I identify with being a “sensitive” person, took the test and YES I am.
It’s a real thing!
Sensitivity isn’t a choice: It’s in our genes. A highly sensitive person (HSP) can be someone who is hyper-aware of acute details in their environment, but can also be overwhelmed and overstimulated easily. The HSP is often described as someone who experiences things more intensely—so maybe they have a vivid imagination, tear up at commercials on the regular, or startle easily. Here are a few facts that’ll help you understand your highly sensitive friends so much better.
1. We look just like everyone else.
“It’s an invisible trait, and we don’t know who’s highly sensitive, but they’re all around us,” Elaine Aron, PhD, psychologist and author of The Highly Sensitive Person, tells SELF. Here is a quiz she created to see if you may have the trait.
2. We didn’t realize there were others like us until pretty recently.
The trait wasn’t really mentioned or researched until the 1990s, and Dr. Aron is the pioneer behind much of the research on it. “The trait has always been around,” she says. “It’s just not always been well-named.” And she believes that about 20 percent of humans identify as highly sensitive people (HSPs), split equally between genders. That’s a lot of people!
3. We can be the life of the party and still be sensitive.
While most HSPs are introverts, some are extroverts who flutter around from bud to bud but still need downtime after to feel relief.
4. Some HSPs even love adventure.
High-sensation seekers look for thrills, but only those low in risk. “A lot of their sensation seeking will be in the mundane world,” says Dr. Aron. Whether the pleasure is traveling or never watching the same movie twice, safe novelty is key.
5. We process things more deeply.
And boy, it can be tiring. Art and music can move us to the very core, but computing things deeply requires more power, so we tend to deplete faster than an iPhone battery. Studies show HSPs are wired a little differently: Our brains show more activation in areas related to elaborate processing, meaning we notice subtleties more than those without the trait.
6. And paying attention to every little thing can wear us out pretty quickly.
In one study, HSPs had to complete a tricky task and did so faster and more accurately than non-HSPs. The con: HSPs felt way more stressed when it was over. That’s because we’re easily over-stimulated, even by seemingly low-energy tasks. Add some small talk or a crowded bar, and we’re done for the night.
7. That’s why we don’t like anyone watching us.
We all have our optimal level of performance. For us, being watched is over-arousing, which can mean drawing a blank during a presentation or messing up our perfect cat-eye liner if we feel you peeping.
8. And can make loud noises or bright lights a bit painful.
A blaring honk or incessant chatter can really zap our nerves. “Sometimes we’re so irritated and over-aroused that we’re insensitive,” says Dr. Aron. (Sorry, we don’t mean it!)
9. Even our dreams can be exhausting.
It seems counterintuitive—how can sleep make you tired?—but HSPs report having more vivid and complex dreams, Dr. Aron says.
10. We pick up subtle things that others miss, including mistakes.
That might not make us the most popular at work, but being highly attentive to details makes us really good at what we do. “People who are highly sensitive often don’t see these gifts because they’re under the hood,” says Dr. Aron.
11. That means we sponge up the emotions of everyone around us.
Having a bad day? We already made you a cup of tea. Basically, our empathy is off the charts.
12. We’re not too emotional—we just have strong emotions.
Sensitive people have stronger emotions, which are useful for thinking, says Dr. Aron. We digest information thoroughly so that we can use it for the future. This makes us good partners (and good parents).
13. But we’ve all found ways to deal with living in a glass case of emotion.
Feeling hard doesn’t mean we’re fragile: We just know our limitations, and we don’t let them stop us.