What Is A Highly Sensitive Person?
Do you feel like you’re on an emotional roller coaster? Do you often have a difficult time with sensory input and find yourself feeling overwhelmed in crowded or noisy environments? If so, then there is a good chance that you are a highly sensitive person. But what is a highly sensitive person? Let’s explore what it means to be a highly sensitive person and how the trait affects your life.
What is a highly sensitive person?
Another way to describe a highly sensitive person is someone who has sensory processing sensitivity. This means they are more susceptible to environmental stimuli, including changes in temperature, light, sounds, and smells. The trait can make someone feel overwhelmed or overstimulated when these sensations overwhelm the senses at once.
Not only are they more sensitive to stimuli, but they are also more reactive to it. A highly sensitive person will often avoid certain things that cause them discomfort (overstimulation) because it’s painful, highly uncomfortable, or distressing. The time of day or the season can also impact how a highly sensitive person is feeling.
The HSP’s nervous system is more sensitive and reactive than most people. They have a lower threshold for sensory input. It also means that when the stimulus is gone or reduced to levels they can handle, these HSPs can function quite well.
Highly sensitive people process a lot of sensory detail
Not only are highly sensitive people more sensitive to stimuli, but they also notice subtleties, like changes in light, temperature, smells, energy levels, etc.
This detailed processing also means that highly sensitive people require more energy to process the details of unfamiliar environments. After a big social gathering or spending time in a fast-paced environment, they may need more time to unwind and process the day’s events. They also often require more sleep than people who are not as sensitive.
This deep processing comes with its advantages. HSPs also think more deeply than non-sensitive people and have a greater awareness of thoughts, feelings, and motivations.
Highly sensitive people are more likely to have certain personality traits
Research correlates high sensitivity with three main personality traits: higher conscientiousness, openness to experience, and less extroversion. These traits mean that highly sensitive people are more likely to be aware of thoughts, feelings, and needs. They tend to be introverted as well as creative or artistic types with rich inner lives.
However, not all highly sensitive people have these three personality traits. And not all people with these personality traits are highly sensitive people. Extroverted, less conscientious, and less creative people exist along the sensitivity spectrum.
Highly sensitive people process emotions more deeply
Highly sensitive people tend to have more empathy and insight into their and others’ emotions. They tend to have a better ability to understand the feelings of others.
However, deep emotional processing also tends to lead to more emotional reactivity. Highly sensitive people likely cry more than others and are more deeply affected by their own and other’s emotions. A highly sensitive person is a person who has an unusual level of emotional sensitivity, especially to things that are not generally considered stressful by most people.
Highly sensitive people are not better or worse off than any other type of person – they experience things differently. And that’s okay!
The world needs all different personalities to be a diverse place where everyone can thrive.
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
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?
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.
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.