Gifts of Being a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)

The Simple Sophisticate, episode #44 Abraham Lincoln, Jane Goodall, Princess Diana, Katherine Hepburn, Martin Luther King Jr., Albert Einstein, Glenn Close, Steve Martin, Eleanor Roosevelt, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson. As you might have guessed each of the well-known individuals listed above either exuded or exudes traits of a HSP. Here are a […] Listen now or continue reading below.

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The Simple Sophisticate, episode #44

Abraham Lincoln, Jane Goodall, Princess Diana, Katherine Hepburn, Martin Luther King Jr., Albert Einstein, Glenn Close, Steve Martin, Eleanor Roosevelt, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson.

As you might have guessed each of the well-known individuals listed above either exuded or exudes traits of a HSP. Here are a few more: Frank Lloyd Wright, Ansel Adams, Frida Kahlo, Barbra Streisand, Mozart, Neil Young, Alanis Morisette, Elton John.

Dr. Elaine Aron, who is a research psychologist, university professor and psychotherapist as well as a self-identified HSP, points out that HSPs are “traditionally poets, writers, teachers, doctors, healers, lawyers, scientists, philosophers and theologians.” However, it is important to note that we recognize the names above because each of them embraced the strengths that define HSP.

So what exactly does highly sensitive mean? Aron, the best-selling author of The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms Youshares HSPs have an “increased sensitivity to stimulation” and “are more aware of subtleties and process information in a deeper, more reflective way.” And in so knowing the term, it is equally important to note, someone who identifies with being HSP is to know you were born with a sensitive nervous system, it is innate. And if you tap into your full potential, you will be astounded by the gifts you can bring to the world.

A few facts to be aware of:

  • Neither female or male have more of a tendency to identify as HSP, but due to certain cultural stereotypical expectations, such as men should not exhibit HSP traits, and women, while more welcomed to embrace them, often do so only to realize that society see such traits as inferior.
  • 15-20% of the population is HSP (22% were found to be moderately sensitive)
  • Most introverts are HSP, but there are a few extroverts that are HSP as well. Susan Cain’s best-selling book Quiet:The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking referenced Dr. Elaine Aron’s book frequently.
  • Non-HSPs are not inferior or should not be labeled as “insensitive”. The term sensitive is used in psychological terminology involves the nervous system as it is much more than one’s emotions. Anyone can be overwhelmed if too much stimulation occurs, it simply occurs quicker for HSPs and involves a wide array of stimuli that is often disregarded as having the ability to stimulate.
Characteristics of HSPs

1. Conscientious. Keen awareness of subtle details which cultivate a highly accurate intuition. Can be harmful as HSP may resort to being perfectionists or people-pleasers, so it is vital to find a balance.

2. Define “fun” differently. Adult learning classes, lectures, symphonies, art exhibits, opera, yoga, cooking classes, any event that is more intimate and has a thoughtful purpose is more in alignment of fun for HSPs rather than a busy happy hour at a bar, crowded gyms or lively cocktail party.

3. Sensitive to subtle things in the air, lights or fabrics. Hay fever, pollens, scents, odors, itchy fabric are much more perceptible to HSPs.

4. Good at tasks that involve observing minor differences. Scientists, detectives, caretakers, parents, teachers, psychologists, etc.

5. Able to focus and concentrate deeply.

6. Have an active imagination. The creative mind is the engine of the HSP and ideas can spark at any moment.

7. Prefer conversations of substance, philosophy, feelings, struggle, and dislike idle, pointless chitchat.

8. Due to society supposing they are flawed as revealed in a study shared in Dr. Elaine Aron’s book, many have a battered self-confidence and low self-esteem. However, once the HSP discovers the error made by society, they can reframe their past experiences and thrive.

9. Many who find their dream job, find a vocation that is focused or dealing with finding meaning for their life. HSPs are curious individuals and because they are conscientious, desire to find ways to help, improve and progress themselves and society.

10. Able to process material at deeper levels. Many HSPs may have heard the critique, “You over-analyze everything”, but so long as the analysis isn’t taken down a destructive path, it can lead to wonderful creations, inventions and ideas.

11. Typically a “Morning Person”, although there are exceptions. Because HSPs tend to have a hard time sleeping as they are sensitive to their environment paired with an active mind, they will wake up early and want to get the day started as they have things they want to accomplish and are acutely aware of the finite time available to them.

12. Enjoy time at home to decompress. (Read #16 in the list of Things Needed to Thrive to understand why.)

13. Over-arousal may lead to not participating in activities with others that you might have enjoyed in other circumstances, and thus, you may have heard “You’re missing out!” which builds worries, regrets and guilt that is misplaced. Staying home rather than participating if you are already overwhelmed will ensure when you do decide to participate, you will enjoy the experience.

14. Have heard common phrases such as “What is the matter with you?” and “Stop being so sensitive.”

15. Self-reflect more regularly.

16. Aroused more intensely by new and prolonged stimulation.

17. Greatest social fulfillment tends to come from close relationships, and this is where you are able to shine. HSPs are quite skilled in close,personal relationships, but can put up a wall if hurt in the past.

18. Due to low self-esteem (because society didn’t view the HSP traits as the ideal), you may fall in love with someone very much your inferior. (Listen to the podcast for an intriguing study about why so many college students “fall in love” during their first year.)

19. Tend not to share openly with just anyone. Colleagues or acquaintances may not understand this behavior and may label HSPs as aloof, arrogant and/or cold. Ultimately, it comes down to not wanting “to play politics”.

20. Group brainstorming and team projects are not as productive as you feel stifled and limited.

21. Excel at being self-employed as you can control your hours, stimulation, kinds of people you deal with and unlike many first-time entrepreneurs, will probably be conscientious about research and planning before you take any risks. However, be aware you may worry excessively and unnecessarily, and you may be inclined to work unthinkable hours as your creative minds is full of ideas.

22. Due to high intuition, can perceive trends in markets, and needs and potential before others do.

23. Find tranquility in nature, especially water.

24. Observant and therefore, very successful in understanding and building relationships of trust with children and animals.

25. Sensitive to pain.

26. Have an artistic side you enjoy expressing.

What a HSP Needs to Thrive:

1. Balance. When it comes to arousal and overstimulation, getting to know yourself is crucial. Know and be able to recognize when you are over-aroused, so you can either prevent such situations from happening or have a plan about how to tactfully remove yourself.

2. Boundaries. 

3. Plenty of downtime.

4. Daily alone time.

5. Rest. Retire when you become sleepy. Establish clear evening rituals to signal to your mind that you are going to bed soon. Create a sleeping environment that is conducive to a restful night’s sleep.

6. Clear communication. With your significant other, friends, family, colleagues, communication is key, but it is crucial for a HSP as most people are not similar in experience as they as so long as those you are communicating with are wanting to build a relationship with you, they will be thankful for the heads up.

7. Relationships that strike the balance of giving to others and giving to yourself. If someone cannot or will not try to understand what you need, you may need to move on, but often, it simply takes communication. Dr. Elaine Aron points out that  many might assume that two HSPs in a romantic relationships would be best, while others may think a ying and yang would be better. However, it truly depends on the two individuals. One a side note, she does admit that if two HSPs are in a relationships, and they both know their tendencies, they are likely to be more understanding of each other and thus foster a more supportive and less contentious partnership.

8. Time to step away from ordinary thinking – prayer, meditation, any activity that takes your mind off of your thoughts and onto the task at hand. Cooking, reality television shows, etc.

9. Spend time in nature.

10. Find and enjoy water: rain, lakes, ocean, rivers, simply drinking it regularly and often.

11. At work, choose to cultivate intense relationships where your emotional sensitivity can run free, outside of work as many may not understand. 

12. Establish independence and a strong sense of self and identity. HSPs have a strong need for independence as they abhor feeling trapped.

13. Take time-outs from heated or emotional interactions. Feeling over-aroused or trapped, step away, postponing not ending the conversation.

14. Take a walk, care for your body.

15. Accept the “loneliness” that many non-HSP identify with HSPs. Time alone is the “giftedness”, as Aron describes, that comes with being a HSP. Without this time, we couldn’t reach our full potential.

16. Discover and cultivate intangible containers as well as tangible containers. A tangible container, such as a home, a car, a library or a person are places where we feel safe and can relax. When we know we have containers that provide sanctuary, we find more strength to go out into the world with all of its stimulation. Intangible containers can be found in each of us, something that nobody can take away from us: our faith, our creative mind, spiritual meditation, etc.

17. Experience new things and realize most of what you will encounter will leave you safe. Experience positive new events builds your self-esteem and self-confidence, opening your eyes to what you are truly capable of.

18. Simple is best. When there is too much stuff, clutter, or an extremely busy schedule, we become overwhelmed and are unable to perform at our best. Simplicity is a HSPs best friend.

19. More HSPs need to be present in public roles. In order to reveal to societies the gifts that are available, we must have people of both types (non-HSPs and HSPs) in pivotal publish positions. The balance in public life will make it much easier for everyday HSPs going about their lives.

At the heart of living a simply luxurious life is getting to know yourself, and if along your journey of self-discovery you realize you are a HSP, it will hopefully be a moment of aha, perhaps a burden or weight is lifted from your shoulders as it was from mine.

Being a HSP, while not rare, is something most people do not have the fortune to embody. So as you move forward, embracing all of your amazing strengths and learning how to handle weaker tendencies, know that you have something amazing to offer the world. Now you must get about the business of reveling in your full potential.

~The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You by Dr. Elaine Aron

~The Highly Sensitive Person Podcast with Kelly O’Laughlin, website

~A Highly Sensitive Person’s Life: Stories and Advice for Those Who Experience the World Intensely by Kelly O’Laughlin

What was TSLL doing during the podcast’s hiatus last Monday? Click below to find out!

~Thoughts from the Editor: New Canaan Book Signing

~23 Life Lessons Learned in New York City & New Canaan

~SIMILAR POSTS FROM THE ARCHIVES YOU MIGHT ENJOY:

~Confidence: How to Gain It and Why It’s Invaluable (podcast, episode #5)

~Why It’s Okay to be Boring

~10 Ways to Strength Self-Worth

~Why Not . . . Enjoy Being an Introvert?

Petit Plaisir:

The Splendid Table with Lynne Rossetto Kasper, podcast

The Splendid Table cookbook (copyright 1992)

~The Best of Julia Child on The Splendid Table

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25 thoughts on “Gifts of Being a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)

  1. Since I was a child of 5 I remember needing this “Alone Time”. Often, after playing with my very extroverted friend, at lunchtime I needed a break. At this point I always felt the need to draw, read or simply be by myself. Of course, that was always labelled as strange and I thought so, too. How can a child want to have quiet time? Now, I am more eager to just follow my feeling and do as I feel is best for me.
    As I also work in a creative field, I slowly become to understand how this benefits me.
    Thank you Shannon!

    1. Mila, Thank you so much for sharing your experience. It sounds as though you listened to what you needed and followed where you thrived and felt most comfortable. It no doubt took great inner courage to do this. I must say, my experience was very similar, and now it is quite validating to learn of the HSP tendencies. Thank you again for your time and thoughts.

  2. Thank you so much for this post. I will definitely listen to your podcast (I always do) as well. Two years ago when I worked with a holistic health coach she had me take a test to determine HSP. I had never heard of this term before but it describes me perfectly. What an epiphany! It explained SO much not to mention I was beyond relieved knowing that my “tendencies” and “quirks” were normal. I am overwhelmed if I have more than one after work thing planned during the week. This week we will be having friends from Greece arriving to stay with us for two weeks before my stepdaughter ‘s wedding. While I look forward to all the festivities and spending time with our friends I am already wondering when I’ll have 5 minutes to myself. I could go on and on! Suffice it to say, discovering this term HSP has tremendously helped my relationship with my husband and how I deal with others. Being aware of my limitations and comfort zone does assist me in navigating life.

    1. Lori, thank you very much for sharing your experience as well. Having the tools makes a tremendous difference as we plan ahead to ensure we can thoroughly enjoy very memorable experiences. And as you said, communication to help those we love understand, is crucial and makes a world of difference in our relationships. I hope the next two weeks are unforgettable in the most beautiful way. Enjoy!

  3. It was enjoyable to listen to your podcast on this subject this morning with my coffee. The past few days have been very trying for me, and this information reminds me that I need to take a breath and remember my needs as an “HSP”. Society does tend to make us feel “less than” sometimes, and it’s nice to find some positives about it. The world can seem like a cruel place for us, and it’s important to find our “safe places”. Your blog is that for me. 🙂

  4. Wonderful! Wonderful! Very well put! Thank you!
    I was sent this article, and blog link, by a wonderful young HSP woman that I coach who lives in London.
    I invite you, and anyone, who wants to learn more about HSPs to visit http://www.HighlySensitivePeople.com and you can also sign up for a Free HSP Newsletter, too! There’s a new movie coming out soon about the trait of high sensitivity featuring Alanis Morissette, which I think will get the trait on many more people’s radar! Thank you for your part in getting the word out!
    All the best,
    Jim Hallowes
    Founder of HighlySensitivePeople®
    and http://www.HighlySensitivePeople.com
    E: Jim@HighlySensitivePeople.com
    Here’s a link to some clips from one of my HSP Talks:
    http://www.highlysensitivepeople.com/VID-HSP-Speech-Excerpt.html

  5. I’ve always known I am an introvert, but this episode taught me I’m also an HSP. A lot of the characteristics of needs you mention have given me a great deal of trouble in the past. Not realizing that my exhaustion and feeling of being trapped had to do with being over-stimulated, I kept putting myself in those situations. Thanks so much for featuring this topic. This new knowledge will go a long way toward helping me better care for myself!

  6. Hi Shannon, I simply loved this post. I have know for several years that I am a HSP and have read around it quite a bit. Somehow though I have never before been aware of the link with water. I’m lucky enough to live very near to the sea and often tell people I couldn’t move far from water and I have never really know why. Thanks for giving me another piece of the jigsaw that helps me understand myself. Xx

    1. Lara, My pleasure! Your intuition was speaking and you trusted it. That says so much of how well you know yourself. Thank you for sharing. Similarly, I have always found refuge in the rain, never knew why either, but trusted that it was something I needed in my life. Now we know! 🙂

  7. I truly discovered myself in these words. They describe me so accurately. I look forward to buying the Dr. Aron’s book to fully explore the ways to embrace HSP. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Now when my mother says to me, ” You’re so sensitive”, I can say, “yes you are absolutely right”. How fulfilling and exciting it must be for you in your journey to expand and enhance other peoples lives. Thank you, again.

  8. Hi Shannon, this is Kayla, the girl you met the other day at the coffee shop in Joseph, OR! I just read this post and I identified with it so much! It is so comforting to know that there are lots of people who need alone time to recharge, are known for over-analyzing things, and have a different definition of fun. I embody the description in this post to a T! Thank you for writing this and for having such inspirational posts for the several years that I have been following you. I started my own blog and hope to inspire people to live their best lives as well!

    It was lovely to meet you!
    ~Kayla

    1. Kayla, It was an absolute treat to meet you! Thank you for introducing yourself. 🙂 I am missing Wallowa Lake already. As per one of the descriptors of an HSP, I adored paddling boarding each day in the lake during my visit. 🙂 I am tickled to hear you found the post enlightening. I look forward to stopping by your blog. Enjoy your summer! All my best. 🙂

  9. Thank you Shannon for this excellent podcast! I’m delighted to learn that you are an HSP as well. Your podcast is one of my most favorite to listen to, and I look forward to all your blogs. Best of luck on your move and new job!

  10. Shannon, thank you so much for doing a podcast on this topic. I had no idea this definition even existed and the HSP concept really struck a chord with me. It’s nice to know I’m not alone in many of these traits! Now for some more down time 😉 Thank you again! x

  11. Shannon I am a bit behind on my podcast listening so just got to this one today, it was wonderful! I loved the content — which I identified with very much — I loved your delivery of a subject that is obviously dear to your heart and I especially enjoyed the feeling of sitting and chatting. A superb episode.

  12. I was preparing to teach The Catcher in the Rye today and all I can think is, ‘Holden was probably a HSP’.
    Thanks, Shannon. I have ordered Elaine Aron’s book and am listening to the HSP podcast. I am learning so much about how to manage and perceive myself differently. Your points about how to thrive as a HSP have been very helpful.

  13. This might sound crazy, but reading about this made me cry. I just found out about HPS. I had an argument with my boyfriend and he asked, “why are you so sensitive” for the billionth time. It made me wonder why so I looked it up and found this today. I’m so happy to finally be able to put a finger on it. I have been trying to supress my emotions but now I know that most of it can not be changed. It’s just in my dna.

  14. When my son was growing up, I would tell him he was a very sensitive to events such as friendships, relationships, or everyday occurrences. What an eye opener to read about a name and description attributed to this emotional reaction. One might call this sensitivity a double edged sword for I have seen how the joys of life become more satisfying while the sadnesses or heartaches of life can be devastating.

  15. I just recently found out that, on top of being an introvert I am also highly sensitive, though this was fairly obvious to others around me. I have been dating my current boyfriend for almost two years, and while he does make an attempt to understand me it seems to me that he forgets what I need a lot of the time and just doesn’t understand it. I need lost of alone time, and get overwhelmed when too much is going on at once. He is very extroverted, highly social and not nearly as sensitive as I am. I don’t know what I can say to make him understand. Your site said it may be time to move on but I have stayed this long because I love him, and despite his flaws he tries. What do you think I should do?

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