Are you a highly sensitive person?

 Have you ever heard of highly sensitive people? A highly sensitive person or HSP is a neurodivergent individual who has an increased nervous system sensitivity to stimuli. People with an increased sensitivity are often described as dramatic, sensitive, or overly-emotional. These terms often stem from a misunderstanding about how HSPs interpret the world around them. 

It is important to note before you keep reading further that being a HSP is not a mental illness nor does it have an official diagnosis. Being a HSP is a personality trait and understanding more about it may help you make sense of the way your nervous system interprets information. 

What does it mean to be a HSP?

I consider myself to be a highly sensitive person. Wearing my heart on my sleeve has been a constant trait since I was old enough to communicate. I’ve always felt everything a bit more deeply than my friends. Because of this, I decided to explore what the world looks like for highly sensitive people. 

I wanted to understand whether there was something flawed with me or whether the world just didn’t understand the way I interpreted information. Upon hours of research I discovered a few common traits among those that are highly sensitive. 

  1. HSP tend to be overwhelmed by things like loud crowded rooms, itchy clothing, temperature changes, food textures, and bright lights. Things that other people might see as a minor inconvenience, HSPs interpret as a sensory overload. I now wear earplugs when I am in a noisy room to help with the sensory overload. 

  2. HSPs need their alone time. People who are highly sensitive are often overwhelmed after a long day at work. They need time by themself to reflect and process the day. HSPs take in a lot more information and emotions than the average person. So if you know someone who is highly sensitive and they seem a bit “off” or annoyed, try giving them time by themself to process their own feelings. 

  3. HSPs have strong feelings and rich thoughts. If you are someone who could spend hours in your own head having thought-provoking conversations, you may be a HSP. Highly sensitive people are often good at naming their emotions and understanding why they feel a certain way. They are also content by themselves and in their own thoughts. 

  4. HSPs may also avoid violent shows, videos, or movies. If your friend or family member is a HSP, don’t invite them over to watch the Discovery channel,  most likely watching animals eat each other is too gory for a HSP. 

  5. HSPs are comfortable expressing their emotions. Highly sensitive people deal with a lot of emotions everyday, and because of this, they are comfortable communicating their own emotions. If you know someone who “cries a lot” they may be a HSP. HSPs know that no emotion is “bad” so expressing them whenever they arise is the best way for a HSP to process their own complex inner world. 

It is estimated that HSPs make up 20% of the world’s population, so chances are you know quite a few. If being highly sensitive runs in your family, you are more likely to have the gene. In fact, being a HSP can be caused by lots of different factors such as genetics, environment, and trauma. Humans aren’t the only species to have a gene which causes high sensitivity. In nature, animals with high sensitivity are more likely to survive because they are on the constant lookout for predators. Being highly sensitive does not mean you have autism, ADHD, anxiety, or a sensory processing disorder, but high sensitivity may occur alongside such conditions. 

The Pros and Cons of Being an HSP

Just like anything else, being a HSP has its perks and downsides. With a higher sensitivity also comes greater empathy. Those already greatly in touch with their own emotions are able to empathize well with other people. HSPs are already good at naming their own emotions, so helping people understand their feelings comes easy. Because HSPs experience emotions like joy at a higher level then most, they are more appreciative of the little things in life. HSPs will romanticize the perfect ice cream cone, a song they love, or a walk with their dog more than the average person.

 HSPs experience all emotions at a higher level than most, which means feelings like guilt, sadness, grief, anger, and anxiety are also experienced at high levels. While these aren’t necessarily “bad emotions”, they are emotions associated with negative experiences. If you wonder why your partner, child, parent, or friend is making “a big deal” about canceled plans, a breakup, or a bad grade it may be because they are feeling that emotion much deeper than the average person. 

HSPs may also be easily overwhelmed when a stressful situation arises. They may initially be blinded by the intense emotion they are experiencing rather than focusing on a solution to the issue. HSPs also need plenty of time to complete a task. They may get overwhelmed if they are given a short time table to complete a chore. HSPs don’t enjoy being busy, instead they prefer time to fully experience an event. HSPs on vacation will not pack their schedule full with sight-seeing, they would much rather hit fewer destination spots in order to fully experience each sight. 

HSPs are also highly in tune with the emotions of others. They may ask you what’s wrong before you realize you are upset. Because they pick up on the emotions of others, they fear disappointment. HSPs may have trouble setting boundaries or saying no to friends out of fear of disappointing them. 

Be careful when critiquing a highly sensitive person because chances are they have already expressed intense criticism to themself. Again, because HSPs experience emotions to the max, they also experience feelings of self-doubt and embarrassment more than the average person. If they make a mistake, HSPs will ruminate on it for quite some time. HSPs may be extremely hard on themselves and blame themselves if their loved ones are unhappy or angry. 

Why it’s important to understand the world of highly sensitive people

Not everyone is comfortable expressing their emotions. Some prefer to bottle everything up and only express deep emotions in isolated spaces. HSPs however have a difficult time bottling their emotions, they express what they feel when they feel it. Labeling highly sensitive people as “emotional”, “dramatic”, or “overly sensitive” will only confirm the fears they have about themselves. Sticking people with names to generalize their personality is never okay. We should never try to summarize people into a collective that further stigmatizes their experience. 

It took me a long time to realize that being emotional, dramatic, and sensitive was my greatest strength. Don’t let less emotional people make you feel bad for experiencing the world in vivid colors. Highly sensitive people can help bring understanding to a world that quickly stereotypes people and places them in boxes. 

If you are a highly sensitive person, I hope reading this post helped. I remember reading post after post trying to understand why I felt everything so deeply. It took me a while to understand myself, but I am so glad I took the time to learn more about the way I interpret emotions and information. I’m no longer ashamed of the way I feel. I no longer fight with myself to just “get over” an environment or situation that feels overwhelming. 

Find people that understand you and your highly sensitive world. I promise there are other people out there who understand exactly what you experience. I have friends who are highly sensitive and friends who are not. But I’m very grateful to have found friends who understand the way I see the world and are patient with me when I feel overwhelmed. For too long I shoved myself into a box and tried to make it work. Don’t waste your time on people who will never understand your ability to feel the world so deeply. They don’t deserve the empathy and understanding you offer them. Remember, people who label you with negative terms choose to remain ignorant about a world they’ve never experienced. That will always say more about them than it does about you. Stay sensitive. I promise it will benefit you in more ways than you realize.

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