The 3 Subtypes of Highly Sensitive People
If you’re a highly sensitive person (also known as HSP), you know you’re easily overstimulated/over-aroused, emotionally sensitive, and sensitive to subtle external and internal stimuli. You are keenly aware of lights, sounds, smells, and temperature changes. You also process your thoughts, feelings, and emotions very deeply, often having stronger emotional responses and a keen awareness of other people’s emotions.
Did you know that there are 3 subtypes of highly sensitive people? In this post, we’ll explore the 3 subtypes identified by research.
The three subtypes of highly sensitive people include Aesthetic Sensitivity (AES), Low Sensory Threshold (LST), and Ease of Excitation (EOE). Before we explain what each of these means, it’s important to note that HSPs can fit into more than one subtype, each subtype has its own characteristics. Your unique sensitivity profile depends on the balance between these three subtypes. You may identify with one or all of them, or any combination.
HSPs with aesthetic sensitivity have a deep awareness of and concern with nature and an appreciation of beauty. This subtype is deeply moved by art and music and often needs one or both in their life to feel at peace and at ease. They are also the most affected by environments that are not aesthetically pleasing.
Individuals with aesthetic sensitivity can use this to their advantage by using music, art, and the beauty of nature to soothe their sensitive nature and regulate their nervous system. Check out our Pinterest board of fractals, which are infinitely complex patterns found in nature that have a powerful soothing effect on anyone who beholds their beauty.
Low Sensory Threshold
HSPs with low sensory threshold are easily overwhelmed by unpleasant stimuli, including bright lights, strong smells, coarse fabrics, or loud or distracting noises nearby. They are more sensitive to the level of noise or external stimuli in the environment, and too much going on at once can be very distressing.
Individuals with low sensory threshold need time to decompress from sensory overload and need others in their environment to be aware of their need for less sensory input. Try closing your eyes for a few seconds to minutes, especially during transitions between environments, social interactions, etc. Closing your eyes will help you focus on your needs, shut out visual stimuli briefly, and allow your nervous system to downregulate. Additionally,
Ease of Excitation
HSPs with ease of excitation become mentally overwhelmed by external demands like multitasking or time constraints and internal demands such as being hungry or tired. For example, they may not do as well working in a fast-paced environment because of their sensitivity to this kind of stress. They tend to be more easily overwhelmed when they are experiencing minor discomforts in their body.
Individuals with ease of excitation should pay special attention to meeting their basic needs of sleep, rest, food, and drink. For example, it may be essential to keep their blood sugar stable, drink enough water, and keep a healthy sleep schedule. This subtype should also be aware of under what conditions they feel at their best and what situations/environments cause them extra stress.
Understanding Yourself as a Highly Sensitive Person
Highly sensitive people are typically very gifted. They value human connection and prefer to form deep bonds and close relationships. They are sensitive to other people’s emotions, noticing subtle changes in facial expressions or body language. They tend to have vividly realistic dreams and an overall rich inner life.
As wonderful as these gifts are, your high sensitivity could be getting in the way of you performing at your best. Part of building on your strengths and growing as a highly sensitive person is understanding yourself better and working with, not against, your unique sensitivity profile.
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.
Frequently Asked Questions about Highly Sensitive People
What is a highly sensitive person (HSP)?
A Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) is an individual who has a more sensitive nervous system than the average person, resulting in heightened awareness and perception of stimuli. HSPs tend to feel overwhelmed by too much sensory input or demand from their environment and typically pick up on subtleties that may not be noticed by others. They often feel emotions deeply and tend to need more alone time for reflection and recharging. People with this trait come in all shapes sizes and temperaments, but what unifies them all is their heightened sensitivity.
Is being an HSP a mental illness?
No, being an HSP is not a mental illness or mental health disorder. As noted above, HSPs simply have a more sensitive nervous system than the average person. Highly Sensitive People tend to have high sensory processing sensitivity and need more alone time for reflection and recharging, but this does not qualify as a mental illness. It is simply part of their unique personality type.
What causes a person to be highly sensitive?
The cause of high sensitivity is still not known, but it appears to be a combination of genetic predisposition and environmental influences. It is believed that those with the trait are born with a nervous system that is wired differently from most people, making them more sensitive to stimuli in their environment. Additionally, certain personality traits such as being introverted or having an increased empathy towards others may also contribute to a person becoming highly sensitive.
How common are highly sensitive people?
HSPs are estimated to make up 15-20% of the population. This trait can be found in people of all genders, ages, and backgrounds. Contrary to popular belief, there is no scientific evidence that either women or men are more sensitive than the other. Research has revealed that sensitivity levels in both genders remain equal.
What is emotional stimuli?
Highly sensitive people are often highly attuned to certain emotional stimuli, such as subtle facial expressions or shifts in body language. They may also pick up on the moods of those around them and be deeply affected by the emotions they experience. HSPs tend to feel emotions such as joy, sorrow, anger, fear and love more deeply than the average person. As a result, they often need extra time for reflection and recharging after social interactions or other emotionally demanding experiences.
What is environmental stimuli?
Environmental stimuli are any elements of the environment that can be detected by an organism, such as light, sound, temperature, and pressure. Environmental stimuli can cause physiological responses in organisms which may lead to behaviors. For example, environmental noise such as loud music may cause stress in some people while bright colors or pleasant scents could evoke positive emotions. HSPs are highly attuned to their environment and pick up on subtle stimuli more easily than others.
What is sensory stimuli?
Sensory stimuli refers to any type of input that can be detected by the senses, such as sound, sight, smell, taste and touch. Sensory stimuli can evoke physical or psychological reactions in people. HSPs are especially sensitive to sensory input and may respond more strongly than other individuals to certain types of stimulation. For example, bright lights or loud noises might cause discomfort while pleasant scents could create a calming effect.
Want to learn more about how you can turn your sensitivity into your superpower and practice more highly effective self-care?
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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.