re just learning the term HSP or if you’ve heard it before but aren’t sure if you fall within its realm, here are 25 signs (the good & the bad) that you might be a highly sensitive person:
1. You feel it all
You’ve likely been labeled as too sensitive or too emotional throughout your life.
Your emotions get triggered easily. Whether watching a movie, listening to music or seeing a beautiful piece of art, the feelings being conveyed captivate you and quickly send you into an emotional realm.
You are deeply empathetic to the pain of others. Their hurt is your hurt. You are a bleeding heart for world issues and often take on social causes, always wishing you could do more to help those in need.
When you’re in a safe environment where you don’t have to keep your guard up, you cry often. Your emotions are right there at the surface.
You simply feel it all and wish the world was kinder and more sympathetic to the struggles of others than it is.
2. You read between the lines
You seem to notice the invisible and unspoken. You pick up on the energies around you quickly.
The mood of a person, the vibe of a conversation you walk into, the words that are left unspoken, you feel them instantly.
You can see people’s eagerness or withdrawal, their insecurities or ego, whether they’re being authentic or putting on an act.
You know if something feels off with someone or within a relationship. You can often even tell if someone is lying or holding things back.
3. You were labeled as a shy or timid child
You likely always felt a little different as a child. And if you weren’t in an environment that supported or understood your sensitivity, you may have withdrawn.
The more you withdrew, the more you were perceived as shy and the more isolated you felt, only further perpetuating your shyness.
4. You need time alone, often
You need alone time like you need oxygen. Without it you completely deplete your energy reserves and unravel.
Because you process things so deeply, interactions with others and the outside world take a lot out of you. You need time completely alone to recover and recharge.
If you are often exhausted without understanding why, it’s likely that you’re not carving out enough time alone.
5. You feel a special connection to animals
You feel a deeper connection to animals than most. In some ways, it feels almost spiritual.
You cannot stand to see them hurt. You treat them with as much kindness and respect as you would treat a person.
And animals sense this in you. They are drawn to you, even if they are timid. They know they are safe in your presence.
6. You are a nurturer
Nurturing others comes naturally to you.
You give your all to take care of those who are counting on you. A comforting embrace, food on the table, your devoted time and attention. You go the extra mile to give your love.
This is a strength but you’re prone to giving too much of yourself. If you don’t prioritize your needs your energy will deplete quickly making it very hard for you to show up at your best.
7. You are deeply intuitive
You get gut feelings about things and those feelings usually prove to be true.
You can sense things about people’s characters that others don’t see and can predict things before they happen based on those senses.
Your intuition leads you in the right direction even when you don’t fully understand why. Sometimes it strongly contradicts what others are telling you but you later realize just how right it was.
And every time you don’t listen to it, you regret it.
8. You get overwhelmed easily
If too much stimuli is coming at you at once or if you are trying to do too many things at once, you quickly feel anxious and overwhelmed.
If those around you are creating a chaotic energy or if there is a lot of yelling in your home, you feel consumed with anxiety.
You cherish peacefulness and simplicity and constantly search for it in every area of your life.
9. You are very conscientious
You believe in the words “please” and “thank you.” You mean it when you say them.
You honor the power of communication and love it when others share this value. Just as you thank others generously, you also like to receive thanks for all that you give of yourself.
You struggle when others don’t respect the power of their words and communicate irresponsibly.
10. You feel let down frequently
You see such strong value in treating others with kindness that you often cannot fathom the cruel things people say and do.
You often feel let down by the world around you and struggle to make sense of it all.
You may have even grown a hard shell to try and protect yourself from the cruelness of the world.
11. You have a hard time making decisions
You are extremely analytical. So when confronted with too many options, you struggle to make a decision.
You imagine the outcomes of all scenarios and worry about making the wrong choice and suffering the consequences.
This often leaves you feeling stuck, anxious and worried.
12. You react strongly to perceived wrongs
You are extremely rattled by very insensitive people and often have strong reactions to them.
It enrages you to see how selfish, hurtful and harsh others can be. You find it hard to control your reactions to these people if you are consumed with emotion. This can sometimes lead you to say things you regret.
13. You’ve had unexplainable physical illnesses
You may have gotten sick a lot throughout your life without a clear medical diagnosis or understanding of why.
Stomach problems, headaches, brain fog, chronic fatigue… your body is as sensitive as your soul and it reacts to any stressful or negative stimuli around you in unpredictable ways.
The more in tune you are with your sensitivity, the more you’ll understand your body’s reactions.
14. Stimulants affect you strongly
Your sensitive body responds quickly to stimulants like caffeine and reacts in unpredictable ways to medications. While some people can drink multiple cups of coffee per day, too much (or any) caffeine leaves you feeling anxious for hours.
You may also have unusual reactions to certain foods or chemicals and it can be very difficult to pin point exactly what is causing those reactions.
You might crave sweets if your energy is depleting, but too much sugar will just have you feeling even more depleted and foggy once the rush wears off.
15. You have a creative spirit
You are wonderfully imaginative and constantly day dreaming. You have an eye for subtle beauty.
You love to express yourself creatively whether through art, acting, writing or any other pursuit that allows you to release all of the emotions that are circulating through you.
You feel it all so you can capture those feelings artistically more easily than others. Creativity allows you to channel all of your emotions in a way that feels both peaceful and invigorating.
16. You are incredibly detail oriented
You have an unrelenting eye for detail.
You see things others miss, you work best with detailed checklists, and you are often not satisfied until every bit of minutia has been taken care of.
While this makes you a reliable and diligent worker, you sometimes forget to step back and see the bigger picture. And you often struggle with perfectionism which can prevent you from accomplishing the things you need to.
17. You are a people pleaser
It is in your soul, you love to make others happy.
Your people pleasing nature makes you reliable, trustworthy, and a hard worker. You often put the needs of others above yourself.
However, you often work yourself to the bone to make others happy and do things simply to avoid disappointing people or receiving criticism.
You often have trouble saying no and give too much of yourself. In doing so, you put your needs and interests last, leading you to feel unhappy and unsatisfied.
18. You are easily offended by harsh words
Harsh words cut you to your core.
You might put on a stiff upper lip and not respond, but the pain of those words lingers within you for a very long time.
You will carry that pain with you even if deep down you know those words don’t have truth to them.
Learning how to handle the sting of harsh words is vital to your emotional health and well-being.
19. You work better alone but collaborate well
You need solitude to focus. If there are too many co-workers or noises around you, you struggle to get things done.
You are often too courteous to fend off co-workers who seem to constantly want to chat so you struggle to be as productive as you would like to be in an open office environment. When you are given the space you need, you can diligently hammer through tasks with extreme focus.
But because you are such a diligent and conscientious worker, you do well collaborating with a team .
20. You don’t like being in large crowds
Concerts, parades, sporting events with huge crowds of people, etc., put you on edge and fill you with anxiety.
The yelling, people pushing and frenzied energy can feel like sensory overload.
You try to have fun, and perhaps you do enjoy yourself for some time, but you often can’t wait to get home while others are in no rush to leave.
21. You react strongly to noises, lights and textures
Loud noises and bright lights overwhelm you. You like your environments to be quiet and dim (but natural sunlight is great).
You startle very easily. You are also sensitive to rough fabrics, you like things to be soft and comfortable.
22. You crave peace
You thrive in calm, peaceful and supportive environments.
Negative environments push you over the edge. You can’t stand to be around too much yelling, harshness or chaos as you absorb those energies more than most.
You strive to make your home a calm, peaceful sanctuary and are likely a bit of a homebody.
23. You give free therapy
Because you are so empathetic, people are often drawn to you and quickly share their problems with you.
You are a deep thinker, analytical, emotionally intelligent and you love to lend a helping hand.
You know how to make people feel seen, heard and comforted.
Your natural instinct is to help, but sometimes you give too much of yourself. You need to be careful of people who try to take advantage of your conscientiousness and constantly unload their problems on you.
24. You romanticize
You love intensely. You fall hard and fast.
Love can consume you. When you find it you hold on to it tightly. This makes you a loyal partner but can sometimes cause you to hold on to a failing relationship for longer than you should.
In friendships, you go deep not broad. You likely have a small handful of lifelong friends you can count on through the thick and thin.
You don’t feel the need to be friends with everyone but would rather keep your circle small and stable.
Society may have equated sensitivity with weakness but that’s a misconception. You have a deep and reliable strength that sometimes surprises you.
You are a fully awake to the world and emotionally intelligent. You are the advisors, the encouragers, the artists and the compassionate souls who help to make this a more colorful and humane world.
You believe in lifting others up, instead of diminishing them. You believe in the power of kindness. You believe in doing what is right, even when it’s not easy.
You are the light in a sometimes very dark world. And the world is counting on you to let your light shine.
Did the majority of these signs ring true for you? If you’d like to learn more about being an HSP, check out Dr. Elaine Aaron’s website: The Highly Sensitive Person
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