What is a Highly Sensitive Person? What does it even mean to be one? And why do some people call it a superpower?
One of the most accurate metaphors describing how a Highly Sensitive Person might feel in their worst nightmare would be as follows:
Standing in a lound crowd in a busy airport at 2am. Hungry, tired and wearing a coarse sweater on their sunburnt ski. With three crying kids, two fighting with each other and one runing away on all fours.
One word. OVERWHELMED. At this point, you could possibly be wondering what are some of the signs you might be a Highly Sensitive Person. And of course, this metaphor is meant to be way too much. It’s only for you to visualize what it can feel like, given the worst-case scenario. Also – most of us would feel overwhelmed with our kids crying, in the airport, and tired. But maybe not all of us would have sunburnt skin and hear the ringing in our ears from all the noise.
All in all, we need to remember that we’re not talking about a diagnosis here - an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person – is not a diagnostic term. It's considered an aspect of Sensory Processing Sensitivity). However, there are some specialists who suspect a number of people from the autistic spectrum (ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder) are being undiagnosed because they might be perceived as just having sensory processing issues. As always - when in doubt - consult a psychologist or a psychiatrist near you.
Back to the topic - HSP is about Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS), or environmental sensitivity (ES) – a biologically-based trait characterized by increased awareness and sensitivity to the environment. A highly sensitive person processes sensory stimuli and information more strongly and deeply than others.
Also – this text is about neither introverts nor shy people. They are often confused with HSPs. Some interesting facts before we start:
it’s said that ca 30% of HSPs are extroverts,
being shy is learned and being an HSP is innate,
only some HSPs are empaths.
The data I found estimate that around 15 to 20% of people reading this text will find it to be addressed directly to them, so let’s start. Take a deep breath and read the sentences below. Try and answer if you recognize yourself here:
30 signs that might mean you are a Highly Sensitive Person
And just to make things clear - I'd be cautious with basing any firm assumptions based on any article on the internet. If something worries you, if you feel this is 'a thing' in your life - do consult a mental health professional near you, who will talk to you to make a proper diagnosis - if needed. Your answers to the list below might be a signal for you to investigate further.
So again - 30 signs that might mean you are a Highly Sensitive Person:
– Your senses are heightened. You’re very sensitive to sudden or loud noises, bright light, strong smells. Things like loud music, the smell of a burning grill, traffic noise, disco lights, and even the flushing toilet might startle or irritate you.
– You will usually get overwhelmed in crowds.
– You may experience misophonia. That feeling you get when you nearly explode in reaction to somebody’s chewing or munching near you…
– You react to the fabric your clothes are made of. You find yourself cutting off the inner labels, and you never wear something even slightly itchy. You’d rather look worse than feel uncomfortable.
– You have a low tolerance for physical discomfort.
– Similarly, your pain level tends to be low.
– You may experience a lot of tension in your life, that might manifest as frequent headaches.
– You can’t stand any kind of violence. You might be the one avoiding brutal scenes in the movies. Turning your head away, closing your eyes in the movie theater when you’re exposed to them anyway.
– Your aversion towards violence combined with your empathy may mean you support some humanitarian, minority, or animal causes. You feel deeply moved by what’s going on in the world.
– You may also work in the area of helping others.
– You think a lot – your inner world is rich and dynamic. You contemplate the existential topics, and you keep asking the big questions. You like to learn about what you feel passionate about.
– You tend to have a lot of ideas, and you’re usually very creative.
– You may not be as empathetic as an empath would be, but you’re great at reading the room. It will inevitably overwhelm you a lot as well.
– You are often a living lie detector. You get all the subtle changes in one’s face when they lie. All because you’re so perceptive.
– When overstimulated, you feel the need to withdraw to your comfort zone. It’s a place where you can be alone without all the stimuli and other people. You need to recharge after feeling exhausted. You seek calming ways to soothe yourself.
– You choose to surround yourself with beautiful calming things. You pay attention to details.
– Music calms you immensely. You may have a couple of playlists for those bad moments.
– You like doing things alone. You usually find it peaceful and hence easier to focus. You may, at times, choose to work alone and also rest alone. You can read, create or contemplate art and/or nature.
– The beauty of things often moves you. It may feel surprising to you when other people are not.
– There’s too many triggers around you on an everyday basis. You need to withdraw to be alone to recharge and recuperate.
– The stimuli are also closer than you think. You react strongly to the changing levels of sugar in your blood. For you – hungry usually equals – angry. Or at least irritated.
– It also means you are very sensitive to caffeine and/or alcohol. (And candy. And coke. You get the gist😉
– Speaking of “angry.” Angry often equals – trouble. You don’t like conflict and confrontation. All because you get overwhelmed with the tension.
– You tend to do your best when working on something, to the point of perfectionism. That may often equal procrastination or burnout.
– You quickly get irritated, because you react to all those little things.
– You may have heard you were shy or anxious as a child, or an introvert later on.
All of the above are some of the most obvious signs.
If reading this, all you could say was – “how did she get my journal??” That might be a hint.
If, on the other hand, only a handful felt somewhat familiar – you may be a sensitive person at times. In fact, we all experience some of the reactions mentioned above from time to time. It’s completely normal. It’s when you feel it’s constantly happening, and that it perfectly describes you – you might be a Highly Sensitive Person.
One more thing to remember is that some of us can probably put ourselves on a spectrum. ‘From zero to intense’. Nearly zero will be if those symptoms apply to you, but they don’t influence your life A LOT. The more you notice them every day, the more they make you strategize your life, and the more intense kind of an HSP you are.
Remember, we are not talking about an illness or disorder. 15-20% of people are recognized as Highly Sensitive People – it is a trait we may or may not have.
Of course, while we KNOW it’s normal – it may not FEEL normal or easy for a person going through it. Especially since HSPs are often misunderstood and labeled as difficult, too sensitive, and fragile.
If on the other hand, you feel like you’re that and so much more – if those triggers and your reactions are making your life miserable - to the point where you'd isolate yourself or withdraw from life -
you might want to talk to somebody about it. There are some diagnoses with overlapping symptoms and it’s always the best idea to get help and not diagnose yourself on the internet.
It gets SO MUCH easier once you know what’s going on, and you connect the dots. When you learn how to take care of yourself, when you know what you need to avoid and what to work on – you will feel better.
And that’s what my next article will be about: ways to help yourself when you’re a Highly Sensitive Person.
I hope it was helpful. Here you can find PART II – an HSP survival guide.
Feel free to share this with a friend you might have thought of when reading.