7 Facts About Highly Sensitive People Based on Research

7 Facts About Highly Sensitive People Based on Research

The word “sensitive” is often used negatively, but this doesn’t have to be the case. Many good qualities come with being a highly sensitive person. And as it turns out, those who identify as highly sensitive are not rare at all – they make up about 15-20 percent of the population! This blog post discusses 7 facts about highly sensitive people that will help you understand this trait better.

1. Nature Vs. Nurture: Is sensitivity genetic?

Recent research suggests about 50% of the differences in highly sensitive people can be accounted for by genetic factors. The other 50% is related to an individual’s environment.

For example, we know that sensitivity seems to run in families – if someone had one highly sensitive parent, they are more likely to be highly sensitive.

However, this doesn’t mean we’ve found any specific genes that are linked to sensitivity. Like most conditions, sensitivity is probably a complex relationship between many genes, each gene having a small effect. There is no single gene that could be classified as the “sensitivity gene.” 

As for the environment, we know that sensitive children are more strongly affected by parenting style, and attachment to caregivers. Highly sensitive people who experience adverse experiences tend to be more affected than their less sensitive counterparts. On the other hand, highly sensitive people who grow up in nurturing, rich environments tend to exhibit exceptional potential in many areas of life. 

2. Sensitivity is a spectrum

One of the most important things to remember about sensitivity is that it exists along a continuum. Some people have extreme sensitivities, and others with only very mild sensitivity. Everyone is sensitive to an extent.

We know that about 15-20% of the population has a high degree of sensitivity, 50% have a medium degree of sensitivity and about 30% fall within the low sensitivity range.

3. Women are not more sensitive than men

There is a common misconception that women are more sensitive than men. There have been studies done, however, which show this not to be the case. Women and men both exhibit high sensitivity in equal amounts at about 30%.

The difference between these two groups is how they handle their sensitivities. Women tend to self-report higher levels of sensitivity. This willingness to admit and outwardly express sensitivity likely relates to cultural and social factors.

However, large-scale studies on the genetics of sensitivity do not indicate gender differences. Men may be more likely to try to suppress their sensitivity due to cultural and societal norms.

4. Being a highly sensitive person has many advantages

Highly sensitive people tend to have heightened perception and deeper processing. This is because they tend to process information deeply, which can make them great listeners and collaborators.

Highly sensitive people tend to have a well-developed understanding of relationships due to a more remarkable aptitude for identifying the emotional cues and states of others.

They also tend to be keenly aware of subtleties and hidden patterns, making connections that others may not. They also have a deep appreciation for beauty. This makes them good counselors, artists, advisors, scientists, coaches, healers, and teachers.

5. Being a highly sensitive person correlates with certain personality traits

Research has found a correlation between 3 common personality traits and highly sensitive people. These personality traits are increased neuroticism, openness to experience, and lower extroversion.

Neuroticism means that someone is prone to experiencing negative emotions. These are feelings of sadness, anger, and anxiety. Highly sensitive people have these tendencies as well. This is because they can easily feel overwhelmed with their thoughts or emotions that the environment around them.

Openness to experience means that someone has a general interest in new ideas or things that are unusual or different. Highly sensitive people may be more prone to this trait because they tend to experience the world in a very dynamic way and appreciate the variety of life experiences.

Extroversion is often described as outgoing behavior and the desire to be around other people. Highly sensitive people are more likely to be introverts and self-reflectors. They tend towards deep thinking, creativity, empathy, shyness, and worry about the future or past events in their lives.

6. Being a highly sensitive person is not a psychological disorder

Being highly sensitive is not a psychological disorder. It’s just identifying someone more prone to being deeply affected by their environment, thoughts, and emotions. 

Highly sensitive people process life differently from others, making them feel overwhelmed with too much information or overstimulated from all types of external stimuli.

On extreme ends of the spectrum of sensitivity, HSPs may be more prone to developing mental health disorders or psychological disorders. This is especially true for those who did not have a supportive environment for their sensitivity in early childhood.

Especially if they go through adverse experiences, highly sensitive people may be more prone to develop disorders such as anxiety or depression. However, being highly sensitive is not a psychological or mental health disorder in itself.

7. Being highly sensitive increases your chances of experiencing stress, overwhelm, anxiety

Being highly sensitive can lead to feelings of stress, overwhelm, and anxiety due to the increased amount of information being processed by the individual. This can be particularly difficult in situations where there is a lot of external stimulation or when faced with a situation that is unfamiliar or uncomfortable. In such cases, HSPs may find it difficult to cope with all the stimuli and become overwhelmed.

In addition to this, feeling overwhelmed may also be caused by high expectations in terms of performance or productivity. Highly sensitive people are often perfectionists who strive for excellence and therefore may experience added pressure if they fail to meet these expectations.

Anxiety can also arise from feeling out of control in certain situations. HSPs tend to be quite tuned into their inner world, which makes them more prone to worrying about the future, or ruminating on past events. This can lead to feelings of fear and anxiety which can be difficult to manage.

Finally, highly sensitive individuals may also struggle with maintaining relationships as they tend to feel deeply about others and experiences around them, including criticism from those close to them. This can lead to heightened emotions such as anger and hurt which can further contribute to feelings of stress and overwhelm if not managed well.

To combat these issues, it is important for highly sensitive individuals to learn how best to manage their sensitivity so they can better handle stressful and overwhelming situations while still staying true to themselves. It is also important for an HSPs’ environment to be supportive and understanding, rather than critical or judgmental, so that they feel safe processing their own emotions without fear of repercussions.

Sensitivity is a common and normal human trait

We all fall along a continuum of sensitivity. But some are born with a higher degree of sensitivity than the rest of the population.

The trait is not a negative or positive thing; it identifies how someone processes stimuli in the world.

Highly sensitive people are born this way — they can’t control their high sensitivity any more than they could choose the color of their eyes or hair.

If you fall anywhere on the spectrum, you could benefit from learning about your sensitivity and how you can better exist within the world as a sensitive person.

Imagine a life where environmental factors are not always influencing your internal emotional responses. Not only will you be able to handle stressful life events better, you’ll learn to appreciate your sensitive system for the gift that it is.

Want to learn more about how you can turn your sensitivity into your superpower and practice more highly effective self-care?

A dysregulated nervous system could further exacerbate your highly sensitive symptoms. Take our FREE nervous system quiz to find out the exact state of your nervous system, and get a free personalized report detailing what’s holding you back from a more calm and connected life.

6 Facts About Highly Sensitive People Based on Research

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Dr. Linnea Passaler

Dr. Linnea Passaler

Dr. Linnea Passaler has dedicated 20+ years to serving patients, first to a small number of individuals as a successful surgeon and then to thousands of people worldwide as the CEO of a digital health startup. After overcoming her own struggles with a dysregulated nervous system, she created Heal Your Nervous System (HYNS) to empower others in their healing journey. Her combination of neuroscience and somatic work helps those struggling with overwhelm, trauma, burnout, and anxiety to heal their dysregulated nervous systems and thrive.